Stench of the Snake – Joshua Rodriguez

Bill’s house harbored an enormous glass enclosure; an orange light beamed down on a python coiled into a sinuous pile with smooth, ridged scales. Looking into its vapid, calculating eyes was unsettling—its lethality was undeniable. Bill stored the reptile in a room teeming with disorder and the snake’s pungent stench. Everything was piled high in disarray. There was a staunch disconnection from whatever utility things served in the past, like a bundle of cut, dead wires.
Bill sat in the kitchen with his dad. They smoked Pall Malls and drank cheap beer. Bill’s father moved in after his mom died of lung cancer. They mostly got drunk and sat at the kitchen table, staring out the window, observing the desolate sky blighting with the scatological blotches of industry. Bill’s snake made his father uncomfortable. Bill admitted it could potentially pose a hazard. But he considered snakes as dangerous as their owners were reckless.
“You know, Billy,” his dad’s belabored breaths were symptomatic of the cancer that killed his mom. “In my fighting days, we beat the hell outta each other. I mean really tried to kill each other. The rules were limited, and no one gave a shit.”
“Really?” Bill was his father’s inveterate audience.
Bill ruminated the legislature regulating trafficking of exotic pets. Bill procured his snake on the black market. The vanguard of that trade didn’t understand what they bought or sold. He loved having it simply because he could own such a lethal predator. The excitement of owning one was akin to encroaching on death and getting away with it.
“People love bloodsport,” his father said. “It’s encoded in our DNA.”
People bought snakes at unprecedented rates, then released them into local ecosystems when they grew too big to house comfortably. These insurgent species decimated ecosystems. Without predators regulating their population, they proliferated rapidly. It was a bonafied epidemic.
“People died in the ring. They laid unconscious, leaking blood, and everyone cheered. Eventually Uncle Sam decided he had to do something, the nosy bastard. They called it uncivilized.”
Neighborhood pets went missing and were purportedly found in the innards of dead snakes. Reportedly, local ecosystems were irreversibly damaged. But Bill was skeptical. He thought these narratives were manufactured to saturate the media with propaganda encouraging lawmakers to reduce peoples’ rights. Even if it was true, Bill thought, pet owners were accountable for giving pets free range.
Snakes don’t wreak havoc—negligible owners do, Bill thought. Soon, people won’t even be able to own geckos. Bill was OK with a little desolation if it meant he could cling to his perceived fundamental rights as a God-fearing-American. On a macro level, how did the environment’s deterioration really affect him?
“Eventually,” his father continued, “only beer and tobacco companies sponsored matches because of bad press. Once the sport was in a chokehold, they imposed rules and regulations. They coerced everyone into accepting them. You know how I’m always talking about the pussification of America, right, Bill?”
“Yeah,” Bill said.
People called it a crisis, which Bill considered an over-exaggeration. He didn’t understand their points of view. And he didn’t want to. They claimed imported snakes weren’t vetted. It was indeterminable how detrimental they’d be to ecosystems if released by negligent owners. No one ensured the people buying the snakes were suitable owners. But Bill didn’t think that was anyone else’s business.
Bill subscribed to the recalcitrant American notion that certain rights are so inalienable from a person that augmenting them was analogous with purloining their agency. He considered certain, archaic screeds and ideas immutable. He feared once they’d been adjusted, the nation would exile itself to a totalitarian wasteland.
“Did I tell you about the kid I beat half to death?” his father asked. “The one who didn’t wanna fight? Whose parents made him for the cash?”
“A few times,” Bill said. “What happened to that kid, anyway?
“He ended up a vegetable.”
“That’s horrible.”
“That’s what you expect when you step into the ring.”
“Even when you don’t have a choice?”
“Especially when you don’t have a choice.”