Sunday, 26 February 2012

About the Serpent: One

There must have been a sale at Sears.

September is whispering at my heels. Not so much a dog as a great rattle snake, threatening to work its way up to my throat before biting. I'm not sure why it is the idea of  bite to throat that I find so horrifying.

I've lived my life in fear of rattlers--those and bull snakes. They're both fears learned while tracing my fingers through the hunter-green patterns that wound their way--yes, like serpents--through the chartreuse carpet of my first ten years. The carpet was the same chartreuse carpet all writers in their mid-thirties will tell you about. It must have been a Sears' special mid-1977 or so. Or maybe I still have the mistaken thinking of all those years ago, the belief that the world began with me.

Can of beer in his left hand and a cigarette burning down in the ashtray, my dad used talk about the rattlers he'd killed while guiding rich folks about on horseback or the ones he'd found making babies in the brush. My once-rich-folk mother could tell more than a few stories of her own. Add to that the stories of three sisters and a slew of great aunts and the one uncle, and my fear of all snakes met and bred a whole new monster in my small mind.

I revered all those grown-up folks who knew how not to get bitten.

I know it's the sort of pissing contest folks from the Great Plains engage in. In Alaska, it was how nearly the moose had crushed my car or how low the thermostat sat. In Oregon, it was the number of sunless days one had lived through.Here it's the drought of '76 when this small island saw so little rain, or for those in their mid-thirties, the hurricane in the Channel.

The first time I saw a snake, any snake, we were living out in Lakewood in the house on Twenty-Fifth Place. I was big enough to sit out in the backyard on the concrete stoop by myself; though, I wasn't so big that my mother was taken with telling me to pick one, in or out. She wasn't watching me out the kitchen window that day. I'm sure of it because I can still taste the grapevine I was holding in between my molars and my left cheek. I hopped up and down those three steps, two feet at a time. And there she was, a snake as long as my own chubby arm, and moving as fast as her body would take her. And now I think, of all things under the sun, why was she in such a hurry to get through the cracked cement and under the steps. Surely, she wouldn't have headed for the piece of ground on which I was making an unseemly racket. That was the last time that I went down those steps without trepidation.

I learned to leap from the bottom step and well over the crack in the pavement. This despite my mother's reassurance that garter snakes were good: they ate mice, her own deepest fear.  I hadn't even started school, but I was sure my mother was wrong about the snake, and sure she was right about the god I prayed would keep me from harm each time I leapt across the crevice.

I wonder when it is that we stop believing our parents, and start making truths out of our own fairy stories.


  1. Great story! You do a great job of background.

  2. I've missed your stories, nice to see you writing here again :)

    I love this line: "Or maybe I still have the mistaken thinking of all those years ago, the belief that the world began with me." So true...



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