Getting the Gator This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   I cannot help but stare into that green-globe eye, bisected by a slit pupil. Thecreature hisses softly as I remove the weights from the lid of its tank and setthem on the cement floor. It opens its mouth wide to reveal a nearly-white tonguefenced in by pointed teeth. The alligator knows what I am preparing to do, anddares me to try.

I know I shouldn't have looked into its eye. I remindmyself that it is a small, weak alligator and that if I grab it behind the headit cannot bite me. It's so easy. All I have to do is reach in without hesitation.Without hesitation. I must remember that alligators are different from snakes.With snakes one must move slowly and calmly; snakes can sense nervousness. Withalligators, it's move quickly and grab. I can do this. There is nothing to worryabout. The worst it can do is bite me. It's so little that it couldn't take afinger off, just maybe grind it to ribbons. This train of thought is nothelping.

I peer down through the wire top. Poor alligator. Just a littlereptile who lives in a tank at a Nature Center, taken out occasionally bytwo-footed creatures and shoved in a cooler to be brought out and gawked at bysmaller two-footed creatures. I like my job, I really enjoy working with kids andanimals. I doubt the alligator likes his job. That's why he glares at me with hisgreen-globe eye, hissing and daring me to grab him. Nohesitation.

"Let's get him now," I say suddenly to Vince, theother counselor.

"We'd better wait for the guys. It takes three toget the gator. One to hold the light, one to man the bite stick and one to grabhim."

I wince at the word "guys." Vince didn't mean it as adig, but I am painfully aware that I am not one of the guys. I am left to get theeasy animals and rinse out the containers. But I will gain their respect if I canget the gator. The alligator demands respect.

"We don't need anyoneelse. We'll be late if we wait any more. You do bite stick, and I'll grabhim."

Vince glances at me. "You sure you want to grab him? I'vedone it before; maybe you should do bite stick."

"That's allright." I lift the lid. Vince shrugs and uses the metal bite stick to try toprod the alligator into the water. The alligator snaps and slips into his pool.The black sides banded with cream scales shine underwater. Heglides through the water by waving his powerful tail, then pauses for aninstant by the side of the tank.

I lunge and grab him by the neck. Hisrough scales dig into my palm as I raise him, struggling and thrashing,from the water. With my other hand I hold the base of his whipping tail so hecan't escape. I feel the flush of triumph as he squirms in my grasp. I amsurprised by how easy it was.

But then a sudden snap and a flash of light.In a blink the alligator has grabbed a light cord in his teeth. The cordstretches over the gator tank to the lamp that is usually on the iguana cage. Butat that moment the lamp is swinging frantically over the alligator's tank, as theanimal hisses through tightly clamped jaws. I don't dare drop both alligator andlight into the water, but how can I hold on? The alligator and my arms aredripping wet, and if he bites through the insulation on the cord ...

Vincegrabs the swinging light so it no longer dangles over the tank. But the reptiledoesn't have any intention of letting go. I am not willing to put my bare fingersnear his toothy jaws, let alone pry them open.

I find my voice."Vince, hand me the hawk glove." When in doubt, put on a thick leatherglove. If it can withstand talons, it can withstand teeth. I put the alligator'smuscled tail between my knees and take the glove. But I'm unable to get it onwith only one hand. Another idea comes to me.

"Vince, don't let goof the light." To the alligator I whisper, "I'm sorry for doingthis." I bring the glove down on his snout. With a furious hiss, thealligator flings his head around and claws the empty air. Sometime during thechaos, he releases the light cord. I hold the gator high, trembling buttriumphant.

"Nice job," Vince says with respect.

Fiveguys choose that moment to tromp into the warm herp room. Two of them are nottrained herp people, but just came to see the spectacle. It isn't every day thatthe alligator is taken out. They look disappointed to see him already in myhands.

"So you got him, Christina?" one asks.

"I gothim." I smile at the now subdued alligator in my hands. My trial by reptile.My scaly rite of passage.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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