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First published in Ripples Issue 2


‘Tell us a story,’ my children say. I see the long shadow outside raise its head. Small little boy faces are half hidden beneath doonas. They are all eyes, staring up, long bodies twitching beneath the covers. I reach with hands to touch them. A throat is cleared in the next room. It rumbles like thunder.

Should I tell them my story?

‘I can’t,’ I say. The light switch hides their bodies in darkness. The head outside lowers.

In the light, one of the fathers stands. He reaches. His tongue flicks. I don’t want to walk. I walk. I don’t want the ritual. I perform. I hear hissing as I close my eyes. 

And so the men come and so they go. The giant serpent at my door still lets them in. Lets in the men of my life. Their smiles, their outstretched arms, groping fingers, their claims to me, loud and silent. It lets them in and they do not see it. 

They do not see the enormity of its coiled length stretch from my doorstep. The scales like roof tiles marking the contours of its body. The head resting or raised, suspended like a hovercraft, so still before their faces. The long tongue flicks, smelling their desire, their lack of fear.

The serpent’s tail lies on my doorstep and is often stepped on as the men enter. The beast does not even move it or turn its great head to bite. Neither will I. And so, I let them in. 

The children here are mine. Complicated, I know, but the men rest them in my body and I keep them. When they exit me, I hold their bodies with bloody hands and memorise the moments through skin. 

They grow older but when child hands reach, it is for something I give knowing I do not lose, and I give willingly. 

The children have always seen the serpent but are not afraid. It is as familiar as the door it sits before and they acknowledge it and pass through.

‘Tell us a story,’ the children say. My mouth is mute. I speak through my hands. Softly touching, my hands speak of love, of protection, of the giant serpent at my door but they do not tell my story. How can I?

The man hands reach for me and I shudder. Once more they have stepped through without harm. The child-me reaches back with grown up hands. I look out the window and see the enormous coil and then look back. Some strange contract signed in air says I am not much more than the creation they make me with their hands and bodies and the growing they store inside me. My signature is shaky, but it is there. And then they leave. When I reach for them, they turn away, their footsteps soft on my floor. Unneeded smiles dissolve before they reach the door. The serpent raises its head and watches their refreshed steps to their cars and then looks at me in the doorway. I cut away its face with the closed door. I know what it smells on me. 

The men come separately with different needs or the same and then they leave. Their fingerprints are on my skin, glowing like evidence I try to ignore. I taste them in my mouth and then wash them away. 

Little bodies in beds. ‘Tell us a story,’ they say. I have no stories to tell. I smile the world I know away. Touch the children, rub their backs and bellies so they will remember what it is to be touched without having to give in return.  So they will remember me in their skins when I lose them to the world of men and they pass by another serpent at another door and grow out of child eyes that can see it. They sleep. I watch their faces, their bodies and wish I could cram them back into me and keep them safe. Keep them at the time when a woman means love and a woman means safety and anger lasts as long as it takes for me to hug it away. But I find the older ones have begun to turn from me when I speak. They move out of my reach, my small hands grasping air. Already I see the beginnings of their documents, their contracts that I do not wish to sign. But I rejoice at the times when they still want me to touch them. And the emerging man is lost in the face of sleep. 

This night I leave the room of dreaming children and open the front door. I want my story. The serpent lies, its head resting on the coiled labyrinth of its body. The eyes open as I walk to face it. The tongue greets me for a moment and then disappears into the hole of its mouth. I stand straight and feel the uncoiling within me. The serpent raises its neck and lays its head on the top of mine. I feel the dark, the suspended muscle above me and close my eyes. It is not cold or warm. It pulls back and then slowly unwraps to coil about me. My fingers stretch to touch and skim the body like moving water. And then it is all about me. The moon is shut from view by the towering length of its body. It is told. 

The men come the next day. The children aren’t here. One steps up to the door and means to go through. He has misjudged for too long. He hears a sound and turns just in time to see the jaws open wide; the teeth reaching towards him like swords. Then he is gone. His hands did not reach, and I did not answer. His sounds are taken away and swallowed with his body. I watch the shape of him move slowly down the length of skin. The men arrive one after another and line up in twitching bulges behind the half-digested first. The serpent’s body is full and lumpy. I touch the familiar forms through scales. My fingers are free to reach, free to rest for just a moment and they cannot move away. Is it cruel to have allowed them this fate? I don’t know. But perhaps the children will remain so longer. 

The children come home. ‘Where are our fathers?’ they call.

‘Come,’ I say. ‘I can tell you a story.’ And they smile to feel my hands upon them. 

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