Saturday 8 June 2019

Snake Girl

by Sarah Leavesley


Maddie kept snakes in her wardrobe. While asps rustled through her skirts, the red rat made blouse sleeves ripple. At night, stilettos turned to cobras. When Maddie sang and danced, reptile eyes became transfixed; bodies mirrored her hypnotic sway. She slept with an eastern coral coiled round her neck like an ancient amulet, stroked the scaled skin as a talisman against her dark past.
She let one friend meet them, Donna, borrowing a sequinned number for her work’s gala ball.
“What the hell!” Donna exclaimed. Revulsion shuddered across her face. The dress slithered to the floor.
“They’re my boyfriend’s,” Maddie tried to reassure her. “I only have them for the weekend.”
“Do you want a jacket too?” Maddie offered with faux nonchalance from behind her designer sunglasses as Donna backed emptied-handed out the door.
Still, Maddie couldn’t shake her fascination. She brought home more and more until her bedroom was full of reptile hissing.
Her last date was the only one to guess, seconds before he discovered her other secret. As Greg tried to unwind Maddie’s headscarf and remove her shades to kiss her, Maddie’s dreadlocks unwound, a forked tongue flicked and he glimpsed her terrible power…then his eyes turned to marble.
Of course she collected snakes, Maddie confided later to the black mamba and her tear-stained diary. What else was a Gorgon girl to do for company when dead lovers kept littering her home with cold stone?
Three weeks later, Donna still hasn’t been back to see Maddie, and no longer feels in the mood for a gala ball. Instead, she keeps replaying different versions of her fright – and the disappointment on her friend’s face. She reinvents Maddie as the ‘Snake Girl’ while she listens to her boyfriend, Mark, jabber to his mates in a bar. Actually, ‘listens’ isn’t quite the right word. Donna isn’t listening to them in the way she does ‘When I Was Your Man’ or the latest episode of ‘Mr Robot’. She half-registers Mark and his friends’ slurred banter as rhythms of noise on a general passing gist – again – about the girlfriend-less guy at work – again – who won’t come drinking with them – at all. When a slight pause comes…
.           “I might know someone,” she offers quietly.
            Mark squeezes her hand briefly, then carries on talking.      
“He keeps falling for these girls. Classy ones. Way out of John’s league.”
            “Yeah.” Mark’s friend Phil sloshes his beer across the table, its shallow flow petering out just before it reaches the edge.
“Instead of trying Zoosk, he spends the evenings in his apartment, reading comics and playing computer games. Pathetic or what!”
Mark snorts with disdain, but Donna’s heart tightens in empathy. If she could bear to be alone, sure as hell she wouldn’t be here.
Strangeness is something that Maddie and John have in common, Donna thinks. If not exactly similar, snakes and games share a certain weirdness, and Maddie could definitely be the Cobra Queen from some Marvel series…different but interesting. And slinkily glam; Donna remembers the sequin dress, as well as her shock at Maddie’s secret pets. But most snakes aren’t that dangerous, Donna’s learned since from Wikipedia. Unlike Mark. There’s a macho bite to nearly everything he does, and the boredom of listening to his conversations with his mates is near killing her. She owes Maddie an apology.
“Another one, Mark?”  His stockiest friend stands up.
Donna opens her mouth to mention Maddie again, then closes it quickly.
She glances up at her boyfriend’s face. He isn’t even looking at her, though his hand is snaking up her leg. It crosses her mind that ‘pathetic John’ might actually be out partying right now, just at a different spot to Mark and his friends. What Donna wouldn’t give to be elsewhere, even reading a graphic novel or chatting about boas; the California Red-Sided Garter Snake she found on Pinterest is really rather beautiful.
Elsewhere. That’s it, enough already! Tomorrow, she’ll give Maddie a call and suggest a girls’ night out, somewhere on the other side of the city, safe from slithering shadows. Meanwhile…pulling herself up tall, Donna settles for a gaze that will stop Mark dead in his tracks. 

About the author

Sarah Leavesley is a poet, fiction writer and journalist, who loves people-watching and daydreaming. Flash publications include pieces in EllipsisJellyfish ReviewThe Fiction PoolFictive Dream, Spelk and Litro Online. She’s also author of two companion pocket novellas: Kaleidoscope and Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press).

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