Tuesday, December 11, 2007

All The Meanings Serious Can Have

Hi readers! I'm printing a story that first appeared in Blue Mesa Review for the next few days. I'll be back on my regular schedule once this wicked, wicked semester is over!

All the Meanings Serious Can Have

I have made myself uncomfortable for men, but there are limits.

Right now, my boyfriend Austin is with his best friend, also named Austin, on an all summer canoe trip down the Brazos River, Brazos meaning the arms of God. In this particular case, God's arms are full of branches and snakes and old tires. While he is gone, I am stuck with Austin's 6'3" boa constricter named Homey. I hate Homey and his glass tank and I especially hate that in three days I will have to feed Homey a live rat which will have to fall from my fingers unless I can convince some stupid/brave person to do it for me.

The canoe trip is an excuse for Austin and Little Austin (which is not a witty penis metaphor, but rather the way to distinguish his short best friend) to share private time, which essentially means they've been on a running drunk for somewhere near a month and show no signs of coming home until the very last minute, that minute being the day they register for their last year at the community college where I work as a financial aid officer. Austin has called once, asking "Will you feed my snake? You're the only one who can do it," which would have been flattering if he hadn't been talking about an actual snake who eats living rats, something else I loathe. All his other friends have visited them on the river at least once, but I have not been invited. I am eight years older than Austin. On a good day, I feel wild and reckless and on a bad day, I feel like Bobbie Dunne, a two-hundred pound Mineral Wells legend who works at the Howdy Doody and tries to lure younger men into her bed by telling them she has a new air-conditioner at home.

Pushing the snooze button, I roll over hoping to wake up in time for work. Sometimes I think I make this stuff up, but there's Homey's cage. I see it every morning.

I wake up the second time, hot and sweaty even though I only have one thin sheet over me because the wall unit isn't able to keep up with the July heat. What's worse is that in three weeks I will have to leave this shithole rent house and find another that won't be too expensive. The landlord, a masseuse/aromatherapist named Claudine left a note on the door, telling me that my lease would not be renewed because the house she moved to would not allow her three goats inside the city limits and had fined her $100 per goat each month. Claudine suffers from the illusion that her problems interest other people in such a compelling fashion that her victims will forget that they are being sodomized without proper lubrication. I have looked at other places, but they all require extensive deposits or stink like cat urine. The one place I could imagine living sits above a used bookstore on the town square, but will not allow Homey.

It's Friday, and I think about calling in, but I've already used most of my sick days and will have to take vacation time for my move. I push myself out of my waterbed, into the shower, and out the door, trying not to think about the fact that I've got to get in a hot, smelly 1978 Ford Grenada to drive twenty minutes to a job that doesn't pay me enough to get a new car.

The sunlight is so bright it hurts, and I decide to stop and get a Coke on my way. I figure I'm already running so late, what's another five minutes going to do? My brother says this attitude accounts for my credit card debt and that I must weigh every financial decision, even if the amount of money seems insignificant. My brother's one goal in life was to get away from this town, which he has already achieved by becoming a high-paid lawyer in Singapore. He offered to send me a check for $7,000 to pay off my debt, which try as I might, I can't seem to chip away because of interest and late fees. I wanted to avoid this fate, but finally called him last week and said, go ahead and I'll pay you back at $300 per month until nothing's left. Nothing, unfortunately, being the best I can hope for.

With money on my mind, I drive past the Brazos River Rattlesnake Farm, a place that announces itself with hand-painted signs advertising "Live Snakes, Next Exit." I'm wondering how much money they would give me for Homey, as they are in the business of buying rattlesnakes at $4 per pound, maybe more for exotic ones like Homey. When I mentioned this as a possible alternative for Homey in Austin's absence, Austin said he would rather sell his snake to strangers than see it sold to the rattlesnake farm where it would live out its days in a pit with many other snakes. Homey is special, Austin said, and I found myself in the peculiar and alarming position of being murderously jealous of a snake.

I have been to the snake farm once, years ago with my mother after she got out of the hospital for an extensive operation to remove a large nest of malignant tumors just before she overdosed on my dead uncle's morphine in an attempt to smother the pain caused by the operation. Dust had settled on everything in the shop -- the stuffed snakes, the rattlesnake jewelry, the tanks -- so much so that I couldn't tell what was living and what was dead. Upon seeing my fear, the owner saddled up to me and said, "Darling, you got nothing to worry about. The only living snakes you can't see are in those boxes over there." The boxes sat in the corner with a big rock anchoring them down, caution! written across the front of the old cardboard. Mesmerized by the slight motion of the boxes, I nearly pissed myself when a kitten ran across my foot. Also charming: underneath a tank of copperheads by the cash register, two potbellied pigs slept side by side in a box, oblivious to the fact that they would soon be dead, which is probably a good way to be. You, of course, are free to believe anything you want.

Another time, Austin and Little Austin went to the snake farm in the winter and sat on a bunch of crates and talked to the owner for a solid half hour before asking, So where are the rattlesnakes? Well, you guessed it, they were hybernating in the very crates that Austin and Little Austin were sitting on.

I do not know which is worse -- the sound of the rattles or the hybernating menace right under you, silent and waiting for the spring.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Dreaming about being an actress is more exciting then being one." Marilyn Monroe

Cocktail Hour
Drinking manifesto reading suggestion: Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

Benedictions and Maledicitons
Happy Tuesday! Be careful in the ice!


Indiana Jones said...

Snake pits can be alarming.

Marion Ravenwood said...

Did you really think you could outdrink me?

Short bus and Speical said...

We like cereals,!!1, too.

eric1313 said...

I never can get tired of reading the adventures of Homey the snake.

This is so, so, so the best story in your portfolio. In my humblest of humble opinions, that is.

May the semester grant you some quarter in its wake. And may your words flow like God's own scotch from a holy, ever-full decanter.

btw--thanks for being on all of our sides. You are an incomparable person and teacher. Even to a knucklehead like moi.

Charles Gramlich said...

I like this. It seems to have a different voice than what you've shared with us before. So far the main character seems less fragile than some of your other main female leads.