Calling the Snakes
I KNOW THIS story can't be true. But I remember it. I can close my eyes and see it. I'm eleven years old. I know this because it's my birthday, and it's hot as Texas outside. 92 degrees in the shade. It's the first day I'm allowed to go barefoot all year. But I have to ask permission from my dad who says it's never hot enough to take off your shoes. Why? He's from Memphis. My mom hates heat because she's from Boston. I wonder if all marriages are like that. I think so--but that's not what this story is about. Maybe it's not even a story. Maybe I just dreamt it. To explain things--like why I don't like the number eleven. Two ones, side by side, two skinny legs. Stilts, awkward to walk on. Eleven, too old to be a kid, too young to be a woman. I still wear underpants with the days of the week embroidered on each one. Seven pairs, seven colors. My sister is fifteen, and she has a whole collection of pink brassieres. My sister wants to go fishing over at Milton's pond, and she says she will take me because it's my eleventh birthday. But I know that's not why. She doesn't give a hoot about my birthday. Oh no. She knows that if we fish, then Jimmy will fish too. He will talk to me and glance at her. Me, I want to say. Look at me. But he won't. He'll just brag. And I don't want to be there, listening to Jimmy tell stories. Like the one about snakes. Jimmy says he can call the snakes. I don't believe him. I call him a liar. I say, Go ahead, prove it then. And he does. Jimmy calls the snakes. Sitting beside us on the bank of Milton's pond, looking at my sister, he makes a strange noise with his throat and then smirks. He's full of shit. I think he's just showing off. Creep, I say, and stare past him and out at the lake. That's when I see them. Two water moccasins, side by side, a perfect eleven, swimming. Jimmy sees them too, so he starts tossing pebbles at the water. They turn their heads in our direction. I see their sleek heads, the glint of their eyes, the U-swirl in the water as they change directions. The snakes head right for us, and they don't just stop at the water's edge. No Sir, they glide up the red-clay bank, slipping over rocks as Jimmy sings snake tunes and laughs until they're so close he could pick them up. Then he pelts them with stones. When they're almost dead, he slices their heads off with his jack knife, but their bodies continue to dance in slow S's. Why? I ask. Why'd you do that? Because they're two of them, he says. One snake never comes by itself. I'm so mad, I want to punch him, but my sister is shrieking and crying, putting on a big show so Jimmy will put his arm around her. And he does. And they walk off across the meadow towards home, leaving me with the fishing gear. I hear them laugh a little, and watch Jimmy lean his face into hers. Their faces glow in the late afternoon sun. That's the first time they kiss. I hate them then. I hate them both.
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