HOT MORNING IN SOUTH FLORIDA. In their double-double-wide that stands on stilts in the middle of what seems like a swampy nowhere but is home to the Golds, Colleen hears Fox the Chihuahua yapping in the hall and knows it can only be one thing.
She painfully bends to scoop up the dog in her gnarled hands, and she evaluates the snake on the carpet—it’s trying to wriggle up the wall in fear. Yvette, who’d been sucking on a cherry vape in the bedroom, comes to look too, in her ubiquitous pink sweatpants and Jim Beam tank top.
They look for a while.
Pygmy rattler, Mom? Yvette asks.
Colleen turns her head sideways. Naw, it ain’t. Black snake. Juvenile. That’s not its final skin. Looks just like a pygmy, but its eyes are whole. See?
Yvette turns her head too. *Oh yeah.
I can grab it real quick.
I’ll bag it, Mom. You just keep the dogs in the kitchen so they don’t get in the way.*
Colleen protests but her hands aren’t steady these days and things tire her out.
Yvette grabs a burlap sack they keep for this reason, and long grill tongs. She turns off the hall lights so the snake can calm down, and she squats, evens her breathing. This is how the snake will know she’s not a predator, which doesn’t mean he’ll come to cuddle in her arms, but he might not lash out and fight like the devil.
He stops putting his tongue out after a couple minutes and comes off the wall. He’s still rippling, bringing his second half up to meet his first, then moving his first forward, but not in a panic.
Alright, lil buddy. Let’s make this easy. I’m not gonna hurt you.
She opens the sack on the floor, then puts the tongs right behind his head and holds his body with her free hand, moves him slowly into the bag. He barely fights.
She carries him outside and lets him go in the grass, and he moves away in silence.
Mission accomplished, she tells Colleen, who’s eating Pop Tarts in the kitchen. Yvette can’t resist kissing her mother’s head, the way you kiss a child, and Colleen tips up her sun-ravished blue eyes at her daughter, and smiles.
So many creatures have gotten into the house in the past year and a half, like they sniff out the absence left by Marc. They know there’s space to fill (a space that won’t last for much longer). Not like Marc was the protector and his mom and sister couldn’t fend for themselves—shit, Marc was the only one who was terrified of snakes. It was more of a basic void and the critters could sense it. Yvette and Colleen have had frogs visit, mice, a possum on top of the fridge, a baby gator, and one day, a python in the backseat of the car.
But the night Yvette still thinks about was in June, start of rainy season, and she woke up in a storm and just felt something. She came down the outside stairs, and standing under their house between the steel piles locked into cement, in shelter from the downpour, was a white horse.
He was a tiny bit skinny, but otherwise looked healthy. Flanks wet and steaming in the Everglades darkness. His body gave off light like the moon. They looked at each other a long time. The rain flooded the grass, lightning lit everything, thunder smacked, and the horse would sidestep a bit but not run.
She got carrots from the kitchen but he wouldn’t eat them, so she eventually put them on the ground, whispered, Goodnight, sugar, and went back to bed. When she woke up to a sparkling buggy humid morning, he was gone, but so were the carrots, and there were hoof prints in the mud. So she knew she wasn’t crazy.
No one in the vast area had reported a missing horse, and the truth is, she never thought to rope him and return him. Because she knew in her heart there was a good chance that he left wherever he left for a reason.
Copyright © 2021 Jardine Libaire