"Snakeskin" by Narelle Hill


The first time I held a snake was when Joe called by to lop the trees out back. He had a pretty green python wrapped around his neck like a scarf.  Grandma made him stay outside and brought the tea and biscuits on the verandah.
My eyes were glued to the snake. 
“You want to touch her?” Joe smiled at me.
“Can I?” I looked hopefully at Grandma.
She pressed her lips together.
“It’s harmless.”  Joe said. “She’s not poisonous and she just ate this morning so she’s all dopey still.  Gentle as a lamb, this one.”
Grandma did not look impressed. Then she saw my pleading eyes and sighed.  “Well, alright then but just for a minute.”
I was over by Joe’s side in a second.
“Now be real gentle with her,” he said.  “Don’t be scared, ‘cause she’ll feel it and it will rattle her.”
I nodded slightly, not wanting to move a muscle. 
“When I put her on you, she’s going to want to get to know you with her tongue.  You know how a dog needs to sniff you when he first gets to know you?”
I nodded, thinking of Shelby, our blue heeler, that had been hiding ever since the snake arrived.
“Well this is just the same.  Just stay calm and it will be OK. Are you ready?”
I nodded again. I would have traded my prized sling shot for even one touch of that snake.
He lifted her gently from around his neck.  She was green and yellow but her underbelly was pale, almost white.  She stirred a little and started to dart out her forked tongue.
“Just stay nice and still there.”
I swear I never been so still in all my life.
“Her name’s Perda,” he said, real soft.
Then he moved her close enough that I felt her tongue flicker against my skin.  It was so soft, like the brush of a tiny feather.
“Oh, she likes you,” Joe said.
I smiled and eagerly lifted my chin.
”Can I have her round my neck, just like you?”
“Sure you can.”
He draped her over my shoulders and I felt a tiny shiver of delight.  She wasn’t scaly like the dried, discarded snakeskin I’d found last summer in the bush.  This was beautiful, like smooth silk.
She slid across my neck, all the way around, up the back of my head, over the top and then down my forehead and hung out swaying a little just in front of my eyes.  Back and forward, back and forward.  I let out a nervous giggle.
Grandma said, “Looks like it’s trying to hypnotize you.”
“Nah, she’s just playing.” Joe said.  “Your boy, he’s got a gift this one.  I never seen her take to a stranger like this.”
A warm glow swelled in my belly and spread all through my body.  I never been good at anything much before and I never knew it could feel like this.  

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