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Sex and the Modern Snake
Oh, no, God, anything but that.
[I am in here, John. I stare up at him and will him to accept it. If you are repulsed by me, I cannot go on. But if you know I am in here, if you accept me, then it is still you and me. You and me, John. Please say you still need me.]
God, anything but that. Bahni's too good for this. It could have been me. I could have laughed, then. But this is beyond integration. I cannot bring it into my brain. That's not Bahni. Bahni couldn't stand this.
[Enough of the trite desperation, John. Touch me. You know you are the only one I have left. Or are you? Is this it? The end? I'm not dead, John. I'm here. Kiss me. Acknowledge me. Me, for God's sake!]
I hide my head in my hands and ignore the slim little figure before me. If it were anyone but him, it would still be cruel. But this-- this-- I won't believe it.
[Hiding your face isn't going to make it go away, Johnny. It's me. Remember, the first boyfriend who never complained about your razor stubble? YOU SAID YOU'D KEEP ME FOREVER FOR THAT. Are you there? John? Look at me. I can't take this. Don't take advantage of my lack of speech.]
I feel a cold little nuzzling at my elbow and don't startle. The feeling is strange, smooth and cold, but the spirit is familiar. It's Bahni. God, I know it's him. How? Why? I don't want any explanations about your stupid Martian death flu or what have you. Not him. Not a snake. Not this snake. What the hell kind of sense of humor does the Universe have?
We look at each other. I have been crying. He has not. He cannot.
Damn everyone to Hell.
Why not something he could have been proud of? Could have lived with? We just started living together, officially. I start crying again, really sobbing, and drop my head to the bedclothes. "Bahni, I know that's you in there. I'm not trying to deny it. Well, maybe I am. But even if you love me, can you go on like this? Can you really?"
The little snake bumps me again and rolls over into a vulnerable position, writhing playfully. I think his mind has gone off the deep end with that little brain.
[John, I think you're overreacting. Hell, I thought I was going to die back there. I thought, this must be how Gabriel feels. And I envisioned you over a hospital bed, wringing your hands, waiting in agony for the horrific end. We really should go and see Gabriel again. I'm sure he's in there, just like I know I'm in this comical little body. He must be in there, just not able to come out yet. Well, I'm free of the hospital and I feel good. So, KISS ME, YOU FOOL!]
"I can't touch you, Bahni, I'm sorry. I can't stand to see you suffer like this. I can't stand the thought of sleeping tonight. Oh, Christ, What if I roll over on you?" At this new, ghastly thought I jump to my feet and start rummaging through my closet.
[What the hell are you doing, John?]
I come back to the bed with a boot-box, remove Bahni's pillowcase, and line the box with it. I place it where his pillow used to be. "There you go. That will keep you safe. After a fashion-- we'll still be-- sleeping together..." I trail off, too tired to cry anymore. Bahni makes his way down the end of the bed, skillfully using his virus, and slithers in front of me.
"For Chrissakes, Bahni, stop it!" I yell, another new terror clutching my being. "Don't do that! I could step on you!"
[And that'd be the end of me. Come on, Johnny boy, lighten up. So your live-in-lover has been turned into a two-foot-long garter snake by a virus from outer space. Don't you love me? I was all ready to tackle it, John, to overcome the obstacles, until you refused to pick me up, to hold me. You've always picked me up and held me.]
I ignore him. There's nothing else I can do. I'll talk to him when my mind is clearer, when I've figured out what we should do. When I get into bed, he climbs into his box. I have no dreams.
[After I crawl into my box, using muscles that I have found to be surprisingly strong, I peek out at John. My resolve is fading. If he will not have me, well, then maybe this disease is as bad as he says it is. But at least I'm not writhing on a hospital bed anymore. And if he keeps at it, keeps acting, I can study theatre through him. No more acting, true... My resolve to be cheerful is fading... No more acting, and no more John... I climb out of the box and go to my boyfriend's pillow. I need him. He never even stirs as my body wraps lightly about his neck.]
The next morning I awake and Bahni is still in his box. Thank goodness for that much, anyway. I was afraid he'd sneak out in the night and sleep on my pillow. Just like him to take the risk of being crushed just for a little cuddling. Cuddling. God, I could use some of that right now.
Bahni looks up at me cheerfully, a bit impishly, through glossy snake's eyes. I listlessly offer him breakfast. He zips off the bed and out to the kitchen, which I take as a "yes". He can really move. I'm surprised. I just get a glimpse of his flashing stripes and then he's gone, out in the kitchen. By the time I get there he's climbed a chair leg and made his way to the table.
"Look, Bahn, I know you want to put on a show of being cheerful for me, but it's not going to help us have a rational discussion. How about ham and eggs?"
He nods emphatically. It's kind of cute. But I've made up my mind.
"Bahni, I'll take care of you in your illness. You know we could never abandon each other. But I think that for your own sake it's best if we no longer consider ourselves lovers."
[I knew it. I knew he was going to say that. But I will still be living in the same apartment with him. Don't underestimate me, John! I won you over once. I'll win you over again. I have to. I have to, or I shall wither away and die. I don't think it's too much to say that you will, too. Just look at yourself.]
I quickly fry the ham and eggs together and hand him a plate, slightly cooled in case his little throat is sensitive.
[How thoughtful of you.]
I sit down to my own breakfast. I couldn't care less that grease from the ham runs into my beard stubble. If Bahni were here, he would tell me to wipe it out.
[Wipe the ham-and-egg grease out of your beard, Stupid.]
Christ, Bahni _is_ here. I wipe my face as best I can. I guess I should try my best to be respectable, for his sake. After all, he is dreadfully ill. Suddenly those little jokes I used to make at Shadow don't seem so funny. If only it were me....
Our Friday-night comedy-movie ritual seems dull. Bahni sits on my lap and tickles me, trying to get my attention, but I think about how hard it would be for him if I began treating him like the lover I once was. I wouldn't know what to do with a snake's body, and chances are that even if I did touch him and he liked it, I would get used to there being a garter snake around the house and would forget one day and sit on him.
Like I'm sitting on the couch now, not laughing at films, only now he's on my lap. I can just imagine the crunch of little bones if I sat-- the last of Bahni--
[John, you're being silly. I'd look out for your friggin' butt. Accidents happen to the biggest and best of us. Here, look at my belly. See that scale there, the slightly lifted one? I think it needs to be tickled.
John pays no attention so I press myself up against his chest and feel it vibrate as he mutters something to me about the movies.
Friday night passes.
A weekend passes.
Monday morning, and John decides to go to school. I ride in his bookbag.
The first thing the class notices is that John has come in without me. Then they notice that he looks awful. The first assumption they make is, of course, the most dreadful one. But I have poked my head out of the bookbag and now descend to the rather chilly floor. Immediately the Playwriting I class descends upon me. It is not difficult to divine what they are saying.
"Bahni, is that you?" "Thank God!" "John, we all worried when you didn't answer your phone this weekend." "Has it stabilized? Are you okay?"
When I can tell that everyone is done speaking, I pull a notebook out of the bag with my body and then dig for a pen. Using the middle of my body, pressing and sliding, I write:
"Hi. Am Bahni. Was a little Hellish there, but pulled through. Will be reading J's notes and staying in class, if is OK"]
Melodie tells me that they're thrilled to see Bahni "all right" and that he is more than welcome to finish the class using my notes. I lift his muscular little body up onto my desk. The class begins, but I'm barely paying attention. Bahni watches raptly for any words I might add to my notes.
At one time he turns to me, with that strangely impish expression, and gently tugs at the pen in my hand. I am numb and have no energy to resist. He uses the pen and writes, "Johnny we're sitting even closer than before in class."
[John gets up and walks away when I write that. I drop the pen and go after him, practically leaping off the desk, but the classroom door has fallen shut behind him by the time I get to it.
Melodie trots up behind me in heels and opens the door, but as we look out into the hall we see nothing. I get no vibrations from John.
Normally the professor would not interrupt a class for one student leaving. Melodie is rightfully concerned about John. However, he is not there and if he doesn't want to talk then no one can make him. I curl in his abandoned bookbag and wait out the rest of the period.]
I go down to the black box. I'm stumbling, nearly falling down stairs on the way there, but there's no way I'm going to be seen in tears in Melodie's class. This is Hell. It shouldn't have happened to Bahni. It shouldn't! And how the hell did the little fucker manage to retain his own handwriting? I hate him. God, I love him. Shut up. Now I'm talking to myself.
I don't know how Bethuel knows to be there. The guy is spooky.
I walk up to him in some zombifaic daze.
"Good God, John, what's happened?"
I whisper like the sound of Bahni moving over the sheets. "Are we alone?"
Bethuel looks around him. Nothing but the movement of air from unseen fans somewhere above the black painted catwalks.
"Sit down, John. We're alone."
I collapse into a plastic chair the last class left lined up by the wall. He turns one to face mine and sinks into as if he has all the time in the world. At least his girlfriend is human. It's hard to be bitter at him, though. I spill it. The whole thing. When it's over I say:
"I don't understand it, Bethuel. What could he have done to deserve this suffering? What have I done to deserve watching him suffer? Don't look at me with those eyes like that. Say something."
Bethuel regards me steadily for a moment more, then answers my question with a question.
"What, you should ask yourself, has Bahni done to deserve watching you suffer?"
He's got me. I feel the air sucked into my throat, held there in one short, harsh sob. I reach for Bethuel without thinking. It's been so long since I felt human arms around me. Three days. For me, it's suddenly an eternity.
"Hold me," I say, not caring how ridiculous it sounds.
Beth does. He strokes my back while I sob, and when I look up again I find that some sort of weird resolve has replaced the emptiness.
"Don't mention it. By the way, what has it been, three days?"
I nod sheepishly.
"Charmer, isn't he? Turned you around inside of a week."
I think of odd words, "snake charmer", and something quirks at the edge of my lips. But I leave without another word.
I wash up at a sink in the men's room and catch myself smiling in that wry way that I have when I'm ready to go flirt with Bahni. Snake charmer. He is. A sudden image of what we would look like under the sheets sets me laughing. I mean I really roar. I'm leaning on the sink wiping my eyes and thinking, Hell, I could get a book on snakes and it'd be like a brand new sex manual.
Snake charmer. You little shit. If one of us had to get SCABS, I'm glad it was you.