The fiery orange sun hung high over the Bangkok skyline to the south. Professor Tina Montri rearranged her skirt and adjusted the alligator skin briefcase on her lap which held the presentation and research notes from her talk at the university. A breeze stirred on the back of her neck, warm and relaxing. She could almost fall asleep if it weren’t for her precarious perch at the top of a tree.
Tina would have climbed down from the tree if a crocodile wasn’t swimming beneath it, one yellow eye trained on her well developed calf muscle. And the croc wouldn’t be swimming underneath the tree if Bangkok hadn’t flooded. And she’d be at the airport already if she had just gone to the hotel to pack instead of taking a tuk-tuk around the city for a last few hours of sightseeing. And now, who knew when she’d get home. If she’d get home.
Fish, flowers, park benches, teddy bears, coffee cups, stick brooms, rice containers all floated by in the roiling waters. Still the swimming sack of teeth waited. The only sound Tina could hear was water, swift and pregnant with debris. She clicked her heels — what did she have to lose — but instead of being transported to LA, her right shoe fell into the water below.
She’d only meant to close her eyes for a few moments, but the sky was streaked with sunset when she opened them again. She tensed remembering where she was and grabbed the slippery bark of the tree, her remaining shoe splashing into the murk. The splash was followed by a chomp and a slap. She peered down at the water. She was thirsty. She wanted her shoes back. The crocodile, she supposed, had other plans.
“Hey!” Tina shook her briefcase. “See this? Go away or I’ll make you into a pair of gloves.”
“I highly doubt that,” said the croc.
She must not have woken fully from her nap. Still, she answered. “You ate my shoe.”
“It dropped on my head.”
“Because you’re sitting under my tree. Why don’t you go away?”
“Is that what you’d like? I, myself, would like a bite to eat.”
“I want to get down. I want to go home. I think our goals are mutually exclusive.” Tina shifted on the branch.
“Maybe,” said the croc. “Maybe not. Maybe I don’t eat you if you grant me a wish instead.”
Just what she needed: a talking crocodile with demands. “I’m not a genie, I’m a woman.”
“Pity. But women are delicious, so either way I’m ahead.”
“Fine.” When she woke up, she’d make sure to write this dream down. “What is it that you want?”
“I want to live in Florida.”
“Florida? But… why?”
“Well, I have a lot of cousins there, and I’d like to spend some time at the Magic Kingdom to visit the Pirates of the Caribbean.”
“We have one of those in California, too.”
“California is no good,” said the crocodile. “I’m trying to get away from the smog.”
“I’ll take you all the way to Florida, but I’m afraid I can’t set you loose in a theme park.”
“Well, it’s a start. To compromise!”
By the time Tina climbed down from the tree, the floodwaters were only ankle deep. The croc sat at the base of the tree with a ballet flat hanging from each of his long incisors.
“Thank you,” said Tina. She picked the shoes off of his yellowed teeth and drained them of the detritus collecting in the toes. “You’ll have to switch places with my briefcase so that I can carry you. Can you curl yourself up small?”
The crocodile began to turn around in circles, faster and faster until he had curled himself into the size of a tote bag.
“Here, now, you’ll have to swallow my things.” She fed the crocodile her presentation files, her thumb drives, her leftover fried rice, her sunglasses, and her lucky pen. She fished a phuang malai, shedding jasmine and marigold petals, from the base of the tree and looped it over the croc’s snout. “Bite down,” she said and he grabbed ahold of the garland and tucked his snout into a pocket near his belly. Tina picked up the croc, now a lumpy, flower handled tote bag and squished off in search of a way to the airport.
She didn’t see her empty briefcase float away, or the happy tail that sprung from its handle.
A fur-clad tourist next to Tina woke her up when the seat belt sign came on for the descent into Miami.
“My, what a wonderful bag you have,” said the woman. “Did you get it in Thailand?”
Tina nodded and patted the bag’s warm, clammy exterior. She hated to leave the crocodile here in Florida, when he made such a nice bag. After, all, who else could claim to have such a unique piece? Maybe she’d just keep him a month or so, until she could find a nice preserve. He could eat all of the lunch leftovers she never finished.
“Can I see it for a moment?” asked the woman.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Tina, her thumb tracing one of the curved, yellow teeth just under the garland handle. It was indeed a unique bag.
“It’s not as if I’m going to take it anywhere.” The woman huffed to herself, gesturing to the airplane cabin.
“Oh, no, I didn’t mean….” Tina felt queasy. “It’s just that all of my presentation notes are in it. I’m very protective of them.”
“Well, I can understand that,” said the woman. “You never know who you might be dealing with. I mean, I’d never let anyone try on my leopard coat.” She ran her hands down her sleek torso.
“That’s probably a good idea,” said Tina, hugging the bag to her middle. She leaned toward the man on the aisle until she noticed his snakeskin belt. Perhaps she’d stop in Miami after all.
Camille Griep lives and writes in Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in Bound Off, The First Line, and Punchnel’s. She is at work on her first novel.