Monday, June 10, 2013

Year of the Snake

We were driving home from farm school when I ran over the snake.  It was one of those long, skinny, winding, rural upstate roads, two lanes, trees thick on either side, no cars besides ours.  I wasn't driving very very fast, but I wasn't going slow either, and by the time I realized that the length of black rope on the road wasn't rope at all, things seemed inevitable: I drove over it with a sickening THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP.  I threw a panicked look over my shoulder, catching a split-second glimpse of the snake writhing and flipping grotesquely in the road before it receded into my past.

Immediately after I killed the snake (it must have died, right?  How could it survive an SUV's full weight?), a deer appeared in the trees on the right side of the road.  It was a full-grown deer, with a broad brown nose and large brown eyes.  It was standing absolutely still, looking at nothing.  I stared at it, my heart still pounding from the murder, until it too receded.

"Did you see the deer?" I asked my older son.  My younger son was asleep. "What deer?" My older son said.  "There was a deer," I said.  "No," he said, "I didn't see anything."  I said nothing about the snake.  I did not want to frighten him.  I did not want to frighten myself by speaking the words.

The rest of the way home, every time I almost forgot about the snake, I'd see it right there in the car, moving on the floor of the passenger side, and I'd smell it too.  I don't know if snakes actually have a smell - John Prine says they do, but that might just be poetry.  Regardless, I kept smelling that snake, a thick, dark, damp, blackish-green smell that would waft up from the floor, just as I was about to forget.  And then I'd remember the awful bump of the tires, the whiplike writhing on the road behind me, and I'd shiver and feel ill and lose the ability to speak.  Was it bad luck to kill a snake?  It must be.  It must be awful luck.  Snakes are life, fertility, chthonic power.  How I could have done that, run over it even after I saw that it was there, and then leave it mutilated, dying?  Somehow, the fact that I hate snakes, have a passionate horror of them, made it feel even worse, as though I might have done it on purpose.  

The scene still comes to me unbidden.  I can see it perfectly, every detail.  The narrow road slopes downwards into a curve.  It is very nearly summer, and the leaves are a strong mid-green, and the tall trees curve slightly over the road.  Sometimes I see a coil of black rope on the road ahead of me, slightly over the double yellow line; sometimes I see the whipping, dying snake on the road behind me.  There is no sky, and I am alone.


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