On the way to the zoo, we passed a big station wagon stopped on the shoulder of the highway. Two women, probably a mother and daughter, both with blonde hair almost white drawn up tightly behind their heads, walked up the bank toward the bushes, the girl walking quickly in front, her mother coming slowly behind.
In the gift shop, she wanted me to buy her a plastic snake. She plucked it out of the basket beside the cash register and waved it at me. "C'mon," she said, "it's pretty!" It was a small sharp snake with a long tongue and a feverish, unhealthy coloration. The cashier gave me my change without looking up.
It was midwinter, and the zoo was cold and quiet. A few people stood at the viewing spots with their mufflers and their strollers, looking out at the habitats where a few sleepy animals rolled in the mud or slept in their caves. On the mazy boardwalks of the Wildfowl Marsh, I realized suddenly that she was no longer beside me. I retraced our steps, back to the lions, then turned and went back through the marsh, quickly, suddenly out of breath. The birds had vanished also, and the trees and water were empty.
At the other end of the marsh, on a bench, she sat looking calmly at me. Behind her a hundred birds, mallards and Brazilian ducks, spoonbills and black-necked swans, circled and splashed in the water. The snake's head poked out from under her shirt. "Hi," she said, taking my hand, "I'm hungry."
We sat eating curly fries, looking out over the pond by the snack bar. She held the snake by her face, staring into its plastic eyes. "Give me your hand," she said, reaching out with her own, and turning the snake to face me. Its tongue, stiff red plastic, pointed at me. "Give me," she repeated, slowly and definitely, "your hand." I put my hand on the table, palm up.
She took my hand in hers, bending it back to expose the wrist, where the blood beats so dangerously close to the surface. "Sssssss!" she hissed through her teeth, and pressed the snake's head against the vein.
She looked up into my eyes, her lips pink and moist. "Now you're mine." she said, and her small fingers pressed into my palm.
That One Guy
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