by Parker Fendler
They lay intertwined in the crib, Spencer gnawing on his Binky and Fred flicking his tongue. I’ve no idea how the seven-footer got out again, but ain’t this the cutest thing? I’d snap a shot for Roy, but he’d throw another hissy-fit. A dozen times he’s said it’s either him or the snake. He told me again when he knocked me up. Said I may as well give the baby a loaded gun. Maybe I will so he can shoot you, I told him.
Fred coils around the little guy’s arm – once, twice, three times – and squeezes. I can tell it’s a good hug when his little veins stand out like a tourniquet was tied around them. Spencer rolls over and pins poor Fred under his plump, one-and-a-half-year-old body. A triangular head emerges from the other side and slithers along the boy’s collarbone and up toward his ear.
“Okay boys, enough cuddle time.” I untangle them. Fred wraps around my forearm. I pet his smooth skin as I walk to the other room. I return him to his house, a coffin-sized vivarium. Still don’t know how the bugger got out.
He moves along the perimeter bobbing his head back and forth. Searching. Half his length is swallowed by a hollow log. Then his cute little head pops out a side opening, and he slithers out.
“Is somebody hungry?” I open a plastic drawer from my breeding rack. That was another thing that gave Roy a hiss. You want to breed rats? In our home? Sure do. You keep flapping your pie hole about the cost of Fred’s food. Problem solved. The rodents scatter, but I’m able to pluck a fat one by his tail. I open the panel to Fred’s house and release his dinner. The rat stumbles over the snake’s coils and sniffs him. Fred ignores it. Too easy. The rat scurries to the opposite end. Seems like he finally understands. Dangerous, rat-eating boa constrictor. Fred pursues. The rat raises on its haunches and scrapes at the glass.
I tap back. “Help me,” I squeal in my rat voice. Fred approaches, stalking. “There’s no escape,” I say in my best baritone. Fred’s head retracts and his body ripples as he prepares to strike. The rat stops scratching. His little red nose twitches. Snap! If you blinked, you missed it. The rat shrieks. It sounds almost human. It doesn’t last long as the air gets squeezed from its lungs. Fred’s wrapped around tight. The fucker’s trying to sink his teeth into Fred’s scales. I lower a small snake hook into the space and wedge it between its jaws. The rat clamps down. Nobody hurts my sweet boy.
After a minute, I wiggle the hook. The tension is gone. The hero is victorious! I make that white noise sound like stadium fans are cheering. Fred releases his prey and rearranges until satisfied with his angle of approach. He clamps onto the head and digs his fangs into the space where the skull meets the neck. Blood gushes out staining the rat’s white fur and pooling on the vivarium’s floor. It’s the only messy part. Next, Fred gobbles him up. With each swallow, the rat disappears further into the snake’s belly until only the tail dangles out. Then that too disappears like a spaghetti noodle slurped up by a child.
Fred eyes me through the glass. He says, “thanks momma, that was delicious.” Just joshing. He didn’t really say it. But he and I, we got some ESP. I know what he’s thinking even though he’s got no vocal cords. He settles into his favorite spot in the corner.
“Sweet dreams, love.”
The hum of a garage door interrupts the moment. Dammit. I told Roy to park on the driveway and enter through the front, so his yapper Priscilla won’t start. You know what kind of dog he has? Not a rottie or a pit like a real man would have; he’s got a fucking yorkie poo. Yorkshire terrier poodle mix. Not sure which mounted the other. Hopefully, they gave the small one a stepstool or an Advil depending on which end it was on. I told Roy, can’t you just say terrier mix instead of yorkie poo, so you don’t sound like such a goddam pussy? Anyway, the stupid thing is five pounds soaking wet, and now she’s yapping like a little bitch. Spencer starts crying, and my special time with Fred goes to shit.
Spencer’s standing in his crib when I come in. He’s got a snot mustache. His arm’s still red where Fred was hugging him. It looks like a big hickey. I lift him over the rail. Won’t be long before he can climb over himself. If I prop him up high and pat his back, he’ll quiet down. Instead, I cradle him. He gets good and mad in this position. I almost trip on the dog as we all head to the front door to greet the man of the house.
The door opens and Roy steps inside. The bags under his eyes sag. Tough day? No sympathy here. I thrust the bawling baby into his arms as Priscilla squeaks for attention at his feet. “Next time, park on the driveway, asshole.”
At dinner, Roy asks, “snake get out again, Marie?”
“I saw the mark on Spencer’s arm.”
“I don’t know anything about a mark,” I say. The boy’s in his highchair with a fistful of meatloaf. His arm looks fine now.
“Cuz if he did –”
“All the same, I don’t want that snake near the baby.”
“I know,” I say.
Roy turns to Spencer and shoves a spoonful of peas in his mouth. “You don’t like that mean nasty snake, do you?”
I roll my eyes. That boy hasn’t said shit. Doctor says he wants to run some tests on account of his speech delay. I wish I had ESP with him like I do with Fred. One thing I do know, he adores that mean nasty snake.
Spencer’s a hot colicky mess at bedtime, and it takes a couple hours to put him down. I fall asleep exhausted. The first time I wake, Roy is banging around the bathroom getting ready for work. “Feed the boy and change him, will ya?” I mumble.
I wake again to the sun on my face. That hasn’t happened since Spencer was born. Something is wrong. I spring from the bed. I rush to Fred’s house. Empty. I rush to Spencer’s crib. Empty. Roy’s at work so he wouldn’t have the baby, and there’s no way in hell he would take Fred. I frantically search the house calling their names. Panic sets in. Someone kidnapped my boys! I check the closets, in the beds, under the beds. Nothing. The doors and windows are secured. No sign of a break-in (or a break-out). Breathe, Marie. They’ve got to be here.
Just as I’m about to call 9-1-1, something horrifying grabs my attention. A trickle of blood coming from under the door to our small walk-in pantry. I freeze. Please let my boys be okay. I grip the doorknob. My heart is racing something fierce. I fling the door open.
Fred’s fine. He raises his head from his coiled body. Spencer is fine too. He pops a Cheez-It in his mouth from a pile scattered on the floor. Relief washes over me. What the hell happened? Then I see Priscilla’s collar. Bloodstained. And Fred’s got a lump in his midsection.
Spencer points at the snake. “Fed,” he says.
His first word. For once, I’m the one who’s speechless. Then I bust out laughing. I’m not happy about the dog, but hey, circle of life. “That was a very naughty snake,” I say between giggles.
Spencer laughs too. Then, to prove I wasn’t just hearing things, he says “fed” again.
Is he trying to say Fred or is he saying he fed the dog to the snake? Who cares? He’s talking, and I ain’t gonna nitpick his meaning.
“You two are so smart,” I tell them. Nobody’s gonna starve around here if I croak.
I still don’t know how Fred’s getting out (or Spencer for that matter), but I have a guess. Lugging one in each arm, I go to Spencer’s bedroom. Fred’s about five pounds heavier than the last time I carried him. The thought gives me a chuckle. Too soon? I put the boy on the floor and the snake in the crib. Within seconds, Spencer stands. Then he grips the railing and hauls his little body up and over almost landing on Fred. I knew it! Mystery solved. I’ll bet dollars to donuts if I put Fred in his house, Spencer will waddle over and open it. He just can’t get enough of his playmate. It’s the cutest thing.
Fred’s such a cuddle bug. He’s slithering along Spencer’s chest. I’ll leave the two of them to play while I mop the floor and decide what lie I’ll tell Roy about his yapper. The last thing I see as I step out of the room is Fred wrapping around Spencer’s waist. He must want to wrestle. Adorable. Boys will be boys.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story