Snake. Taos New Mexico2
June 22, 2022 by The Citron Review
by Kathryn Silver-Hajo
After he broke the restraining order for the second time, she put two suitcases and her little boy in the old Chevy and started driving west. To anywhere. The farther the better. Wherever they’d be anonymous. She’d been to Santa Fe once as a teenager, was smitten by that land so ancient it laughed at history, the air that smelled of brush smoke and sage, sun that reached out and embraced you without having to struggle through smog. She told the boy it was a special adventure just for the two of them. She’d figure it out as she went along.
She drove, engine straining to its limit, through the shrub-mottled Sangre de Cristo range, past striated mesas, the deep ravine of the Rio Grande plunging low to the left. The road wound gently at first, then spiraled tighter around the contours of the mountain until the switchbacks reversed so sharply she imagined hurtling into the dusty abyss if the brakes didn’t hold or she was distracted by the child. All the while, she sang to the boy, who cried for his daddy, cried for his friends, cried for his bed and the wild animal mobile that hung from the ceiling. He finally slept suckling his fingers, as the soft adobe contours of the town, cradled in the valley just below, spirited into view. Taos. It seemed to beckon as if expecting them.
In her panic to leave, she’d hurled his blankie, Elmo slippers, and Tigger, into the bag, but somehow missed Goodnight Moon. So, once they found a motel, she promised that after breakfast the next morning they’d drive to the patchouli-scented bookstore on the Plaza to get a new one. He wailed that he wanted his copy but was mollified by promises of chocolate ice cream. She would have promised him a real tiger just to get through the day, but ice cream and a book that sang to him like a lullaby had worked this time.
As they headed back to the car from the store, he clutched the shiny new book in one hand, fingers the size of cornichons gripping her thumb, his soft hair waving like feathergrass, plump legs pumping to keep up. Piñon jays squawked overhead in the electric-blue sky, the air so fresh and clear she felt it healing her with every breath. Everything stood out vividly in the sparse, clear atmosphere—cinnamon-hued houses, a turquoise gate, arnica, aloe plants, the pink of bitter dogbane flowers—all seemed to be lit from within.
Something caught the boy’s attention and he dropped her finger and pointed. A brown and black and yellow snake ribboned sleekly, rapidly, across the parking lot in front of them.
Look Mama, ‘nake.
He squatted to admire the creature that looked as if someone had woven strands of rope into a glossy braid, and released it to wind and unwind its way to safety.
At the same moment, two men in cowboy hats and heeled boots ambled toward their Ford pickup, all cocksure male swagger. They laughed, jumped into the vehicle, backed up fast towards the snake. She yanked the boy’s arm and he yelped, looked up at the men who were craning their necks backwards out the window for better aim. He pointed and yelled in his small voice ‘nake! ‘nake! to warn the men as the snake disappeared under their tires.
He tugged at her shirt. Why did they do that, Mama?
She lied that they hadn’t noticed, pulled him close to her side as the gears grated, the truck lurching into first, hurtling forward to finish the job. She knuckled her hands into fists, thinking how she’d driven two thousand miles to shelter the boy from the rage in his father, a rage that had passed through generations, like the stone-gray eyes and cleft chin that were so charming on the little one.
The boy kept saying why Mama? why did they do that? She eyed a rock on the curb beside her, calculated that the truck was within striking distance. She squatted down, curled her fingers around it, but the boy started wailing, reached his arm out stiffly toward the snake, as the vehicle sped out of range, wheels screeching, the stench of hot rubber clouding the air.
She let the rock slip out of her hand, drew him up into her arms, saying I don’t know baby, I don’t know, turned her body away from the oozing snake so he wouldn’t see.
Kathryn Silver-Hajo’s work appears, or is forthcoming, in Pithead Chapel, Atticus Review, Ruby Literary, SoFloPoJo, Fictive Dream, New York Times-Tiny Love Stories, New World Writing, Flash Boulevard, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Bending Genres, Cleaver Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, and others. Read Kathryn’s work at kathrynsilverhajo.com.
absolutely eloquently written
Thank you Margritta! Just seeing your note now. 🙂