Fear of Snakes

By Heather Fowler

 

I should have known it wouldn’t work out when Mark told me he was afraid of snakes.  Because I am a snake.  Well, only while I’m sleeping.  But the paranoia of dating a man who fears snakes, whom you adore but can never sleep in front of, it’s too much.

 

Who can you show all your cool skills to?  We took a trip to the desert and I was dying to sidewind for him.  It would have been a delayed reaction sort of conversation because I wouldn’t have remembered sidewinding or been accessible in the moment he saw it, but he could have seen it, and then we could have chatted about it in the morning.  As it was, I made up an argument and then went over the dunes to sleep.  I came back to him in the morning, all apologetic, as my human self… But that was unnecessary drama.  I hate drama.  And if he weren’t so afraid of snakes, I could have shown him my full self in all my majesty. 

 

My snake self has a fantastic rattle.  It is my snake self I carry through all my dreams, and I am a special kind of powerful in dreams.  I can slither anywhere.  I can slither up a skirt or under a sofa, through a mountain or across a sea.  I have seen my rattle in mirror dreams, too.  You know those dreams–the ones where you are a baby viper, then you are an old snake, and then you are a hungry viper, middle-aged, who hasn’t eaten in months?  Mark would have been an incredible mate, if it weren’t for this snake thing.  We liked hanging out at coffee-houses.  We liked reading books by Korean guys.  We liked calling out, “Gotcha!” when we told a big fat whopper the other believed, and we liked pistachio gelato.

 

It would be nice to know that I could sleep beside him and use him as a heat rock, if he weren’t so afraid.  I would never bite him while I was sleeping, and even if I did, I am not poisonous.  Just large.  Imagine how it feels to have a lover rub up against you at night, it’s a snaky feeling already.  Only, with me, he’d have to accept a five foot long snake in his bed and the occasional flit of my tongue if I partially awoke that would feel exactly like a child’s Eskimo kisses.  I have seen my snake body; always see it while first awaking.  I know he would see it, too.  I have scared a lover before.  It took me a month to convince Peter from the accounting pool that he had a nightmare when he saw me as a snake in a sole instant of napping weakness after a quick bout of afternoon sex.  Finally, he believed me, because he wanted to.  But Mark.  Mark was so cute and so smart.  I loved the way his hair had only just begun to gray and the efficient way he had of walking.  Mark was kind, so kind.  He watched me shop for dresses!  What a guy! 

 

I wanted to be with him until I died or he died or we died.  But I couldn’t do that because he had that fear of snakes.  And I had brought up snakes before.  Each time I did, he recoiled, acted like, “Why are you bringing up snakes again, knowing this is my phobia?”  I think he thought I was a closet sadist for the re-mention, but I wasn’t, really.  Just a part-time snake, in spite of myself. 

 

I had chemicals as a child.  These made for transformations. They were in the cat food.  It was recalled after a few bags had come into my house–Snacky Catty was the brand.  I was one of few humans affected.  I was only three; yes, I had been eating quite a bit of it.  Who doesn’t eat cat food at three?  It’s tempting, right?  You’re low to the ground.  It’s there.  “Go play outside,” the parents shout and you are playing outside, but you’re hungry.  No one ever told me not to eat Mrs. Snickers and Dr. Knockerdoodle’s food.  But, no, the cats didn’t turn into snakes– they did seem to hiss more though.

 

And about Mark, I wondered?  What should I do?  Really, just imagine the fear and pain I’d already endured about this snake thing, the slumber parties I’d missed, the naps I’d foregone while on tour-buses, the friendships that could have gone painlessly into the friends with privileges realm but did not, because I knew I could get drunk and pass out and those friends might tell on me because they knew other friends who would find this interesting and it might not take much to get them to share the nature of my serpentine ways, flip me over and sell me out, if I let myself relax–because as beautiful of a snake as I am, all green and yellow, with dazzling gold tones, I didn’t really want to out myself to the hordes of unsympathetic normals.   

 

But I would have to do something about Mark and I knew I would lose him.    “Why can’t you spend the night?” I remember he kept asking.  Initially, I kept making excuses.  I told him I had a cat to feed, which I did not because I would have eaten that cat while I slept.  I told him I had a hydroponics set-up that needed monitoring in the mornings, which I did not because the last thing I’d want would be to be arrested and then be a snake-sleeper in jail, though I could likely slither free that way, clean through the bars.  I finally told him: “I am afraid of intimacy.  Commitment.  I don’t sleep over.”

 

Then, he brought me a basket of mums and some delphiniums.  He sang me three love songs he wrote just-for-me with his golden yellow classical guitar.  He got naked and on bended knee before me and said, “I love you.  Please, please stay with me.”

 

I thought: “You don’t know what you love.  You know what you hate.   I belong to the latter category.  What do you love about me?  What?”

 

But he was so endearing.  So I did what he asked– I stayed with him all night long, pinching myself so as not to go to sleep, letting my eyes trace over his body and back again a million times.  He was deathly afraid of snakes. 

 

This wakeful presence worked for the first five nights he made me stay.  But then he would say each morning, “You look so tired. What’s wrong?  Not sleeping well?”  And he noticed that I needed breaks between nights of togetherness so grew suspicious there were other men. 

 

“Why can’t you be here every night?” he asked.  “Who else are you going to see?”

 

“You don’t know how I am,” I told him.  “What if you hated having me here at night?”

 

On the sixth night I stayed there, I forgot the caffeine pills.  I fucked up.  I’m not sure if this fuck-up was my subconscious telling me it was time to test his love, but I fell asleep.  I turned into a snake and my snake self got extremely close to him to be warmed. My snake self was so happy!  Then he woke up.  He started screaming. 

 

His screaming woke me up and then of course I lost my snake-form.  But he kept saying, “All this time, you’ve been a snake?  Why didn’t you tell me you were a snake? A big green snake! I could handle anything but this.”

 

And I said, “You said you hated snakes.  Why would I tell you? I’m only a snake while I’m sleeping.  You said you loved me.  I tried to hide this snakiness, but I’m sorry.”

 

He said he forgave me, but he didn’t ask me to sleep over any more.  And then he didn’t call me any more.  And then he asked me not to call him.

 

I said, “Whatever, Mark.  I am what I am.”

 

“I am what I am, too,” he said.  

 

I thought we sounded like Popeye a little bit, but it wasn’t a funny moment.  It was pretty sad.  I touched his graying hair one last time.  I did tell you he turned into a rat while he was sleeping, didn’t I? 

 

Well, yes, he did.  Maybe that clears a few things up, about his snake phobia anyway.  Something about dog food and childhood, which I never held against him due to my similar circumstances.  

 

Guess it’s a bit different when you’re the snake though.  Oh, how it’s hard to be the snake.  Just too many bastard rats everywhere.  Yet you keep being drawn to them, again and again.  Some kind of biological warfare, I thought this was, when the rats were as big as the snakes but still so fearful, so attractive, so endearing, so beguiling, and so wrong. 

 

 

 

 

Heather Fowler received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University in 1997. She has taught composition, literature, and writing-related courses at UCSD, California State University at Stanislaus, and Modesto Junior College. Among other venues, She has recently published short stories in: Underground Voices (November 2008); A Cappella Zoo (October 2008, Volume I). KeyHole (August 2008); Trespass (August/September 2008, UK); SubLit (August 2008); Coming Together: With Pride (Phaze, 2008, e-book and print); Word Riot (May 2008); Storyglossia #28 (May 2008); Cityworks 2008 (May 2008); DOGZPLOT FLASH FICTION (2008, online and print); Temenos (Fall 2007); and Mississippi Review online (October 2007). Please drop by her website at http://www.heatherfowlerwrites.com/ for a full bibliography and news on current projects.

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Published on April 5, 2009 at 1:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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