Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sympathy for the Snakes

[[Someone on okcupid asked me to tell her a story and, upon my prompting, asked for it to be nonfiction magical realism, which I found incredibly clever. So here's my attempt.]]

My grandparents’ home was a peninsula of open space surrounded and interspersed by forest. The home itself was like ours in the suburbs, but we had no deer, had no baby rabbits, had no hummingbirds, had no horses. We had no stars and moon. We had no lightning bug chorus. We had no horizontal sky. We had internet and population density and generic accents. But we kept them chained in fences, not hemmed by trees.

And when it came time to socialize, we could no longer speak to dogs and cats and boys and girls. We could talk to each other. Or we could talk to grass. And seeds. And ticks. And songbirds. And mosquitoes. And, of course, snakes.

Oh, the snakes. My grandmother *hated* snakes. I suppose she disliked the things they said. And goodness knows, I wouldn’t give a snake the time of day. The dead eyes, the sharp teeth, the wicked scales. I have doubted much, but never that Satan chose wisely for his avatar.

But in the woods, one does not always choose one’s conversation partners. Sometimes they choose you. One day I left the confines of my grandparents’ home, stepping onto their porch. I imagine I frolicked or fell or attempted some other feat of acrobatic adolescence. And, after I was adolescenced out, I decided to go back inside. But the door was locked. I stood on the porch and knocked. I happened to look to my right. And there, on the brick wall, was a snake.

He was brown with spots. And he stared at me. And I stared at him. And I screamed. And I ran.

But as I reached the yard, he called back, “Where are you going? I’m just here to talk!”
“I don’t believe you,” I replied.
“Why on earth not?” the snake said, trying to hide how wounded he was.
“Because you’re a snake. And you’re scary. And I don’t trust you.”
Indignantly, he said, “ ’Because I’m a snake?’ I could have sworn we were past the days of such displays of speciesism, at least in public, but here you come and say it right to my face for all the world to hear! I’m just here to have a nice conversation, what is so unbelievable about that?”
“Aren’t you going to bite me? Aren’t you poisonous?”
The snake rolled his eyes and said, as if he’d had this exact conversation a thousand times, “Oh good lord. Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you had an honest-to-god conversation with a snake?”
I hesitated a moment, then said, “Well… never.”
“And why not?”
“Because I always scream and run away.”
“And what happened the last time you screamed and ran away?”
Somewhat sheepishly, I said, “I told my grandmother and she came out and chopped the snake’s head off.”
The snake choked down his anger, “Did the other snake bite you? Were you poisoned and hurt and nearly  dead?”
Beginning to feel guilty, I said, “No… it didn’t even touch me. I was just scared.”
“So. You got scared. And for that fear alone the snake lost his or her *life*?” The snake responded sardonically.
“And what were you planning to do before we talked?”
“Going inside to tell my grandmother.”
“And she’d come outside and chop my head off?”
“I guess.”
The snake, now visibly upset, said “Why do you want me to die like that? I’ve not done anything to you! None of my kind has ever done anything to you! You’re just afraid. That’s all you are, you’re afraid of something you can’t anticipate and can’t understand. And because of your fear alone, you’re going to go inside and tell your grandmother and she’s going to come out here and chop my head off just because I had the audacity to come to her house and expect to have a conversation with you. That’s it, right? Right? Tell me I’m wrong. Please, please tell me I’m wrong.”

The snake was, of course, right. And I really was feeling guilty, now. Watching my grandmother decapitate a snake was grizzly and it’s not like it had done anything to deserve it. Other than, you know, being a snake. It wasn’t fair.

But I was scared. And I was young. And I didn’t know what to do. And I really didn’t want to be bitten.

So I went inside and told my grandmother. And she came outside and she chopped his head off. And, since then, I have not spoken to another snake.

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