Black Snake Magic
When I was 12, Momma stopped the truck because of a dead snake in the road. The stale, hot air felt like it was closing in on me, so I got out and followed her. We were five minutes from home. There was nothing but cornfield on either side of the road and a few stunted trees. The corn was three feet shorter than it should have been, brown and dry like it was supposed to look in September. It was July.
Heat drifted up from the blacktop, and I squinted. My feet were burning through my flip flops. The snake should have been dried up like a worm, but there was a faint smell of rotten meat. My stomach turned.
“What are you doing, Momma?”
She was bent on the side of the road. She straightened, holding a stick. With this, she lifted the blacksnake’s body.
She held it out before her as if the thing might spring and raised the stick toward the branches of the nearest tree. With a twist and a wiggle, she looped the snake’s body over a branch.
We got back in the truck. I looked at the dark spot on the road and at Momma. She smiled at me but the corners of her mouth didn’t turn up all the way. It was the way she smiled at my daddy when he talked about how this would be the last drought, how we’d make it next year. I knew the corn was too dry, that there would be fighting again this winter. I bent down in the seat to examine the bottoms of my feet. They still burned. My shoes were nearly worn through.
When I sat up, we were pulling into the driveway. There was something strange about the sky, all of a sudden. I didn’t want to get out of the truck.
Then a fat raindrop exploded on the windshield.
“Come on, Ellie, help me get these groceries in,” Momma said. She was already rummaging in the back.
I hopped out of my seat and reached into the back, looping plastic bags over my wrists. I felt on my back, which was half in and half out of the truck, two more large drops.
Momma and I were halfway up the walk when the downpour began. I squealed and ran past her, cowering beneath the awning. She took a few more steps and stopped, her face coming in and out of focus through the rain. It pounded on the house like thousands of hammers, and I thought for sure it must hurt, but Momma’s face was turned up and her mouth was open like she was smiling, a real, jaw-aching smile.
The egg carton was disintegrating and Momma’s blouse clung to her skin, but she continued to stand there. The noises she made were loud enough to be sobs and repeated like laughter. If she was crying, no one would have been able to tell.
It rained for 10 days, and Momma said it would keep raining until that old snake fell out of the tree. She was right. She understood the old, simple magics of the world, and how to use a gift like a dead snake.
Momma always told me that everyone gets one moment of magic in their life. I never got the chance to ask her if she regretted using hers to end the drought. It’s been 15 years since that day, but I always think about it when the air is hot and still. Momma died last year, and I’m sure that if I had any magic in me, she’d still be here.
To be continued?
Stay tuned for Audrey’s No Rules Friday next week.