Evening Patrol


Her body flickers dark and light, sinewy through shadow and scarlet setting sun. Already, slender blades of grass collect dew, in lieu of abundant and nourishing daylight.  The snake’s rustling passage drops to cooler notes, notes soon to be silver and silent in the moonrise. Midsummer is long past, and her time to safely pass through the neighborhood and into her burrow is scant. Still, she pauses in her nightly patrol and lifts her diamond-shaped head, scenting vanilla and the rich tang of coffee from the small square of patio behind the one-story home.

The elderly male leans back in his lawn chair, and it squeals in protest. His pipe burbles as he takes a draw on the sweet smoke, and his voice rumbles from his barrel chest. He laughs, a leisurely huffing sound. His mate, leaning against the small patio table, murmurs and brings a cup to her lips to sip the steaming beverage. It has been cooled with a splash of whiskey and a lump of sugar, but there is a new, unpleasant note to their nightly symphony.

The snake stretches herself further, above the grass. Her tongue flickers.

Something different:  sour, faint but sharp, emanating from the female.  Illness, something off in the blood, but so faint that neither human will be aware of the inevitable fatality that will snatch her away during the next great sleep, when the world is said to be cloaked in white, still as stone.

She drops her head, and continues her patrol through the next yard. She easily slides around toys scattered about the lawn. It is safe now to cut closer to the house because the young are always inside at this time, parked in front of the flickering box behind the big window.  Heat radiates from this home, and a bedlam of scents, from charred meat and aged, clotted milk, to excrescence and artificial flowers. She shakes her tail in pleasure.

The back door swings open, thuds, and shudders against aluminum siding. A tiny figure stands limned, naked, in the doorway. The child shrieks and laughs, then dashes into the darkening back yard, turns and giggles when it sees the adult male now standing in the doorway, hands on hips. The male’s voice rumbles warning, then resignation as he throws his hands up in the air. He turns and re-enters the house.

The child stands still in the ribbon of light from the doorway, the silhouette revealing that he is a young male. His reedy voice trills. He waits and his skin begins to pucker into goose bumps. He shivers and drops his head, then pads toward the warmth streaming from the still-open doorway.

Twilight deepens the evening, and the grass rustles and shifts as she slides her body toward the third, and final yard. She shimmies under the wooden fence, changing direction to access the far reaches of the property. A predatory feline lives here with an aging female human. The unchecked volunteer garden that stretches across the back of the property provides shelter if the feline is hunting, and holds some vestiges of daytime heat, and cover if necessary, when the nights get too cool for her to easily continue her slithering patrol.

The feline and her mistress huddle within a screened-in porch, in a close circle of candle glow. Like haystacks on a back-broken couch, their figures are obscured by thick folds of a quilt, soft and worn enough to declare it to have come from several generations of farm life. The woman bends forward to pluck a tumbler of golden wine from a low table. The feline growls her protest at being jostled.

Despite attempts to mask the quilt’s origins with tinny notes of detergent and softener, aromas of rich cow manure, blood, and burned autumn fields roll enticingly across the sharp damp of the grass. And something else from the female: not quite longing, not quite regret, but mistaken resignation that a door has truly, finally closed.  

The snake flickers her tongue and savors each element, but continues her journey. The moon has risen and the night grown chill. Her body has slowed, heavy as clay, a little less graceful as she wriggles to the mouth of her burrow and the musky scent of her nest-mates. Her patrol is ended for tonight, and all is as well as can be expected.  The morning sun will bring warmth and mobility and sustenance for another circuit, again and again until the great sleep of winter.

© Liz Husebye Hartmann (2016)

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