She reminded me of the snake. Not in the sense of slithering. Snakes, maybe due to their perspective, always seem to be crafty, quietly winding their way through existence. She never did that, or perhaps simply couldn’t.
Deep, dark, cold, temperatures hovered where midnight’s fog crept off the bog, overlapping creaky concrete posing as sidewalk before disappearing into the wet asphalt. It had been a moment on this weakly wet night where a storm had come and gone between main course and dessert, a split instant thinly spread with what combined with a bit of how and a glob of why.
Blonde wavy locks cascaded off the back of her head, floating in space as they fell upon an ebony overcoat. If it weren’t for her legs sashaying forward just enough to indicate movement, her head may have been all anyone within sight may have seen. Any push into my mind of such a vision would’ve caused me to re-consider red wine. I silently blessed her legs for their movement.
The bog was passed just over midnight. This thick water ooze was not on a lonely stretch of road where no one dared to consider that time of night. A main thoroughfare, asphalt’s ribbon pushed north out of the city spottily covered with police from different districts and towns trying to keep the street safe as well as fill respective city coffers with fines from those too distracted to stay within posted limits or too inebriated to keep in the middle of their respective right lane on this two-lane road.
It took very little of both to focus on the lights; quite a bit more to see her. This section of sidewalk, a poor attempt to cross bog’s muck, undulated as it bumped along at a rattler’s pace, uncaring enough to rapidly streamline forward. Chunks of cement disguised as safe passage dared those brave enough to use it. Daytime it presented a challenge. At night it was nearly impossible to navigate without crushing one’s knees onto cement. Here she was though, floating along, a blonde specter whose feet ballerina’d the walkway without sense of skip or flight.
A simple ‘huh’ escaped from me about 30 seconds after passing her. This expelling of random thought was all I could process without causing a scene. In my mind, isolation was the only reason for her to be out at this time in this place. As such, no ‘what the hell’ ‘good lord’ or ‘damn that’s crazy’ was going to be emitted for anyone’s sake. For one, it was respect for an individual’s peace whether it was for seeking solitude or a final exit. For another, well it could be quite another.
This stretch of road was not being taken solo. My passenger, a young lady whose overdeveloped sense of self would not take any utterance without questioning, stood tall in the passenger seat to expel her own opinion of my simple utterance. She countered with a snippy “What?”
“You didn’t see her?”
“The one on the walkway.”
“Now? From the car? In the café?”
“Now. From the car. Now.”
“Crossing the tracks? Trains run until one in the morning. It’s no shock someone, even a woman alone, would be… is that it? A woman, God forbid, alone? Jesus, sometimes you…”
“No, the bog’s walkway.”
She squirmed. At first her squirming had been considered precious as she shifted her waif body side-to-side. Her squirm soon had become merely a precursor to correct whatever she felt wrong. She dully spilled, “We have no bog. It’s a swamp. There’s too much to be a bog…”
“Perhaps it’s a fen.”
“Perhaps it’s not. Swamp. A fen? Water level’s too shallow for a fen.”
Once into the residential section, the road became lined with lampposts broken up by streetlights. We passed a streetlight, then another, prior to her breathing returning to form conversation. Pursed lips blew a strand of her dyed black hair before she uttered in half-interest, “What was she wearing?”
“The woman crossing by the bog… swamp?”
Provoked, she sharply retorted, “No, the woman you flirted with in the café. I saw.”
“She was our waitress. It’s common.”
There was a request within my lungs for a small cough, but I worked hard to hold it. Small coughs, to one so demanding of others’ time, were admissions of guilt. Instead my exhale continued the conversation, “For me anyway. Waitresses, bartenders and the like, they accept it.”
“Only because you tip so well. Noticed that too.”
A retort would cause dialogue to drift into places where a u-turn, followed by a swim in the swamp, would be welcome. Silence held sway for a long red light at the intersection of hope and escape. Finally I broke it.
“She wore black.”
“Of course she did.”
“She had blonde hair.”
“Wavy and… cornstalk color.”
“Spring or Fall?”
A bolt of lightning tossing brilliance onto a farrowed field at midnight sprung to mind. Spring? Spring stalks are green. However, this was not a moment, as if there ever had been, where clarity would produce positivity. As such, I flattened my response with a quiet, “Fall. Cornstalks waiting for threshing.”
“Bottle blonde. Definitely. Clothing all black?”
“None at all?”
“None I could see.”
Never been a fan of others judging what was fact and what was fantasy. Generally, this is something I do quite well on my own. Acid tongue firmly held in check, I responded with a lilting, “None imagined.”
“Surmised as such. It was as if her head was floating, Shari.”
“So you did imagine. Figures.”
The road was not straight. It forced its way out of the city proper through a maze of fields both plowed and pastured. Once again, it returned to be swallowed by darkness where bright lights begged for use. I loathe oncoming autos’ brights as well as my own. Any being, man or animal, sidling the asphalt on an inky black night, this one or any other, were preferred by me to slither using surprise.
“Reminded me of the snake.”
“She would be a girl and not a woman.”
“She’s only a girl, Shari, because, in my mind, a woman does not go out this late to walk along a relatively dangerous section of sidewalk through a bog.”
“Swamp. It’s sexist.”
“God, you’re an idiot.”
Shari spelled her name the way one would spell ‘sharing’ without the ‘n’ and ‘g.’ To her, it was unique. To me, it was ironic.
“Still reminded me of the snake. You know, the one when I was a kid, probably nine years old, definitely less than ten…”
What in mind’s eye causes one image to recall another is something only psychiatrists can conference over, but for me I think it was buried in pure isolation. I had shared this story before, but to go over it again was cathartic. The snake story took its own shape as the car took another rest at a stoplight.
“As a child, my family had a ranch. The ranch was operational well into my adult life, held together by sweat and barbed wire by my uncle until I was somewhere in my 40’s. The house had been built by my grandfather with the aid of many sometime in the mid ‘40s. Walls were adobe thick, as such the house held warmth well in winter and remained oddly cool during summer. It was, and had been forever, tremendously inviting to all sorts of animals. What caused my unceasing curiosity about the ranch, especially the house, was not merely my grandfather’s premature death at the age of 61, but the snake.
There was not a time where the snake was remembered as alive. It never haunted my dreams to cause inordinate sweat or worry; my grandfather’s sudden death had done enough of that as his soul drifted around the half-dozen pines on the house’s north side, his image moving within the misty shroud of midnight.
The snake was just there, a hood ornament for everyone to see and wonder. Small, somehow it had wriggled its way into the attic and, upon discovery of attic’s never-ending darkness, could not find its way back from where it came. Least that was my supposition. Cornered, the northwest corner of the attic to be exact, it had attempted an escape during a particularly cold stretch of winter.”
Too much audio from a single source caused Shari, as per usual, to interrupt. She interjected, “Winter? Early or late?”
“Deep. Deep winter or the snake would have never stiffened.”
She remained quiet as I wriggled my way through the rest of the story. The snake got stuck. The snake froze. Riga mortise set in quickly. Frozen, the snake stuck out from the corner of the house, its smallish frame rising above the open gutters, clearing them my a few inches. Water, whether by rain or snow’s runoff, was not going to cause quick erosion.
It remained there for years. I would visit; sit in the small side yard on the western side of the house, looking in a northeasterly direction to stare at its open mouth and hollow eyes. Of course the eyes went first, they were jellied substance whose primary function was to look forward and propel movement toward food or shelter.
One day, I showed up at the ranch and the snake was gone. It was the day I came to visit after a tornado had touched down. The tornado, so aptly described by my uncle as chocolate syrup casually poured out of the sky, had destroyed one of the barns to the east where most of the major farm equipment rested after their annual use. Didn’t touch the house but the winds off the swirling dervish wrapped corrugated metal siding around what remained of a line of Cottonwood trees flanking the property astride the gravel road, twisting the sheet metal as if the siding had been mere foil.
The tornado and its breezy minions took the snake too.
Shari was quiet, eerily so as I wound through the snake story’s finality. Last light before the road slipped into midnight’s grasp, I took a right to roll along toward home. A moment; a breath two or twenty passed before her lips deigned to part.
“Oh, that story. Yeah. I remember your mother never believed in the snake; never even took your story seriously. Because, according to her, it didn’t exist.”