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What she said

What she said

by Stephanie on September 17, 2008

I am no longer afraid of crocodiles.

Almost every day for a week and a half, I navigated their river. I fished in it. I got mud in my shoes. I saw stars flare and flicker and shoot across the sky. I got scratches on my legs from reeds and rope and the frantic flapping of an ill-fated long tom. In the middle of the night, mullet flew through the air like birds, and all the time the crocodiles lurked.

I couldn’t see them for the first few days. You have to train your eye. It’s not so much that log floating downstream—that’s a cliché designed to throw you off actually looking in the right places. It’s that muddy patch on the bank you need to look at. The slight shadow on the sandbar, or the sunny spot near the fallen tree. Sometimes you can’t tell if it is or it isn’t until you’re close enough to throw a spear, but once the sun goes down, all you need is a spotlight and you can pick the red gleam of their eyes from hundreds of metres away.

I admire them, in a way. I think about them a lot. Every part of them, from the shape of their toes to the back of their throats, is engineered towards expending the least amount of energy for the most gain. They laze around with their mouths open, teeth bared, sun on their backs, waiting for nighttime when the fish fly. And that’s really what they’re interested in—fish, injured animals, easy targets. Despite their reputation, they rarely go after sober, healthy people. Even so, there’s a reason why you keep a shotgun in the boat.

And that’s the thing. Self-preservation sometimes requires that you pull a trigger; that you shoot before you lose a limb. And it’s easy, when you’re fascinated by something, to wait too long, to draw too close, to get stuck on that fucking sandbar in the dark.

My dad always told me not to trust anyone. I do it anyway. I let people take my time without requiring that they prove their worth in advance. I place my heart on the table where people can see it, carve it up and feast on it. I don’t have many secrets. I once claimed I didn’t have any, but I made a meal of that sentence immediately after I’d said it. I don’t like having secrets, and those I do have are mainly other people’s. The only thoughts of my own that I feel like I should need to keep close to my chest are those that are unfinished. Sometimes I think this is what makes me still human; that allows me to still be open to the world and learn from it, because what are the other options? To turn my skin to leather and let my blood run cold? Because that is what a lack of trust means for me. That, and an uncharacteristic silence as all my energy gets sucked into holding down the trigger-happy girl with the machine-gun mouth.

“What’s been going on in your life?” people ask. “Crocodiles,” I answer. The stories have been told so many times now that I wonder if there is anyone left to tell. Perhaps only the crocodiles themselves. Only, I’m not sure they’re inclined to sit and listen just yet.

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