Into a Corner

There’s a sound a piece of chalk makes when dropped—a “chink” or “plink” sound. Our dogs have the same note in their bark when they see a rattlesnake in the yard. This is the sound the dogs were making when Sophy called me out of my office one night, saying, “There’s a rattlesnake in Denisse’s yard.”

I jumped up and grabbed a shovel from the shed. Twice in the past, I’ve killed rattlesnakes by slicing them in half with a thrust of the shovel’s edge.

When I got to Denisse’s yard she spoke through the window of her house, pointing out the snake. It was coiled under her car, making it impossible to make a clear blow with the shovel. The snake was poised to strike which made me fearful since I was standing in the dark driveway only a few feet away.

Sophy said, “We’ll call Martine… we’ll call Martine.”

This riled me. I didn’t want to call another man to protect my family—at least not until I’d given it my best shot.

“Don’t call him.”

I told Denisse to throw her car keys out the window. She tossed them to me and I got into her tiny and low-slung compact. I felt vulnerable, knowing the snake was directly underneath me. The car is beat up and I imagined the snake slithering inside through a hole in the floor.

I turned the key in the ignition and switched on the headlights. I reversed and there was the snake, exposed, still coiled in the driveway. I lined the tires up best I could with the snake and hit the gas. With any luck I’d break its back.

I reversed again so the headlights illuminated the yard. There was nothing there. Denisse called out that she thought I’d hit it, but if I did the snake still had the strength to crawl away. This was fine with me. It wasn’t my goal to kill the snake. I just wanted it gone.

Sophy and I went to bed and all night I dreamed of battling with snakes. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost. Around dawn I heard the same dropping chalk sound in the barking of the dogs. I dressed in the gray light and outside I saw the dogs yipping and yapping at one of the dog houses. I reached out and tipped the dog house over—

The snake hadn’t slithered away. Instead it was coiled inside the slats of the wooden pallet that the dog house rested on.

Like the night before, I went to the shed. Instead of a shovel I grabbed an iron bar about five feet long—heavy, with a wedge-shaped tip. We use it for digging holes in the hard dirt.

I went back to Denisse’s yard and looked down at the snake.

If it had disappeared in the night I wouldn’t have to do anything.

Instead, the snake had decided to stay within a foot of Denisse’s front door. I couldn’t risk having her or the kids or our dogs being snake bit.

I put my back into one heavy thrust of the iron bar and—feeling like one of Ahab’s whalers on the Pequod—severed the snake’s head from its body.

It squirmed and squirmed until I put it in a bucket and covered it with dirt and stones.

Mexico 2017

 

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Plea Deal

I was driving in California, through a Walmart parking lot. In the traffic island was a young man in his 30s, flanked by his wife and two kids. He was dressed in clean clothes. He held a sign:
“Need money for food and rent. I lost my job. Please help.”
His two young kids were sprawled in the grass, either sleeping or ashamed to show their faces.
I felt sympathetic, but as I passed, I said to my wife, “There was something missing from his sign. There was nothing about asking for work.”
An hour later I was across the border in Mexico. I saw an old guy standing by the side of the road, the Pacific Ocean behind him. He held a crudely-lettered sign:
“Desde Trabajo”
“Need Work”
We hired him today.
I wonder how the guy in the Walmart parking lot fared, and if he would have done better without the bid for sympathy, and instead held up a simple plea:

“Need Work.”

Of course, I have to add this:

The Mexican guy never showed up to work.