My kitchen is crowded with summer; stuffy. Marie complains to the point of no return. I remind her, “Beth is back from Italy, it’s a celebration.” But she sinks deeper, her fatal victimhood perched atop the island where she intermittently raises her voice to curse.
I need some air. I need another margarita.
I like the sounds on both sides of the open windows tonight, warm, festive, the salt shaker mingles with the cicadas in the pear tree, the blender drowns out the sound of my husband’s drone.
“750 feet up,” he calls through the screen, followed by the shriek of Zoe, the precocious eight year old who lives next door.
“It’s a ‘mergency, Miss Kelly! A snake!”
“Take a picture on the monitor for me!” I say, nodding to my husband as I beckon Zoe closer. But she stands her ground next to one of the potted palms on the patio—the mama bunny’s potted palm—where the safety of the newborn bunnies tucked therein is her top priority.
Horrified, some by the threat, others by the snake, my friends and I shift our attention to this urgent matter.
“It happened again, Kel?” Marie cuts herself off, hijacked by curiosity. Head down, she is the first to join Zoe in the search for the serpent.
The rest of us file outside and disperse around the patio, our maternal instincts acutely in synch. We are on it. Except for Shellie, who has disappeared.
I witnessed Shellie’s fear of snakes one time. Ophidiophobia is indeed serious. I will never forget her scream and tears at the sight of a small garter snake stretched out in a sidewalk crack on one of our neighborhood walks. The mere mention of the word ‘snake’ terrifies her.
“My mom called snakes ‘grass noodles’ when I was a kid,” Beth jokes.
“Are they carnivorous?” asks Marie. “Do they eat baby rabbits?”
“Yes!” I answer emphatically. “I looked up rabbit predators the first time I found babies in the pot. The garter snakes around here didn’t get them, but the great horned owls did. Soon after the babies left the nest, I saw two huge owls one night walk straight into Sabri’s beds where I think they were hiding. Have you ever seen owls hunt on the ground? Amazing! I ran out in my nightgown with Ruby to scare them away, but I think we were too late.”
“You shouldn’t do that, you could step on a bunny out there,” Zoe scolds, her steps slowing.
“Aw, that’s sad.” Beth adds.
I turn to Zoe and point to another neighbor’s roof. “Those owls were angry with me. They stayed up there making strange sounds for hours after I chased them away.” I take her hand. “We better be careful out here, it’s getting dark, the owls could be watching.”
Zoe’s head snaps up to scan the sky. “Oh,” she says, her usual blunt response when I tease her.
“Nice…” My husband shoots me a look. “Like the time you told her the gargoyle eats kids’ fingers if they pick the strawberries.”
Marie laughs, and nods in agreement. “Yeah, that thing is creepy.”
“Yep. The kids call it a monster, always have.”
“Hey! It’s supposed to protect us!” My eyes narrow then sweep from my husband’s grin to Zoe’s ear. “Don’t worry,” I whisper, “we’re safe as long as the monster is out here. It will keep the owls away, and maybe the grass noodles too.”
I think everyone knows the snake is long gone by now (perhaps my garden gargoyle did the trick), but we go on searching anyway, sharing stories like children, all grown up on a mission.
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