Speak of the Devil

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Groucho snake

I was hunkered down on my screen porch, surfing Facebook on my laptop as usual, when I heard a familiar voice.

“Well, hello there.”

It was the sultry voice of my wife. But she wasn’t talking to me. I craned my neck to find her through the screen.

“How are you?” she said.

She was in her gardening gear, standing on the narrow path between the breezeway and the backyard. Not looking at me. Not even looking up. She was looking down. Onto the path itself.

“You’re not going anywhere, are you?” she said.

I had to get up and go look. At the edge of the screen, I could finally see who her boyfriend was. It was a garter snake, maybe two-and-a-half feet long. He was lying perfectly still, but with his head angled up, looking at my wife.

“Hmph,” the fearless woman finally said. She nonchalantly stepped around the snake and went on her way.

It was quite some time, long after she had left to run errands, that I found myself on the same path. The snake was now stretched out completely across the walkway, from a mound of mulch on one side to the lilies of the valley on the other, blocking my way. I had no choice but to go on the offensive.

“Who do you think you are,” I demanded, “ogling my wife like that?”

“It’s no sssin, is it,” the snake hissed, “to look at a pretty lady?”

“What do you know about sin?” I asked. “Are you Satan?”

“Not sssayin’,” he replied.

“I didn’t expect snakes in Ipswich,” I offered. “Before I moved here, I thought of it as an old-fashioned colonial-era village: prim, square houses lined up on cobblestone streets, with lampposts.”

Sssilly boy. Look around. You live on Planet Outer Linebrook. You’re on the wrong end of town if you wanted prim and cobblestone and lampposts. You’ve got woods and meadows and Hood Pond, for cryin’ out loud. This is sssnake heaven.”

“How long have you lived on my property?”

“I was born the day you arrived. I’ve lived under your ssscreen porch ever since you added it. And I can’t say I appreciate what I’ve heard.”

“What!”

“All the Ipssswich chit-chat up there. It’s all ‘snake in the grass’ this, and ‘snake in the grass’ that. Every time sssomeone sssuspects a conflict of interest in town government.”

“I never said such a thing! I respect our Town leaders!”

“I know that, ssstupid. It’s when you read aloud from Facebook.”

He had me there.

“You know, I’m the official ssstate reptile of Masssssachusetts,” the garter snake continued, “but I don’t get any ressspect. I work all day, eating your rodents, but do I get any thanks? No. I show my face, and you people ssstop and stare at me, like I’m some kind of freak.”

“Sorry,” I muttered.

“Eh, I shouldn’t complain. The food’s good — at least since that wretched outdoor cat of yours died. After you got those two precious new little kittens, and you won’t let them ssset food outside, the mice that used to sssecretly run your 200-year-old kitchen every night have been forced outside. I’m eating well.”

I shuddered. “Are you sure you’re not Satan?”

“Why do you asssk?”

“Well, if you’re Satan, I have some questions about lust.”

The snake paused.

“If you’re asking about your own lust, I’d say go for it,” he finally said. “If you’re asking about somebody else’s lust, it’s a terrible thing.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Making people judgmental is my ssssspeciality,” he hissed. And he slithered off into the lilies of the valley.

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