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Prescient by Melissa Ostrom | Word Riot
Flash Fiction

July 29, 2017      

Prescient by Melissa Ostrom

     The creature could not surprise her.
     Before it appeared, she had worked, digging out sticky weed and scattering viola and columbine seeds, her breath held for long spells, suspending her lungs like tethered, too-full balloons. Her terror of the unrealized enemy, a fear inherited from her Portuguese grandmother, prepared her for the invasion. And the reptile, close to the front door on the dappled ground between the red and white Meidiland roses, coiled like a two-foot length of chorizo, vindicated her suspicion. Of course there would be a snake. There had always been a snake. Her genes had secured this grim assurance hundreds of years ago: an ancient anxiety, so much older and greater than her dread of driving on the city’s inner loop and more certain than the worry that she, poor swimmer that she was, would die by drowning.
     The snake hid during the scorch of every hot afternoon. But on fair days, it enjoyed its east-facing bed and showed itself. When sunlight gathered in a dewy dazzle on the hollyhocks’ leaves, it stirred and nosed the warming ground directly under the living room window closest to the front door.
     From inside, she watched, keenly aware of the short distance separating her from it: a wall. To call the children inside at dinnertime, she opened the front door cautiously, convinced she would find the snake heating its blood on the cement stoop, and imagined it sneaking past her and turning her home—with its familiar furnishings, its photographs of loved family, its wide-plank floors, honeyed with age and gouged by human incidents—into an awful terrain, rife with slender places to hide and wait.
     In July then August, clover and grass and milkweed entered the now unhandled bed. Sometimes, stooped to better study the undulating silver and brown of the patterned skin, she would catch in the window glass the scant reflection of her hair, her cheek, and see how her transparent features seemed to mantle the beast below.
      It was too close. She would have to kill it.
     Palms wet, scalp tight, all atremble, she tried with her weapon, the long-handled spade. She palmed the tool. She thought to catch the snake while it drowsed. She planned to cut it in half.
     Perhaps terror misdirected her aim or perhaps she hated killing as much as she loathed the object she hoped to kill. Regardless, she failed the three times she braved the occupied territory. Certainly (she hoped) this snake would understand the flowerbed had become a dangerous place. For sure, it would take up residency in the woods where it belonged.
     But despite her fumbled attempts at execution, it continued to explore and idle in the front bed. This situation went on until the cold weather frosted the grass and blackened the leaves. Until that blessed freeze, the snake owned more than the daylilies. It directed a good portion of her life. Their liaisons, like those arranged between a blackmailer and the miserably beholden, sickened yet compelled her. Without the sensible period portion of the punctuation, the snake formed either an exclamation or question mark in its searching traversals.
     And sometimes, in the golden suppertime hour when the sunlight glided generously, the snake would venture to the very edge of the bed, along the feathery seedlings of cosmos, and raise its head to sense its world with a delicate tongue, and show the watcher from the window an expression that she could only interpret as charmed, as innocently and infectiously delighted.

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