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The Proverbial Snake A Madonna-blue sky – not one cloud. Not bad for the last day of my life. Bright and sunny too inappropriate? Good enough to head up into the hills where I could see the vast Kinneret one more time. A typical jaunt for a day off? Most people don’t normally get out of bed and contemplate suicide during the morning’s first caffeine hit. A second expresso, staring at the kitchen sink, the past not so easy to clean up. The penknife knowing. Depression. A lifetime. PTSD since childhood. My little sister still flying through the air after so many years. Smashed and broken. Damn everyone and speeding cars! How I always dealt with it—music, and being a musician—had hit a roadblock. Mood-wise, this roadblock was a dead-end. A broken heart wherever I lay my hat had, on reflection, only one conclusion: it must be me. A lost cause. Always wanting more than anyone can give. To fill the hole that can never be filled. At best, a maudlin drunk on occasional Friday nights before Shabbat. Sometimes even singing in key. The need to settle down and raise a loving family—as far away as ever. Confidence plummeting so low it was non-existent and the failures of the past impregnated the horizon of the future. An unbearable thought that more of the same heartache would pockmark my lifeline. The penknife gleaming. Stop the world, I want to get off!—it was a phrase someone had coined just for me. My kibbutz family could not have been kinder, but when you are at the bottom of the well of darkness, the yolk of human kindness might as well wash over sunburnt barnacles. Happily waving from his seat in the sun, my wonderful friend Chaim-K, shouting something about finding his old Seekers album during a restless night. Too late, I was on my bike. ‘The carnival is over!’ I shouted back, shifting up through gears and heading to the exit gate. The penknife carried. I went to one of my favourite places, past the creek of the wild boars, the caves of fruit bats and seagull nests and the forest of olive and avocado groves. The ancient oak rose in stature over the potholed road that accessed acres of citrus tree fields. A mammoth 2000-year-old marvel and living museum to the tribes and the invasions of the Holy Land. Not that it’s important, but even the carpenter’s son could have pondered the how and the why under this tree. At a distance, towering limbs and vivid foliage reach heights of omnipotent majesty. On closer inspection, the sadness of centuries of sword cuts and bullet wounds is revealed. If the Human Condition is often the grim mud of incomprehensible cruelty, then why not this torture of magnificence? Even under the veil of darkness, the creek’s wild boars are not guilty of such base vulgarity. I climbed to the top of the valley to take advantage of the incredible view and contemplate what to do. The fields, the lake, the distant Syrian mountains; the irony of such eternal beauty. Thoughts rushing forward. Deep-rooted impotence from a profound sense of failure. Irrational guilt. Always guilt. And the will to succeed in something, anything, even in this final endeavour. Who would be the poor unfortunate finding my body? The penknife naked. To the extreme left of the valley the Kinneret remained in view. Even from this far away, an inescapable sensation of belonging. This mystery, all pervasive. Everywhere in the Galilee, the same phenomenon, manifest but not revealed. The enigma of sensing revelation. Of the divine wonder of life. The Nazarene monument with its story of savage crusades; the sides of the valley covered in wild flowers, as if a master gardener had cultivated them; and the quiet feeling of otherness being the reason for everything. Throughout these reflections my determination had not waned. It was getting late. Just when I thought I could proceed, a Palestinian and his two sons came into view on the other side of the valley, down near the creek. The boys were leading cattle along a path. Only a handful, but enough to have to concentrate. Their grandfather, trailing them, was setting fire to the shrubs and weeds on the downside of their track. Quite a blaze had started and plumes of smoke rose up the sides of the valley. The penknife quivering. Anger was also quick to rise. Why was this overgrown pyromaniac invading my privacy? Final moments distinguished by cow shit and strangers! They progressed along the path leaving a wake of burning shrubs and blackened undergrowth until passing beneath me. The smoke, now swirling in clouds of pungent fumes, forced me to abandon my vantage point. It was so thick I had to run along a narrow track that weaved its way across the entire ridge of the valley. Then I caught my foot on an exposed root or something and fell. At that very same moment a deadly serpent came out of the brush. An arm’s length from my face. The penknife breathless. For a fleeting moment eyeballs locked. Both prostate, both blocking the path of the other. A myriad thoughts rush through the mind but panic kicked in. I jumped to my feet and raced in the opposite direction while the snake also fled elsewhere. It all happened so quick, without any sense of control. I suddenly found myself cycling down the hills of the citrus fields towards the kibbutz. Passing my long-suffering guardian, I felt relieved and began to laugh—the intuitive reflex for survival. Unexpected fear overcoming the senselessness of shadows. Knowing I’d left something behind. ‘Life’s an enigma!’ I shouted. The penknife forsaken. Later that night, Chaim-K joined me at the communal dinner table in the dining room. ‘Are we going to listen to the Seekers tonight?’ ‘Only if I can dedicate the evening to a snake,’ I answered. ‘To the proverbial snake,’ replied my friend. ‘It’s all a morning town ride to me.’
JIM AUBREY - SHORT FICTION Complete revision April 2017 - chaos responsible. This short fiction is dedicated to mental health. Note that the phrases “The Carnival is Over” and “Morningtown Ride” refer to two pop songs made famous by the 1960s Australian pop group, The Seekers. “The Carnival is Over” was written by English musician and songwriter, Tom Springfield, and “Morningtown Ride” was written by American folk/blues musician and political activist, Malvina Reynolds.
FOOTNOTE One in every four people suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives. That’s the bare statistic (WHO). As much as suicide is never the answer, neither is doing it alone. DON’T BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT IF YOU NEED HELP FOR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES. PLEASE SEEK ASSISTANCE FROM THE QUALIFIED PROFESSIONALS IN YOUR AREA.