Christmas Alligator

Reiser Perkins

We were at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Lights on a plastic Christmas tree blinked while we waited for our check. Mandy, my best friend, put on a pair of green leather gloves she’d bought at a thrift store earlier that day. It was then that her right hand took on a life of its own. A crazy life.

“My name is Christmas Alligator,” said the hand. Actually, Mandy said it, but we knew it was the hand talking.

Christmas Alligator was attracted to shiny things like tinsel and earrings. At first, he only “came out” when Mandy wore the gloves, but soon he was showing up anytime, anywhere. Suddenly, there he’d just be, climbing tarantula style up my arm, nestling into the crook of my neck. It didn’t hurt, but still, it was scary. Mandy said she couldn’t control it. “I can’t control it,” she was always saying.

We were fourteen and it felt like the world didn’t want us in it. Sometimes, Christmas Alligator wouldn’t show up for days. We’d do what we normally did, which was hairspray our bangs and go to the mall. If the alligator showed up, he’d insist we take him to the arcade because all those lights and sounds were a “paradise” where he felt “comfortable.” We preferred the photo booth or the basement fountain where goths hung out, but with the alligator it was better to do what he wanted so he wouldn’t make a scene.

Whenever he was around, Christmas Alligator gave speeches. The speeches were about how he had many plans, but when it came to actually following through on any of them, he didn’t. “I’m my own worst enemy,” he’d say. He didn’t like to see other people doing things, either. It really pissed him off when someone shoveled their driveway or stood in line at the bank.

Another thing about the alligator was he loved to sing. His shrill, operatic renditions of classics like “Walk on By” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” raised the hair on my neck. Between songs he’d tell jokes or do impersonations.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy spending time with Christmas Alligator, exactly, but as winter dragged on, I sometimes wondered if Mandy hadn’t invented him so she’d have an excuse to touch me in a way that was maybe a little bit sexual. The accidental boob graze was no big deal, except for I could tell when it wasn’t an accident.

“I should have been an ox. An ox has a good and steady heart, I’m guessing,” Christmas Alligator would say, adding, “I feel like a stuffed animal that’s been mauled by dogs.”

My mom would sometimes knock on my bedroom door and ask who we were talking to. “It’s just the TV,” we’d say, or, “We’re just doing our drama homework.”

When he got depressed, all Christmas wanted to do was stay in my room and play Scrabble. He’d try to pass off words like LANDO and THRON. I’d say nothing. It was easier. The whole time he’d be talking about how he wanted to escape into the desert, curse god, lie with beasts. He’d say he felt bigger than the night on the inside, but smaller than a pebble on the outside. I’d suggest he take up sign language or the piano and he’d glare at me with murder in his eyes. (They were Mandy’s eyes, but we all knew who was looking through them.)

For Christmas, Christmas Alligator got a manicure and things started looking up. By Valentine’s Day, he thought he could be the next Liberace even though he hadn’t taken a single piano lesson. He had taught himself a few chords on my mini Casio keyboard, guided by nothing but instinct and an aggressively self-generated belief in his own powers.

It was around this time that I walked in to find him rifling through my underwear drawer. He tried to make a joke out of it, but still, it was weird.

“I’m not a metaphor,” he said.

I’d be cooking macaroni and cheese while Mandy talked to her boyfriend on the phone. Christmas would flutter by, perch on my shoulder, slide down a braid of hair and leap, spinning, to land on the counter where he’d proceed to do the cancan, fingers for legs. He’d try to do the hornpipe but fall over. Then he’d just lie there, pretending to be dead.

“Everything is so temporary, especially people,” he’d say. “Even the headstones marking their soon-to-be-dust bones will someday crumble into sand.” (I’d hear the boyfriend’s tinny laugh through the spiraled wire. Apparently he liked it when Mandy was “insane.”)

One day I found a small pile of coarse, matted fur under my bed. When I asked them about it, Mandy (or the alligator, I couldn’t always tell who was who anymore), started flipping through the radio, lingering on the static between stations.

It wasn’t long after this that I woke up in the middle of the night to find Christmas Alligator just sitting there, staring at me. “Instead of worrying about boys, you should start a band called Super Cow or God Jizm,” he said. It was exactly what I’d been saying for years. “You could be called The Factorettes instead of trying on hundreds of different outfits before walking down to the 7-11. Just saying.”

It was disconcerting, but also validating, to hear my deepest beliefs echoed back by the same physical form that usually laughed when I said those things, like I was the stupid one. Like I was the one staring at the wall, eating stale candy corn left over from Halloween.

When the snow melted, Christmas Alligator disappeared. It felt as though an actual person had left in the night. “Remember when he scared that baby?” we’d reminisce. “Remember when he battled the kitten?” In our memory of him, Christmas Alligator didn’t look like a hand. He looked like a cute, super tiny alligator wearing sunglasses.

Reiser Perkins lives on an island with a husband and some goats. Her poems, fictions, and other ephemera have appeared in HobartSugar House Review, glittermobNew West, and elsewhere. She is the author of a collection of poems called How To Dance While Dying. She runs the independent publishing project Otis Nebula.