Terrarium
21703
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Terrarium


 

I wake up wrapped in snakes and think, oh, man, not this again.

It’s that feeling of being bound up in scaly bandages. Some squirm against my body, others wrap around limbs— those are the constrictors, I suppose. Even my head is covered. It’s a helmet of cold meat. The smell of anxiety.

The question is, why snakes? It’s not like I have a phobia. I’m not freaked out, but I am definitely getting there. “What the hell is this?” I say.

“Psychosexual dysphoria,” says a copperhead with a red face. “From challenging issues in your daily life.”

He strikes me as pedantic. “You mean like being covered in snakes?” I say.

“Freud said snakes are penises,” hisses another.

“Freud says everything is penises,” hisses some variety of rat snake. “You’re a corn snake for god’s sake.”

They all pretty much hiss when they speak. Bone dry. Like falling rice.

“This isn’t a dream,” I say. “This is real.” I’m wide awake, shivering, since snakes are cold blooded and that many of them leeches the heat right out of a human body. They’re the opposite of cuddly.

“He has a point,” says the copperhead, who seems to be in charge.

“How’d you guys get in, anyway?” I say. I’d spent a lot of time stopping up holes in my house chewed by rats or something. Holes I wouldn’t have known about if not for the snakes, so I guess that’s a positive. Obviously, I didn’t fix them all. There are vipers and cobras and even a black mambo. A green tree python is wrapped around my neck. If they wanted me dead, I’d be dead. I worry more about the holes than the snakes, because I don’t like rats. Or spiders.

“This might be about your father,” says a garter snake, a striped S-curve on my chest. His chin is up. He looks hopeful.

“Again, not a dream,” I say.

“Point taken,” says an eastern coral snake, whose venom could have killed me in minutes. “Maybe you’re like Harry Potter. Talks to snakes, connected to evil, that sort of thing?”

“I’m not a character in a YA series,” I say. “I’ve got a job I have to get to. I’ve got a girlfriend. What if she spends the night and you guys show up? She hates snakes.” I haven’t told Simone about the snakes. Sometimes she wants to stay the night and I have to claim there’s a gas leak. I leave the stove on just a little before she comes over to make sure she smells it.

“One of these days you’re going to blow yourself up,” said an elephant trunk snake.

“Or asphyxiate,” says an asp. “Like Sylvia Plath.”

“Never gonna happen,” says a king snake. “Simone is gonna dump his ass any minute. What kind of fool lives with a gas leak?”

“How about you let me worry about that,” I say. “I have to pee.”

They unmummify me, slithering toward the holes, which I can’t see in the dark. You can’t turn the lights on when you’re covered in snakes. It’s best to lie still until they leave.

“Maybe it’s about creative life force,” says a ball python on the way out. “Shed your skin and move on, man. Haven’t you ever seen that symbol with the snake swallowing its own tail?”

“Penises again,” says the loudmouth corn snake.

“Bullshit,” said the bull snake. “An ouroboros signifies infinity.”

Or doing the same thing over and over. I happen to know from working at Petco that if a snake is stressed enough it will try to eat itself, tail first. It isn’t pretty. I think it best not to mention this. I don’t want to prolong the conversation.

“We’ll see you again soon,” says the copperhead. “Probably Thursday. Right guys?”

A rattlesnake shakes his or her tail, but none of the others answer. There’s no chit-chat as they disperse. Scales whip across carpet and scrape through holes.

When I’m sure they’re gone, I reach for my glasses. My phone, shows it’s 3:45 in the morning. No way am I going back to sleep. After this, I have to go to a job devoid of meaning, call a girlfriend who I know is going to dump me, maybe turn the gas on.

This again.