J. S. Kierland, Paradise

They’d been up late smoking a Thai Stick and arguing over the latest war, wanton sex, and what they called, “other dumb forms of human behavior like bad movies.” Their discussions turned into arguments and Eva decided to go upstairs, crawl into bed with all her clothes on, and leave Jude pacing the living room floor by himself.

A few hours later an unexpected change in the weather dropped in over the mountain and its cold wind woke Eva up. She reached for her old leather jacket at the back of the closet, and took down a blanket to cover Jude who had barely managed to find the couch before crashing. Stopping at the fridge she grabbed a hardboiled egg, popped open a Pepsi, and stepped out into the fog that had crept in along with the sudden cold front.

She pulled the leather collar up around her neck and headed out to see if her pots had dried. Turning the lights on in the shed, she shut off the circulating fan, took another sip of the soda, and reached for the pots she’d left on the workbench. They were finally dry enough to bake and this time she hoped the new glazes she’d used would hold their subtle colors in the high heat. Her old style of painting elongated animal figures on her pots had sold well, but she wanted to get these new abstracts into the gallery before the big buying spree on Thanksgiving Weekend.

She cut EVA into the bottoms of the pots and lifted them carefully onto the wagon. Then she covered each one with some leftover pieces of plastic and rolled them out into the fog. Raising the kiln’s heat, she adjusted its vent and heard the loud clicking just behind her. It was the early frost that brought in the rattlers, drawn to the kiln’s constant heat. She listened for the clicking sound again but couldn’t see into the bushes because of the fog, so she headed back to the shed. When she opened the door, Jude was leaning on the pottery wheel wrapped in the plaid blanket she’d thrown over him on the couch.

“You’re up early,” she said, surprised to see him.

“Thanks for the blanket,” he mumbled with a shudder and she kissed him on the cheek.

“I have to cook the new pots and get them into the gallery before the weekend,” she said, looking for the flashlight. “Had the feeling you’d sleep all day.”

“Those stale Grahams probably helped settle things a bit,” he said, rubbing his stomach. She found the old flashlight and snapped it on. “Needs new batteries,” he said, while she clicked it on and off trying to get a better connection. “I’ve got new ones in the truck.”

“I think he’s back,” she said.

“You sure?”

“I couldn’t quite tell in the fog, but I think he’s in that bush behind the kiln.”

“You heard him?” Eva nodded, and he took the flashlight from her. “I’ll get the pole,” he said, and Eva headed out along the path ahead of him. She stopped at the kiln, but he kept going and pointed the flashlight at where she’d heard the clicking.

“See anything?”

“Yeah, he’s back,” he grumbled.

“Help me with these pots,” she said, flipping the extra pair of thermal gloves at him.

“It looks like he’s been in some kind of a struggle. Hard to tell how bad it is because he slid away when I put the light on him. Probably ran into a coyote, or worse, a skunk. Snakes are such easy prey,” he said. “Something took a hunk out of him, that’s for sure.”

“Five thousand years of bad press doesn’t help any,” Eva mumbled, and opened the kiln to shove in the pots. The first one glowed in the fiery light and she moved away to let Jude put in the next one, than she reached back and placed the last pot into the fire next to the others, closed the kiln, and followed Jude back up to the house.

The clicking sound came again and she stopped to look back, but still couldn’t see anything. “I know it’s him,” she mumbled, and moved up the path to the house. Jude had already emptied the flashlight and was stuffing in the new batteries when she arrived. He looked up, clicked on the flashlight and shined it in her eyes.

“It’s too early for games, kiddo,” she said, putting her hands over her eyes and sitting down.

“Don’t you want to come and take a look at him?”

“You don’t need me for that,” she said.

“I always need you,” he said, but she didn’t answer. “Guess I went a little nuts last night, eh?” Eva nodded and put her legs up on an empty chair. “You were pretty crazy too,” he said, and she stared back at him. “I mean…when it came to women being…whatever.“

“The phrase is ‘sexually more powerful,’ Jude.”

“Yeah, but it was the way you said it.“

“What way did I say it?”

“You acted like you knew so much about it.”

“Is that my fault?”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” he said. “It’s just that you kept talking like you’d done those things before.”

“How the hell would I know about things like that if I hadn’t done them before?”

“You did a ménage?”

“A trois,” she snapped back.

Jude looked away, and mumbled, “Guess I should’ve-“

“Two girls and one guy slow things down,” she went on. “Stands to reason, doesn’t it?”

“Maybe it just needs a special guy that-“

“Been there, done that,” she said, with a quick wave.

“You didn’t say that last night.”

“I did…sort of…you were on a roll and I didn’t want to interrupt. Besides, I was curious about who you were going to get for the other woman.”

“There isn’t any other woman,” he said.

“Did you expect me to get her for you? Borrow some guy’s girlfriend…or wife?”

“What’s wrong with that?” he asked, and laughed. She made a sour face and he said,

“Okay, okay, so we’ll just do it your way and get another guy!”

“Now you’re talking,” she said, and sat up in the chair waiting for him to go on.

He kept clicking the flashlight on and off, and finally said, “I think you better see him. His wounds looked bad and we might have to call Animal Control.”

“That’s definitely the way to go,” she said, and he looked up in surprise. “I meant calling Animal Control, not the ménage.”
“Yeah, right,” he mumbled.
Eva watched him mull the ménage-idea she’d put into his head. It was not unusual for Jude to jump at things after he had too much pot. Nights like the one he’d just been through gave him that drunken childlike look the next day. The first time his mother peeked into those eyes she named him HEYJUDE after the popular bubblegum song. She’d even scrawled HEYJUDE GOODMAN across his birth certificate. (Later, some perceptive high school administrator changed his name on the school records to just plain JUDE, getting around the rest of the kids singing HEYJUDE every time they passed him in the hallway.) His brother still called him HEYJUDE but like most things, time healed a Mother’s bad decision with a few short snorts and some family giggling.

“I guess a ménage would be fun your way too,” he said, avoiding her eyes.

“You better put something warmer on,” she told him. He nodded and went to the closet for his work vest. “Feels like it might even snow,” she added.

“I hope not. I’ve got a job this afternoon.”

“One of your housewives need fixing?” she asked.

He laughed and said, “No, it’s the Rabbi. He’s got a jammed window that has to be adjusted.”

“You still give him a break on your fee?” she laughed.

“You can’t charge your own Rabbi. It’s bad luck.”

“First time I ever heard that one,” she said.

“Besides, he gives us a break on the rent.”

“I guess, but can you at least help me get the pots to the gallery?”

He gave her his little boy shrug, and she followed him down along the path. He was angry about the ménage, and now she’d have to figure out a way to tell him that she’d lied about the whole thing and that it had never happened. The real problem was that the image of her in bed with another woman and a strange man was probably a bit too much for a boy like Jude, and any belated denial that it ever happened would never be enough to take the image out of his head. Her lie had trapped them both, and now she’d either have to go through with the ménage, replace it with something else, or end their affair once and for all.

He moved ahead of her swinging the flashlight back and forth and she could hear the snake’s low rattle in the brush. Jude reached in with the pole and there was a loud hissing. He pulled the pole back and a wide diamond-shaped head rose up out of the bushes.

“Looks like a pack of coyotes got him,” Jude mumbled, moving the light over the snake’s upper body where deep chunks of his flesh had been torn off. “His lower end is probably worse. Animal Control couldn’t help him now except to come and put him out of his misery.”

Eva watched the wounded snake’s tongue flicking and searching for the kiln’s heat. A strange, primitive gaze hung in its eyes and she stared at the snake calculating the distance between them. A fear began to build in her. She took a step back and the snake lunged. Jude swung the pole at him, but it was too late. The rattler slipped under it and slithered quickly along the path. Eva screamed and ran for the shed. The large Diamondback followed, rose up behind her, and Jude swung at it with the pole. There was a loud hissing, and the snake struck at Eva. She raised an arm to protect herself and the snake bit down on her sleeve. She could feel the pressure of its bite run up her arm.

Jude kept swinging the pole until Eva slipped out of the jacket with the snake still clinging to it. They backed away, and finally it stopped writhing.

“Never saw anything like that before!” Jude gasped.

“Is he dead?” Eva finally asked.

“He stopped rattling,” Jude said, extending the pole toward the wounded snake with its jaws still clinging to Eva’s jacket. It didn’t move. “Biggest rattler I’ve ever seen,” Jude said.

“You really think he’s the same one?”

“I’m sure of it,” Eva said. “Only he’s bigger now.”

“Attacking you like that doesn’t make sense.”

“He remembered.”

“That’s incredible,” Jude whispered, barely touching the snake with the end of the pole.

“Animal Control will know what to do,” she said.

“You better go up to the house and call them. It’s too cold to be out here without your jacket,” he said, throwing his vest over Eva’s shoulders and checking her arm to see if the snake had bitten through the jacket.

“He just moved,” she said. “Let’s go the other way.”

“The front door’s locked,” Jude whispered, taking her hand and stepping over the snake’s coiled backend. Once again, Eva heard the clicking sound and looked back. “He’s dead,” Jude said, pulling her along the path to the house.

“He’ll never die,” she said, leaning on him.

“Don’t faint on me,” he muttered, opening the door.

“I’ve been like this for weeks,” she said.

“What can I get you?” he asked.

“Tea,” she said, and he went to the stove. She sat down heavily, stretched her legs across the empty chair, and watched him fill the kettle.

“Are you pregnant?” he asked.

“I’ll pretend you didn’t say that.”

He nodded and turned on the stove. She watched him get out the tea bags, drape them in the cups, and lower the flame. “I better go out and check on him before we call Animal Control.”

“Want me to go with you?” she asked, but there was only the slam of the back door.

The lump on the path was still there and Jude moved quickly toward it. Getting closer, he reached out with the pole and jerked Eva’s leather jacket upward. The snake was gone. Lifting the jacket off the end of the pole, he felt along its stained sleeve where the fangs had struck, and moved farther down the path. Just past the kiln he leaned in to search the bushes again.

“STAY AWAY FROM HER, GODDAMNIT!” he yelled, and Eva got up to watch him from the window as he moved through the fog. “LEAVE HER ALONE AND STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM HERE!” he yelled again, and then he was standing in the doorway holding the leather jacket out to her.

“Did he hear you?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he muttered.

She slipped into the leather jacket again while Jude poured the boiling water into the cups, and they sipped the hot tea in silence.

“You lied about the ménage, didn’t you?” His question surprised her and she pulled the collar up around her neck again. “It was just your way of talking me out of the whole thing,” he said, answering his own question. “Is it because you’re pregnant?” he asked, and she stared across the table at him. “If you are we can go to the Rabbi’s house right after we drop the pots off and set a date to get married.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m sure,” he said with a nod.

“I mean about the Rabbi,” she said. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” he mumbled. “And if I ask him today while I’m fixing his window he’ll probably drop his fee. It’d be an even exchange.”

“What about the snake?” she asked with a smile.

Jude laughed, and said, “No snakes at our wedding.”

“How do we keep him away?” she asked, sipping her tea.

“He wouldn’t dare show up, would he?”

“Oh, he’ll be there,” she said. “One way…or the other.” For a long moment she didn’t move, and then said, “I know him. He’d never miss our wedding…not ever.”

“Not as long as he was alive, you mean.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean,” she said.

Jude picked up the long pole, and said, “I better call Animal Control. If he’s still out there they’ll take care of him.”

“Yes,” Eva said. “One way…or the other.” Jude nodded, reached for the phone, and she sipped the tea.

 

 

J.S. Kierland is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, and did postgrad at Hunter College where he won the New York City playwright’s award and was admitted into Sigma Tau Delta. He was also given a full scholarship and Fellowships to the Yale Drama School and after receiving his MFA became playwright-in-residence at Lincoln Center, Brandeis University, and the Lab Theatre. In Hollywood, he wrote two produced films, was resident playwright at the LAAT, where he founded the successful LA Playwright’s Group, and went on to join Camelot Artists. He has published a novella, edited two books of one-act plays, written five produced films, and has over 100 short story publications in literary collections, reviews and magazines around the U.S., including, Playboy, Fiction International, Colere, Trajectory, International Short Story, Bryant Review, De La Mancha, Front Range, Muse & Stone, Fiction Attic, Mount Hope, and many others. A book titled, “15” of the BEST SHORT STORIES by J.S. Kierland was published in 2014 by Underground Voices, and his novella HARD TO LEARN was published as an e-book in 2015 by the same publisher.

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