Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
From this love I will not recover.
After seeing little girls walk their ferrets through the park, and after hearing parakeets chide passersby through fogged bathroom windows, we decided to check out the new pet shop in town.
The Husband parked in the lot by the chirping building.
“Now, gentlemen,” I began, turning in my seat to face our four sons. “We are only here to look at the animals. There will be no begging – “
The boys shook their heads.
“Or whining. Or whimpering,” I finished. Then we all spilled into the pet store.
The wise old turtles were not for sale and neither were the shop cats. But the guinea pigs nibbling thin air and the brainless two-dimensional fish clamored for attention.
Then I saw them.
“Ooooh, look at the pythons!” I cooed.
The salesman saw me coming from a distance, ogling the snakes and reaching for my wallet.
“Would you like to hold one?” he asked.
“Oh – really? – yes,” I said, beaming.
He climbed a ladder, reached into an upper-shelf case and withdrew a rope of muscle 2 feet long, cloaked in vibrant silk brighter than autumn-bleached aspen trees.
“Hold out your finger,” said the salesman.
Because I was raised with four siblings, I figured something terrible would happen to my finger if I held it out at another’s bidding. But nothing terrible happened; the salesman draped the banana ball python onto my finger.
I have seen beauty before, but rarely have I found it so thoroughly intertwined with strength and grace, so bound up with function and potential.
The python fixed his stormy eyes on me and raised his head, revealing an adorable spear-shaped overbite, fine ruby pits on his upper jaw, a pale soft underside pining for human contact. He slithered up my arm, over my shoulder. He burrowed in my hair.
The salesman laughed. “Now that is a happy snake,” he said.
I was smitten.
“How big will he get?” I asked.
“How long will he live?”
“About 30 years,” said the salesman.
I shivered. We could live out our lives together, coiled in a reading chair – he as a serene ornament, I as a pulsing heat signature.
“What does he eat?”
I nodded. Time to put peanut butter-smudged mouse traps in the hills, I thought to myself.
The Husband and our sons walked into the snake room and lurched backward when they saw us.
“Isn’t he lovely?” I shouted over the bare expanse between me and them.
The Husband grimaced.
“Oh he’s just a DARLING. Can’t we keep him?” I begged.
“Keep him where?” asked The Husband.
“We’ll get you a big glass house,” I said to the snake.
“I don’t want ‘im,” said the little, feisty twin.
“But he’s so perrrr-fect,” I whined.
“I don’t want him either,” said my middle-born son. “He looks like he wants to choke me in my sleep.”
“I’ll shut your door at night,” I said. “I promise.”
Middleborn wagged his head, jiggling his soft pearly cheeks.
“But – but – “ I whimpered. “He’s poetry in motion. See?”
The snake wound around my arm like Fate circling Choice; Destiny encompassing man’s feeble Will.
“Can I move out?” asked Little-Feisty.
The Husband cleared his throat. “I don’t want to live with that snake,” he said.
There comes a time for Fate and Choice to part ways. In this moment, I had to choose between The Husband and a snake.
“You really don’t want Hobie?” I said, trying to angle the snake’s rainy blue eyes, with their crimson slits, in a way that would ensnare The Husband in a love trap.
“Hobie?” asked The Husband.
I nodded, stroking my snake’s underside and staring down the five detractors standing in the doorway of the room where we fell in love.
“No, sorry,” said The Husband.
I sighed and handed Hobie back to the salesman.
“Would you like to see what he would be like full grown?” offered the salesman in a last-ditch effort to woo my brood.
I nodded and we all followed the salesman to a tank near the door. He pulled from it a 5-foot-long python, black and brown and thicker than my leg.
“Hold your fist in front of your neck so he can’t choke you to death, OK?” said the salesman.
I complied, and he draped the heavy snake over my shoulders, where it flexed and peered at my sons.
The Husband slapped his forehead. “Nope. No dead wives in our house. Time to go.”
“Ah, come on,” I protested. “Are you even living if you don’t keep Death in a glass tank?”
But The Husband and the boys were already out the door and halfway to the truck.
I gave the adult python back to the salesman and blew a final kiss toward Hobie’s tank. Then I left him behind forever – a twisted siren for someone else’s song.
“I hope a poet buys Hobie,” I said with a sigh as we rode home.
“Probably a cocaine dealer,” muttered The Husband.
“What was THAT?” I asked.
“Uh,” he faltered, “Probably a poem spiller…. will get the snake.”
I nodded. One can only hope.