by Peggy Landsman
A woman was wandering lost in the desert. How she came to be there I do not know, but her food and water had run out, and she was afraid she would die.
The woman was walking slowly, following one particular ripple in the sand, when she encountered a snake. The snake was large and rather fierce-looking, but it did not attack the woman. It spoke to her. “Open your mouth,” it said.
The woman, who had been brought up in a modern first-world country, was accustomed to opening her mouth when doctors and dentists instructed her to do so. Now, remaining silent (the snake had not asked her to say “ah”), she opened her very dry mouth as wide as she could and leaned toward the snake to make sure it could get a good look.
The snake’s spirit did not hesitate. It rushed into the woman’s mouth and straight down her throat. After that, the woman had no trouble surviving in the desert, but she cared about only what the snake cared about. And, no, she never saw or heard from the snake again.
Day after day, the woman enjoyed practicing the art of desert survival. Although she had previously been a vegetarian, she now craved fresh meat and delighted in her newly acquired hunting skills. Every so often, she would imagine the pleasure of relating her exploits to another creature, but it would always be too late. The only other sentient being nearby would already be well on its way into the acid vat of her stomach.
Night after night, the woman enjoyed curling up to sleep. Finding a safe place to sleep was never easy, and it was always with a sense of accomplishment that she finally took her rest. If the woman had been able to remember her former life, she might have compared this to finding a decent motel along one of the many highways she had sometimes traveled.
One morning, some time later, the woman awoke feeling raw and irritated. She looked over her shoulder and saw something lying next to her that had not been there when she lay down the night before. It was not a threat. She was sure of that. And, no, it was definitely not a living creature. She stared at it and stared at it. Finally, she began to cry. The thing, lying near her in a wrinkled heap, was her very own skin! But the snake had taught her nothing about molting.
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Peggy Landsman is the author of the poetry chapbooks, To-wit To-woo (Foothills Publishing, 2008) and Our Words, Our Worlds, scheduled for publication by Kelsay Books in 2022. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in numerous literar anthologies and journals, including Rapunzel’s Daughters (Pink Narcissus Press), Breathe (C&R Press), Nasty Women Poets (Lost Horse Press), Mezzo Cammin, The Ekphrastic Review, and Scientific American. She lives in South Florida where she swims in the warm Atlantic Ocean every chance she gets. https://peggylandsman.wordpress.com/