Cats made my mother’s skin crawl – at least that’s what she said, anyway. She knew my father welcomed them into our backyard to drag away the fish heads that fell from the fat nails along the Pecan tree after his trips to the river. My mother would watch, with steely eyes and cigarette in hand, as Precious and new strays, not yet named, scarfed and choked away on the tiny bones and silver scales. With every hack and hiss, my mother’s shoulders waned with disgust. Her jaws clenched to the sounds of the tiny crushes and slurps; and I could hear her teeth grind and gnash until she gave up on her cigarette and went back in to the safety of her kitchen walls.
As Precious and her pack devoured the last of my father’s leftovers, the ice chests, once filled with brown flounder, were rinsed of their slime and sand and the water hose roared like a jet against the flat bottom boat. The cats winced as the drops came too close, eyeballing my father with full mouths, but never fouling their stances – they had been here many times, and knew as well as I did that my father would never scat them away.
Precious and her strays, full and fat, would curl up on my mother’s car hood, smile and stretch with spiteful toes and tails, and watch the mosquitoes roll in. My father’s boots hung upside down and the frogs peeked up through the cracks in the broken driveway. Everyone was soft and still, besides the mosquitoes, who were always on duty.
The night after my father’s fishing trip was tired and quiet. The sitcoms and commercials, who usually whispered to him all night, rested with us; and only the sound of forgetful Junebugs hitting the windows remained. My father started his snoring and my mother’s noisemaker greeted the night.
But as rude as my father’s alarm clock, the night would reach its fateful moment when Precious and a stray would knock their heads under my bedroom floorboards, down the hall and back around . The popping and hissing, the moaning and screaming was ill and anxious. The rumbling and scratching of the wild cats rattled my mother. Her bedroom door soon pulled open and her feet pushed the creaky floorboards out of the way. My mother’s lighter would STRIKE as Precious popped the floorboards. Two more strikes of my mother’s lighter, one more POP, and the battle was silenced. The pale smoke crept down the hallway, now silent once again; and the night went back to rest with my father and his snoring.
My father was rested the next morning; and my mother packed the fish away into the freezer as my father and I made our rounds. Precious sat atop my mother’s car, breast over feet, as if the day hadn’t started its troubles.
“Here kitty-kitty-kittttay!” I hollered from the garage. My father clinked and clanked this tool against that one and sawdust blew around underneath us. Precious turned her head.
“Oh my gosh! Oh, no! Dad! Dad!” I pointed to Precious.
My father, wrench in hand, dropped his chin and stood still.
The mosquitoes took advantage of my father and I, both paralyzed by the tragedy.
The flies tried to beat each other to Precious’ face. The sticky, red meat of her muscles burned my stomach. Precious stared at my father.
“Just leave her alone. She’s ‘lible to get after you if you try to mess with her. Just leave her alone. She’ll be alright.” My father went back to his tools, but couldn’t hide his constant raised eyebrow at Precious every few seconds. She turned away. Her tail was low and she squinted her left eye as the flies took over. Precious shifted her weight, re-positioned and returned her eyes to my father, who was maneuvering his way between the table-saw and spit bucket to the back porch. Up he climbed to the back door, and I heard my mother yell as my father’s muddy boots stomped down the hall.
He returned with furrowed brow and my mother’s brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Precious watched my father unscrew the lid, and upon the pouring of the liquid, she shook away the bubbles and ran, to clear my father’s reach.
The hair on Precious’ face had started to sprout. She was thankful and weaved between my father’s legs. He continued his sawing and his hammering and his painting.
“What are you making?” I asked.
“Well, I figured since I had this left over wood and the last of mom’s blue paint, I could make a big birdhouse to match the house.”
Our crippled wood frame house was trying its best, with its new white paint and bright blue trim. I didn’t like color – and my father didn’t either, but he had painted the high parts for my mother and stored her leftover paint on his side of the garage.
“I reckon if I build them birds their own house, they’ll stop building their nests in mom’s clothesline posts.”
My father had turned our front porch into our living room and had broken his thumb screening in our back porch. He kept our roof shingled and our pipes pumping. He built my mother’s tall, pine kitchen cabinets that protected her and the huge armoire that showcased her salt and pepper shaker menagerie.
He hammered and glued, sanded and painted the two-story birdhouse. The edges were wiped blue and the tin roof shined atop the white paint. The ledges, out of dowel rods, were long and accommodating.
“It looks just like our house!” I giggled.
“It sure does,” my father beamed. Precious ‘meowed’ and we waited for the paint to dry.
My father propped the birdhouse up on the old street light pole he had saved. The birdhouse was grand, towering over our broken little house and I couldn’t wait for the bus to come by. My dad, my mother, Precious and I, all stood under the great birdhouse, smiling and squinting. Its roof was pointy, like the houses on Hagerman road, and the paint was shiny and new. My father was proud. We all smiled.
Before too long, the birdhouse was humming and my mother reported that a bird was building a nest in the top floor. My father watched the birds go back and forth. As he watered the hibiscus and the peach tree, he watched the birds. Precious licked her feet and jerked her face, now soft with new hair, as the birds did their work.
My father smiled at the bird house and at me.
“Looks like we might have some babies in there now,” he pointed. The mama bird stood on her doorstep, fat worm in tow. My father grinned at her. She went in to tend to her babies and I kept with my swinging and singing.
The little brown birds who went in and out of the grand birdhouse were quite the workers. The tweets and chirps welcomed my father on his daily trips to the rain gauge, and he updated my mother and I on the family who stayed in his blue trimmed birdhouse.
My mother started her dishes at the kitchen sink, overlooking the back yard, and I finished my okra. My father sighed in the living room at Wheel of Fortune and Precious guarded the front porch against my mother’s wishes. The afternoon air drifted in through the screen doors and the day was tired and content.
“Oh my Godddd….” my mother mumbled. Her dishwater was silent.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Ralph…Ralph…Get in here,” she ordered.
She was still, arms bent, and her right hand gripped her dishrag.
My father’s feet hit the floor.
I quit with my plate scraping and met my mother to stand at the kitchen window.
My mother stood like a statue.
I pushed my toes and looked over the windowsill.
The birdhouse stood, breathing with life. The mama bird was perched with her delivery and poked her head into the top story.
My father, now standing behind my mother, had the same fear in his eyes as my mother. I pushed higher on my toes to see the street light pole sitting beneath the baby birds.
And like the madness that shook our floorboards in the peak of the night, I swallowed, with much force, at what slid beneath my father’s birdhouse.
I could feel the air change in her wake.
I could see the winding widow.
My father rushed out the back door, slipped on his boots and the slam of the back screen door was bold but afraid.
My mother dropped her dishrag as we watched the long, twisting snake, grip and wind herself around the light pole. Her head was thick and strong. Her body was dark and hungry. She weaved around the pole with her disappearing tail and her muscles waved at my father. The ebb and flow of her skin hissed around the worn wood. Her eyes were focused and stinging.
My father’s shed slammed and creaked and tools were shoved and scraped across its floor. I saw my father, hoe in hand, rush to the birdhouse.
The snake curled again. She grew higher and higher and the birds were chirping and hopping, unaware of the winding widow.
“Your father is only afraid of snakes,” my mother whispered. And with that, the first blow of my father’s hoe came – and the next came – and the next.
HACK. SMACK. SLASH.
The snake fell from the pole and her black head, now broken from my father’s attack, bent in half. She writhed and curled without her head. My father thrust the hoe this way and that and the snake squirmed, her angry tail slapping his muddy boots. The mama bird flew away and my mother rushed to the back door to further witness the useless blows.
We stood at the back door, watching my father hack and hit the great snake. Precious stood aside the propane tank, looking on, never diverting her gaze.
“Isn’t it dead by now?” I asked.
“Just let him be…”she spoke.
Precious sat down in the green blades. She wrapped her tail around her feet. Her shoulders strengthened and ears stood erect as she watched my father continue his strikes.
The snake’s body, now simply pieces, covered in blood and bile, lay at my father’s feet.
My father stared at the snake, who once was living and moving. His head hung low.
My father looked up at the grand birdhouse with troubled eyes and Precious uncurled her tail and returned to guard my father’s front porch steps without pause of step or sway.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing