In Explanation of the Disappearance of the Group of Kids Known as "Radical Geographers of Tennessee's Uncertain Future" Who Have Now Given Up, or Given Over

Devan Collins Del Conte


What wakes us? A simple thirst. 

Hurrying through the blacknight, we catch sight of each other, the flash of baby teeth in headlights and streetlights, desire in the smacking of lips. And the alligators, the green glint of their eyes, wet pebbled skin, we see them in the culverts and manmade lakes and finally in the river by which they made their way to our city—by which we tracked them. They pay us no mind, not at first. The alligators came from the east, flowing like runoff down the path of least resistance, gathering trash as they came. 

We wake with heavy tongues, needing to sip. From Bartlett, Hickory Hill, Central Gardens and Frayser, those places of before, we all come on foot, sheathed in sandals, summer calluses, ruined skin. At the river we lop hair from our heads and drop it in the currents, wait for jaws to snap, disappear it beneath the surface. We render offerings. Wait on shorelines sketched when hope still fluttered in our throats. We swallow. Watershed, one of us mutters, and another barks a laugh. 

On the five o'clock news, Mearl Purvis reports sightings of blue-skinned women in the river, in the scummed up ponds of golf courses, backyard swimming pools, even the shallow murk of decorative koi ponds. Rumors that the women crave milk and blood and will take either by force. These are just stories. Decoys. Mearl warns viewers away from the waters' edge, switches to a segment about a loyal pet. 

The gators came west and north because of a tipping, accumulation and acceleration. Because the water pushed them through spectrums of color we once mapped and coded. Stories bloomed in the gators' wake like algae—deaf attempts to hold them off. They came because of weight and sliding, frictive forces overcome, and for the same reason, we sought them. 

Last week Fish and Game slit a gator tip-to-tail, hung it from a hook and prayed that one of us, the missing, would spill from its yellow skin—from its bellygut gaping like a rubber mouth. Instead they found a bike tire, an ibis, a ball of our hair, neatly severed, freely given. They kept it quiet, bundled in newsprint. The news that night warned that the blue-skinned women grew bolder. Keep your pets and kids inside, warned Mearl, shuffling her papers. 

Meanwhile we pluck plastic from the water, melt it in our palms and smooth it over our skin like paraffin wax—we seal ourselves and slip beneath the surface. And when our thoughts flicker to before, we focus them like beams of light, on the murk, on the water, we swallow.