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.
“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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.