By: Greg Freed (http://gregfreed.wordpress.com/)
Flames shot out like serpents’ tongues, licking the ankles of young bike riders. In fear, they veered far to the left—had a car been coming, it would have hit them dead on. This time, their instincts saved all but some of that blonde peach-fuzz that we boys all proudly considered leg hair. The stench of it burnt hung in the air, invading the odor of our sewer playground.Bryan jumped down from the drainage opening and shook his can of hairspray. His giggle sounded maniacal, but I was eight. Evil is so hard to distinguish in a cloak of fun.
“They barely dodged it in time!” he laughed.
“Just think if I had gotten his shorts!”
No children drove by for another ten minutes, so Bryan and I left the sewer, headed towards one of our homes. He lead me, three years older and naturally the alpha between us. Our houses sat across the street diagonally from each other, so I never knew which we’d play in until we got there.
“Would you like to see Sally, my new snake?” he asked.
“Another snake!” I gasped.
“Sure, show me.”
We walked through his front doors and past his two older, leering brothers. They stretched lazily over the arms of furniture, resting their sneakers on end tables. Bryan took no notice of them, but my mother sure would have.We entered his room together, and the smell of many reptiles assaulted my nose. I thought it odd that the smell of Bryan’s bedroom was indistinct from the sewer we had played in earlier.But immediately my attention fell onto a cage on the floor ten times larger at least than the next largest cage. The snake inside, which must have been Sally, slept; she must have been five feet long. I gawked, standing there in slack-jawed surprise.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” he asked.
He reached down into the cage (which had been open, without a roof) and grabbed Sally tenderly with both hands. As he raised her from the cage, the slits of her eyes opened subtly. I became afraid.Bryan draped Sally like a shawl around his neck and stroked her tenderly. I had never seen such affection light his features.
“I feed her mice, small little lab mice,” he told me quietly. “They’re the kindest, gentlest rodents, and Sally swallows them whole.”
I went home not long after that, and I skipped over mentioning Sally and the sewers when my parents asked how I had spent my time with Bryan.That night, after I had gone to bed and to sleep, one of Bryan’s older brothers fell asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand. He had been lounging on an old, broken recliner in the attic, and the cherry had lit some of the home’s insulation. People panicked and screamed, fire trucks came and blasted, and the home burnt down, snake and all. Despite staunchly believing that there is no hidden reason behind the minute happenings of the world, I couldn’t help feeling that Bryan deserved this loss.
In some small way, I still can’t.