The Serpent in the Garden
“Whoa, hey!” I said, voice rising as I backed involuntarily away from my five year old. He’d crept to my office door, not as stealthily as he may have thought, and paused there. I’d expected to surprise him when I yanked the door open, maybe give him a start. I hadn’t expected the coiled, mummified snake cupped in his grubby hands.
“Hey Dada,” he said, unimpressed by my ambush. “Look it.”
I don’t like snakes, but it’s not an ideological thing. They’re fine in theory… all God’s creatures and whatnot. I just dislike the clammy flop sweat and loose bowel sensation I get every time I see one.
I get it from my father. He was a big man. Folks who didn’t know him often found him intimidating. Folks who did know him sometimes found him more so. The sizeable list of things that scared him, than, would come as a surprise to most.
He avoided moving water and heavy machinery when he could. Proximity to any animal larger than a greyhound made him decidedly uncomfortable. Once, he made Sportcenter’s “Not Top 10” blooper reel for scrambling, burning theater style, from a live, television interview – a cat in an arena air-duct had yowled behind him.
“Umm…. neat bud,” I said, trying to play it cool.
“Yeah. It’s a snake. Cause see?” he asked, lifting it toward me.
“Uh huh,” I said, forcing myself not to flinch.
I love that he’s so interested in the worms and bugs, deer and pheasant that visit his little backyard wilderness. It’s important to me that we nurture that instinct. And, I’m determined not to pass the family phobia onto him.
“I found it,” he explained. “Can I keep it in my room?”
“Absolutely not,” I ruled. “And go wash your hands.”
“Okay,” he said, accepting the rejection with suspicious ease.
And just as asked, he left it outside… where I can’t keep track of it.
It’s begun appearing and reappearing all over the yard… in increasingly unlikely places.
I’m not sure which is worse. The shock of seeing its scaly smirk six times a day, or the knowledge that at five, my son is already two steps ahead of me.