This is a picture from ‘71; it’s a Sunday in spring, and that’s Lizzie there, in the white dress and tights. Curls in her hair, black shiny shoes. She and her mother are just home from church. This picture was taken when Lizzie was six. That’s Wally there with her. Wally was seven.

This is Lizzie’s mom, Addie, she rolls Lizzie’s hair with Dippity-do. Lizzie likes Dippity-do. It is shiny and blue like water in sunlight. She likes her white dress and the pastor’s son, Glen. His eyes are the color of Dippity-do, and he smells sweet and clean, like Dippity-do.

This is the kitchen. That’s pot roast and gravy. This is Dwight, Addie’s brother, he always comes by after church around two. Uncle Dwight was a photographer during the war. He still brings his camera wherever he goes, and today he brought Wally; that's Wally, there. This is Dwight, sticking his finger into the gravy and that’s Lizzie’s mom, Addie, smacking his hand. That’s Lizzie, laughing. Curls and black shoes, her best just-for-church dress; you know what would really be cute, Dwight says, and this is a lightbulb over Dwight’s head

This is Addie, biting her lip. Don’t worry, Dwight says. Wally here is gentle as a kitten, and that’s rope he’s pulling out of his pocket, as he sets little Lizzie on Wally’s backside

This is the drugstore by Uncle Dwight’s house. In ‘71, this is where you take film, they develop it for you. This is Lizzie’s house, three Sundays later. Uncle Dwight is there, this time without Wally. He stopped by the drugstore before he came here. The drugstore is where you buy Dippity-do.

This is a girl in a white Sunday dress. Not quite four foot high, weighs about forty pounds. And that's Wally, there, with the teeth and the claws. Massive jaws, and four stubby legs. He is twelve feet long, weighs four hundred pounds. His eyes are nothing like Dippity-do.

This must be photoshopped, I thought at first. Now I don’t think it is. I think someone actually, carefully, placed this child on the back of an alligator, peered through the lens and told her to smile, and sure as I am that taking this picture was a dangerously stupid idea, I'm equally certain that somebody said, now that’s a pony, when they looked at it later.

This is how I imagine it all came about. I don’t really know if her name is Lizzie. If her mother's named Addie or his name’s really Dwight. I know that’s a rope she’s holding like reins. That’s Dippity-do, probably, that’s holding her curls, and pictures like this are probably why it's so easy to stop holding out hope for mankind.

This is madness, I thought, the first time I saw it. These people, I said, have lost their damn minds. But her hair is curled. Her dress is new. Someone cared for this child. Lizzie, or Missy, or whatever her name, looks healthy and happy and whole in this picture and it shines on her face, whoever she is, like sunlight on water. Sweet and clean. Like Dippity-do. 

This is a picture from '71. This was a soldier and that was a village. This is a child and what's left of her face. Some pictures, like war, seem at best, ill-advised. Unless it's your war or unless it's your picture. Until it's your village, and then there’s not time. Little girls really shouldn't be near alligators. They shouldn't have scars from napalm burns either. The world, sometimes, is  sticky, and cold, like Dippity-do, and the thing of it is, everyone, probably, is doing their best. Even when it's their worst.

This might give you hope. It might bring you to tears. It might all depend on the pony you ride.