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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sleeping Snakes. By John von Daler

             Sometimes you hear the screams before they explode, like a warp on some kind of audiotape or a film with a soundtrack out of sync. You know it in your gut already before it happens, the sensitive part of your brain scrutinizing the reptilian part, feeling the fear coming on, preparing for the screech of agony and angst.

         In the house of reptiles at the Copenhagen Zoo I sensed it even just in the scent of the place, the dry, stagnant, smell of the snakes and their preferred habitat. But I said nothing, just went on smiling.
         Mom and I had come not to give in to, but to conquer our fears. She had feared snakes probably even before she reached down in the dark in her bedroom in Venezuela to pick up a belt that was not a belt. Was it her sexuality lying there? Waiting to strike out unexpectedly, did she meet herself in that dark room and run screaming from the confrontation? She never discussed it with me. Nor did she ask me why I at the age of three awoke at night to stare for agonizing minutes at long, dark wrinkles in the sheets of my bed, trying to get up the courage to pant out, Mommy, Mommy ninkles, ninkles! not daring to say the real word out loud, Snakes! Snakes! Snakes!
         These many years later we had decided to do something about the problem, to support each other through a confrontation, behind glass, with the beast. As we approached the terrarium I saw it immediately. It was huge. Its infinitely long body was curled not once but several times around the edge of the glass enclosure. Its head was propped between two of the passing sections and hidden between them, so that it ressembled all in all some kind of fancy green edging that had been tacked up in smooth layers all the way around the deserted room.
         Mom approached the glass in a carefree manner and I walked with her, waiting all along for the monster to move. Mom stood quietly at the window and glanced around the room.
         "You're doing really well," I said. "No negative reaction whatsoever."
         "Yep." she said. "Doing just fine!"
         We looked a while. About three portions of the long body passed right by under our noses.
         "By the way," she said, looking around the enclosure, "Where is it?"
         That was when I heard the scream. It came out of her stomach like some ephemeral regurgitation, like a spiritual vomiting that emptied her of every last atom of her old fear.
         "It's right here," I said. "The green thing coiled around and around the room right under our hands here. The head's over there."
         As I pointed out the tucked away head, she released the excruciating sound and jumped into the air, at the same time running for the door as if she only had seconds to live. The echo of her scream filled the room like smoke from a smothered fire.
         I sprang after her and followed her out into the dusty, open zoo quadrangle. We walked awhile in silence.
         "Guess we ain'ta gonna get over it," I said.
         "Nope", she answered. "Can you get a drink here anyplace? I'm paying."
         As we stood talking across two gin and tonics, I did not ask her why she had such an aversion to Rachmaninov's piano concerto. Had it once accompanied a regrettable seduction? Nor did I ask how she crossed over from her first to her second husband. Nor did I ask her about the dates of her pregnancies. I did not try to connect her fear of snakes with her libido in any way. You do not cross-examine a woman on the subject of her sexuality, especially when that woman is your mother. We talked about, well, what do you talk about with a Southern Lady in Copenhagen? Let sleeping snakes lie.

                        Tomorrow, Thursday Jan. 2, there will be no blogs.
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