The kids want to be snakes, slithering snakes, so they get the idea to cut off all their limbs. It’s imaginative, I think, but a little extreme.
What about we put them inside our shirts, I say, slipping my arms through my sleeves. Like so.
Poor verisimilitude, the kids sniff. How about you surgically attach an elephant trunk to your face and go brawwwwwwwww!
Well, that seems expensive. Not to mention impractical. But we could make floppy ears out of paper mache? Hmmm?
You should see their faces. It’s like I’ve suggested we shotgun the goddamn elephants and harvest their tusks ourselves. I don’t know what I expected. These kids. They’ve been to the regular zoo. The nicer zoo. The safari park. Even one of those crazy roadside attractions where the tigers lift their tails and douse the crowd with anal spray. What I mean is, these kids have seen things… real things… and my affectations aren’t enough. At least not since their mom took off with Chester, the Lasik salesman.
Hello, they say, earth to dad?
Yes, I’m still here.
You’re burning the burgers, they say, and it’s true, I am, because we’re grilling outside in the perfect July dusk.
Is there anything you can do right? the kids ask. Jesus.
Listen–I do a lot of things around here. Things that might go under noticed. Like putting food on the table. Or selling blood and sperm to finance music lessons. I protect you too. From life. From the world.
You couldn’t protect us from a fly, the kids say.
Pshhh. I’d wipe the floor with a fly.
Gun to your head– Would you rather fight one fly the size of a human? Or 100 humans the size of a fly?
Easy. The human-sized fly. It would be over quicker.
But it would be tougher, don’t you think?
It wouldn’t matter. For you guys, I’d fight anybody in this entire goddamn town. Even neighbor Cagel, who won the state hammer toss and went to Russia to train with the Eastern Bloc. I’d wipe the floor with that muscly sonofabitch.
We find that doubtful, the kids say. Unbelievable.
I’m your daddy. It’s my job to make you believe. Even if I have to kick Cagel’s ass.
What’s that? Cagel says, poking his head over the fence.
Daddy said he’d kick your ass!
Cagel’s not a bad neighbor. Tidy and polite. Always recycles. But no hesitation, he comes over and kicks the fuck out of me.
When he’s finished, Cagel wipes his bloody hands on my shirt. Stop by later, he says. Get some squashes. I’ll give the kids a talk on germination.
Yeah, because on top of being a hammer toss champion and kick-the-fuck-outta-me-type-guy, Cagel is also a homegrown farmer. Gets his seeds from a down-low source at the co-op. Very hush hush.
Near blind with pain and embarrassment, I writhe around on the grass, shaking my hips and making little hissing noises.
Wow, the kids say. Pretty good snake impression, dad!
The kids must mean it because they get down on their bellies next to me. Together, we pretend to be snakes, slithering snakes, slipping our tongues in and out and feeling the world with our faces. We do this for about five or ten minutes and when we’re finished, we eat the overdone burgers in the dark, chewing softly and watching the stars fall out of the sky, admiring the way they zip past everything so quiet and perfect it’s like there’s nothing there at all.
Pat Jameson is a writer based in Roanoke, VA. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y, BULL, Maudlin House, and Apocalypse Confidential, among others. His story “Death Drive” was a finalist for the 2022 SmokeLong Quarterly Flash Fiction Award. He is a first reader for Reckon Review. Find him on Twitter @jameson_pat