← Issue 8

My mother and the snake

by Jessica Brock

My mother, the artist, has a snake around her neck. It writhes and she with it. Furiously they tango as she untangles herself from the coil, over and over and over. Sometimes she stops fighting, and I ask if she’s taking a rest. “Yes,” she gasps. Her breathing gets heavy. Her lungs are desperate for air. Just when I think she’s gone, she clutches and wheezes until the snake is loose again, and they resume their dance. They wiggle and jerk. They turn over and over and over.

“Can we go to the ocean?” I ask one day. I am mashing chamomile for tea.

“Not today,” she says. Her voice is strangled and raspy. When she sounds like this, I think the snake is just a part of her. It isn’t, though, but it is her snake. It belongs to her.

“Wouldn’t your snake like some sunshine?” I ask. I feel strongly that I must play in the sea today. I need to be barefoot in the sand. My mother doesn’t answer, but she starts crying. Not today.

I am boiling water for the tea. I stare into the pot, and I see the ocean, all cresting waves and fizzing spray and deep rumble. The rolling boil jolts me from my daydream. Time to bring it off the fire. Distracted, I grab the pot with my bare hand. I scream but I must be drowned out by the melodramatic crashing of the pot to the floor. Water splashes upward and outward, a wave smacking into me. The inevitable crash. The pull of the tide.

My mother catches me as I am backing away. What happened, what happened? I can answer only with a whimper. I feel like the cat who has leapt onto a candle, shocked and regretful. My mother puts her sweater around me and walks me outside. She has to carry me because of the pain; I have scalded myself on the hand with the pot and on the arm, shoulder, and leg with the boiling water. I am all blisters and erythema and anguish. She leads me out of our home and toward a small stream not thirteen steps from our back door. The stream is shallow enough for me to lie down in it, which is what my mother makes me do.

“You need to stay here for twenty minutes,” she instructs. She sits down with my head in her lap. I notice dried paint on her shirt. Papery flakes in her hair. Charcoal smudges on her jaw.

“Your snake is gone,” I say. She looks back toward home with a strange expression.

“Not gone,” she says.

I close my eyes. The water rippling around us sounds like hissing. On my poached skin it feels like tongues. In my melancholy, it feels like the ocean. 

Jessica Brock is a multigenre writer and MFA candidate in the Creative Writing & Environment program at Iowa State University. She is a recent transplant from California to Iowa, where she lives with her family. More information, music, and writing can be found at: https://jessibrock.wordpress.com/