Lindsay Forbes Brown

Big Lipped Alligator Moment

The diner was dead. A lone waitress anxiously scrubbed coffee rings from the countertop as she waited for her husband.
Suddenly, a girl burst in. The waitress looked up and squeezed the stained terry towel between her fingers. She watched rainwater drip from the girl’s hair, from the girl’s face.
The girl shrugged off her coat revealing stubbed, angelwing-like shoulder blades. She squelched her way on one of the high-top seats at the counter. Half-chewed fingernails drummed on the Formica.
The waitress came closer to the girl, her eyes growing pointed. “We’re about to close,” she said.
The girl asked if she could stay just for a little while, until the rain stopped. She scratched her shoulder and wondered if she could please have a chocolate malt while she waited.
The waitress checked her wristwatch. Her tongue flicked around her gums. She sighed, nodded, and got to work on the malt.
Scooper in hand, the waitress angled it toward her mouth to fix a smudge of lipstick in the reflection. There was a purple stain on her bottom teeth from the nibble of blueberry pie she had snuck earlier from the revolving glass case. She sucked her teeth and remembered that morning at breakfast.
“Why don’t you try anymore? You don’t even try to look pretty,” her husband had remarked, mustache hairs curling over the lip of his coffee mug. As if something like that wouldn’t decimate her.
At first, she’d been furious. She stabbed the living hell out of her scrambled eggs and then grumbled all the way to the diner for her shift. But the longer she thought about it, she started to soften. She knew he was under the gun at work. He was stressed. And she had stopped wearing makeup and dyeing the gray from her hair. She hadn’t weighed herself in years, had long ago quit substituting Atkins bars for meals.
On her break, the waitress had picked up a lipstick and some other things to show him she would try. For the first time in a long time, she’d felt hopeful. But now, with this girl here, the vulnerability crept in.
Touching her freshly powdered cheek in the warped reflection the scooper afforded her, the waitress’ heart sank. This face of hers was fit for her own funeral. She’d done her best, she knew deep down, but the sad clown makeup had settled cake-like over her taffy skin. Under the fluorescents, her rouge looked orangey.
She couldn’t help feeling she’d overdone it, couldn’t help but glance back at the fresh-faced girl, to that collarbone protruding like a natural necklace. The waitress bit her lip hard. Here was this girl, thin as a wishbone and probably just as snappable.
The girl was barely a woman. Or else she was new to it and not as acquainted with her powers as the others were. Nibbled nails, an eruption of pimples on her forehead. The waitress reckoned the girl barely had the hips it took and wondered how a girl that small could have her monthly. She couldn’t help her anger at that hipless, flickable, un-bleeding girl. This girl who likely spread her legs and chewed bubblegum at the same time. She oozed that top-risen cream of youth, so thick and smooth you could part it with a fingernail.
These girls thought they were better because of their creamsicle skin and cheeks like the first exposed blush on a peach. It was girls like this girl her husband’s dopey eyes were always wandering over at the Texas Roadhouse or the pharmacy. The cashier girls at the supermarket or teensy-topped bartenders who laughed at his stupid jokes just for tips and who thanked him slyly for the compliments he threw around them like birthday confetti.
Once she was one of those hair-flipping girls. Hell, the first ten years of their marriage, and after two too many eggnogs, her sister’s husband would joke that he’d married the wrong sister. Even now, he would still come up behind her when they were the only two in the kitchen to press himself against her and whisper hot-breathed that she still had the body of a cheerleader. Because the waitress loved her sister, she protected her and never told her a word about it. She always moved away from those wayfaring palms, never once taking her brother-in-law up on his advances, though they were always there, dangling shinily each Yuletide.
Truth was, she hadn’t wanted to marry her husband. He had begged her. But it could have been any Joe in Amelia County. It could have been any one of boys she’d taken a tumble with in their backseats, white panties swinging around her quivering left ankle like a flag of surrender.
She used to be strong. She used to be more, want more. She donated blood whenever she could and made cookies on Wednesdays for choir practice. She had taken care of both her parents when her sister couldn’t bear it, had pet the thin silkworm hair and whispered how much she loved them as they each died peacefully in their sleep.
She hadn’t asked for much in life. All she ever really wanted to do was to watch the alligator wrestling in the Everglades. She’d seen a black and white television special about it once when she was a kid. To her, the films were as vivid and visceral as Technicolor. She’d sat for hours watching and rewatching a man with a butt crack the size of Brazil wrangle one of those antediluvian-looking things to the ground. Became obsessed with the gator’s unblinking mosaic eyes, the diamond patterns their hard, black-scabbed scales made in the sand as they were flipped, the heavy tail-slap when they finally admitted defeat. The pièce de résistance was when the wrestler wrenched back open and then closed the gator’s jaws. It was the same feral open-and-close sound her jewelry box made.
Afterward, the wrangler said in an interview that he could feel how icy the gator’s blood was just by holding onto the horizontal ridge of its mandible. He wanted those who watched to know that what he did was more an art—or, no, a form of respect more than anything else. At thirteen years old, the waitress had wanted to feel as powerful as that man on the screen must’ve and she never got over it. For the rest of her life, she would think about how she might get a chance to cage a gator’s pearl-toothed grin neatly between both of her hands. But the closest she’d gotten to the Glades was when her husband had taken her to Chincoteague Island on their honeymoon. That was where he had promised to give her everything she ever wanted. And now, so many years had gone by, and her dream was still just that. They’d never managed to visit outside the Virginia chokehold.
The waitress reached in the freezer for the plastic tub of chocolate ice cream. As she scooped glorious shimmering balls into an aluminum shaker, she wondered how long it had been since her husband had last tenderly touched her. Three years? Five? It must have been after the menopause.
She peeked behind her to check on the girl, but she wasn’t paying her mind. The girl was busy making miniature cathedrals of milk on the countertop with the expired coffee creamers. The waitress turned around, hot-cheeked. She went to open the canister of malt powder, but the lid was too tight, and she broke a nail. She cursed to herself, wanting to go over to the girl and say, “This is your fault,” but she didn’t. Instead, she tore off the broken part with her teeth. Tossed that poor, pink-lacquered thing into the garbage, and assessed the new ragged edge.
Her nails, once strong, were now wafer-thin and split for nothing. While her husband grayed handsomely and gained only a handful of respectable weight, the waitress thought of her evolving she-beastliness as just one of God’s many offenses toward womankind. Bette Davis was right. Growing old wasn’t for sissies.
How dainty her wrists had looked once, crossed over her husband’s tuxedoed shoulders on their wedding night. His grasp on her thin waist had been timid but roaming, awaiting to find out what she tasted and felt like underneath all that scratchy, superstitious lace. She remembered the three-tiered cake robed with baby-blue fondant that she’d never gotten a chance to try. Two plastic mini-thems atop, and hers with dark hair even though in real life it was yellow.
She missed how young she used to be. She missed how soft his hands used to feel on her body. Now they just felt cold and hard as he took her as he pleased. From behind, like a barnyard animal. Or else, his eyelids were screwed tightly as he heaved on top of her.
She imagined donning the lingerie she knew was stuffed in the back of her drawer and straddling him just the same as the man on television did with his gator to show her husband, look here, look who’s boss. To show him look how greedy she was to get back to the beginning — gray hair or otherwise. They could even take a trip back to the Eastern Shore. She smiled a jagged, crooked-eye smile as she snaked whipped cream around the malt.
The door opened. She heard his footsteps and wet her lips with her tongue.
She looked up, still smiling. Her husband had stopped in his tracks. But he wasn’t looking at her. He didn’t even notice her. Instead, he gave the girl a Look.
The heart-clattering Look. She’d seen it before. It was the Look she had dreaded from the moment the girl stepped into the diner. The same one she had seen him give so many other girls just like her while she stood by like a fool, pretending not to hear him blubber and flirt. She watched as he gobbled the girl, eyes munching greedily from bony toes to pimply forehead, those gobbling eyes going lazy when they reached mysterious breasts and unblemished thighs.
With that Look, a before sealed thing unsealed itself. A black mouth opened into a great yawning. The rage molted, clothed itself, figured its spiny shape, gathered its tendrils, and clawed itself out. For so long they’d been for each other that deepdark love. The sticky kind. The stinging kind. But now, forget it. She realized then that he would never again love her like he used to. He didn’t want her old housekey taste. And could she blame him?
Oh yes, she could. There were no more excuses. The waitress thought of her husband’s little seahorse cock twitching inside pants she’d stitched. Nearly their entire lives she had tended to him. Spooned cough syrup onto his tongue without scraping the metal against his teeth. Bent an ear to his whiny see-saw voice as he complained every evening after work. She was his personal Linnaeus, as all married women are to husbands. Could catalog all his fault lines, scars, and discolorations. There was the newfound mole on his disappearing hairline. There was the way he slept: spine crooked away from her on the left side of their marriage bed, the warmest thing in the room an ever-present glass of whiskey and milk on his bedside table.
Her life had been reduced to mere gestures. Cooking overly bloody steaks for him every Friday night, wiping away the errant pubic hairs which clung unmercifully from the basin of the tub, listening to his pitiful sneeze as soon as he orgasmed. And now, here she was, stupidly dolled-up while he gawked, almost open-jawed at this girl.
Everything crystallized; it suddenly turned black and white. She moved slowly and then lightning quick. It surprised her how fast she got to them, how it only took one and a half body-lengths to get them into a death roll with the kitchen knife.
A dreamy thought played in her head when, to the sweet-toothed girl, the girl who became a blur of all those other silly girls, the girl who wished for spoonfuls of frozen sugar to melt on her tongue, she cut that tongue out. Grabbed it. Sawed at it. Until she could hold that curling red peel of tongue in the palm of her hand. Then, to her husband, she finally disciplined those roaming, disrespectful eyes, devouring bouquets of optic nerves.
There was no looking back, no going back.
Before she locked up, she made sure the place was spotless. Then, sliding into her car she breathed for what felt like the very first time in eons. Lipstick was reapplied in the rearview mirror, and she revved the engine. That same daydream filtered through her head, causing her to shiver with delight. She saw herself pummeling through open road, her hair aloose in the breeze as she moved toward citrus skies and the bellows of her beloved monsters.

Lindsay Forbes Brown received her MFA from American University, where she served as Editor in Chief for FOLIO. She is a Kenyon Review workshop alumnus and is currently Assistant Editor for Grace & Gravity. Her work is featured in or forthcoming in JMWWSo to SpeakSonora Review, Hobart, and on her website: