A woman and her child are out on a rare saunter- not late for anything, not going anywhere, just walking together. The girl, 7, old enough to hold a decent conversation, to have an opinion, talkative, a person with a loud inner conversation, a lot going on in her mind, filled with the soon-enough-to-be-disavowed conviction that others find interesting her completist catalogue of thoughts. The girl holds her momma’s hand, a sweaty grip, sliding in and out, swinging a little. The mother, distracted, exhausted, almost not listening, tolerates her daughter’s chatting, to a point, but occasionally squeezes her hand to stop her for a moment. “I want to have my own thoughts, Doll”, she says, “let me have my own thoughts for a minute.” The girl receives that sincerely, interrupts herself, pausing, but something occurs to her and she launches into, “Ok momma… but did I tell you about…” A long breath of talk picks back up, only having paused enough for the mother to remember a time when she might not have spoken or listened to anyone else for whole days. Even after 7 years, it is only just now dawning on this mother what she has gotten herself into. Despite the sweetness of the walk with her cheerful girl, she can only breathe with effort. They walk; the sweetheart talks, the mother breathes. They walk past many storefronts in the neighborhood. A Korean bakery, the same browning wedding cake in the window; quinceanera dress stores, horror movie mannequins in red, purple, yellow, or gold encrusted dresses; a Hello Kitty office supply store that sells medicinal herbs too; taco place after taco place; middle eastern groceries with huge sacks of lentils and batsmati rice sandbagged in the windows. They look at everything. In one open double doorway, across the street, down a-ways, 5-7 older men, each wearing man pants and cardigans, some smoking, some drinking from tiny coffee cups, stand around a large cardboard box, looking down into it. They don’t move or speak much, only look down with proprietary smiles, an occasional nod. A nudge, knowing shrugs, “…ah, well…”, and “…see that…?” The mother says to the girl, “I wonder if it’s puppies?” The girl gets a big excited face, her talking becomes higher pitched and urgent, pulls in the direction of the doors. The men see them coming, and make room for them. They shyly join the circle, negotiating spots around the box, a neighborly feeling. The mother smiles a moment longer at the men, thanking them with her eyes, for welcoming them, for providing a little respite from the constant talking. Her daughter’s hand tightens the grip on her hand. The talking stops. The mother looks into the box and sees a snake. Enormous, fat, shining, glistening, even, in the cardboard box, curled around on itself at least twice to fit. Empty except for the snake, the box has no sign of habitat, wood chips, shreds of straw; just the snake, as fat as the child’s leg. Its head seems misshapen, moves erratically, and the woman sees the end of an animal sticking out of the snake’s mouth. The movements the snake makes are swallowing motions, jaw unhinging hair ball gagging convulsions, as the animal it is eating scrabbles, hind legs flailing around. It is a kitten. The snake gags and gags it down, a bit at a time. She sees the body within the body, still moving. Her daughter’s tight grip, squeezing her hand so tight, she feels her own pulse in the grip. When she looks down into the daughter’s face, she doesn’t recognize her.
On their way home the woman buys the daughter a cayenne lollypop and tells her to put it in her mouth right away and not to tell her father.
-- Jenny Magnus is a writer, performer, composer, musician, director, and teacher who is a founding co-Artistic Director of the Curious Theater Branch, an all-original theater company, now in its’ 33th year. She is the author/creator of plays that have been produced at Steppenwolf Theater, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Athenaeum Theater, Prop Thtr, and on tour throughout America and Europe, and a collection of her plays, Observations of an Orchestrated Catastrophe, was published by JackLeg Press in 2014. She has released 14 albums, written 15 plays, and is an all-around hard-working artist trying to make her way in this world.