I Was Trying to Keep to Myself

by Sara Duff

The first snake I saw was a rattlesnake. It warned me, and I stopped moving, and it crossed the trail. When I went to continue, it warned me again, and I spoke to it.

Whatever speech I was giving to the snake was just language to let it know that I was passing through space, going this way. It did occur to me that I could call out to alert the woman hiking behind me, or take a photograph of the rattlesnake, but I did not. My loyalty was to the snake.

In the second situation, too, it was noticeable how the snake was handling itself best of all of us. The woman jogging ahead of me on the trail stopped and cried out:

“Look at this thing! Did you see this? This is craziness! Look!” I said, “Okay.”

Each time, the woman and I met the snake alone, and our interactions were kept separate. The jogger took a picture, repeated the word craziness, and continued jogging. The first woman, funny enough, had put a similar thing a similar way.

“Did you see that rattlesnake back there? Fucking crazy!”

This was the woman I could have warned, and I wasn’t quick enough to apologize for that. My behavior might not have been good.

“Oh shit. Yeah!” were the words that I gave her.

I was resting by the dried-up pond. She continued towards the hill. I wondered, was it strange that she would ask whether I had seen it, when she had likely seen me seeing it? And was it strange that the second woman would ask the same thing, when the snake was up ahead of me?

The rattling sound brought a peaceful kind of adrenaline into my body, and the colored pattern on the next snake brought more of the same. I spoiled this by gathering facts about the body, and again later, by having the thought: I saw two snakes, it’s a vision, a vision.

The pattern on the skin of the second snake repeated itself in bands of coloration. Black, red, the color of sand, black, red, the sand-color, black. Its head was in the brush by the time I was looking, and its body was very long.

I had approached that spot with the vague expectation of craziness, and I was glad to see that it was identifiable. It was a snake. Again, I gave the snake language in a kind of patter-- wow pretty pretty-- to let it know that I was near it in space. When others have done this for me, I have sometimes been grateful for it.

So it was two snakes, two women, and otherwise I wouldn’t say that I discovered anything that morning. Or maybe this. That at some point, I became a person who has more words to give to two snakes than I have to give to two women.

Sara Duff

Sara Duff lives and works and writes in Tucson, Arizona. Before this, she did these things in St. Louis, Missouri for ten years. Her fiction can be found in The Fairy Tale Review, The Portland Review, and FENCE.