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December 29, 2020


Derick Datloong Olson

My bathroom sink had been clogged for weeks. Even after pouring bottles of poisonous gel into the basin. When I brushed my teeth, the sink filled with dirty water. The bubbling black flecks drained in my sleep, leaving a new ring on the porcelain each night.

My mother used to tell me we came from dragons. I found this exciting. What's more bad ass than a dragon? For years, I indulged in the costumes and coloring books, fiery bedspreads and birthday banners covered in scales. I had a place in the rank of the neighborhood kids, dragon boy, and learned to shoot flames with lighters and cooking spray. A terror to yards and shrubs, I ran through fields searching for things to attack and defend.

One day she said that our dragons didn't breath fire. They guarded neither mountains nor mountains of gold. They lived in rivers. Giant water snakes, saving fisherman in exchange for burnt offerings. What about the flying? I asked. Where are the wings? Sure, they fly, why not? She said the sky was an ocean without weight but still, you know, blue, and maybe you're getting a bit old for this whole thing anyway.

Yesterday, a plumbing tool arrived on my doorstep. I recognized it. I'd read the reviews and comparison lists. But I didn’t remember ordering it. Eco-friendly packaging, an uncoiled strip of bright yellow plastic, lined with hooks on either side. Under the logo sat a python, smirking in its hard hat, tail wrapped around a toolbox.

I unwrapped the yellow plastic and fished it into the pipe. As I lowered its hooks, inch by inch, I felt a terrible sensation. Something, there. I froze as it froze. I felt it shift its position. The wall creaked and the water began to flow. I hazarded flossing. As blood and foamy saliva dripped from my gums, I couldn't help but watch the little red strands make their way down the drain.

I don’t kid myself with sleep. On the late-night special, the animal cops took a crowbar to the drywall. They uncovered a den of boa constrictors. It was impossible to tell how many there were. It could just as easily have been a single snake tied over itself in a writhing mass. The homeowners accused their neighbors of placing a curse on their land.

I figured I’d take a walk. I turned left at the end of my street and followed the road out of town.

Every bush on the block seemed like a place from which something might strike. The sidewalk ended in a dark gap between a gutter and a row of pickups. I walked in the street as the road led me up and down hills, around thinning houses to the edge of what I could see.

A line of taillights curved up the hill, an accident up ahead. I avoided the gutter and all my thoughts of drainage. My vision came in snakes. The tails of mist on the brightening field. A breeze blew a strand of hair into my mouth. I wound it around a finger and pulled it between my lips.

The sky began to lighten. People stared at me from car windows. The two-lane highway backed up for half a mile. I heard a horn honking, a door open and shut. I heard voices over the sound of running water. I imagined a migration of serpents from the hillside to the river, crossing the country road in buckets of black coils.

I hopped the barrier and stumbled to the riverbank. A man by the edge of the water claimed to have lived there all his life. I asked him how he got there. This place, he told me, will never be less than home. They're coming, I said. He lit a Marlboro Gold and pointed with its embers. I was born in this ditch, in the river herself. I'll pour it all out for our souls, he said. He wrapped his lips around his words, I'll pour the whole river for you.