In a little desert town where I had business that fell through, I walked the streets. Downtown was crumbling brick and mortar, signs inviting civic pride and promising renovation. Another sign, felt-tip marker and stencil: “Exotic Snake Show.”
Inside I found a flight of cement steps, each step too narrow for my boots, each vertical face eroded as if by a waterfall. There were patches of whitewash on the mint green plaster walls. At the top of the stairs I found a room empty except for a table where a man stood with a cigar box full of cash.
“Where’s the show?” I said.
He nodded toward the next room, a huge loft. It was empty except for one corner where people stood around a few cages. “Just ask them and they’ll show you stuff,” the man said.
I paid two dollars and walked over to the cages. A young woman with moussed auburn hair sat in a folding chair. Wound around her arm was a thick strand of black patched with gold like puddles of liquid electricity.
The woman spoke the python’s name. When she turned to look at me I saw a lightning bolt painted on the left side of her face. I looked for the snake’s head, finally traced its body to an end which nuzzled under the woman’s shirt. The woman looked at me without expectation. She did not blink.
Someone called her from the other room. She held the snake out to me, extricating it from her clothes, gently raveling. I offered my hands. The python wrapped itself around my arm. The woman ran into the next room. The python was dry and light and alive, the power beneath its hide palpable.
A Chinese take-out carton on the table next to me scooted and rocked. Inside, wallowing in the oily remnants of fried noodles, six infant mice sniffed and twitched. They were pink and blind and naked and not unlike human fetuses. Another one lay in a cage, its side rising with its breath. A tiny python had found it. The lithe black tongue trickled in and out, caressing the pink mouse, tasting, taking its time.