If all you can do is crawl, start crawling – Rumi
Professor Fritsche kindly allowed Phoebe to submit both her and Shana’s essays on the topics of marriage, lust, and consequence, as portrayed in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Their deceased parents served the young women’s purposes as bad examples similar in scope to Anna’s, although they had different opinions about her karma. Professor F peered above his glasses at her and mumbled something about, “a waste of talent” and “Hope you’ve started your final despite everything”. He finds the ground under academics more stable than death‘s abyss of unknowns, Phoebe thought later over a cup of peppermint tea as she sat in the grass and pretended to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the umpteenth time. With her urging, their 19th Century Lit prof agreed to submit a final grade for Shana, minus a final exam essay, if the Dean of the English Department, and one of Shana’s most loved professors, approved. Phoebe simply framed her request as a memorial to Shana, and gave the Dean a copy of her friend’s last and final essay. The Dean found Shana’s ideas about passion versus fidelity especially naïve and moving in light of her suicide. Shana would receive a grade for her favorite class that semester, and Phoebe would remember it as the last course they took together. Classmates gave her shy nods, their sad eyes relaying the words they didn’t find. A few were obviously surprised when she walked into chem lab an hour after being released from Resting Pines, not that they imagined what Phoebe ran up against after her best friend’s painful exit.
Her fists slid off it’s slick stark white scales as a serpent with Doyle’s dark eyes fully consumed her. Phoebe discovered herself a golden serpent who slid across symbols carved on tangerine colored walls within her Grandmother tree, an ancient cedar in the Northwoods of Michigan. The symbols pulsed with heat as if alive, but the Ankh is where she fit her slim viper form. Her head rested in the opening of the key of life and Phoebe finally surrendered all she was before Shana’s suicide. Intelligent and witty, her well-crafted college persona came apart at the seams like a sun-bleached scarecrow, mere stuffing of knowledge, sarcasm and friendship scattered, buried, and carried off by crows. Or snakes. Phoebe dreamed of a snowy white python with hinged jaws thanks to Kazmir, Death’s demon who orchestrated these nightly feasts. Warm blood pulsed and squirted into her eyes and mouth as she yelled out, foot, ankle, tibula and fibula crushed like glass in a grinder with each agonizing swallow. Smothered screams with the last gulp of her skull and then nothing until she opened slits and felt her essence in a snake’s condemned existence. “As low as a snake”, Kazmir whispered as she envisioned her cedar sanctuary finally on the third night. In the Ankh, considered in Hebrew as the “Key of Life”, Phoebe’s essence glided among reeds along a lake’s shoreline, her slim serpent body a ribbon of gold amongst the cat tails and lily pads. She dove and swam along the bottom between weeds that rose toward the light above, rocks risen from below, and an occasional clam, the silt velvet against her tender underbelly. Deeper and deeper into the dark she searched and undulated her length as she came to embody the viper and her eyes adjusted to see every shadow. Unsure of what she sought exactly, Phoebe swam until far away she thought she heard a song one only ever sung for her, in private. Ahead, a blushing glow grew and beckoned with a sad melody where only friendship existed before.
“Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed.” Shana sang Bette Midler’s The Rose for Phoebe not long after their blood sister ritual at the end of 7th grade in 1985. She’d sang it to her countless times over the past seven years, when Phoebe felt like anything but a rose, and it served as a soothing balm. Although she’d never been able to express how special it made her feel, she didn’t have to. For Shana, Phoebe’s patient tutoring, whenever she needed her, felt like acceptance during the years that followed her parent’s abuses. Phoebe had never made her earn love, and forgave easily, but Shana had never skipped out on classes before. Her personal drug usage consisted of a couple puffs during marijuana movie nights at a friend’s apartment last summer. Her parent’s addiction served as a constant reminder of how drugs and alcohol changed people for the worst, hard-won knowledge which kept her straight until Doyle’s manipulations opened the door for Death. During the last weeks of her life, paranoia about losing Phoebe’s love grew as Kaz gleefully watched her create her own scenes of rejection, including burning insults it planted in her psyche. The two friends had never exchanged insults, had never even had a blowup disagreement, but Shana’s artist’s imagination had always been powerful. If they had fought, Phoebe would have explained how it was simply impossible to lose her friendship for a mistake. She would have said “Love forgives”. As Phoebe the golden snake entered the pink glow of a temporary healing chamber, miles deep in a Great Lake, their human essences reformed as womanly silhouettes. Shana and Phoebe hugged and cried dry tears as they held onto one another. No words sufficed, so none were exchanged.
Phoebe awoke to Doyle’s yell from the kitchen, “Time to get up, Phoebe! Gotta fly, but there’s hot water in the kettle. You awake?”. “Yeah” she croaked followed by a stronger, “I’m up! I’m good!”. Her voice squeaked a bit. She prayed Doyle didn’t check on her behind the privacy screen and spy the perfectly shed golden-hued snake skin complete with eyelids stretched out on her bedspread. Doyle flipped the switch on the radio and turned up the volume so she’d get up for sure. Paula Abdul accused her of a being a “Cold Hearted snake”, a dark start to her first day of crafting a final essay about the merits of Dr. Frankenstein.