Stories

Ouroboros – Ally Gelber

The sky is strawberry milk-pink when he shoots the snake in the head. It splinters on impact, fleshy fringes twisted in all directions— a bloody Loropetalum in spring bloom. 

The sun is setting fast, white dust caulking the juniper berries. The valley shimmers with exploit and disregard. 

I’ll start the grill, he says. Like he thought I might do it first.

He hooks the tip of the pellet gun under the snake. It drapes sensually, a Raphaelite woman on a swing. I crouch to inspect its final resting place. Faint diamond ridges etch its outline. A scale glittering with blood lies a few feet away, blown off its host. I pluck it from its soft resting place. A Machiavellian totem. 

The grill is getting hot, the coals fragrant. A bottle of fernet in the window sweats and glitters in the setting sun. He promised it would pair well. The valley is a shadow now, spiny ridges and blackened caverns. 

Coming? he asks.

Inside, the small table is set with cloth placemats and dripping red candles. He pours some fernet and we clink glasses. Outside, the valley glints in smoggy moonlight. The snake hisses on the grill, spitting oil and venom onto the dust. 

On the hill, nestled in the boulder formations, thermal gas pools, gurgling liquid rivulets striating the dust down the valley. To the itinerant truck drivers down on the highway, the hills are desert Teeth, craggy and sun-bleached of use.  

On the table is the front page of the September 12, 2001 Wall Street Journal. 

Do you remember that day? I ask. 

He stares at me full of enlightenment, saying nothing. The candlewax drips thickly onto the table, hardening like semen.

I wish to slip into his shadow. I aim to know what he felt as he pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. Aroused. Maybe awake? 

The valley is full of men. The neighbor, Steve, lives alone in a pre fabricated house across the road. It is sand colored, meant to melt into the surroundings. There are personal touches of hyper capitalism around the house— Home Depot flower boxes, faux-stone statuettes, a faded American flag. 

Steve’s silhouette is illuminated in the upstairs window, Abraham Lincoln sitting for his portrait. I trace his outline with my fingertip. 

Smells ready, he says, standing. 

 

Across from Steve is Bill. He lives in a trailer with no door, just a crinkled sheet of plastic. He used to teach Archeology at the community college. Now he grows weed for the valley, where it’s still illegal. He’s a local hero, a modern sovereign. He and his wife Loretta make balloon arrangements, the ones at graduations and birthdays. There are always one or two loose balloons floating over the valley, slow and sagging. Artists of neglected air.

He comes back with a plate piled thickly with snake. Scales peel off in thin curls, fluttering to the floor. There’s a salad, too—butter lettuce cupping pools of lemon juice, flecks of dill. He sits down, takes a sip of fernet. 

I am warmed by his ancient familiarity. His skin flickers with life, a Rococo painting restored. He smiles, a line creasing on his face. The ridges and caverns that mimic the landscape outside. We chew in silence, snug in the glow of silent company. 

Would you love me if I was a snake? I ask.

He laughs then clears the table, starts soaping the dishes.  The pellet gun leans sensually against the doorframe like a shadow. I wrap my hands around his waist, savoring the ribbons of muscle and fat that form a casing for creation. 

The rim of gun tip is cool and cervix-smooth. The snake scale turns between my fingers. I am flooded with sentiment, like the rush of nostalgia after an orgasm. This desert boils with blood at the end of history, here since the beginning and here at the end. 

A roadside saloon wind-blown and hollowed, 500 years from now, shriveled skins of lime and man strewn like threshed straw. 

From across the shadowed valley, a hot wind sliced with chill rattles the windows. Steve is a Blue period Picasso, fractals of late night news darting across his face. The statuettes are silent in the front yard.

Outside, a balloon pops.