“Service Animals”

“Service Animals,” a short story by James Robert Herndon (fiction, ’11) appears online at Halfway Down the Stairs.

“Do you know why the Americans with Disabilities Act used to let you register a snake? A snake’s belly can sense subterranean vibrations like a Richter scale, and if you let a snake rest around your neck, it’ll know what’s going on inside you. Everything that moves: every pump, every secretion, every rise and fall, every clench and release. All of you. Spend enough time with a snake, learn how to listen, and the snake will tell you things about your own body that you’d have to pay another person $5,000 to tell you.”

JoAnn held eye contact with me as I spoke, and she made silent judgments I hoped were positive. Her line of sight dropped now and then to appraise Bruce, a rust brown rock snake hanging from my shoulders like a marbled leather scarf. I hadn’t been on a date in nine years because I’d rather be alone than be evaluated by a stranger. The dropping sun coated Bruce, JoAnn, and all of the other guests in Piedmont Park with a supernatural glow, not unlike the one I saw before a seizure.

JoAnn said, “I don’t know much about snakes. But I do know how it feels to value an animal that much. We’re lucky, Walt.”

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