Dreams of Haberdashery
"Hey, I saw you slithering across Commerce Way this morning. Couldn't get your attention, but I want to say I'm glad you are out and about again.”
Charlie has had some trouble with his latest shedding. He has put on a bit of weight lately and it makes a lot of ordinary events for him far more difficult.
Charlie on his porch shakes his tail, puffs his tongue in acknowledgement.
I catch a lot of bad will for being friendly with the recently arriving snakes. Three or four snake families have moved in the last months into the neighborhood. Most of the longer tenured residents think up thousands of reasons why the snakes should not be here. Some complaints, given, are real, but I think we can work around them. Some are fanciful, existing only in the prejudiced or frightened mind.
Charlie uncoils and slithers into his two-bedroom ranch through the flap door set in the original full wood front door. I am sure less friendly eyes have been watching him from beyond pinched curtains, the static of their suspicions strung sumptuously all along the street, the enmity of their attention electrifying us all.
I give my biased neighbors the usual spiel: look at all the industry our snake neighbors have delivered: we now have home improvement companies that specialize in snake-fitting homes, providing door flaps, retrofitting cabinets. Stores are doing a great business in heat lamps. We now have interior decorators who make a living dreaming up designs for reptilian sensitivities. Herpetologists are asked for advice and give far more lectures than ever before. Wait for the inevitable: in the end, it is always economic advantage that discolors prejudice.
A python slides his way along the petulantly warm sidewalk. A descendant of invasive snakes released haphazardly into the Everglades, he must suffer a double burden. Among his own kind: an invasive species, unchecked spawn of forefathers from elsewhere. And now struggling to integrate into a human environment that sees all like him as a scaly undesirable. Entirely without differentiation: a snake is a snake is a snake and best kept in a separate neighborhood.
It is not for me to spit in the face of evolution. Biological or social.
Of late, I have been thinking my opportunity might be in the skins. After living as Charlie's neighbor for a while, I realized his castoff skins, instead of blowing into a pile at the back corner of his fence, could possibly be carefully tanned, turned into some sort of exploitive, exotic leather. I have heard of it before, when snakes and people kept to separate biospheres- a rarity, often reserved for those seeking out the bad-boy image, an expense only the demonstrative would afford. Perhaps I could find a willing seamstress, come up with some chilling designs. There might be a market. Water proof. Can hold a polish. I will need to see how hard the raw skin is to work, find the right process, get my hands slithery. Distinctive. A cut above the neighbor's cat skin or wool outerwear.
If I could contract a great enough variety of subjects, I could experiment with skin mixtures – one species of shed for the bulk of a jacket, a complementary shed for the lapels. Fake snake eye buttons. Easily collected skin for the body of a dress, more exotic skin for the waist band. It might sell with the right marketing. Fold in the demonstrable durability with the popular prejudice, use the public's righteousness as a subliminal tease. Make a psychologically adept marketing plan.
For the nonce, I can get Charlie to leave me his castoffs. And of late, I've been working on a relationship with the Falstaff family of generic green snakes a few doors up. I'm sure to start I can get the skins free; but it won't be long before they catch on, want to get more in return than neighborly acceptance. At the moment, though, a wave, a kind word is enough – the appearance of acceptance in the midst of general displeasure and rejection. Who is playing whom?
From my front yard, or the guarded crack of my den window curtain, I can see the withering waves of Charlie's living room heat lamp. From my stance, it looks like dreamy waves of profit.
Two of Ken Poyner’s poetry collections and four of his short fiction collections are widely available. He lives with his power-lifter wife, various cats and betta fish in the southeastern corner of Virginia. He spent thirty-three years in information security, moonlighting as a writer. Now, he writes dangerously full-time. His story, "The Detached Regularity," appeared in Issue #42 of The Cafe Irreal; "Suspicion" in Issue #49; "The Taming of the Orikind" in Issue #57; "The Revenge of the House Hurlers" in Issue #63; "Lover's Art" in Issue #67; and "The Growing Compromise" in Issue #69.