In his hand, the Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake. Around his neck, green stripes of the Rosy Boa. “You want to touch him don’t you?”
“Never have.” She says, abruptly realizing how inexperienced this sounds.
“Cold-blooded.” Taking her hand, he holds her palm along the snake on his neck. “Cool to the touch.”
“I know. I know.” She tries to pull back. It would almost be intimate except a reptile is between her hand, his skin. He’s most likely done with the bar scene she thinks, a scene she hasn’t even tried much of as she’s underage, hasn’t found a fake id and isn’t willing to risk the humiliation of being kicked out. She can tell he’s shaved and trimmed his beard for years. There is most likely so much he’s already done she hasn’t.
“All instinct.” His boot, dusty, shredded, well-worn underneath frayed jeans, rests atop the cage of the long hissing beast. “Some have a bit of a temper,” he says.
She considers the word temper, the flip from easy to angry, and how temper could be used to describe a snake or a man, a passionate and fierce man, but not herself. What could go so wrong so immediately?
He’s watching her watch him.
She evaluates the blue-green serpent tattoo traveling up his forearm, the beard along his jaw, the strong shoulders beneath languid snake. All things that make her swallow and feel uneasy, like she might not be able to get her arm back, or, she might extend the other arm so he could take it in his -
“Ever seen a California Legless Lizard?” he says, looking amused, finally letting go of her hand.
Is there such a thing? She wants to say yes, she wants to say no. Either way, they both know he’s going to show it to her.
Stefanie Freele's short story collection Feeding Strays was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Award and the Book of the Year Award. Her recent fiction can be found in Glimmer Train, American Literary Review, Night Train, Necessary Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, Word Riot and Corium Magazine. Stefanie is the Fiction Editor of the Los Angeles Review.
The feel of this is perfect. I can remember being her, being with him, wanting to pretend I knew but not knowing, wanting him to think I could keep up with him, but knowing we both knew I couldn't. Awful. Exciting. You bring it back so effortlessly.