This short story was originally published in Hobart, a literary journal.
by Sara Kachelman
Worst thing I ever did I did when I was doing Hank’s cousin, Theresa. It was a crime of sloth, a crime of not-saying. I swallowed my pill of silence and sank to the bottom of her bed, and for that I will roll onward to hell. I haven’t called her since, so could be she was strangled by that copperhead in her sleep. It was a small snake, 2 or 3 feet, but it will get bigger. Hank from Financial, who’d set us up, hasn’t said anything about a death or hospitalization, but it could come any day now. Each morning at breakfast I play out scenarios in my head, how she’ll discover the monster coiled up in her sandals, wrapped around the showerhead, or inside her toilet, poised to strike. I didn’t tell her. I couldn’t. Because the moment I spotted it easing out of the closet like a stream of black blood, Theresa started to come, bearing down on me like a howling tempest, her breath charging, her frizzled hair sticking out like horns on either side of her head. She uttered the shrill, broken cry of a shipwrecked widow, her head thrown back in the effort. “Theresa!” I gasped, the word snake in my mouth, but she kissed all the speech out of me. I was smothered by pleasure. I didn’t even know where my mouth was.
When I drove us out to her junkyard house on the corner of the dead end, I knew we were going to do it, had done all the footwork to do it, knew she was a backed-up woman and if I didn’t do anything she was going to blow. She had a permanent pregnant shape and there were hairs on her chin of a shade I could not ignore but you cannot get picky when you enter the divorcé dating range. I didn’t even care she was a hoarder. She was a good lay, bouncy like a leather sofa, and I would have gone out with her again if I hadn’t had the misfortune of not killing her snake. I should have slid out from under her and massacred the bastard with a pocket knife, a lamp, anything, but I was seized with childhood fears, ashamed of my shaking hands. Theresa was a large woman but not a kill-your-own-snake size woman. She lived alone in a house full of Christmas decorations in towers of plastic boxes. Her closest neighbors were acres away, behind thick stands of pine trees, and for good reason. Theresa was the kind of woman who let in every stray dog, saved every leftover, and pocketed all the world’s litter.
When I saw the thing had slithered under the dresser, I dumped her collapsed post-coital body and fiddled for my shirt. “Where are you going?” she asked from the bed. My body was twitching all over as I yanked on my pants. “Mother,” I whimpered. I belched, farted, and felt bad. I was mad at my bad luck, mad that I wasn’t something she could keep, mad that I wasn’t her hero or anybody else’s.
Sara Kachelman‘s work has appeared in Cactus Heart and Liminoid Magazine. She lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, where she studies at the University of the South. She is from Florence, Alabama.
Cover photo by: James H. Newby