When my brother was alive, it was easier to catch snakes.
“Alex!” I slammed the door and screamed. “Alex!”
I ran to his door and began knocking furiously. My brother was furtive, hidden behind a locked door most of the time.
“Hold on!” he yelled.
“There’s a snake.”
“There’s a what? A snake? God,” I heard him mumbling, heard glasses clank, heard him shifting things in his room.
My brother and I were both secretive and nearly identical in appearance. We peeked through cracks before opening doors. We hid things: bottles, papers, drawings, notes, food wrappers. We both had our separate lives that took place in a 8 x 12 box. When he opened the door, I rushed him.
“In the den, I don’t want the dogs to hurt it or eat it, hurry!”
He followed me and I continued jabbering.
“I didn’t know what to do, it’s not that big but I saw Dakota swipe at it and Sasha is in there too.”
The den was where our TV was and when we had been younger, our video game consule and exercise bike that we both enjoyed. It was like an annex to the rest of the house. My parents said someone had built it after the house had been built so there was a separate door you can lock and a slight step down. My brother once accidentally slammed that door on my bare big toe when I was younger and I wailed more loudly than when the wasps attacked me. I always think of that when I see the door. My big toe was black for a week.
Our house is already small so I can’t imagine the house being built without a den. It would feel more like a shack to me. I always was grateful for that: the separate room with the door that closed where I could blast music and later would live in that room when I had to move home one more time and my dad had moved into my bedroom. The washer and dryer was next to it where we stored all of our snacks and board games. It held the hot water heater too which was centered around cobwebs and active spiderwebs and hidden only by a curtain. I did not like to have to turn the water on and off but I had to do it all the time or the tub would drip and the kitchen sink would leak onto the floor. To say there are a few problems is a delicate way of exposing your status in the caste. The den led to the back door. Between the floor and the wooden back door was a gaping space that my parents had tried to stuff with a towel. It had been like that for as long as I could remember. Slugs, spider crickets, crickets, spiders, beetles and snakes simply crawled right underneath, and when Michaelangelo was alive, our snapping turtle, I would scoop the crickets and beetles up and throw them in the tank. Spiders I let build homes everywhere. Spider crickets and cockroaches freaked me out so I usually screamed and made my dad or Alex deal with it unless I had Hot Shot nearby. Snakes, no matter how small, I would not touch.
“Make sure the dogs don’t hurt him! I saw Dakota try to snap at him,” I repeated frantically.
I was obsessed with everything staying alive except for flies, cockroaches and spider crickets. They were disgusting. My brother opened the den door and I stood back, interested in the interaction and afraid. It wasn’t the biting I couldn’t take, it was the surprise, how they move, they way they sway and suddenly. I’m easily startled. Snakes are fast and their slither intimidates me. Alex said I ruin everything by screaming and he’s right. I don’t like to be caught off guard. My brother had grabbed the broom that he kept in his room. Despite his secrets, he always had a neat room, obsessively cleaning it even as a child. Once he approached it, shooing Dakota and Sasha away, I ran back into my room suddenly terrified this would all go wrong. I was twenty, living back at home temporarily after moving out of the Oceanview bay house with my girlfriends,into and back out of my partner’s apartment and sort of waffling in general.
“But making Straight A’s,” I told Jake holding my shot glass to his, letting the smell of rum fill the air, throat tightening on instinct.
Things burned me and I set myself on fire anyway. It only took five minutes and my brother returned, passing my door without stopping in as was our new adult custom: passing each other but not with any gaiety or friendship.
I ran out quickly before he locked himself back in his chamber.
“Are the dogs ok? Is the snake ok?”
“Everyone’s fine! It’s outside!” he yelled through his already shut door.
The house had a smell: cigarette smoke, but our rooms smelled of vodka and stale potato chips. My mom was always coming in to open the windows and turn on my fan. Everyone smoked but my brother. Everybody drank.