My husband and I have a small dog. From eyebrows to tail she is black, but has some brown on her ribs, and her underbelly is mink white. Sanding on her hind legs, she's just tall enough to lick my face when I bend from the waist. Until she begins to hunt, that is. Then, she pumps herself up like a wave rolling ashore. When I took her out walking at 6 am one Sunday morning, I was relieved she was not swallowed.
Dodging potholes, we crossed the parkway. The light on a metal lamp post glowed orange behind us, its dim light outshone by the line of walkway lights ahead. Mist hung over the pond, and at the edge of the water, given a lack of rain, mud was exposed. Shanti strained at her leash. She hunted in silence, sniffing, and wanting to reach the water's edge: "let me go, I smell, I can smell something in those reeds just out there, let me go Dad!" Thankful for her yaplessness, I held the leash but let her out just to its end.
She ran down toward the water. Inhaling the pond decay aromas, I thought back to one early morning on our live aboard catamaran, when I was pumping out the starboard head. It had been a month since our last septic tank pumpout. I opened the wrong valve and many days worth of well-you can geysered up and, unlike in Yellowstone, unfaithfully landed on the bathroom floor and walls. As the memory tapered off, I glanced ahead at the dog, grateful that this pond's odors were almost pleasant in comparison.
The dog was on point.
Peering ahead of her in the near dark, I saw why Shanti had paused. Just a few dog lengths from the muddy bank, two motionless vertical slits hung side by side just above the water, their hue a deeper red than the carroty colors of the lamplight behind us. The slits flickered in the lambent lights along the trail. Althought song birds were warming up their tunes in the damp Florida air, I heard only a fast thumping sound in my ribs. I looked at the dog. Shanti was still, snuffing the darkness, mouth agape, her back legs splayed apart as if her rear was a divining rod.
Dawn brighted. Scales appeared around the eye slits: two eyes, bright, hovering. The ridges on the tail's surface were the texture of a cheese grater. I wondered if Shanti heard me scream, though I thought I heard myself whisper “Back, get back Shanti.” I heard a splash. Perhaps it was a turtle, diving. Shanti knew better.
As the pond's surface began mirroring the coral-colored cirrus clouds above, the two slits became four. In the growing light of daybreak I thanked my dog for her clever nose. I was thankful for the alligator. Thank you, alligator, for not breaking my family apart.