On the day that a rehabilitated boa constrictor accidentally asphyxiates his owner in rural Pennsylvania, I walk to Walgreens, foggy from another night of insomnia. The woman in front of me is buying bags of candy and she tells the cashier, whose nametag identifies her as Marsha even though the rest of us are allowed to remain anonymous in this interaction, that the candy is for her daughter’s birthday party.
“I used to throw three birthday parties a year,” Marsha says, scanning the Skittles, “But I don’t talk to my daughter anymore. You know how families are.” Her voice quivers, and I am reminded of how boa constrictors sense heat through their lip cells.
“Yesterday, I thought I saw my grandkids because I recognized the scooter I’d gotten them for Christmas several years ago, but it’s been so long that I’m not sure. I wanted to say, ‘Give me that scooter back!’” From behind the plexiglass, Marsha wipes a tear.
The woman purchasing candy swipes her credit card, then quickly leaves Walgreens. Boa constrictors are ambush predators, so they lie in shrubs decked in their fatigues, waiting for the oblivious field mouse or monkey, if they’re lucky, to stumble by before attacking. Boa constrictors need five days to fully digest Monkey Dauphinoise or Lizard Lorraine.
My friend Mary walks into Walgreens and tells me she’s here to buy pain pills for her aching joints. I wave my Wal-Sleep Z, saying, “Aren’t our lives glamorous?” Boa constrictors are nocturnal creatures who live solitary lives until they’re ready to mate. After they’re spent, they enjoy a restful night’s sleep.
This has been the summer of friends hiding tears behind bar napkins– tears over children with eating disorders and spouses who drink too much and unexpected health diagnoses. It’s the summer that we gave up on Covid precautions and ventured back into the world mask-free, vulnerable in our bare faces. Is this what we’ve been hiding for two years?
Female boa constrictors who aren’t healthy or don’t give off strong enough pheromone scents from their cloacae will never attract a mate, leaving plenty of gentle female boa constrictors who long for motherhood lonely, with no litter to care for.
It is during this same summer, when women’s reproductive rights are getting stripped away, that a friend decides she wants to get pregnant and removes her IUD. She is so certain in her decision about the very topic that keeps me awake at night, waiting for some sign that I’ve made a definite decision. After mating, the female boa constrictor can hold sperm inside for up to one year, giving her some extra time to decide when she’s ready to become a mother. Friends with kids say that their pets become a lower priority once a baby is born. Over lattes one morning, an exhausted friend, new to motherhood, wipes foam from her upper lip and whispers, “I’d strangle my cat just for one full night of sleep,” and I wonder what it takes to solidify this decision. A stillborn baby boa constrictor is called a “slug.”
The Pennsylvanian boa constrictor didn’t mean to kill his owner. If a snake is trying to harm or paralyze prey, it typically bites before coiling. But humans are too large to be prey, and snakes recognize when something is out of their reach. The boa constrictor was just wrapped loosely around his owner’s neck at first, dangling there while his cage was being cleaned. But as his owner kept moving, the snake coiled tighter, to maintain balance. The snake coiled so tightly that his owner couldn’t pull the snake from his neck. The grandmother called the cops, probably wishing that she had strong enough biceps to yank the boa from her grandson’s neck, regretting her decision to stop attending her SilverSneakers classes. The cops arrived minutes later and instantly fired their guns, as cops do, killing the snake but arriving minutes too late to save the owner’s life.
I imagine Marsha driving home from her Walgreens shift that evening, keeping an eye out for teal Razr scooters. There’s probably a bag of Skittles on the passenger’s seat, just in case.
Ania Payne lives in Manhattan, Kansas, with her husband, great dane, husky, 2 tiger cats, and 3 backyard chickens. She teaches in the English Department at Kansas State University and has an MFA from Northern Michigan University. Her collection of essays, Karma Animalia, was published by Social Justice Anthologies. She has previously been published in The Sonder Review, Punctuate, Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, Whiskey Island, The Rumpus, and more.