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Ava Wrestles the Alligator by Karen Russell

Ava Wrestles the Alligator by Karen Russell

Ratings: (0)|Views: 6,359 |Likes:
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
From her debut collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a story about a family making their living wrestling alligators. This story takes on a life of its own in Karen Russell's forthcoming novel, Swamplandia!, of which Stephen King raves, "Brilliant, funny, original, also creepy and sinister...This book will not leave my mind."
From her debut collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a story about a family making their living wrestling alligators. This story takes on a life of its own in Karen Russell's forthcoming novel, Swamplandia!, of which Stephen King raves, "Brilliant, funny, original, also creepy and sinister...This book will not leave my mind."

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Published by: Alfred A. Knopf on Dec 01, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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09/29/2013

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Ava Wrestles the Alligator
My sister and I are staying in Grandpa Sawtooth’s old houseuntil our father, ChiefBigtree, gets back from the Mainland.It’s our first summer alone in the swamp. “You girls will befine,” the Chiefslurred. “Feed the gators, dont talk tostrangers. Lock the door at night.” The Chiefmust haveforgotten that it’s a screen door at Grandpa’s—there is nokey, no lock. The old house is a rust-checkered yellowbungalow at the edge ofthe wild bird estuary. It has asingle, airless room; three crude, palmetto windows, withmosquito-blackened sills; a tin roofthat hums with thememory ofrain. I love it here. Whenever the wind gusts inoffthe river, the sky rains leaves and feathers. During matingseason, the bedroom window rattles with the ardor ofbirds.Now the thunder makes the thin window glass ripple likewax paper. Summer rain is still the most comforting soundthat I know. I like to pretend that it’s our dead mother’s fin-gers, drumming on the ceiling above us. In the distance, analligator bellows—not one ofours, I frown, a free agent.Our gators are hatched in incubators. Ifthey make any noiseat all, it’s a perfunctory grunt, bored and sated. This wild
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gator has an inimitable cry, much louder, much closer. Ismile and pull the blankets around my chin. IfOsceola hearsit, she’s not letting on. My sister is lying on the cot oppositeme. Her eyes are wide open, and she is smiling and smiling inthe dark.“Hey, Ossie? Is it just you in there?”My older sister has entire kingdoms inside ofher, andsome ofthem are only accessible at certain seasons, in certainkinds ofweather. One such melting occurs in summer rain, atmidnight, during the vine-green breathing time right beforesleep. You have to ask the right question, throw the rightrope bridge, to get there—and then bolt across the chasmbetween you, before your bridge collapses.“Ossie? Is it just us?” I peer into the grainy dark. There’sthe chair that looks like a horned devil’s silhouette. There’s theblind glint ofthe terrarium glass. But no Luscious. Ossie’s evilboyfriend has yet to materialize.“Yup,” she whispers. “Just us.” Ossie sounds wonderfullyawake. She reaches over and pats my arm.“Just us girls.”That does it. “Just us!” we scream. And I know that foronce, Ossie and I are picturing the same thing. Miles andmiles ofswamp, and millions and millions ofghosts, and justus, girls, bungalowed in our silly pajamas.We keep giggling, happy and nervous, tickled by an incom-plete innocence. We both sense that some dark joke is beingplayed on us, even ifwe cant quite grasp the punch line.“What about Luscious?” I gasp. “You’re not dating Lus-cious anymore?”Uh-oh. There it is again, that private smile, the one thatSt. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
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implies that Ossie is nostalgic for places I have never been,places I can’t even begin to imagine.Ossie shakes her head. “Something else, now.”“Somebody else? You’re not still going to, um,” I pause,trying to remember her word, “elope? Are you?”Ossie doesn’t answer. “Listen,” she breathes, her eyes likeblown embers. The thunder has gentled to a soft nicker. Out-side, something is scratching at our dripping window. “He’shere.”You know, Ossie’s possessions are nothing like thosetwitch-fests you read about in the Bible, no netherworldvoices or pigs on a hill. Her body doesn’t smolder like a fire-cracker, or ululate in dead languages. Her boyfriends possessher in a different way. They steal over her, silking into herears and mouth and lungs, stealthy and pervasive, like sicknessor swallowed water. I watch her metamorphosis in guilty,greedy increments. Ossie is sweating. Ossie is heavy-breathing.She puts her fist in her mouth, her other hand disappearingbeneath the covers.Then she moans, softly.And I get that peculiar knot offear and wonder andanger, the husk that holds my whole childhood. Here isanother phase change that I don’t understand, solid to void,happening in such close proximity to me. The ghost is here. Iknow it, because I can see my sister disappearing, can feel thebody next to me emptying ofmy Ossie, and leaving mealone in the room. Luscious is her lewdest boyfriend yet. Theghost is moving through her, rolling into her hips, makingOssie do a jerky puppet dance under the blankets. This hap-pens every night, lately, and I’m helpless to stop him. Get out
 Ava Wrestles the Alligator 
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