Rebecca Evanhoe: “Snake”
11/16/2011 § Leave a comment
Originally published in Harper’s, November 2011.
I’m sure there’s some sort of line that professional editors use to distinguish between “flash” fiction, “micro” fiction, “short” shorts, and your regular old “short” stories. For me, the litmus test remains whether the story — regardless of length — manages to do more than sketch out a scene (you could call this prose poetry), relate a second-hand anecdote (storytelling at its most basic and, generally, bland), or if it achieves both a scene and a story while establishing some sort of character. Evanhoe’s “Snake,” while less than two pages long, is a good example, then, of the narrow line stories walk. It opens at “the edge of the Winn-Dixie parking lot” (which tells us that we’re somewhere in the South), as a young-ish girl waits (in in the full-blast blush of a car’s AC) for her boyfriend to return with cigarettes and beer: “I had been too ashamed to go in with him, to stand there acting not poor while he paid in quarters and dimes.”
These are scraps of a character, and they’re quickly pushed to the side in favor of the scene that she’s watching: two young boys playing with a snake that is “dead, or nearly there . . . it wriggled, but in a plastic way, as if it were fake.” As she watches (implicating herself and the readers), the boys manage to plant the snake on the driver’s seat of a car, and it’s here that the story twists, for the man who finds this “fun and nasty surprise” knows exactly what’s going on, and is ready to give the kids a whuppin’ — which leads our first-person narrator to roll down her window and interfere. She claims to be the boys’ mother, trying to calm or at least redirect the man’s anger; instead, she comes across as a suspicious stranger, and she’s run out of the parking lot by the man. The reversal of roles alone would be terrific, but because this is a first-person story, we get this lingering insight into her perhaps less-than-innocent motivations: “In my rearview mirror I could see the man and what could’ve been my boys standing there. Brown and Yellow were holding his hands tight. The man said something to them and they all walked toward his car. They looked like a little family, what my family someday might look like, if I were leaving them.”
There’s a longing in that closing line that elevates the story, that makes it more than a second-hand observation about prankish children and half-dead snakes. She both has maternal instincts and abandonment issues, and these two things are at war within her: she dreams of having a family, she also imagines leaving that family. If the car is a metaphor for life, she begins stalled and although she ends with an action, that action is nothing more than driving around in circles. How easily we become trapped by ourselves.