SNAKE GARDEN


TARA ISABEL ZAMBRANO



The snakes are dead. In the backyard, my husband is piling them on top of each other, their skin crimping in summer heat. When he comes inside, he’s covered in sweat, snake bites on his feet. Outside the cicadas are screeching at full power. I want to call a clinic, but he says he is feeling fine.


How do you know? I ask him.


I just do. He slaps his hand on the kitchen counter.


When he comes out of shower, his eyes are glazed over. We should burn the dead snakes because according to a Hindu tradition, it releases the spirit once the body turns to ash and the snakes at least deserve that, I say. He nods his head. We pick up the fleshy, slippery pile, drop it into an old clay utensil and set it on fire–smoke swirling from our yard. Later, lying on our bed, he nibbles my ear, his hand rough on my breast.

Why did you kill them? We used to enjoy watching them slithering on the grass, looping across each other.


They were multiplying like crazy. Every time I stepped in the yard, they’d hiss and wake up under my feet, over it.

I stare at the bite marks.


He waves his hand in dismissal. Outside the sky is specked with clouds, silver scaled at the horizon.


The next time he kisses me, his tongue’s edge is a soft divider sweeping my cheeks. He clicks it in his sleep. Then he gets up and wanders in the yard. At dawn, he taps our bedroom window, puts his palm on the glass, baby scales twitching on his skin. He says he wants to slither inside my body as if it was a dark, wet hole. He licks the window and hisses. The birds at the feeder shriek, they swirl over his head before flying away. I call him inside.


His eyes are still, stoned while he moves above me, and in between, he slips down so expertly I wonder. His tongue fully forked between my legs. I twinge with pleasure. He softly bites into my pinkie as he used to before and raises his head as if he remembered something. He scurries away, brings a knife to the bed and chops off my digit. I scream so loudly he’s unable to move. I stare at the finger turning blue, then purple, curling like a dried-up worm. He picks it up like a baby, walks away. I look outside the window, he is digging a hole in the yard.


I want you to be as before, I say, when he comes in to clean up. That’s not happening, a low grunt in his voice, his bare back slimmer as if his ribs have shrunk, his hips have caved in. I touch his waist. It’s mushy as if there are no bones, just cartilage and muscles. Stop that, he wheezes and slips into the jacuzzi. I love you, I say. His face half-submerged, begins to show some other expression than anger, maybe sorrow, maybe loss. I know he’s trying to save me from converting, from death. An hour later, he’s back in the yard digging and digging until he manages to slide in.


In the morning, when I open the back door, he is coiled outside the hole. He crawls to the patio, his hood raised, his breath strong, furious. I let him hang on my forearm, bring him in, place him in a shallow filled tub. Later in the day, he stays on the grass, his head turned toward the place where we burned the snakes. Charred flakes in the utensil. He slithers into the urn and zigzags out covered in ash.


The next time I see him, he has a dead rat in his mouth. There is another snake with him, slender, probably female. He wraps his tail around her. They slither in the yard. Happy, lusty or so I imagine. I close my eyes, think of his hand curling around my leg. When I open my eyes, they are gone. I wait the entire day for him to surface. Something is lost between us, and I feel I’ll never find it again. The utensil in the corner sits empty, darkening in the fading light.


It rains for the next few days and the yard is puddled. When the air is steeped with sun, I step outside and there are four, oblong eggs snuck in cool shade between the fence and the bald cypress. Before I know it, I am hitting them with the same stick my husband used to kill the snakes, their sap glazing the grass, their shells like teeth, sharp edges up. Then I run inside and cry in the shower, the skin around my absent pinkie growing, gauzing the wound of absence.


Thereafter, day after day, I lay in bed, noosed in loneliness, waiting to hear a rustle in the yard. Every time the breeze hits the leaves, I turn my head toward the direction where his hole is and wonder if I could slide in what would I find–damp dirt, debris, a long, dark body raised like a hook, ready to claw or a shimmering stillness blossoming through the earth.


Listen to The Hours by Philip Glass, selected to accompany Tara's work, below:

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TARA ISABEL ZAMBRANO (she/her) works as a semiconductor chip designer. She is the author of a full-length flash collection, Death, Desire And Other Destinations, with OKAY Donkey Press. She lives in Texas and is the Fiction Editor of Waxwing Literary Magazine.