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Snakes and cockroaches

Hillary IbarraOn a recent lonely night while my husband was away, a giant cockroach attacked me. It buzzed hideously in my ear before I leapt up, dancing a jig of horror as I kicked and twisted about, scraping my fingers through my hair and down my back.

When it crawled out from beneath the throw I had thrown, I chased and killed the thing – mainly to prevent its retreat down the hall toward my sleeping children. Then for half an hour I glanced furtively at its mutilated body every few seconds from a safe distance, extending a shaky hand to scoop it up with paper towels, but recoiling every time, shuddering. I had this terrifying notion that a cockroach-zombie apocalypse would begin that night in my living room. The moment I lifted the insect’s mangled remains, it would reanimate into something unsquashable and eat my brain.

I begged my spastic Yorkie to come and offer me moral support, but that terrier is obviously a wimp and no friend in troubled times. So I thought of my mother and a certain summer encounter with a snake. How I needed her bravery!

In the telling of this episode of my childhood, I feel a tad guilty, for I remember distinctly our dad telling my siblings and me to help mom in the garden.

Instead, we kids were lying about, preferring boredom to effort, when mom burst through the front door and cried, “Oh, s–t! There’s a copperhead in the garden!”

All four of us froze in horror, not too much of a stretch for our lazy bodies. But it wasn’t the presence of a snake that got us. It was the word which had escaped our virtuous mother’s lips. My sister Vinca finally stuttered, “Wha-wha-what did you say?”

Mom cut straight to the point in wide-eyed frenzy, “I need something…anything! I’ve got to kill it!”

Unfortunately, she spotted the rifle on the living room shelf and ran out of the house with it and the ammunition. My brother Nate was close on her heels, urging her to let him shoot it. (He had actually handled it and was a good shot.)

“Stand back, all of you!” mom ordered.

After promptly doing so, we kids watched as our mother blasted not only the bean plants, but the corn and tomatoes as well. The iniquitous reptile, however, was found unscathed and had hardly moved from its original position.

Having depleted the sparse ammunition, mom yelled desperately, “Get me rocks! Bring me rocks! I need something to throw at it!”

We made a munitions line to the flower bed, and thus began bombardment with stones. My sister Annie dragged an enormous rock from the flower bed wall, laughing and winking at me and Nate as she lugged it between her legs. Our mother, still powered by adrenaline, lifted the considerable weight over her head and hurled it like Jillian Michaels in the general direction of the bean plants.

But the snake survived, though it had lost much of its cover. Our flattened garden was a sad testimony to the presence of the cold-blooded creature. Mom decided the time had come for close combat. She marched to the side of the house, grabbed the hoe propped there and returned to where she had first encountered the copperhead while kneeling in its proximity. She then quickly and precisely chopped off its head. Always the lady, she refrained from putting it on a pike at the edge of the garden to warn other serpents.

She was her usual calm self when dad returned home that evening, and we kids were impatient to relate the story of “our” adventure. We met him at the car, and mom stood behind us with folded arms as we all spoke at once. Somewhere in the telling, one of us burst out with, “And mama said a bad word. She said the s-word!”

“I did not,” mom spoke firmly.

“But, mom, you did!” said Nate. “When you came in the house!”

“I would never say that word.” Her voice was very quiet, and her large eyes were narrowed. We didn’t dare contradict her.

Not until she went back into the house. Then we all turned to dad and began whispering, “She said it, daddy. She really did.”

Dad was skinning the miscreant, very pregnant snake in the driveway. His pale green eyes were bright with amusement as he replied, “I believe you. But it’s our secret, okay? Don’t make your mama angry.”

There was no one around to hear my unladylike mumblings during my psychological battle against the undead cockroach. Finally, I snatched the carcass from the floor and sealed it in a plastic bag, inspired just enough by the memory of my mother’s beheading of the snake.

And the next time I saw an enormous cockroach in my home? Well, I glared at it for some time. Then I told it not to stuff itself, said goodnight, turned off the light and retreated to bed.

Sometimes, it’s easier to admit that you’re more like your Yorkie and less like your valiant mother.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers, but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.


Reflections of Erma