November 15, 2011 by David Gillaspie
by David Gillaspie (submitted to NPR Three Minute Fiction)
Ray picked up Roxanne from the pet store on her closing nights.
“Your call,” he said while his daughter opened the car door. “Make it and live with it. There’s no replay booth.”
“The man likes rats,” she said. “That’s my call.”
They waited in the strip mall for a break in traffic.
“He’s got snakes and feeds them rats. Either pretend not to know, or stop selling him rats,” Ray said.
“If he doesn’t buy from me, he goes someone else. It’s not like he’s an animal abuser even if he feeds his snakes,” she said.
A tanker truck started slow and Ray slipped in front of it.
“You don’t sell snakes to rat people.”
“There’s a reason. Rats don’t eat snakes, Dad. I think you know that. Besides, I don’t sell snakes.”
Roxanne stood behind the counter the first time the snake man asked about rats.
“Then why sell him rats?” Ray said. “You’re not keeping a secret very well.”
“It’s not a secret and it’s not against the law,” she said. “He’s new in town and cute.”
“You know he’s got big snakes if he’s buying big rats. Why not guinea pigs or rabbits?” Ray said.
“Those are pets.”
“And a rat isn’t?”
“A creepy pet. There’s no sewer rabbit, or dock guinea pig.”
They drove past a theater showing India movies. Posters covered the walls.
“It’s a Bollywood plot. ‘Snake charmer buys rats from pet store while charming the staff.’ That would be you, Roxanne.”
“He’s nice enough,” she said. “He comes in, picks a rat, and leaves. No charm, yet.”
“So he’s not King Rat, or Willard, or Ben, or some rat man? Just feeding snakes? That’s nice.”
A restaurant sign lured traffic with a meat loaf special.
“Okay, Dad, who would I call? The snake catcher? The serpent police? There’s no big story. He’s not hoarding ponies. Rats and snakes aren’t news unless something goes really wrong.”
The traffic line crawled by a store selling high school letterman jackets.
“We know a woman who loved snakes until her husband’s python crawled out of its cage.”
“Where was it?”
“Not in the cage. The woman locked herself in the bathroom until her man found it. She locked both of them out of their apartment until he got rid of it.”
“An albino python in LA. They sold it to a movie company. The next time you see a movie with a snake, watch the credits for Pete the Python.”
“Not very exotic for an exotic pet.”
“The husband said he could tell when Pete was in a good mood.”
A brake shop slid by on the right.
“Let me guess: it was in a good mood after dinner?”
“That’s what the wife thought when she went downstairs one morning to an empty cage.”
“That it was hungry?”
“And she was dinner.”
“That never happens.”
“It does if someone has seen too many Tarzan movies. Snakes always drop on the women in the jungle so Tarzan can save them.”
“Or a lion jumps out.”
Ray turned at a gas station and headed toward their house.
“Is that why Mom left?” Roxanne asked. “For drama?”
“She didn’t leave us, she left this town. We didn’t.”
“It seems like a new town since she left.”
“Like a breath of fresh air, honey.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Let’s talk about rats and snakes.”
“Would she let you have a snake?”
“It was the other way around.”
Wisteria grew over the gate to their house.
“You could have saved her, just like Tarzan.”
Ray moved a vine out of their way.
“Yes I could, just like this.”
Roxanne dipped under as if it were a real snake.
“It’s good to practice saving.”
“Your Jane is out there, Dad. She’s waiting under the snake tree.”
“Probably in your snake guy’s yard.”