My friend Connie called with a crisis, again. Five year old April knew instinctively when I was trying to have an important conversation and buzzed around me, chattering and whining.
“Mommy, can I have a popsicle? Please? Mommy, can I color? Please? Mommy, can I go outside? Please?”
Outside? Bingo. I could talk in peace. I held my hand over the phone and spoke softly. “You can go outside, but you know the rules. Don’t open the gate. I’ll check on you in a few minutes.” April skipped out the front door.
I was listening to Connie’s latest marital disaster when I heard the front door bang open. April ran straight to me. “Mommy!”
I turned my back to her so I could hear Connie better. April, the drama queen in training, was prone to making up stories about things she had seen or done outside. I had plenty of time to listen to details later. “Sorry, Connie. April’s being pretty loud. What did you say?”
April pummeled my back. “Mo-o-o-mmy!”
Exasperated, I turned around and actually looked at my daughter. Her little face was white, and there was genuine fear in her eyes. “There’s a snake in the yard.”
I dropped the phone and took her hand. We lived in the country, and had a garden. I assumed it was probably one of the green garden snakes we often saw, but I was going to look anyway, just to make sure.
“Tell me where the snake is, sweetie.”
Her voice shook. “It’s in the corner by the fence.”
We stopped at the front door. “Okay. You stay right here.”
I opened the door and leaned out, looking all around the small yard. That’s when I heard it; an unmistakable rattle.
A large rattle snake lay coiled up in the corner, shaking an impressive row of tan rattles in the air. This was no sissy reptile.
It’s a very good thing I had just emptied my bladder. I slammed the door and told myself not to panic.
“Did you see it, Mommy? It struck at me.”
God entrusted this little girl to me, and I had to protect her. I had recently learned to shoot a 22 caliber rifle, because living in the country in the west was not without its perils.
I got the gun and a box of shells out of the closet. I loaded it the way I had been taught, and gave instructions to April. “I am going to have to shoot the snake. You’ll hear some loud bangs. Don’t worry about the noise, and promise me you’ll stay inside.”
I opened the door slowly, hoping the snake had slithered off somewhere. It was still there. Killing anything was distasteful to me, but this time I was making an exception. I aimed at its head, but my shaking hands caused the sight to bounce up and down.
Praying I would hit the snake somewhere, anywhere, I held my breath, and squeezed the trigger. A loud pop echoed across the yard. The snake rattled. I reloaded and shot again. And again. And again. I don’t know how many shells were in the box, but I used them all.
Then I fell apart. Tears moistened my cheeks and I thanked God for giving me the strength to do what I had to do. Although I wanted to get a closer look at the dead snake, I was going to wait awhile. I had heard stories that for a short time, primitive reflexes allowed snakes to strike even after they were dead. I had my doubts, but I wasn’t about to put the theory to the test.
When I went back inside, I hugged April so hard she squealed in protest. She was instructed not to go out until I checked and said it was all right.
A few hours later, I ventured back outside and looked at the lifeless snake, still keeping my distance. I counted seven rattles. Where its head used to be was a mangled knot of something resembling hamburger meat. At least there was no question that it was dead.
I shuddered and went back in the house, remembering my conversation with Connie. I had left her hanging. It was time for me to call her back, but this time I would turn the tables. I would tell her all about my own crisis.
*This story is true. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
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