×

SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page

Garden Snake

Story by Taryn Tilton (Read author interview) December 17, 2018

Art by SmokeLong Quarterly

Wind rushes through the poplar, its leaves flashing silver.

She’s talking in the kitchen. Rhubarb is poisonous, so you have to cook it and put it with something sweet, like strawberries. Then put that in something else sweet, like pie.

She’s tying her hair up against the crosswind, which enters through the back door and exits through the dining room window. There is hair in the garden, she says, to keep the rabbits away. But now it’s crawling towards the house in clumps across the grass. “Whose is it?” I ask. Not mine, she says.

I used to live here. When I was younger, I picked bulrushes from the drainage ditch. If it had a long stalk, I carried it like a flower, and if it had a short stalk, I tucked it behind my ear. If it had no stalk at all, I brushed it against my cheek and ran it over my lips. Until one broke open and I saw they were full of small worms.

The clouds are retreating and the sky is yellow.

There is a bowl of strawberries. She takes one and slices off the top but it’s too ripe and falls apart between her fingers. Try the pie, she says. The tines of the fork hit my front teeth. The rhubarb is sour.

She used to live here, too. She once draped a snake across my shoulders without saying a word. She wanted to charge me a nickel for the privilege, but the thing slid down the back of my shirt and I had to pay double.

Now she’s looking at me intently with her mouth open, as though about to speak. I am silent. There is a piercing sound: a tornado siren, the wail thinning out before swelling as it comes around again. I drop my plate onto the counter and turn to look for cover. Don’t worry, she says, they do a test every Tuesday. She’s almost shouting.

She keeps talking over the alarm. Now that we’re together, she says, she wants to apologize. “For the snake?” I say. What snake, she says.

In the end, she’s thinking of something that happened years ago, something I don’t remember. She thinks about it often. She wishes we were closer. It’s so unfortunate it happened that way—but you have a short temper, she says. I ask if this is the apology.

I always assumed it was a garden snake but in fact I never saw it. Even if there were signs of danger, I hadn’t yet learned how to read them: all black, no stripes, a bite on my wrist, a length on my neck.

Outside, the air is eerily still. The sky is green. The poplar leaves are no longer silver but the siren is still blaring, and further on, I can see the bulrushes whipping in the wind as though they might split in two.

What snake, she says again. But I am desperately looking for the basement.

About the Author

Taryn Tilton writes and translates. Her novella, Cherry Cherry, won the 2017 Plaza Literary Prize.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Two
ornament

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

High Intensity Interval Training for Flash Writers with Ingrid Jendrzejewski

Book Now!

Bring a pen, lots of paper, and your water bottle: this is a high-intensity guided-writing work-out designed to kickstart creativity, and push you into new territory, and exercise flash muscles you didn’t even know you had.

Maybe you’re stuck in a story and looking for a way to proceed.  Maybe you’re looking to generate new ideas.  Maybe your inner editor is holding you back.  Maybe you’re in a rut or have writers’ block or are just wanting to shake things up a bit.  This session is designed to tackle all these issues and help you level up your flash fitness.  Writers of all backgrounds and experience levels warmly welcome; come along, roll up your sleeves, and trust the process.