Short Story: Serpent

Hal couldn’t sleep. His exited fingers wrestled with a bit of frayed cord, a white snake ceaselessly coiling and uncoiling as he stared into the shadows of his room. There was nothing he could do: Coming home from work he shuffled through his door and sat in front of the television. It was night now—no, it was early morning—yet the screen had remained as dark and cold as his musings. He never touched the laces of his shoes; never unzipped his jacket. He never went to bed. Even now, he could hear the noisome din of the distant highway, hear it clearly through the front door he never bothered to close.

Scenes from work assaulted him. Suzi flirted with Jeff. She was beautiful and despicably desperate, gazing upon Jeff as if he were some marble bust of Adonis. The dress code hardly applied to her, not that a buttoned up blouse and conservative skirt would have stood in her way, nor, thought Hal, would it have covered that truly sensuous part of her, her mouth. Innuendo was an art to her, and every subtle emphasis, every slight pause, she directed with perfect acuity. He’d have paid for a candid moment with her only to hear her dictum upon this subtle craft.

Jeff, for his part, didn’t know why he was so lucky, nor seemed to care. The blighter went around with an irrepressible smile throughout the day. Young, interesting, full of life—Hal would have sacked them both given the chance. No, he mused, bring them both into his office and give a long speech implying he was going to “make cuts,” and that he would be monitoring the two of them closely as regarded their future. Something vague, he imagined, something to eat away at them in the quiet moments Hal found increasingly unsettling in his own life.

The thoughts were dashed in an instant, his vitriol drained like puss from an infected wound, as he remembered that delicate touch they shared yesterday. The white serpent wound between his fingers. It was something from a bloody movie, as if Jeff’s forlorn leaving for a new ream—a few blasted minutes’ walk around the corner!—was the last he’d see of Suzi. And she was no better, gazing longingly after her knight errant. And that profane touch! The tips of their fingers just brushing for a measly second.

This was getting beyond the pale. Hal had seen his employees love before, caught them in compromising positions at parties or sharing something of their passions in an assumed privacy, and he had understood it. He remembered one time discovering an affair between Rod and Stacy. He’d never gotten so much work out of them afterward. Just a subtle hint that maybe a phone call would be made, a wife informed, a suggestive phrase dropped, and they were his slaves.

How could he bind a love like Jeff’s and Suzi’s? How could he ensnare them? There at once seemed nothing in it of a natural consumptive desire. Hal half believed that were the two never to know each other, he imagined putting them into separate cages, their affections would remain unbroken.

So, the serpent spun and wrapped itself around his toiling fingers as he restlessly tried to tie the white cord into something he could manage. It evaded every knot he knew.


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