By David Daniel

At six p.m. the bar in the hotel lobby in Montego Bay is already busy, revelers tuning up to ring in the New Year. Passing, carrying my suitcase and a large gym bag, I hear someone call my name. Carl and Babs, a couple I got to know when Leah was still with me and we all met the first night on the island, are motioning me to join them. I say I have to get to the airport.

“When’s your flight?” Carl asks. He a pudgy former Wall Street guy, his graying hair in a man-bun. Babs is a laughing earth mother about forty, with sun-bleached dreads and a made-for-bikini body. I tell them 7:30.

“Go with the flow, bro,” says Carl. “It’s a five-minute cab ride. Sit.” Babs is already signaling the waitress. What the hell. One drink.

Leah and I came down eight days ago, a Jamaican escape from New England winter. My intention was to make a dent in a long reading list ahead of the Graduate Record Exam in English I’m going to take in April, but the only reading I’ve done is the labels on Red Stripe bottles and two Ross Macdonald paperbacks I picked up at Logan when we left. Now there was a writer; though the chance of Macdonald turning up on the GRE is zero. Not that he shouldn’t. In his understanding of the human heart he’s a peer of Faulkner and Joyce. But he’s a mystery writer. When I told Leah this she seized it to make her case against my going for a graduate degree in English. “You don’t even like the books you’re supposed to like.”

I had no comeback.

“You’re almost thirty years old, Kent. It’s time you got practical.”

“You mean go to law school?” She’s second year at BC Law.

“Doesn’t have to be that. Get an MBA. Or an accounting degree. Something with a payback. God, what are you going to do? Teach high school English?”

It devolved from there and two days into the vacation (capped by her “I hate to say it, Kent, but in some ways you’re a screw-up”) Leah abruptly left to fly home. Stung, stubborn, I stayed.

The first day after her departure I was at loose ends. I considered leaving, too. But I didn’t. Leah and I have been together two years. True, we haven’t made anything final yet. We have our own apartments, mine a ratty little walkup in East Boston, where I can reach up and practically scratch the bellies of departing jumbo jets. Maybe a little time apart would be healthy for us. As for the start of a new year that ends in a zero . . . well that could bode good or ill.

My mood improved after a night at the hotel bar. From then on I had a routine. Mornings by the pool reading. Afternoons I combed the rocky beach on the far side of the resort. I stayed away from the ganja; it makes me paranoid. Evenings it was Red Stripes and rum punch in the karaoke bar. That’s where I got better acquainted with Carl and Babs. Not kids—Carl’s got to be fifty—but they live younger. He made a bundle in bond sales and she inherited one, and they dropped out for the beachcomber life. They’re generous, too. I’ve had to threaten to step on their flip-flops if they didn’t let me pick up at least a few of the bar bills. If they wonder where Leah is they keep mum.

It wasn’t long before I shed the winter coat of stress I was wearing for the past months and started to relax. Then, three days ago, walking on the stony beach, I met Alison.

She was lying among the rocks and I saw the glisten of sun on her skin. As I got near I noted blood oozing from a gash in her side. Her eyes were shut and my first thought was she was dead. But when I bent close I realized she was alive, though just barely.

Carl is signaling for another round, but I’ve gotta get a wiggle on. He rejects my offer to pay and throws me an amiable shaka. “Hang loose, brother.” Babs hugs me, her breasts joggling warmly against me. I leave them to their frozen margaritas, castaways still looking for the lost shaker of salt.

Apparently New Year’s Eve is not a big travel night. Sangster airport isn’t the chaotic scene I expect. The airline rep tells me I’ll have a row to myself. After stowing my suitcase, I make sure the gym bag is not in the aisle. While the plane slowly fills, a stewardess comes through with complimentary champagne. Happy soon-to-be 1980!

Last night, facing the end of vacation, I had a moment to wonder about Alison. She’d spent the past three days in my room, recuperating. Could I just leave her? Then, surprising myself, I wondered: could she come back with me?

“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the ‘No Smoking’ signs as we prepare for takeoff. Put all table trays in an upright position and …”

I unzip the gym bag a couple inches and nudge it under the seat ahead of me. In four hours I’ll be home. Time enough to get a decent buzz on, which I will need to face the Boston cold—face Leah, too.

When the plane is aloft people light up and the attendants begin to make their way along the aisle with the drinks cart. In no time the cabin is full of tobacco smoke and high-spirited chatter. Several rows ahead of me is a group of optometrists and their spouses who were staying at my same hotel. They were in Jamaica for a professional conference, though judging by the amount of time they spent at the pool bar—eye docs getting cock-eyed—it seemed a pretty loose affair. I order a rum and coke and let my mind drift. Soon, the drone of the jet’s engines and the drinks are working to calm me, to let me see possibility in the impossibility of everything.

The name Alison—not her actual name—came to me one night in the karaoke bar when Babs got singing the Elvis Costello song. When I first found her the gash in her side made me think she was in a fight or maybe got sliced by the propeller of a passing boat. The bleeding had stopped, and the sun seemed to be sealing the wound, but she was barely responsive. On the spur of the moment, I decided to carry her to the hotel.

I didn’t take her to the front desk but went straight to my room. She seemed to improve. I brought food and she managed to eat a bit. She spent her time sleeping, and I would admire her beauty. She liked lying in the bathtub, and I would sit on the tub’s edge and talk softly to her. I have the idea that she understands. If not my words, maybe the rhythms.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the captain interrupts. “we’re passing over the Outer Banks. If you look from the port side of the aircraft you’ll see the lights of Cape Hatteras.” I’m on the starboard, where all I see is darkness. I go back to musing.

Alison was sluggish today, so getting her on board wasn’t difficult. There’ll be some adjustments when we get home. Leah’s going to freak out, but I’m forming a plan. The high whine of jet engines and the clitter of ice in my plastic drink glass as I sip fade to white noise.

Sometime later, something causes me to sit up. Was I dozing? I glance down at the gym bag and discover it’s halfway unzipped. I bend and open it all the way and . . .

For a moment of freakout I sit frozen, then unlatch my seatbelt. Awkwardly, pretending I dropped something, I kneel in the narrow row and peer beneath the seats ahead. There, several rows on, moving slowly forward in the dimness among a forest of passenger’s legs and feet, is Alison.

For a moment, like a man at prayer, I remain. Evidently, in the warmth of the cabin, the 25-inch-long iguana has revived. She’s harmless, of course, gentle; but no one will be expecting her. Seen through the lens of their utter shock as they glance down she might as well be a salivating eight-foot-long Komodo Dragon hungry to rip into human flesh.

Growing aware of the thrum of the engines through my knees, I’m suddenly struggling with questions. Is Leah right? Am I a screw-up? Is studying for an exam that values writers no one ever reads outside of grad school versus a genre craftsman as skilled as Ross Macdonald stupid? Is being a lawyer or a CPA or even a salesman a more sensible life choice? Is bringing an iguana on the plane an act of idiocy?

But this is all just mind noise now. Mostly I’m feeling my betrayal of Alison. None of this is her fault. There are airline rules against bringing certain fruits and vegetables on board, but nothing about lizards. And actually, I’m happy she’s come fully back to life. And what are the airline people going to do, throw her off the flight? Maybe it’ll all work out. One thing’s sure—this’ll be a New Year’s Eve none of these people will never forget. Like Carl says, go with the flow, bro. I buckle my seatbelt and wait for the first scream.


David Daniel is a regular contributor to He remembers the days when you could bring almost anything onto an airplane.


7 Responses to Alison

  1. Ed DeJesus says:

    What better way to enjoy my morning bowl of fruit. I smiled repeatedly as I swallow strawberries and savor ever line of Alison. I chuckled after every bite of cantaloupe as Babs sings one of my favorite Costello tunes. I pucker-up for peaches and pineapples when the passengers light up. And I laugh when the eye doc’s legs get licked by a long green tongue.

    Only Dave can paint a different scene in every paragraph that flies me to the moon.

    Safe travels.

  2. byron hoot says:

    Sentences like knitting needles making something out of a ball of yarn not seen before, so Daniel gives another story that “intrigues and delights.” Or as Sam Johnson said of the purpose of literature: “To instruct and delight.” The instruction of how to write a story is always present in everything Daniel writes. The delight goes without saying.

  3. Tim Trask says:

    A Picture of David Daniel

    His writing gets better and better as he ages, even as his physical presence gets weaker and weaker. Back in the day, we used to wait for his annual novel to hit the bookstore and library readings. His literary output now, focusing on different, wldly creative genres and topics, keeps me busier reading than when we thought of him at his peak as a writer.

    This story, “Alison,” is one of his more substantial recent offerings, so Daniel’s not yet where Richard Wright was when he closed out his literary career by writing some four thousand haiku while cooling it in Normandy, but we would best pay attention to this recent tendency.

  4. Jim Provencher says:

    Night of the Iguana, afternoons in Margaretaville, the allusions ripple through this prose like a buzz
    of airplane champagne…It’s all in the soundtracked mind, Daniel’s. He & brother in the art MacDonald hold
    keys to the heart of the matter. ‘Alison,’ not a bad song either….

  5. Jason Trask says:

    One of the most amazing things about David Daniel, whose writing should have made him a household name by now, is that he does not take himself seriously. If most of us were capable of beginning a story as perfectly as “Alison” begins, a story that promises to be a literary masterpiece, we would be obsessed with following that beginning and middle with a serious ending. But not David. He knows he can write a million more stories whose beginnings and middles are at least as good as this one, so sometimes he allows himself to have a little fun, as he did in this case.

  6. Tim Coats says:

    This story seems to condense the Dave Daniel life better than any I’ve seen so far. It doesn’t answer the questions, but it lays them out clearly. Why does he make the choices he makes? Why does he study for the GRE in English? The implication is that he’s not intrigued by the official list of great writers, though it’s never stated. He seems to be doing it because nothing else seems any better. But why did he choose English rather than something else? I’d say he wanted to become a writer, but there’s nothing about that here either. If it were here, then the question would be why he wants to become a writer rather than a businessman or a salesman. I’d say it’s because he wants to occupy his mind with human values and explore them through writing.

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