WEDNESDAY: Coiled, Like a Snake Around her Young


Copyright is held by the author.

BROKEN BLINDS, hanging at a 45-degree angle, allowed the sun to heat the room on the third floor of the Victorian apartment house. Light reflected off of three large tanks, each on a bookcase that lined the linen-coloured walls of the small office. The tanks added to the heat. The moisture from them collected on the window panes making it seem tropical, though the view from the window was that of snow, dank with the mud splatters of cars.

While the lease clearly stated no pets, no one seemed particularly troubled by the snakes that lived in these tanks. At the moment, only two had residents. The third resident, a Smooth Green Snake, was coiled around a woman’s forearm. “You’re an old girl,” Jenny, the woman, said to the snake. They sat at Jenny’s oak desk with her laptop and papers strewn around. A few pages were pinned to a corkboard on the wall behind them, but most of the pages lay on the floor, paper-clipped into sections.

Jenny kissed the triangulated face of the snake. “I’m not ready to say goodbye yet,” she whispered. “Hold on a little longer.” She brought the snake to her belly. “Say hello,” she said, then unwound the snake, petted her, swiveled to the right, and put Esmeralda back into the tank. She took off her oversized grey cardigan and tossed it to the corner, away from the papers. The gesture sent a ripple of air across the floor. Jenny put her socked foot on a pile to keep it from blowing away. She had to get back to writing her article, the one about global warming and the thermoregulation of reptile embryos. This was her chance to be published and her current obsession. She watched mother snakes with the intensity of God.

Jenny had been collecting snakes since she’d caught a small garter in the ferns in the backyard of the Connecticut home she shared with her mother, sister, Amy, and brother, Michael. She had seen the basking snake, quietly squatted beside it, and slowly reached for it, making a quick grasp around its neck. She let it dangle from her hands so she could inspect the tongue, which lashed in and out. Impulsively, she put the snake to her face, closed her eyes, and held it near enough to feel the flutter of the tongue on her lids. It sent little shivers down her neck. Jenny’s sister, Amy, screamed when she saw what Jenny was doing. Amy, the oldest of the three kids, was always screaming at something that either Jenny or their brother, Michael, was doing. Michael, the middle child, desperately wanted to be in charge; he saw this as his opportunity. Michael grabbed the snake and would have tossed it over the stonewall if Jenny had not cried as hard as she had. So, in spite of Amy or perhaps to spite Amy, he’d found an old Tupperware container and made a habitat, poking holes into their mother’s treasured lid. The garter, named Snakey, lived there for as long as it could before succumbing to the constraints of Tupperware and the not-so-gentle and constant handling by little hands. When Jenny woke one morning to find Snakey in full rigor mortis, she first ran to get Michael. Even at four and seven, they recognized death when they saw it. Amy had commandeered a full funeral, acting as priest, leading them in prayer while Michael and Jenny mourned.

“We’ll find you another snake,” Michael had said and put a comforting arm around Jenny’s small, shaking shoulders. Jenny had amassed a collection of garter snakes before she was 12. She’d upgraded from Tupperware to tanks. At 16, she purchased Esmeralda. Levar, a rainbow boa, was next — a Christmas gift from Michael, along with a 40-gallon tank, a heater, and a mouse. She’d spent long hours snuggling with Levar, who was more social than Esmeralda, often doing her homework with Levar draped around her. After Levar came Casa Bonita, the Brown House snake, and soon, her room had become more of a lab than a bedroom, which suited her. It kept Amy and her criticism out and invited in Michael and his admiration.

These snakes had followed Jenny into adulthood. Esmeralda, more social with age, remained Jenny’s favorite, though she’d be pained to say this out loud. Theo, her roommate and boyfriend, knew it, though, and sometimes forced her to say it. “Come on, you know you love her best,” he’d say. He sounded jealous to Jenny, but she dismissed the tone in his voice as playful. “Say it. Say, ‘I love Esmeralda most of all.’” He’d sometimes give her waist a squeeze, which he knew she hated. “Ticklish?” he’d ask as if he didn’t know.

“Stop! It hurts,” she’d say, though she kept a hint of a giggle in her voice. “OK, OK. I love Esmeralda best. OK? Stop now,” then she’d push him away, still smiling.

Theo worked in the same lab as Jenny. They were proud of the work they’d done together, and it solidified their partnership both in and out of the lab. This was enough, more than she’d planned for, so she didn’t complain about silly things like being tickled or being called absent-minded or careless or retold the same story of her losing her keys on a weekly basis at dinner parties. She didn’t say anything when he bragged about how he’d really constructed her argument for her dissertation whenever she was congratulated on her work.

That’s why this paper was so important. This paper was all hers. It was good; Jenny knew it. This one would be what she would be known for. She began keeping her office door locked, even though this drove Theo crazy. Last night, just before they went to bed, he’d come to the office door with wine for them and had to yell to get her to open it.

“Come on, do you think I’m going to steal your ideas?”

Maybe not steal the ideas, Jenny thought as she opened the door, but commandeer them, transform them, mold them into your thinking instead of mine.

“Do you have solid facts here? You know how heavily you rely on intuition. I could check the facts for you.”

“Even facts shift,” she’d reminded him. “We record changes in facts every day, Theo.”

“I know,” he’d said. “Truth is a moveable feast. Like Paris.” This was the Theo she loved, who could use Hemingway to soothe her, who shape-shifted so quickly that she would forget every slight prior to the very moment. He smiled at her and handed her a glass. She moved towards him, hugging him, reassuring him that he was right.

“Don’t worry. I still check facts,” she’d said. She turned back to look at the office door standing ajar. Theo rolled his eyes and squeezed her waist, which made her spill a little of the wine.

“And don’t you worry,” he sniped, “I’ll close the door.” She grabbed his arm.

“No, don’t,” she said and pulled him through the living room into their bedroom. She left her glass on the coffee table in front of the green sofa, left the spill to soak into the vintage Hamadan rug they’d found on the sidewalk, discarded by someone who didn’t appreciate what they had.

“Why should I leave him?” Jenny had asked her siblings at lunch the day before, looking at her salad, nauseated by the smell of the dressing she normally craved.

“Are you kidding?” Michael dramatically lifted his eyebrows and reached across the table to grab her arm. “You’ll be happier.”

“And alone.” Jenny rubbed her stomach, noticed how flat it was.

“Are you seriously that insecure?” Amy, happily married with children, could ask that question. Her life was mapped out. It was filled with a husband and babies, a dog, and a few goldfish that were periodically replaced.

“Is this an intervention?” Jenny asked. The busser interrupted with a new round of water for the table. “May I have lemon and hot water?”

“Yes. Yes, this is an intervention,” Michael said. “Lemon and hot water? You sick? We hate the guy and demand you stop seeing him.” Amy slapped his arm.

“Shut up, Michael. No, this isn’t an intervention. And we don’t hate him.” Jenny was grateful that Amy didn’t pursue her choice of beverage.

“Do. If he tells me one more time how ditsy my smart sister is, I’m going to punch him.”

“We don’t hate him,” Amy said, regaining the lead. “We don’t hate Theo. We just think you could find someone who appreciates you more.”

“What if I don’t.”

“You will.”

“Listen,” Michael put his hand on Jenny’s, “if you don’t, it won’t really be a loss.”

“Michael!” Amy slapped him again.

“Let me finish. He’s like a birthmark that you kind of identify with but might be cancerous. Sure, when you remove it, it feels like you aren’t yourself anymore, but you might live longer without it. Do you choose to let it stay because it’s part of you, or do you slice it off because you want to live?”

Both women rolled their eyes at him. “What a stupid analogy,” Jenny said. Amy smirked and shook her head.

“He’s not nice,” Amy finally said. “Theo is not kind to you.” The waiter returned with an offer of dessert, which they declined without looking at him.

“Ed is always kind to you?” Jenny shot back.

“Usually, yes. Almost always.”

“And that’s good enough?”

“Better than what you have.”

“OK,” Michael said, breaking the tension. “This isn’t a competition over who has the worst partner. He doesn’t respect you, Jen. He’s a jerk almost all the time. He’s going to steal this paper of yours and take the credit, and you know it. So you lock the door. Amy doesn’t have to lock Ed out. Even if he is kind of an idiot sometimes, he treats her like someone he loves.”

“Ed is not an idiot,” Amy said. Michael looked at Jenny and raised his brows. This infuriated Amy but made Jenny laugh.

“Anyone else concerned about Mom still driving?” Jenny asked, diverting attention.

Jenny reached down to pick up the papers at her feet. She folded her arms around her middle and folded her torso over her thighs, banging her head gently against her desk. She couldn’t shake the feeling of loss. She’d break up with Theo, then Esmeralda would die, then Lavar, then Casa Bonita. Maybe they’d all go together. She looked around at the mess of papers and groaned. “OK, back to work. Get to the research.” But it was too late. Her mind was reeling with scenarios of Theo tripping on a stack of papers and hitting his head on the desk, dying before she found him, or Theo having an accident on his way home from the lab, or Theo coming home to tell her he was in love with another woman. Anything not to be the one to initiate the break. Anything but having to make the decision.

“Es, do you love me?” she asked the snake, rolling her chair close enough to lean her forehead against the glass. Esmeralda didn’t move. She was content coiled around herself, lounging in the heat of the tank. Jenny imagined herself coiled around a baby, keeping it warm. She had time to leave Theo. She really didn’t even need him, did she? She recomposed the image of herself coiled around the baby. Hers. Their bodies would respond to each other. They would keep each other warm. Regulated. Her body would feed her baby. They would need little else. Water and some food. Her body would be lithe and powerful. She would be enough for the two of them. Regulated. Jenny heard the deadbolt on the apartment door turn. Theo was home. She stood up and locked the office door.


Image of Susan Laurencot

Susan Laurencot is a Connecticut writer who lives and writes in an old farmhouse by the Long Island Sound with her husband and mean, old cat. She’s an active member of the Connecticut Writing Project and sometimes escapes to beautiful locations with these writer friends to write and revise. Her fiction has appeared in The Connecticut Writer Magazine, Fish Food Magazine, Umbrella Factory Magazine and Front Porch Review.

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