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Prose

Snake Shouts

9 August 2018

Content warning: mentions of animal death

 

He had come with a whip. She was hoping for a gun. Her children were watching through the kitchen window, standing in the sink with old bubbles fizzing against their socks.

‘It’s in the iris patch,’ she said, leaning on the shovel usually propped up beside the back door.

‘You’ll have to hunt it out so I can get at it,’ he said. The whip was coiled loosely in his right hand. His walking stick was on the back of the four-wheeler. He probably should have brought it over.

The dog barked from its chain at the clothes line.

‘Shush up!’

She stepped into the iris patch, watching for the glint, listening for the rustle.

‘Can you see it?’

‘No,’ she shook her head. She poked at the mulch and turned back to face her father.

The snake struck out from the hay, over her boots and her stomach convulsed. She thrust at it with the shovel, catching it under its belly and flicking it into the air. She ran as the snake twisted, until she was standing in the middle of the lawn. She glanced at her children, four noses pressed up against the glass and gave them a smile.

The snake landed with a dense thud. It writhed for a moment and then reared slightly. The dog whined.

‘Dad!’

Her father was standing still, watching as the snake moved across the grass. This was not a snake lazy with warm blood, this was a snake given enough time to draw venom into its bite. He knew what this snake would do, how it would linger for a moment and then strike forward, a gold-brown streak on the grass. He let the tail of the whip fall and swing against his leg. He held his breath.

Crack! Crack!

Twice on the head.

The cracks echoed off the side of the house.

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She is driving by memory. Fingers loose on the steering wheel, eyes glazed over. The car takes the corners organically, smoothly. Her sister is in the passenger seat, eyes trained out the window, watching the dry gums march by. There is dirt before them, a river of dirt and rough gravel. She is probably driving too fast, but the road is empty and the wind roaring through the windows is comforting.

They don’t have to talk when the wind drowns out their thoughts.

‘A snake.’

‘Huh?’

Her sister sits up in her seat, leans forward, slides her hand through her hair. There is a snake, stretched out across the road, a brown shadow. The car stops.

‘Run over it.’

‘Wind your window up.’

With the windows up the car is suffocating. They turn the air conditioner on, but it sucks in dirt and they choke. They turn it off.

‘Just drive straight over it.’

The wheels skid. White knuckles on the steering wheel, she holds her breath. Her sister is sitting high in the seat, her hand braced against the window. The snake goes under the car. Her sister spins in her seat, looking back at the empty road with the grass rustling.

‘It’s not there.’

‘What?’

‘Did you run over it?’

‘Yes.’

They are silent and start to sweat. ‘It’s up under the car. Shit.’

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Her youngest has just started to walk and his sisters are getting great joy out of dragging him around like a new toy. His legs are unstable but he plods after them down the garden path to their grandparent’s house. She pulls out the cake tin from the boot of the car and slams it shut. The kids have left the gate open. She tugs it closed behind her.

The girls have walked around the back of the house to the cool verandah. Her son turns the corner. The girls start to scream, out of sight. She breaks into a run across the dry lawn and wheels around the corner. She grabs her son by the back of his shirt and yanks him away and up into her arms. The cake tin clatters to the ground.

The snake doesn’t move. It is small, about the length of her forearm and is lying on the cool concrete. Her daughters have scrambled up onto the chest freezer at the end of the verandah, dancing anxiously on their toes.

“What is it?” she hears her mother say from behind the gauze door.

“A snake! A snake!” the girls chatter.

“I think it’s dead, Mum,” she calls, shifting her son onto her hip and approaching the snake. She nudges it with the toe of her boot.  She flips it over and its head lolls where it has been severed.

Her mother appears, wearing an apron over her summer house dress and her hair in rollers. She puts her hands on her hips and looks down the verandah.

“Oh, your brother got that one a couple of hours ago when he came for lunch.”

The girls climb down from the freezer and approach the dead snake but she shoos them away.

“Never touch a snake, even if it’s dead.”

Her eldest daughter picks up the cake tin and takes it inside. She puts her son down and he toddles after them. She passes her mother in the doorway.

“Typical of him to leave it on the verandah like that.”

Her mother picks up the shovel leaning against the freezer and scoops up the small snake. The lawn crunches under her feet as she carries it over to the back fence and flings it into the paddock.

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