The Chickenloaf Papers: Stories from the Kitten Room
2001 :: january :: february :: march :: april :: after april
Big Charlie

snake axe

thursday, january 16, 2001

This really happened.

It's early November, evening, and the first northeasterly gusts are swatting the house. Rain runnels down the windowpanes, turning the headlamps of the Amish buggies rattling past into quivering streaks. The soaked black quarterhorses move like glistening cubist animations.

Fall is giving way to winter. The rain freezes into spattering slush.

We turn the heat on. The furnace roars to life, and its sooty-smelling warmth wrings the root cellar clamminess out of the house. The cats stretch out like drowsy noodles. Even those ceaselessly frisking kittens turn into little beanbags.

Except for Charlie, our downstairs cat. He seems a little jumpy.

We are in the Kitten Room, and Edsel is grooming each kitten with the flea comb. I am snapping the last photographs I'll ever take of Little Rabbit. The camera's batteries go dead.

Downstairs I trot to the multimedia studio to pick up the camera's wall jack. I give Charlie, balancing on his toes in a corner, a quick stroke on the head and call him a Big Ole Rabbit. I step over guitar patch cords snaking here and there on the carpet. Swipe the wall jack off the top of a receiver-amp. Step over more guitar patch cords, past goggle-eyed Charlie now standing on a chair, over to the front door to make sure it's locked. Door's locked. Turn around to head back over to the stairs.

Whoah! I halt right there.

On the carpet about 14 inches in front of me is a coiled copperhead fixing to strike.

In the first splinter of a second, I'm a little confused. Dimly I am aware that Charlie has floated up to the top of the big apothecary cabinet full of musical CDs. In the next splinter of a second I form this whole thesis in my head. Oh, now I get it this here is a copperhead not a fancy guitar cord and and it's cold outside so the snake slipped in through some mouse hole to get warm and I stepped right over it on the way to the door which is highly insulting and if I don't do something before this second's up the chances are good I'll get snakebit.

next to me is my Fender Stratocaster inside its heavy black Samsonite case like a big chocolate bar. With my left hand I grip the guitar case handle, spin the case broadside, and stand it up between me and the snake. Now if that copperhead strikes, it'll just dent its fangs.

This gives me some time to study on the matter. We eye each other, guitarist and snake. I glance over at Charlie. He's giving me that sweet, trusting look of his. I realize the snake is only about half grown. It seems confused. Its loops slide in several directions at once. The markings around its mouth look like black stitches, and the lighter part of its body between the tawny squares is the color of Irish Cream. It's beautiful.

I feel sorry for this snake. Jeez, it came inside to get warm, that's all.

I tilt the guitar case forward and let it go. The big Samsonite slab falls in slow motion, lands with a sickening whump .

Image: Charlie, on the night of the Copperhead

More about Charlie...

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