Cork

Snakes are fingers, snipped off. Dangling from the car window, when a truck speeds past or with a whoosh, the window lazily slices shut. The fingers, snipped off, roll down the side of the road, curving past the tires, tumbling through the rocks and foliage. Sometimes separated, scattered, villaged, unmethodically grouped, the finger stubs nestle into the dirt. Nurtured by pests, driven out by boredom, snakes emerge. An important decision weighs on their bald little heads– where does their passion lie? Strangulation, spitting, making tiny hollow eggs, scratching scales on bark, mimicking the voice of the croaky seen-it-all rogue character from daytime television? To see more of themselves, doubled, tripled, heaped in full piles seemed to be the usual choice of ambition, although tedious and morally messy.

Then a kid rolled down. The snakes came together in a crowd and asked, “But where are your fingers?” The kid pressed two stubs together. He’d gotten it confused, done it the whole other way around. Spinning and jostling around in the back, off his fingers went, in the faded maroon sedan. Oh, well, the snakes had that thing – patience. They had seen it in a roll of paper that also said ‘hospitale’ and on the exposed backside of a hurried man dressed in red and mint. The snakes, perhaps unanimously, or perhaps one or two of them gone rogue, said, “We’ll wait for his ends to grow back.” Then, right after, “When do trees know when to branch off? What if they continue on, unbent?” The snakes asked together, to each other. A rosy one swayed off-beat, glided away.

Between whiles, the snakes watched, carefully lathering the uneven crown of the kid’s hand in spit, pushing crushed leaves into the kid’s mouth. The kid was worried he’d sweep the floor with his new arms, he had liked them at pocket-length.The bronze-y snake most in charge of the kid’s empty fist coiled around the wrists, its own snake body hanging limply off the ground.

At some point, something small and soft thumped against the kid’s heels. Turning at the hips, the kid carefully observed the fresh finger. “Tadpole,” the kid said. The finger buried itself into the ground without further flair.

Yanked back around, the kid faced the bronze-y snake whose tail now flicked on the dirt, before slowly and surely fixing itself around the trunk of a tree.

It wasn’t for nothing. Although, half of it was. The kid was pleased to note that his arms did not stretch or drag, just hung in empty fists, swinging around from time to time. “Well, you’ve got to do something,” the snakes would say with their eyes and the tenseness of their necks; their mouths were close to dry from trying to nurture the kid.

There was another thump at the heel, followed by a weak squish. “You owe us,” the snakes said, as an ensemble or one by one.
So, the kid ambled along, parallel to the road. There was no waiting on the job, not that a break was warranted. Within moments, stretched out hours, the kid would find a plump bunch that formed along a small dip. Bending down and clasping them with the elbows, they would be gathered and transported. “Spaghetti,” kid said as the fingers squirmed their way out. Some time would pass. Kid’s chin was awfully good at rolling the fingers along the ground, deeper into the forest, back to softer soil.

At nighttime, a muddy, childish face was nuzzled and climbed by worn out snakes. It was as if the kid was a soft, smooth rock. Even staying very still, some would stagger, plummet, nosedive, fall down. The soil let out a quelch. This all gave the kid an idea.

“Home,” kid expressed, spread out close to the trees. The little ones got the message and blindly crawled their way in the dark, torpeding, carving, diving, or something gentler, sinking. The little nooks of his skin, once off-putting, became inviting. In the morning the snakes formed a crowd and said, “a baby person is perfectly porous for that kind of occupation.”

“You can stop here.”

The man was bleeding still. The woman stopped dragging him across the forest floor, to breathe. Mouth agape, she pressed her five fingers together slowly, condensing them as closely as she could, bringing them to her face.

“Shut it, stop it,” the bleeding one said, “thought I told you.”

The woman looked down. With one small movement, her fingers edged beneath the mint smock, dipped into the small wound at the man’s hip. Then, with great zeal, she edged in her wrist.

A gust of air, the wind’s tail crept along the man’s face. He shifted his neck away from the dancing grass and sighed weakly.

“Good for you,” the woman told him. The last of her sleeve was vanishing inside. “A pit-shaped pit,” she said. She looked up from that inconvenient angle, gazing mostly into the dark underside of the man’s chin. “They’re on their way, I can’t stop now.”

The man that was leaking shut his eyes, regretfully.

“Why don’t colors mix? In real life,” she said. The mint green was opening up, the red was coating it completely. “This doesn’t even look like a gown, why is it called a gown? Patient smock.”

A squelching noise, the woman shimmied her shoulder into it.

“Easy,” the man’s gritted teeth told her.

Rustling in the forest, a group of five others found their way again, but the woman was gone. Only the tip of a finger stuck out of the man’s left hip. The leaking, bleeding man let out a sigh. Taking off the first layer of their medicine uniforms, they followed suit, one by one slowly sinking. A commotion of expanding, shrinking, elbows nudging, a staticky something, and muffled apologies. It was almost all worth it, the man was thinking, for the look on the last man’s face. Swirling around, churning, cuffed around the neck, eyes rolling and rolling, fitfully and gracefully jostling.

Artwork by Matt Leines

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