sellers_trailer_500I lived with my father in a pink duplex. I slept in a brown velour recliner on a jalousie-windowed porch. My father, Fred, slept in a king-size bed that filled the bedroom, and I never went in that room, it was all mattress.

The pink duplex was on a dirt road, MacCleod. Interstate Highway 4 ran along the dirt road, and there was always a cloud of dust over the hot lawn. The drainage ditch got fenced in over Christmas, and come spring, an alligator rose up, out of the emerald green muck, inside the fence. My father and I named him L’il Fella. Come summer, we renamed him Big Fella. I saw my father feed him old chicken. Saw him throw bread over the fence around the ditch. A kettle of scorched soup.

The gator lived in a cage, in essence. We named him to love him, but it did not feel right to know him this way. My father standing at the chain link, a tumbler of gin in one hand, his face already off-sides, early afternoon. Banging on the fence, hollering, Want some what, Big Fella? What do you want?

I thought maybe we had it all wrong. And not just the story we told ourselves about Big Fella. All of it.

For example, that gator could be a girl. Could have no name.

My father said we’d grill him, Fourth of July. He said that just to rile me, and it did rile me.

My father said I could not ever move out.

I slept in a brown velour chair that tilted back. Not a bed. I had to move out.

Boys who lived one trailer over told me Desmond threw a dog inside that fence. It was true I could see blood, black now, on the wire.

It was awesome.

Throw you in there, my father loved to say. Can you swim? How fast? Every time he said fast, he reached down and grabbed one of my thighs with both his ice-wet hands, and leaned over, bit my shoulder.

Chomp, he liked to say. Chomp.

Oh come on. Don’t be that way. We’re just having fun.


Heather Sellers teaches creative nonfiction and poetry at The University of South Florida. She’s the author of You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, a true story of family, face blindness, and forgiveness. Her books on craft include The Practice of Creative Writing and Page after Page. She is completing a new collection of poetry, and a series of not-brief essays.

Photography by Laura Frantz