S is for snake.

For a long time the only other neighbors at our end of the street were Mr. and Mrs. C. What I remember most about them is that their house had a peaked roof, and was often struck by lightening. When that happened a terrifying blue light shot out from our electrical outlets and the sky cracked open with thunder that shook everything.

They were perhaps in their 40s. It seemed unfair that they had no children for me to play with, and yet they had a pool — complete with a diving board — in their backyard. They kept several horses in a small paddock adjacent to their house, as well as a Doberman Pinscher who leaned on me when I scratched her head, and a black cat. I liked to visit with their animals and had a horse of my own, so when I got a little older, in high school, the C’s would pay me to take care of their pets when they went out of town. With that job came the privilege of swimming in their pool.

I remember that Mrs. C was a nice woman with brown hair feathered Charlie’s Angels-style on the sides of her head. She was soft-spoken. Her husband was brusk – obnoxious, my mom said –with a sort of shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude. He was graying around the temples and had a bit of a beer belly, but I could see, even as a teenager, that he might have been attractive as a younger man. He gave off a feeling of aggressiveness and newly acquired wealth (he’d started a communications business) that made me uncomfortable around him.

The incident I want to write about is clear in my memory, but the circumstances leading up to it are not. I can’t explain why it was I was in the C’s barn with Mr. C that day. Mrs. C was certainly not at home, that I remember. I was feeding the horses, I think, or perhaps Mr. C was showing me what to do in preparation for an upcoming trip of theirs, when I would be taking care of the horses. I don’t know. It’s possible I had been swimming and Mr. C had come home unexpectedly and I felt strange about being in their pool without an invitation and so followed him, chatting all the while, into the barn.

Mr. C was not wearing a shirt and he was sweating. I was uncomfortable, alone in the barn with him. I did not want to see that exposed chest hair and freckled skin. He was shoveling in an empty stall, grunting as he did so. I did not want to hear him. I stood back, watching. He lifted a bale of hay from the ground, and all of the sudden he was yelling. “It’s a goddamn snake!” He brought the shovel down on the black snake before I could react. “Goddamn snake!” he cried again and again, the back of the shovel hitting the poor creature as it twisted and squirmed, exposing a gray underbelly. When it was over, blood splattered Mr. C’s chest, the shovel and the barn walls. Some of it had reached my bare legs. I swallowed my revulsion, not just at his brutality, but also at his cowardice. We saw black snakes in our barn all the time and though I never relished discovering one, I knew that they kept the field mice out of the hay and the grain, and that they weren’t dangerous.

That afternoon I learned that Mr. C was.


Joining other bloggers in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History. I am, you may have noticed, no longer writing in the order of the alphabet but rather doing letters when the inspiration strikes.

Some previous posts:

J is for Jeremiah Townley Chase

H is for Hokkaido

C is for crème brûlée

K is for Korean Fish Market


4 thoughts on “S is for snake.

  1. Wow, HE was a snake.

    This reads like a great short story—I love the colloquial snap of your language and its rhythm.

    I’ve written about my old hired hand who had a snake phobia like that. i discovered I do too, but killing them is so wrong. I never could break him of it, though I tried.

  2. Thanks for your comments everyone! I would encourage you all to try this alphabet series — it really is a great writing exercise.

    I actually am a bit afraid of snakes, too, mostly because they tend to pop out unexpectedly. I knew that the snakes I encountered in Maryland were harmless, but now that I live in California, my fear has escalated a bit, partly because I am not familiar with the kinds of snakes that live here, but also because there are rattlesnakes. I have only seen one, while on a hike, but that was enough for me.

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