Swamp Writer: The Trailer Park

There is a place deep in the fetid Delta backwater that we call the Trailer Park. While camp Whiskey Breath is the most remote inhabited camp, the Trailer Park is the most remote camp of any description. It is actually only one trailer, an Airstream sitting on creosote pilings, so full of bullet holes that it looks like it could grate cheese. So weird that it draws you back again and again to drift before it and wonder who in the hell brought it there and with what.

Of course, we’ve been inside the Trailer Park. It seems that it has drawn many people before us because its contents have been picked clean. All that’s left are the peeling veneer walls, old magazines and mouse droppings. We’ve put bullet holes in it too, but the thing just absorbs them and doesn’t give much satisfaction.

The only thing of value the Trailer Park ever gave us was the bet. On a still August night, five of us in the boat pooled our resources and came up with a $2, 000 pot for anyone who would make it from the Trailer Park to civilization with only what they had on their person. The fourth of the five brothers in my family, Thomas, was the first to accept. We older siblings traditionally addressed him as “Little Tom-Tom” and “TT Britches” and “Tay-Tay.” Now, fresh out of boot camp at Parris Island, Little Tom-Tom considered himself a survivalist. Our toughened-up Marine ran four miles a day wearing a backpack of dumbbells.

“Two thousand dollars?” he confirmed.

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“That’s right.”

 “Can I have a knife?”

“You got one on you?”


“You can only take what you have on. It’s got to be like your boat sank.”

Thomas looked out at the swamp. The frogs bleated from the marsh grass, and the Trailer Park rose dull and wasted behind them. “What about mosquitoes?”

“Rub mud on your face. You Marines do that, don’t you?”

“There’s got to be a thousand cottonmouths out there.”

“You don’t have to walk it. You can swim the whole way.”

“How far you think it would be to swim it?”

“Six miles. Maybe more.”

“What about alligators?”

“They won’t hurt you.”

Thomas took a deep breath and looked down at the water.

“It’s all you, man. Go for it. Twooooo thouuuusand dollars. Cash money.”

“How would you swim the river once you got to it?”

“I’d get a log. There’re whirlpools out there that could take you under.”

“How far you think it’d be by land?”

“I don’t know! Just get in and get started.”

“Don’t rush me, man! You even know which way civilization is?”

I pointed in the general direction. “It’s that way. You don’t have to be exact.”

“What if he gets hurt?” my youngest brother, David, asked. “How will we know?”

“Yeah, ” Eric said. “Maybe he should have a radio.”

“We don’t have a radio. He won’t do it anyway.”

Thomas walked up to the front of the boat and looked out at the Trailer Park. “I don’t know.”

“I’ll do it for $2, 000, ” David said.

“Hold, on, ” Thomas said. “I’m just plannin’ it out.”

“Gonna be here all night. Just go ahead and sit down.”

Thomas turned to David. “You gonna do it?”

“I’m thinkin’ about it.”

We went on like that for another 30 minutes. Thomas and David did finally sit down, and the deal was off. I was glad. I’d gotten nervous about what I’d started 10 minutes into the bet. I imagined what my parents would say if they learned Thomas had died of snake bite on a wager I’d made with him.

Thomas rode in silence on the way back. I couldn’t tell what was bothering him more, the $2, 000 or the Marine who stayed in the boat.

When we got to the camp, we sat on the deck and hammered out some kitchen music. But this didn’t lift Thomas’ spirits. During an intermission, I gave him another challenge.

“Hey, Tom-Tom, I’ll bet I can swim from here across the river faster than you can.”

Thomas jumped up. “You’re on!”

“Sit back down. Not right now. Let me finish my drink.”

“Come on!”

“Sit back down, ” I said again. “We’ll go in a minute.”

Thomas sat down and rubbed his thighs anxiously.

“You sure you don’t want a drink?” I asked him.

“No thanks.”

I sipped on my beer until it was gone. Thomas left to relieve himself and I got another one while he wasn’t looking.

“You gonna swim the river, Watt?” Reid asked me.

“Hell, no. Even if I thought I could beat him across, I wouldn’t swim this thing. Where would you get out on the other side? It’s just marsh.”

“He’ll do it. He’s ready.”

“I know he is.”

Thomas came back and sat down next to me. “You ready?”

“Will you let me finish my beer?!”

Eventually, Thomas fell asleep in his chair. Then he got up and disappeared into the camp house.

The next morning I lay in my bunk staring at the underside of the bed above me. Most people were awake, but no one wanted to move. “Tom-Tom?”


“What happened to you last night?”

I heard him sit up in bed. “You chickened out is what happened!”

“I was ready to go and found you asleep in your chair.”

“You’re so full of it.”

“I told you after I finished that beer I was ready. I’d have kicked your ass across the river. I thought you were a Marine.”

It never pays to bet your older brother.

Watt Key is an award-winning novelist who grew up on the Bay in Point Clear. His third novel, “Fourmile, ” was released in September 2012.

text by Watt Key • illustration by kelan mercer

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