A third of a question and two thirds critical comment was put to me about how there should be and why wasn’t there more martial arts in my martial arts blog.
Replied with the truth, and something I share with all the children who come in for their first lesson. We are not only martial artists at the school. We are martial artists everywhere.
This is the second story in my original monthly short story series. You can read the first story here.
“The Serpent Celebrates”
Ezra’s inner eyelid slowly blinks open. The transition between sleep and wakefulness is imperceptible except for a small flick of tongue and a slight uncoiling of his lower vertebrae. He is cold. The lights heating his space are just warm enough, but never as warm as he would like it. He is tired. It has been only eight days since his last big meal. It still weighs heavily in his stomach.
There is a commotion on the other side of the glass. This room is typically quiet; reserved for reading, soft conversation, gentle melodies leading late night slow dances and always the light laughter which leaves a pleasing tremble in his mouth. Ezra is almost entirely deaf, though he feels the family through even the smallest vibration. Like most constrictors he has a big heart and unheralded intelligence, fulfilling the prerequisites of romantic philosophers. People are unaware of this because despite, or perhaps because of, their Byronic leanings, they prefer to remain isolated. Coupling it with their bad biblical reputation, most snakes choose to keep their thoughts to themselves. Unlike his brethren, Ezra is unsatisfied with his solitary existence. He is curious at the feeling after so many years of quiet contentment. He finds he enjoys the family’s presence, so despite being cold and tired, Ezra awakens without complaint.
A shower of droplets rain down on the glass ceiling over his head, followed by a fierce scrubbing. This is repeated on the two opposite panes of his coffee table size enclosure.
“Ah!” thinks Ezra, “Company!”
A small girl’s face appears next to the scrubbing cloth.
“Is it Ezra’s birthday too, Dad?” She asks.
“Well, he was a gift from a while ago, before I met your mom or you were born. I always celebrate his birthday with mine.” He replies.
Ezra is shocked. He had not realized that he was being celebrated, or even that the occurrence of his birth would be a cause for celebration. He vaguely recollects that day. Constrictors do not lay eggs but give birth to live young. Sliding out into the daylight, Ezra knew instinctively what to do, and left, along with his siblings, in search of a warm sunny spot and small food. Many young snakes, as Ezra had done, attempt to keep count of their shedding, but after reaching their mid-length the practice falls off. He never looked back or had thought about it since. Most reptiles are forward thinking, excepting of course, turtles, who can in excruciating detail relay the entire history of the planet. The telling can last well over a year, so be sure you are close to adequate sources of food and water.
Father and daughter tie balloons in a haphazard fashion all around the room. She rides on his back, pointing to where they should be placed, giggling at abrupt stops and high reaches, but Ezra notes he is careful never to let her fall. Their relationship always intrigues him. He wonders at their pleasure. Ezra never knew his father. He considers some snakes attempts to retain their mate radical in the extreme but understands loneliness and sympathizes. The females are unforgiving of these overtures and they often result in a rather vicious bite. He had been fortunate to breed in his youth and in true romantic fashion mentally composed an essay on passionate acquisitions made more meaningful by their obligatory loss. Until the daughter’s arrival, he never considered his offspring but he imagines their being raised in captivity relieves him of the responsibility. He hopes, however, that they all have found freedom or families and Ezra is awarded a different colored balloon on each of the four corners of his habitat.
The pair completes their decorating and the mother enters bearing the vegetable tray, and gently places it over his head. On occasion the family neglects to tell visitors of his presence inside the coffee table. It is never long before the surprised guest jumps up with a shriek. He is impressive, even coiled, and when stretched out, he now reaches over eight feet. The exotic brown, black and tan pattern is complemented by the cut tree branch which is his only furniture. Shaded lights on either end act as his heat but also serve to cast dramatic shadows as he moves, investigating the vibrations and smells. Music playing, the father twirls the mother into a dip, followed by a long embrace, to the delight of the daughter still hanging tightly to his neck.
The door bell rings.
“Just when the party was getting good.” He murmurs in her ear.
Guests of all ages stream in bearing gifts, food and good wishes. Hugs and handshakes are generously exchanged, some old and some new stories told, bad jokes revisited, and everyone is encouraged to eat and dance and eat some more. The cacophony of sounds has Ezra on high alert. He can no longer stay still, and travels along the walls, forked tongue darting out to the extreme excitement of the children and even a few adults who peer through the glass. He has been through parties before and knows eventually things will settle down, but this time understanding the gala is in part for him, makes him less anxious for it to end. He allows himself to be moved, marveling at the joy created by the camaraderie, the friendships, and the family. Ezra is proud to be present and decides this will be his first birthday. He will count forward from today with the goal of experiencing that ecstasy.
A tornado in the form of a young boy blows by and around him, the daughter closely following. They are playing a dancing, running, circling version of hide-tag-seek. As the boy turns around, the daughter jumps into a secret spot between a sofa and overstuffed chair, but the boy is more concerned with spinning than with finding. Ezra startles each time the cage is bumped, but no one else notices. The daughter stands, peeking out, trying to determine why she has not yet been found. With no more warning the boy’s rotational velocity grows in strength to such an extent that he loses control. He stumbles, falling fast and hard. Ezra darts quickly away from the body and under the tree branch in a vain attempt to shield himself. Through the crashing glass, he sees a swiftly flying razor sharp shard cut through the daughter’s dress mid-thigh. A bright crimson spray, descending like the dying embers of a fire-work, stains the light carpet and she falls between the couch and big chair, unseen and unmoving.
Ezra slithers away from the fragmented remains of his home and looks for the father. The boy is hysterical. Everyone is working to make sure he is all right. No one notices the daughter but some do realize that he is free and jump up on the furniture with loud screams. Ezra wants to get to the girl. One brave soul attempts to corral him, but Ezra strikes swiftly at his ankle and he backs away. It is only a short distance, but the fine glass powder coating the floor pierces his underbelly in thousands of places. The pain is blinding but Ezra forces himself forward and under the sofa. A piece of glass sticking up from his back catches the edge and tears inward but he does not stop. He reaches the daughter, who seems so much smaller to him now. She is pale and still; the gash in her leg bleeding profusely. Their blood intermingles as Ezra wraps himself just above the wound and constricts. He has never known such hurt before but can not let go. The boy’s screams subside and the father, looking for Ezra, finally finds them.
Ezra is struck by the irony of time and would laugh at the incongruity of discovering a new purpose at the end, but his lungs are filling with fluid and there’s no room for air. As they are lifted up, Ezra looks into the father’s eyes, in an attempt to communicate his gift. The father nods, understanding and thankful. The pain diminishes but is replaced by freezing numbness. Ezra hears the fathers hushed “Happy Birthday” and as the light and warmth overwhelm him, knows the daughter will be all right. Now he feels the joy and floating forward, celebrates.