The thunderstorm had passed, leaving the afternoon air wet and tired. Sand gnats, or fuckers as Sarah called them, buzzed around the nose and eyes like pieces of dirt bouncing on rubber bands. Jake couldn’t keep up due to slippery oak roots and feet used to clean carpets and swept asphalt driveways.
â€œYou won’t know what to do anyway, Jake, so just stay right there and when I yell, come fast with that canvas bag I gave you.â€
Jake said something like no way. His voice sounded further away than he was.
Sarah waved her hand in front of her face. â€œFuckers are bad today. You should have remembered that fucker spray your mama makes you wear.” Sarah’s legs were always dotted with red bumps from â€œfucker bites.â€
Rosie, Sarahâ€™s bulldog, had disappeared somewhere up ahead, too close to Harley creek for comfort. But Sarah could still hear her snorting. When the dog finally emerged from the underbrush, she was barking hysterically.
â€œHurry, I don’t want Rosie falling in the water. Bulldogs drown fast.”
Rosie had a rat snake under her paw. The snake was snapping at the air, trying to get away. Rat snakes were no good for Uncle Remmy because they had no venom. Remmy paid Sarah five dollars per poisonous snake. He used them in his gym church. If she found enough, he told her she could help with the service and he’d give her a piece of the take. They put a lot of money in the tray if the snake didn’t kill anyone. Sarah figured she could still use this snake. There was always a way to test Jesus’ love.
â€œIs that snake poisonous?â€ Jake put his hands on his hips
â€œThat snake is the most poisonous of them all, Jake. Yâ€™all need to take a course or something before moving out to the water. The only thing y’all know about our island is how to mow down oaks.â€ Jake’s family killed a dozen oaks in order to slap down a wide house with too many rooms and a silly veranda.
â€œWe don’t shake snakes around, that’s for sure. I don’t care to know about them.â€ Jake usually ignored Sarah and her family since they were considered â€œnativesâ€ and thus dangerous. But she had convinced him to help her today.
â€œThis is a Lagoon snake,â€ Sarah said. â€œMean. It doesn’t have a butt.â€
â€œHow does it shit?â€
â€œThat’s why it’s so mean.â€ Sarah kicked around some weeds. â€œFind a stick here somewhere. Distract it, and I’ll reach up from behind and yank it from Rosie.â€
â€œThat snake’ll kill your dog.â€
â€œJesus loves bulldogs. She’s fine.â€
Jake picked up a stick as big as a limb and stood back waving it at the rat snake. When the snake’s head turned way, Sarah grabbed it right behind its head. Rosie barked and took the snake’s back end in her jaws. It was just Sarah and Rosie, the rat snake in between like a four foot long black rope. The snake’s body squirmed hysterically.
â€œLet go, Rosie. Shoo,â€ Sarah shouted. The bulldog didn’t budge, but instead started pulling on the snake they way she pulled on old ropes in the back yard. â€œJake, get the snake away from Rosie.â€
Jake inched toward the bulldog now growling as she pulled on the snake. â€œLet go, Rosie,â€ he said but didn’t touch her.
â€œOh, for Christ’s sakes. You scared of a fat bulldog? Here, come grab the snake and I’ll get the other end out of Rosie. Rosie, I swear to God you’re getting nothing but grain this week.â€
â€œOkay, I’ll get it from Rosie, but when I let go of the head? It will go straight at you.â€
â€œOkay, let me do it slow, though.â€
Jake moved by Sarah, slow and easy, then put his hand on top of hers. The snake’s mouth was opening and closing. He inched his fingers to the area above Sarah’s hands and squeezed hard, then Sarah let go and went for Rosie.
Sarah touched Rosie’s head and said, â€œCha!â€ The bulldog dropped the snake, ran six feet away and sat. â€œGood girl.â€
â€œWhy didn’t you tell me to do that?â€ Jake held the snakehead away from him; its body dangled from his hand, curling and uncurling before him. The snake’s tail slapped Jake’s calf. â€œGrab the tail, Sarah.â€
But Sarah didn’t budge. She and Rosie waited between two wide oaks– trees that had been there way before humans, trees that could house three coon families and six bird nests–and waited for Jesus to show his love.