I can hear her barking. High-pitched yaps of glee. She’s fighting with the neighbour dog again.
I turn the music up.
I can feel him out there. My arms break out in goosebumps. My stomach lurches. I can feel his expectations slithering up my leg. Not this time.
I was once told a story about a girl and a boa constrictor. Perfect pets, she’d said. Intelligent. Affectionate. She used to sleep in a bed with it. Curled against its scaly skin. I’ve never felt a snake. I imagine them wet and musty. Clumps of mud and broken leaves clinging to the bottom of your boots. I’m told they are dry. I take their word for it. She cuddled the snake for weeks, months, years, even. Depending on who is doing the telling. Then one day it stopped eating. Got sick or depressed, she thought. It started to waste away to nothing. Thinner and thinner. She tempted it with rats and bits of flesh. Nothing. I imagine her pleading with it to no response. So she goes to a vet. The vet can’t think of a problem until she mentions off-hand their unconventional sleeping arrangement.
“Get that damned snake out of your bed.”
“It’s starving itself for a big meal.” A pointed look.
“You don’t mean…”
“Sounds to me like it’s planning to eat you.”
I imagine her face. Aghast. Heartbroken. I imagine her taking the long way home, returning the snake carefully to its cage. Replacing the lid with a final harsh click in a quiet room. I imagine her retreating to the other side and sitting cross-legged on her bed. Just staring at it until the room grows dark with the inky black of night.
We never want to believe it, not really. That we can misread a creature so phenomenally. That we can lose sight of the very nature of a being. That any subject might have an innate character that can’t be changed or ignored. We call it natural instinct or some such thing. Universal truth. Still, we are equipped with the tools to see through deviousness: Goosebumps, a sudden unexplainable sickness, a well-placed shiver or an untamed thought.
I call it common sense: Don’t sleep with a snake.
But, so often we render ourselves blind to the forms in front of us. We squint or we tilt our head to the side or we tell ourselves he doesn’t mean what he says. That he can change. That he is changed.
Forget what used to be. Look how much he loves me, now.
Most times, it takes a true friend. An outside perspective. To point out the obvious. To say out loud what we already feel. That it’s not right. And this. This love; it will devour us if we let it.
Faded Paper Figures – North By North