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New Skin by PK | Word Riot
Flash Fiction

June 16, 2012      

New Skin by PK

     The thing that worried me during the rush of orange-padded gurneys and bleating sirens: How will I deal with the snake?
     Not How will I cope? or Can I afford the mortgage? No, I thought about how many rats I’d have to buy, and whether the thing was fully-grown, or still in its reptilian adolescence.

     “A stroke,” the doctor had said. “Really, I’m sorry.”

     Weeks after he passed, I tried to clean its mess—dead bits everywhere, shed skin under dumbbells and the yoga mat.

     We kept the egg in an incubator until the day it hatched. It slithered to the furnace and wrapped itself about the hot coils. Paul picked it out with a fork—a thick strand of linguini, it figure-eighted the prongs.

     I scraped old feces off mudroom tile, the snake under an upturned laundry basket in the corner.
     I thought of the things he let go of: me, the snake. A job that was pivotal to our financial independence. A bed now immense and hard. A pantry full of his favorite cereal.

     “It’s nonvenomous.”
     We were walking the reptile aisle of the pet store, which smelled like peat and the transient death of small creatures.
     “So it doesn’t bite?”
     “Not what I said.”
     “I don’t want anything that bites.”
     “You want me, don’t you?” He smiled; with his beard and tall, stocky build, people sometimes imagined Paul to be something he wasn’t.
     “We could get an egg,” he told me.
     And at that moment, I thought, sure, maybe the egg won’t hatch. Maybe the thing will stay inside there forever, paralyzed by the thought of sleeping outside that perfect shell.

     I asked the emergency technician if he thought the car accident was deliberate, and he told me “No, no ma’am this was a stroke. Now have a seat in the waiting room. We’ve got some new magazines.”

     At first, the shelter said they wouldn’t take it, no market for those sorts of things. But I started crying, and the woman told me bring it in. I told her I’d bring everything it needed: lamps, rats, cage, dishes.
     I drove over, the snake a cold presence in the trunk. I imagined it poking out and finding its way up to the driver’s seat, making me crash. The series of violent hypotheticals would go away, I assured myself, after I got rid of the thing—something else I’d be wrong about.

     The place smelled of dog urine and Clorox, an acrid sterility to the walls and windows.
     “It’s nonvenomous,” I told the woman at the counter. She knew I’d been crying, but she clearly didn’t have the energy to deal with this.
     “Yes, I know,” she said, lifting the box over the counter. “Sign here and here.”
     She looked like a woman without a husband to lose.
     Outside, a flurry of mutts started barking. It occurred to me that I was letting go of the closest thing I would ever have to a child.
     “Where will you put it?” I said, as if the answer weren’t obvious. I thought about asking how long it had, about the chance of a reprieve.
     “We’ll find a place,” she said. “We always do.”

About the author:

PK’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Slice Magazine, The Emerson Review, South Dakota Review, PANK, Sou’wester, Baltimore Review, and others. A book review is forthcoming in Colorado Review. He is an editorial intern with Narrative Magazine and The Adirondack Review and is the recent recipient of the Lt. Arthur A. Charait Award for best short story. Visit him here.

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