How to Identify Venomous Snakes

flickr: Annie Chartrand

flickr: Annie Chartrand

I run faster than a snake flies.

But only sometimes.

A rat snake pinwheels, open-mouthed, through the air.

Jessica screams. I want to scream too, but if I open my mouth, I might get a mouthful of snake.

It arcs and falls, smacking my bare legs.

The freckled boy whoops it up, and Jessica screams, “Run!”

As I turn, another snake hits me in the back, and a new shriek from my best friend tells me she’s been hit too.

We run.

flickr: Jethro Taylor

flickr: Jethro Taylor

“Most snakes aren’t dangerous. They won’t attack unless you threaten them,” the tall man with the thick snake draped across his arms tells my class. “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”

Why would anything be afraid of me?

I’m the first second grader in line to touch the scales. I’ll prove I’m not afraid.

My sister comes home crying.

When it was the first grader’s turn, her teacher made her touch the snake, even though she was scared and didn’t want to.

flickr: expert at nothing

flickr: expert at nothing

My legs pump, and I don’t look down, even though I know I should.

Stay out of the tall grass.

Steer clear of the wood pile.

Look down while you walk so you don’t step on one.

They bite if you step on them, and who could blame them?

flickr: Markos Lolzou

flickr: Markos Lolzou

Mom’s ironing in the front room.

She picks up the black cord to wrap it up, but it’s not a cord.

She keeps the front room shut up, even after Dad removes the snake.

She won’t go in there anymore, and I won’t either.

flickr: digicla

flickr: digicla

We make it to Jessica’s building and leap up the stairs, two at a time.

Her Mom’s not home.

We’re on our own.

flickr: Michael McCarthy

flickr: Michael McCarthy

Dad says it’s easy to tell a poisonous snake from a harmless one.

Poisonous snakes have heads shaped like a diamond.

But it’s hard to judge geometry when a snake’s flying at your face.

I can’t afford to stand around, looking for diamonds.

It’s safer to run.

flickr: Pat Gaines

flickr: Pat Gaines

Jessica slams her apartment door shut and clicks the deadbolt.

My heart won’t settle.

She raises the blinds and we peek out the window.

Two stories down, the boy paces in front of her building, writhing bucket by his side, snake in hand.

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