The Dead Snake
By Ruth Mostrales
He did not attempt to inch his feet away from the sanctuary where he discovered a recourse so perfect he became oblivious to the passing cars and the intermittent grumbling of a water pump nearby. Terrorized elsewhere but there, he hid himself below an artificial canopy of light which swathed his filthiness with a life he never appreciated he had. Inside it, he saw no reason to harbor a grudge against God anymore — there was only submission. The moon is nowhere to be found, and elsewhere without the halogens the night was too dark to be bearable, so he decided to remain. In the past, he consciously wore the veil of nocturnity to accomplish his crimes, because in the void, he could easily escape.
That night, he did not walk or run away as he always did after a mission; there was no mission accomplished. He knelt below the crucifix post and cried. In increasing degrees, there grew in him a slackening of resolve which gave him peace. For the first time in the hollow years that passed, he heard himself singing to comfort his soul. Worse, he was singing with them, and his heart recalled the lyrics by rote. And he didn’t run, for it is said that a boy who loves his mother never runs away from home.
One moonlit night, they tried to kiss. He knew Cecille had been preparing for it, so his hands tingled from the cool, summer wind. The shadow cast by the bamboo above them made drawings on her pretty face. She closed her eyes. Just then, not so far away in his memory, a door swung open before him, sucking him in. So he ran away. As fast as he could, he ran away again like a crazed maniac deep into the folds of that April night where he successfully found shelter.
“But it’s been sixteen years, pare,” his friends had joked, for they did not hear the whole story. Nobody knew the significance of what has grown wings to fly, and never to return, or even, to look back.
“Sixteen…” he whispered to himself, “…I have not seen her for God knows how long,” he said contemplatively, as he aimed his S & W at the moon. Under it, the weapon shone like a toy.
“Man, didn’t we just say it’s sixteen years?” his friend pointed out as he flashed a sideways glance at him, then to the others, and back at him as if to insinuate a lapse in his mental faculties. The boys rolled.
Those years saw the death of tenderness, warmth and feeling in his central muscle — such collateral damage. He was a sight to behold — the remainder of a man who is beyond repair. Time and again when he was able, he would fill his mind with fragments of her pretty face and her graceful, virginal body, and then a feeling of tenderness mimicking love would grow on him, but to die again after. In those pathetic moments, he would hope to consummate his existence, to no avail.
“Son, among men, there’s one who is the filthiest…” his mother used to say. Nonetheless, a few years later, he found himself killing men for a fee.
“You see, son, in history, men kill to protect the weak, and they are called heroes. Soldiers maim, plunder and ravage in accordance with the rules of engagement, and they go home with the glory. Garlands drape their necks. Bands grace their arrival. Flags are raised in their honor. A man who kills someone who did him wrong out of passion is better off than a thief, they say. But a hired killer is worse than a thief, for he steals people’s lives from those who have not wronged him. He doesn’t kill for money alone, no. There is a twisted thrill that makes him live with the face of death and each time he sends one to the grave, he goes deeper down the rut where he must await judgment, with the slightest hope of resurrection after his lingering death…”
“What then can save such a man?” he asked his mother.
“Grace, dear. God must strike him down in an act of benediction,” she said.
It was the end of his childhood when he saw a man ravishing a helpless woman. It happened on another dark but moonlit night. What the light above showed him still rewinds itself in his mind, along with the audible torment that plays with each scene, silenced only when he kills with his gun. His innocence, coupled with ignorance constituted the moist earth that was to receive the seeds of filth. He was the audience to a tragic play and was accursed to witness the violation of his own innocence.
Since then, the desire to kill was sown upon his fertile consciousness, but he was not able to lift a finger to help that woman. He picked up a rock, but it was too heavy for him to throw. The feeling inside him then was that of a grown man, but his hands trembled like that of a child feeding a rabid dog. At last, the rock reunited with the ground.
His lungs could not muster a lion’s growl to match his anger, so the poor woman did the screaming for him. Hers started with high pitched cries for help, of shock, then fear, then dread which culminated in the wail of one who is damned, bereft of physical redemption and deprived of any prospect of vindication. As if in harmony, the crescendo of her suffering was matched by a noise that is heard from hungry animals whose appetites are sated, or thirsts, quenched.
His mind returns to that event to justify his commerce, and if there is anything that his job has taught him, it is this: at the point of a gun, all are stripped naked like babies. Some would beg and would try to fight for the last drop of blood pulsating in them. Some would curse him with their eyes, eager to verbalize a name they will never, ever know, a name which they will perhaps accuse in the court up there.
His mother sang to him when he was a boy; they went to church together. The melodies of the songs catch up with him sometimes, but sadly, he has long forgotten the words. Sometimes, just to relish each memory with her, he has tried infusing his own lyrics to them, but they never sounded good enough. Unfortunately, his mother was silenced long ago so he will never, ever more be instructed by her hymns.
It was a fairly easy job. Mr. ____ is a teacher with a wife, three children (the youngest of which is in kindergarten at St. ___ School) and a fierce looking pit bull named Morgan. He lives at ___ Street along ___ Avenue, the middle house in a row of bungalows. It was not difficult to miss.
Mr. ____ stood outside his abode like an accommodating sentinel at around 8:10 in the evening. It has been appointed that death shall knock on his flaccid belly at 9:00. His time was near.
By 8:30, many of Mr. ____’s friends have already settled down inside. Some have started to eat. The observer rubbed his stomach. The flavorful aroma of the laurel leaves mixed with potatoes and chicken escaped the house to entice him. The chit-chat of the middle class who are living very comfortable lives seemed too foreign to him, as if they were spoken in another language — work, anniversary, despedida, christening, birthdays… He bit his lip and blinked his eyes, three, four times. But then, a couple caught his attention, again. They were hugging each other sweetly at one corner of the cramped room, below a cheap portrait hanging on the wall behind them. Just then, a boy ran into their arms. Must be their son, he thought, as he breathed in some more adobo from the air. At that point, the host and the hostess have just welcomed in the last guest who looked like a policeman. The killer stepped back one bit. Spit. When everyone was inside, the music started. But the host remained outside, still waiting for someone. Morgan howled.
“All of the stages must be executed with the fluidity of criminal connoisseur,” the voice in his mind briefed him, and he listened. He reached for his revolver and distinguished his target who was surveying the yard. 8:53. It was too early, he thought, so he waited a little while, but while waiting, he listened to the singing.
Not long after the first line was sung, and the guitarist struck the next chord, he immediately recognized the song his mother used to sing with him. The people, they were singing the song! He collapsed on the coarse pavement and heard the weight of all those crazy years crash to the ground. His feet trembled in fear and in unspeakable tiredness, but amazingly, there was rest likewise. The song! He shivered and tears fell down his throbbing cheeks. All of a sudden, he found himself wishing for his mother’s touch. In the darkness, he felt his heart longing for his father’s wrath. His soul ached for that girl’s kiss sixteen years ago.
5:49 A.M. A nosy crowd began to hover above what remained of the man. Hushed petitions mixed with cursing went for the notorious gun-for-hire. Others covered their faces in fear. But to the policemen who found him sprawled on the concrete after the hit-and-run, he was just a dead snake who will bite no more. They laughed at how his journey ended the way it did, and cursed the day for passing by that road and finding the thing there. For them, it meant another police report, and they didn’t want that.#
August 14, 2008 – 3:24pm