“I heard there are alligators in these swamps.”
“Bullshit,” I reply. “Maybe further east but not here. Someone would know if they were here.”
Like royalty, Big Jonny and I sit surveying our kingdom, drinking beer we are too young to buy. This is Texas and we are celebrating our country’s independence. There are parties scattered around the lake, pods of the American semi-nude, and as the sun goes down the water acts like a mirror reflecting the sky. The image is of twin suns stacked like bunk beds, one on top of the other. In this twilight, I am dreaming of Rosamund Parker.
“Fuck alligators,” I mutter. “I’ve got more important shit to deal with. She doesn’t even know my name.”
She doesn’t even know my name, Jonny sings. He sounds like a fine country singer. I love her, and she doesn’t even know my name.
“I’m serious,” I say, “It’s pathetic.”
Big Jonny nods and chugs his beer. He finishes and leans back in his orange lawn chair that’s worn out like blue jeans, and casually crushes the empty can between his big sausage fingers. Jesus, I think, those fucking hands could crush a skull.
As for Rosamund Parker, her beauty is refreshing like an oasis in the desert. She wears big, rangy glasses, and has brown eyes, and looks very serious until she smiles. She seems to have this Miles Davis cool about her, though to be honest I don’t know anything you can’t observe from a distance. I study Rosamund Parker like one would study a Great White shark. She is mildly popular at school and moves graciously among the groups that bunch the hallways. She smokes with the freaks, lunches with the nerds, and parties with the jocks. She’s the consummate lead in school plays and in third grade she punched Sally Jenkins in Social Studies, letting everyone know, even then, she was not to be trifled with. For whatever reason, she does this all with siren-like blue hair. Troll Doll hair. She has freckles that go great with anything and if I were a different person leading a different life she would be my girlfriend.
Big Jonny smashes another beer can, this time with his cowboy boot. The cicadas soundtrack the night and there are teenage shouts from the party nearby.
“Best get on with it,” Big Jonny drawls. “I suppose she will be here, big party and all.” And here he begins to sing again, passionately and embarrassingly.
I can feel it cu-ming in the air tonight…hold on!
“Nice, Phil Collins,” I mumble.
I’m nervous at the party, drinking too much and stealing glances at Rosamund Parker. I know this is my last chance as she’s soon leaving for college. The stage is set and now the requisite fright is setting in. To soothe the nerves, Big Jonny suggests a keg stand, and it’s fresh off this keg stand that I find myself surrounded like a press conference, offering explanations.
“I just kept drinking,” I say. “Nothing else to it.”
“That was the longest I’ve seen,” says a cute blonde girl, and then from the back of the crowd a muffled, “That’s what she said.”
And finally, between the laughs, “Your name is Stan, right?”
I turn to find Rosamund Parker. She’s grasped my arm. I panic.
Slowly, she replies, “Stan. Right?”
“Right,” I say. “Stan.”
She doesn’t smile at me, but she doesn’t take her eyes from mine either. Instead, she squints at me as if I’m far away. I think she is the most beautiful, most drunk creature I’ve ever seen.
“Rosamund,” she says. “Rosamund Parker.”
That night we slept together. It was my first time, and as it turned out, her last.
As time has taken an eraser to my memories, I’ve lost many of the details. Perhaps the incredible nature of the morning that followed somehow dulled the preceding night – like trying to see in the dark after turning off the light. As it is, I remember snapshots of the nocturnal tryst that even when pieced together reveal only the corners of a puzzle.
I remember her pink bra crumpled on the ground, the feel of her hipbones to my fingers, and how she attacked my ear with her teeth. I remember the sound of sticks breaking as we rolled in the dirt, and her sweaty palms as she led me through the darkness of the woods to seclusion. Most of all, I remember her blue hair.
In the morning I’m awakened by screams. The sound leaves no time for a fuzzy adjustment period but even standing and awake I can’t believe my eyes.
Rosamund Parker is being dragged. Only her torso is visible. She is wearing my pearl snap shirt and the look on her face, years later, will keep me staring at ceilings for nights on end. There is a grating sound, like something being crunched and torn at the same time, and the sound sparks one excruciatingly obvious thought.
This is Rosamund Parker being eaten by an alligator.
Before I’ve taken a step, the gator has her in the water. There is thrashing, screaming, choking, crying, and ripping. The last I see of her is the hair, but really it’s over before it even began.
In the moments following, there is an eerie calm as I take in my surroundings. I am on the shore of a swamp and the water is low and muddy. Surprisingly there is no blood, as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened. In the coming days I know there will be questions and newspaper stories, national interviews, and a Jaws-like hunt for the killer beast. They’ll eventually find bits of her in the animal’s stomach, and remnants of a toenail will acquit me of murder.
It was my sixteenth summer. A summer of firsts. The shade fought the heat, the bugs stretched their wings, and nature laid Rosamund Parker to rest.