By Helen McClory

Copyright © 2019

I was spooning lakewater with my hand when the nostrils broke the surface. I’ll dream of it all my days—horror from unwanted closeness. The bubbling sounds as from below the little-eyed slimy grey head came rushing up, and the wide-slung jaw with juts of teeth the shape and thickness of bananas. The guide kicked the motor, we fell into our seats, and when I could turn to look back, there was only ripple to see of it. Only the soupy lake under the beautiful egrets, noon.


I’d read the story a year or two before. How the hippo scooped him into his mouth and mashed on him awhile. There was a terrible crunching sound. There was a squealing sound of stretched things, then popping. He remembered being aware that his bones were being broken, and that hippos primarily live on a diet of grass, but that they are vengeful fuckers. Blood leaked all over the place, into the water, down through the gaps between his bones. In the end he was saved because a boat came, gunshots, startling the monster into dropping him.


At night the river hippos had their council nearby. I’d walk out to the edge of camp and listen. Hippo talk goes a throaty hoh hoh hoh, break, huh huh huh. Jolly beasts. In the day, going nowhere, we sipped tea and watched them lip-deep and silent in water scummy with their own tail-fanned shit. Sometimes they trudged up the banks to flag against one another, dripping massively. I lay awake thinking: you could have taken me, hippo. Sucked me down like a plate of spaghetti you have to make out of some other, larger stuffed noodle. Don’t you have the nerve? The one I was talking to was quite far from there. Further still, now I’m home. But I’m sure he’s coming, trotting over the earth, taking the ocean in his stride. Months from now, I swear, one dark night I’ll hear the doorbell go. And I just might not hear the deep laugh that comes after, disturbing the neighbour’s sleep.

Helen McClory’s first story collection, On the Edges of Vision, won the Saltire First Book of the Year 2015. Her second story collection, Mayhem & Death, was written for the lonely and published in March 2018. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart.  

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