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The Snake

By Colleen Wells


Outside the dogs are barking their warning that someone is here. I spy the lawn man pulling up, and close the bathroom blinds. It’s 8:00 a.m. He’s here this early to beat the scorching heat of June in our small, South Carolina town. I don’t rush to greet him, although I know he’ll probably need me to bring our dogs in.

The rear doorbell rings. I tuck my cell phone into my pocket and go to the door in our garage.

“Do you need me to put the dogs away?” I ask through the door.

“Yes,” he says, grinning. He briefly clasps his hands.

The lawn man is in his early twenties. He’s tall and thin, wears a buzz cut, and has oily skin with a fair but mottled complexion. I’m more familiar with the owner of this landscaping company. It puts me at ease when he’s with his crew.

I suffer from anxiety. One of my triggers is being home alone, especially when an unfamiliar worker comes to the house. I first experienced panic in my mid-twenties when I became scared of flying. Since then other fears have cropped up like invasive weeds—heights, interstate driving, and now the thought of someone coming to the house to inflict harm.

I bring the dogs in and take the padlock off the side gate of our back yard and open it, locking the door behind me when I get back inside the house. From the kitchen the dogs watch him by the corner window as he’s pulling up some weeds. They are rattled by this intruder. I sit at my computer to write, but can’t concentrate with the barking.

When he finishes with the back yard, I open the door of our screened porch so I can pass through to close the gate and let the dogs out. Stopping dead in my tracks I gaze at a colorful snake on the walk-way. It’s lying so still I wonder if the lawn man mowed over it. I inch closer. The snake is about three feet long, but thin. It has red and black markings. He’s alive, basking in the sun which is already hot.

I return indoors trying to recall the saying my husband uses about snakes. Black and yellow, friendly fellow. Red and black, nasty Jack ….

Grabbing my cell phone on the way to the garage, I go outside and see if the lawn man will know what to do. He’s raking a flowerbed in the front yard.

“Hey,” I say. “Do you think you could look at this snake for me?”

“Sure,” he says, smiling.

We pass through the gate slowly and I point to the snake that is now lounging half way on the sidewalk and half in the pine straw. The lawn man walks into the wooded area to our yard and selects a large stick.

“Please don’t kill it,” I say, recalling how when we bought our house from its owner we asked about the prevalence of snakes and he said the few he saw didn’t have the privilege of sticking around.

“I’m not going to kill it. I’m going to catch it.”

From a distance I see him descend upon the snake, nudging it with the stick. The snake coils and he grabs it just under its head. The reptile’s jaws expand. I’m not close enough to see if it has fangs, but its mouth looks white.

“Never seen one of these,” he says, taking lumbering strides toward me and glancing around. The snake dangles from his grip as we stand for a moment in the driveway. For a brief second it crosses my mind that he’s going to fling it at me, then logic takes hold. What would the lawn man gain from throwing a snake at me? He’s here to do his job, and nothing more.

The man walks to his black truck and I follow.

“Did you learn how to catch snakes or something?” I ask, drawing closer to him.

“Yes,” he says, opening a large toolbox in the back of his truck. He shuts it and reaches for the door handle. After fishing around for a moment he produces a clear plastic bag and gently drops the snake inside.

The lawn man picks up a gas can from the bed of his truck. He sets the bag on the sidewalk and keeps it shut with the can.

“Are you going to take it to the woods?” I ask.

“Yeah, it’s really biting at the bag.”

“Thank you for helping me.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he says with a nod.

*

Back inside I search on Google for South Carolina snakes and see that it may have been a Copperhead or a Cottonmouth, but I can’t be certain. If it were either of those I think the lawn man would have recognized the species. While perusing the photos I realize it did seem to have some yellow weaved through its body between red shapes like leopard spots. I decide it most resembles a non-threatening Corn snake.

Harmless snake, harmless lawn man. I know most of my fearful thoughts have no merit. Yet I can’t help when they appear, suddenly and out of the blue, wild and colorful imaginings that coil in my mind like the Corn snake on our sidewalk.

*

I go outside to tell the lawn man about what type of snake it was, but he has finished the yard, and is gone.

 

Colleen Wells writes from Franklin, TN, where she lives with her husband, two sons, four dogs, and three cats. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Chicken Soup for the Adopted Soul, ORION, The Georgetown Review, and online at VerbSap.

Image: Medusa, courtesy of Vassiliki Koutsothanasi, Athens, Greece.

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