by Sam Martone
Rattlesnake Girl plays bass in a rock n’ roll band. The feather-pluck of her low low notes rattles my bones. Her lines slink beneath the surface of shimmering guitar tides. I watch her on stage and even though I know the lights are too bright on her face, I’m convinced she’s locking eyes with me, and when I’m convinced of this, I cannot turn away, I fear her gaze will rip mine from my skull.
Rattlesnake Girl has slender straight limbs she sidewinds around me. She has small fingers that travel up the drop-D of my spine. Her tongue ties me in knots. When Rattlesnake Girl bites, it feels like a tattoo. The marks fade but they transmit an invisible and permanent signal. If I press two fingers where her teeth were, I feel it like a pulse, like a singe. I can almost come.
Rattlesnake Girl helps pen the words. She oohs and aahs into her green microphone. I want her to sing lead on a song, but she likes the background, the camouflage, the deliberate deployment of her patterns. She likes to be hidden, for her lines to lie in hiding, in wait, for the perfect moment to rear up and strike.
Naked, Rattlesnake Girl sparks like a third rail, like the slither of a lit fuse. Our bodies twist around each other, double-crossing fingers. She takes me in her mouth when my tongue is between her legs—We’re the Ouroboros, she says, A serpent swallowing itself.
I linger after the shows while Rattlesnake Girl sells demo tapes. The other girls in the band, they don’t like me much. Or they don’t really know me well. I’m quiet around them. I don’t want to look uncool. They are cigarette ad cool. They are music video cool, like a song just follows them, soundtracks their steps wherever they go. I wear gray sweaters. I am not very cool.
I don’t spend much time outdoors. It’s too hot, too bright here. I like the swaddling walls of my house, the dank dark of basement punk shows, frostily conditioned air. Rattlesnake Girl is happy to spend hours in bed or on stage, but the sun is a magnet to her. No structure can contain her, not for long.
When they aren’t playing shows, the band is recording their first album. They lay down their bright clash of instrumental tracks in a studio downtown, but the vocals they record unconventionally, in places that give their harmonies ethereal, ghostly sounds: walk-in showers, echoing alleys between buildings, the closed trunk of a sedan.
Rattlesnake Girl tugs at my arm, tries to take me with her when she goes outside. Sometimes, she gives up, sheds clothes like second skin and falls back into bed. Others, she goes on walks without me, disappears into the desert for hours. Today she won’t do either. She wants to take me on a hike. I insist, she says, and her voice is seductive venom.
There are many dangers of hiking: dehydration, heat stroke, rockslides. Cacti. Coyotes. Most deaths happen when hikers step on ground hives and, running from the swarm, fall down a cliff face. And then there are the snakes: Mojave, Southwestern Speckled, Sonoran Lyre.
I give in. I want to do something she wants to do because I worry we’re always doing what I want, which is usually nothing. She says she’ll protect me from bees. She says her amp buzzes because she’s imprisoned so many of them. She likes the sting they add to songs. She doesn’t mention snakes. If there’s no one at the top, she says, I’ll go down on you. I tell her no, she doesn’t need to bribe me, but I get hard hearing her say it.
They track vocals in aquarium tunnels, in empty football stadium stands, in the lone phone booth they find on a road trip to New Mexico. They sing while ice-skating at the rink beside the hockey bar and their voices weave in and out of the tape. Sometimes Rattlesnake Girl plays me the vocal tracks, a cappella. She holds her handheld recorder to my ear and their voices emerge from the small speaker, into my head with an electric crackle like a fry of eels.
Rattlesnake Girl takes me to that double-humped mountain I can spot from my window, the buried back of a giant camel. We hike for hours up rocky inclines so steep, metal railings have been installed. I slip once and skin my palm bloody. She cradles it in her hands but I tell her, No, I like it. It feels good. A runner sprints down the incline with the sureness of a mountain goat.
Near the summit, my throat becomes a chute of dirt. My lungs, dry balloons. The sun has slicked itself all over my skin. This is what dying feels like, I say. Rattlesnake Girl lets me take breaks. She never tires. She coils around me and hoists me up. We’re almost there, she whispers. She makes ocean sounds in the shell of my ear. We’re almost there.
The peak is too busy for sex acts. We sit on a flat red rock and look out across the city’s violent sprawl, watch people taking pictures with phones. An elderly couple arrives wielding ski poles as walking sticks. Look, they started the party without us, one says. When’s the pizza getting here? the other asks us. We laugh.
People come and go. She holds my bloody hand. It throbs like a second heart. I’m still catching my breath. We sit there, watching the sun slip down on the horizon, a fat yolk falling in slow motion, spreading through the hot metal skillet of the city. When it’s almost dark, time to descend, we kiss like it’s the first time we’ve ever kissed, that delirious concoction of hesitant and unrestrained.
A man overlooking the edge plays a rusty flute. Intermittently he sings about crows remembering his face like a mask, crows rolling snowballs off roofs onto people’s heads. I’d like to record a song up here, Rattlesnake Girl says. We listen to the man play his song. We listen to the other hikers listening. When the man falls silent and people applaud, Rattlesnake Girl takes out her handheld recorder and presses the red button. She’s going to sing for me, I realize. I wait for her voice to pour over me.
Instead, she unhinges her jaw and pulls me by the hand. She ushers me into her mouth. I climb down her throat, into her belly. My arms and legs fill her arms and legs. Her organs reshape around my body. She bulges with me. We have been inside each other before, but this is a new closeness. I am her ligature, her vertebrae. She is snakeskin.
Her bandmates show up like they’ve been following us, leather jacket cool, gorgon cool. They demand I get out of her. We knew you were trouble, they say. I hear them, but they are far off, the sound minced through Rattlesnake Girl’s ears before arriving at mine. They are blurry through Rattlesnake Girl’s eyes. We need her to play, they say, Your fingers make her fingers too wide. Look at those knuckles.
I try to explain, but Rattlesnake Girl keeps our jaws clamped shut. The voices of her bandmates are out of synch with the movement of their lips, like thunder after distant lightning. In my head, in her head, I count how far: One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. She closes her eyes and the world disappears. Something rumbles inside her, around me, a reptilian hum. She opens her mouth and a song bursts forth from my lips.
Sam Martone lives and writes in New York City.
Image: Blueag9 via Creative Commons.