Slowly she backed away. She could see Stan out the window, intent on some business, but she couldn't call to him or she would frighten off the snake. She crossed the kitchen, waving her arms, but he couldn't see. He was watering shrubs as he disappeared around the corner of the house. She didn't call until she stepped out the back door, but even then, he didn't hear.
She shouted, "Stan!" and he glanced up. "What?" he said, with such an edge of irritation in his voice, she stopped still. She had wanted him to come back with her to see the snake, how green and perfect it was and how unexpected, because it was round and of a substance different from the things that belonged inside a house. But his tone knocked the wind out of her. She said, "There's a snake in the kitchen."
He dropped the hose and strode toward the door demanding, "What kind of snake is it. Is it poisonous?" She followed. "No," she said. "It has a pointed head; I don't think it's poisonous."
By the time they returned to the kitchen, the snake had slithered along the cupboards to the opposite corner. Stan looked at it and said, "Wait here; I'll go get a something." He disappeared into his den and she could hear him shuffling boxes. While she watched, the snake nosed up into the exact corner between the cupboards and in an instant disappeared, as if it had been sucked up by vacuum tube.
When Stan returned with a large, black file box, she tried to explain where the snake had gone, and how quickly. Stan produced a flashlight and began to remove pots and pans. "No," she said, "he's not in there. He went up between the cupboards."
Stan was not listening.
"Just leave it," she said. "Let's turn off the lights and set out a pan of water. Maybe the snake will come out on its own."
Stan continued to pull out pots, setting them down on the kitchen floor. She pictured herself having to put them all back, the arthritis in her hip and knees sharp with every bend. Suddenly furious with him, she filled a shallow pan with water and set it on the rug before the sink. She found herself demanding, in a voice she scarcely recognized,
"Why? Why don't you listen to me?"
He stopped removing pans and stared at her. In silence, she went ahead and fixed herself the glass of ice water she had come in for in the first place, carried it across the open room to the couch and sat down with her back to the kitchen. It was too late now to retreat back outside, too soon to go to bed. Trapped in her own house, because she didn't want to talk to Stan, she watched the last light of the sunset fade to gray.
Mud was drying on her bare feet, pulling the skin taut in a way she could recall from summer nights in her childhood. Her feet just lightly touched the floor. She heard Stan shuffle back to his study, and she thought of the snake. How had she known it wasn't poisonous? It had a head the shape of a finger, of an animal's penis. She laughed to herself, thinking that the snake was still behind her in the kitchen, and she ought to pick up her feet. Go wash them and tuck them underneath her. She thought of it, but didn't move. She thought of saying to the neighbors, "And then, the worst thing you can imagine happened, your worst nightmare. . ." and still, she didn't lift her feet. Reasonably, she thought it would be hours before the snake ventured out of the cupboard.
She felt her anger at Stan leave with the heat of the day, as if evaporating from her skin. And then came the touch. The coolest, simplest touch to the back of her heel. Slowly she stood up. The snake looped just in front of the couch and curled away. She circled around it, into the tile foyer, and opened wide front door. She tried to approach the snake from behind, as if she could herd it, but it turned and came toward her. She stepped toward the snake, and it curved away. Slowly, and by indirect direction, they made progress toward the door. The snake lifted its head slightly, aware of the cool night, a sudden breeze, and like a compass needle shivering and hunting for true north, made its way over the threshold and out onto the porch. Helena closed the door.
Reprinted from Any Small Thing Can Save You by Christina Adam by permission of BlueHen Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Christina Adam. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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