Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Henry Simpson

The previous owners of the house Susie and I recently bought had neglected the front and back yards. Artists, hippies, lazy folks, or whatever they were, they were not neat and tidy. Slobs, actually, though Susie would never call them that, owing to her non-judgmental upbringing and mild temperament.

I started working on the yards on a sunny Saturday morning in the back, clearing out and creating a huge pile of leaves and debris. Bagged it all up. Hauled the bags out to a side yard for trash pickup later. Then worked in front, cut the grass with a power mower, edged, bagged up the cuttings. Removed overgrown shrubbery in front of the house. Bagged the stuff I’d removed for pickup later. Added mulch and organic fertilizer. Planted Salvia as native replacements for what I’d removed.

Close to noon I quit, popped a cold Mexican lager, relaxed in a lounge chair on the front porch while watching the neighborhood scene. Not exactly pastoral, but peaceful. Kids riding bikes back and forth in the street, chasing one another. Mothers pushing infants in strollers on sidewalks. Across the street, Al Dyer in his garage, working on his vintage Jaguar with its hood up. Minnie Dyer in her bikini, pushing her lawnmower back and forth as her tits bounced happily and Al ignored her. Next door to the Dyers, Curt Rod, a Sheriff’s deputy,  on his porch taking photos of his wife Emma and daughter. Next door to the Dyers, Bo Butts in his garage lifting weights as his wife Betty, a woman with well-toned muscles, ran on a treadmill. Bo  worked construction and had replaced his yards with a pool in the back yard and green concrete in the front.

I closed my eyes and savored the tranquility of it all until I  heard a bunch of young girls screaming across the hedge from Gus and Dora Hardy’s yard. The Hardys were iffy parents of three skinny kids who wore hand-me-downs. Had some sweet little girl got hurt? I went to the hedge looked into the Hardys’ yellowish grass and weeds. An unruly pack of kids surrounded something on the ground, approaching and then retreating in a dance. What was it? I imagined a bloody child. Time to call a 911 ambulance? I rushed over, parted their circle with my hands, looked down, and saw a writhing brownish Garter Snake, yellowish stripes on its back and reddish sides; quite beautiful, actually. The kids were clueless, and fearless.

“Hey,” I said. “That’s a Garter Snake. Leave it alone.”

“It’s a Rattlesnake?” said a towhead about eight.

“It’s not,” I said. “Garter Snakes are harmless.” I tried to shoo the kids away. They backed off, but continued running circles around me and the snake, screaming, shouting, laughing.

Then Al Dyer came across the street. “Hey, Rick. What’s happening?”

“There’s a rattlesnake in the yard,” said the misinformed towhead.

“No, Al,” I said. It’s a Garter Snake.”

Al looked at the snake. “You positive it ain’t a rattler, Rick?”

“I studied biology, Al.”

“Out of a book, huh?” The kids overheard him and laughed.

“Trust me on this, man.”

“I say, play it safe and kill the sonofabitch.”

Lois, a single mom, approached us with her son. “That’s a damn snake,” she said. Why are you guys just standing there, doing nothing?”

“We’re observing,” I said.

“Man up, Ricky. Kill it before it bites an innocent child.”

“It’s harmless, Lois. It won’t bite unless it’s provoked. Nothing to worry about.”

“It might be poisonous.” She grabbed her son to stop him from chasing the snake, then yelled at the pack, “Go home! Do you want to get bit and go to the hospital, where they’ll stick you with needles?”

The snake crawled beneath a bush.

The front door flew open and Dora Hardy’s seldom-seen husband Gus came outside, unsteady on his feet. He observed the ruckus, did an about-face, and went back inside.

Bo and Betty Butts crossed the street and joined us. Betty went to Lois.  What’s going on, Lo?”

Lois pointed at the bush. “A Rattlesnake’s hiding behind that damn bush, Bett. Rick and Al won’t do a god damn thing about it but stand there and make excuses.”

“Hey, ladies,” I said. “Do you hear a rattling sound?”

“Yes, but muffled,” Lois muttered.

Dora Hardy came out of the house with an infant in her arms and gaped at the crowd. “All serpents are cursed. Sign of the Devil.”

The snake came out of hiding at the end of the hedge and stopped as if confused. Bo crept up on it, stared, turned to me. “I think it’s a Copperhead, Rick.”

“Exterminate it!” Dora screamed. It’s a cursed serpent.”

Bo, said, “No use taking chances, Rick.”

 “Jesus Christ!” I said.

“Honey,” Susie said, grabbing my arm. “Cool down,”

Watching Bo, I said, “How about, I relocate it far away from the houses?” I pointed across the street. “It’ll be happier there, far away from all these crazy kids.”

Bo shook his head. “No way, Jose.” He turned to Betty. “Honey, go get my square point shovel on the rack in the garage.” Betty nodded, crossed the street, and returned with the shovel, As Rick raised it, I grabbed the snake and ran across street, between houses, to a stream. I stopped by willows and released the snake.

Bo rushed up behind me and cut the snake in half with his shovel.

“Shit, Bo, you idiot,” I said.

“Just being a good neighbor, Rick.”

Susie joined us. “It was a snake, Rick.”

“Sure, Susie,” I said.

“I was hoping to make friends in this neighborhood.”

I laughed.

Bo stared at me, puzzled. “What next, genius?”

“Return to civilization.”


Henry Simpson is the author of novels, short stories (AmazonGoodreads) and technical works. He studied engineering, did graduate work in English and Psychology at UC Santa Barbara, and lives in Monterey, California.


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