Jean Croker Petke

A Swamp Story


  • THE REPORTER, who works for a small newspaper someplace in Kentucky
  • THE ARTIST, from down the hall, who does graphic design for some marketing wizards
  • ME, a mere mortal who keeps trying to juggle too many projects

The story evolves over the course of three days, from an email initiated by Me.


I used to think I live in a zoo here at work but I’m changing my mind. It’s a swamp, complete with black murky stuff on the bottom, thick nauseous green water with strange creatures lurking beneath the surface, submerged stumps that snag your butt, and trees and moss hanging everywhere, making navigation nearly impossible. My boat is small, the motor is questionable, and swimming doesn’t look like a viable option. I’m just holding on to my oars and trying to keep my lunch dry.

“Keep paddling,” The Reporter said. From across the newsroom one of his coworkers noted there’s a dead possum in the bottom of my boat. Yuk!

The possum dropped from one of the overhanging cypress trees. The possum had been securely wedged in the tree for some time, but as its bloating increased it rolled off the branch. It’s so large, had it not landed in the center of my boat, it would have tipped me into the water. It stinketh! I’m squeamish about the dead possum, but grateful for still being in my boat.

“But you are so happy,” The Artist said, “that it landed in the center of your boat. How pathetic is that?”

“Ecstasy is relevant,” I tell her. “It just depends on what’s happened recently.”

“Do you think I should take this story seriously?” I say to The Reporter. “Perhaps I could develop it into a full-length novel. I’m not sure whether it would be fiction, nonfiction, romance (now there’s a concept!), science fiction, paranormal, or mystery. Romance in a swamp seems a bit far-fetched . . . but there is a possum, dead and bloated though he may be. Perhaps he’s really some other kind of spirit waiting to be unleashed.”

The Artist chimes in, “I think it should be one of these ‘This is What I Learned from the Swamp’ nonfiction, how-to books. Maybe it could be a reality show.”

In an attempt to improve my situation, I tied a rock to the dead possum, threw him overboard, and he sank. However, this morning he has mysteriously reappeared, and is worse than before. In a brief moment of sick humor, I declare, “He has risen to the occasion!”

I’m looking for a way out of the swamp, but I hate to learn by trial and error. Lacking a map or paper and pencil to document my movements through the swamp (only for the purpose of not going round in circles or going down the same dead-end channels) I’ll have to rely on my memory and keen observation. It’s a matter of public record, here in my office, that my memory skills are lacking, so sheer determination and stubbornness will have to get me out of here.

The Reporter is looking for headlines. “Return of the Zombie Possum” or “The Possum Also Rises.” He’s been smelling too much newspaper ink.

It’s a wonder the rock didn’t tip the boat itself, but since the possum returned I’m figuring it wasn’t a large enough rock. But you can only use what the swamp provides, and the swamp ain’t providing much that’s useful or helpful.

The Reporter continues. “You never know what the possum might have brought up from the murky depths of the swamp.”

“Check under the boat.” The Artist is offering advice for my predicament. “The rope you tied to the possum is probably caught on your propeller. By the way, that’s probably why you aren’t getting anywhere! It’s usually the things we do that hinder us most.” In a moment of judgment or perhaps insight, she continues, “But Jean, it’s probably something YOU put there!”

The Reporter adds his bit. “Sounds like you need the latest copy of the ‘Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.’ If only some kind soul would airlift one to you. Going by memory is difficult, since all the trees look alike after a while.” He offers little real help.

“It reminds me of a scene from The Muppet Movie,” The Reporter reminisces, “where Dom DeLuise is lost in the swamp and finds Kermit sitting on a log playing the banjo,” For The Reporter all life events can be found in an old Muppet movie.

“I’ve lost my sense of direction,” says Dom.

“Have you tried Hare Krishna?” asks Kermit.

I don’t get it; perhaps I’m too old.

I find it totally ironic at this point that the ongoing subject line of our email conversations is “Airplane Tickets to Iowa.”

Duh — I went to the boat dock instead of the airport.

That explains everything.

Until next Tuesday . . .



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