She walked down the gravel road with a cocky swagger. As cocky as an eleven year old can be. Her long blonde hair was in a low ponytail, with long wisps of bangs hanging out. She was wearing her usual summer attire, black Converse tennis shoes, blue jean shorts and a t-shirt. Today the shirt was yellow. Her legs were tanned and her knees were skinned. She felt strong today. She felt free today. By her side, as always, was her dog, Billy.
It was already hot outside and according to her $5 digital Batman watch, it was just barely 9 a.m. The flowers were open and the colors were bright. The Russian Olive trees were blooming. The smell was sweet. That smell was Annie’s favorite. Annie took the time to learn about the trees in her neighborhood. There were many varieties, but her favorite was the Russian Olive. Everyone said they grow like weeds around here. She didn’t care. Hell, she grew like a weed. What would they say about that?
As Annie and Billy were walking down the dirty gravel road, she couldn’t help but think that it was a great day to have a great day. Everything just felt good today. Her mom was at work, but would be home soon. They were going to go out to eat. Every Friday night was hamburger night. Hamburgers. Annie’s favorite. But not just any hamburger. It was Annie’s favorite place to eat. It was kind of grimy and kind of greasy. The floor had those big square tiles with the alternating pattern of black and white colors. The signs were hand-written with chalk on a chalkboard. The food was great and the customers were even greater. Greater for people watching, if that’s something you like to do. Annie did.
Annie liked her hamburgers interesting and adventurous, like her life. Even though she was only eleven, she was a hamburger connoisseur. She liked food and the beefier her burgers, the better. Her favorite combo was medium well beef, one slice of cheese on the bottom bun, then the burger, another cheese slice, pickles, sour of course, onions and then an egg on top. She liked jalapeño peppers on the side, sweet not sour. The egg had to be just right, not too done, but done enough. She liked the yolk a little runny, but not like water. That would be gross.
As Annie and Billy were walking down the gravel, she heard something. Billy heard it too. He low growled. Annie didn’t know what it was and couldn’t tell from which direction it came. She looked around. Nothing. Billy was still low growling. Annie looked up. Birds. Dragonflys. Nothing else. Maybe it was a bird she had heard. Maybe it wasn’t. She looked down. Oh boy!
Right there, about a skateboard length away from her, down in the weeds, was a snake. It blended. It blended well. Annie kept looking, trying to see what kind it was. She wasn’t scared of snakes, but she really didn’t want to get bit. More importantly, she didn’t want Billy to get bit. It was close enough that she didn’t want to make any sudden movements. Does anyone really listen to that advice, she wondered. Because, seriously, if there is a snake close, it has to be almost impossible to hold completely still. But, Annie did just that. Held still that is. Billy would not stop low growling. He was definitely protecting her. That made her more nervous.
She watched the snake, it started moving in a circle. Dang. It looked like it was coiling up. She kept watching it. It was a game now. Could she hold still enough that it would leave on its own? Could she? Could Billy? That was the true question. Her dog is good, but is he that good?
Annie kept looking at the snake. It’s tongue was moving in and out of it’s mouth fast. It’s true she thought, they do have a forked tongue. Annie noticed her fingernails needed clipped. She noticed weird things when she was stressed. She noticed there were five rocks five feet away from the snake. She noticed there was a brick ten feet away from the snake. She noticed Billy stopped low growling and was sitting quietly beside her. She noticed her breathing was almost non-existent. It was quiet. Her chest was barely moving.
The snake uncoiled. It started slithering. Good, she thought. It’s leaving. Except it wasn’t. It was slithering right towards her and Billy. The test of all tests was about to be taken. Could they do it? She was pretty sure she could, but she was still worried about Billy. She kept eyeing the brick. She kept eyeing the rocks. Think, think, think, she told herself.
The snake was huge. It’s colors were amazing. She saw yellow and some orange. She knew that was good. She still didn’t move. She knew she wouldn’t have to try and kill it. She knew it wasn’t a rattlesnake. She knew it wasn’t a bull snake. She felt much better. Now, they could stay still and see what the snake was going to do. They couldn’t fail this test. The snake would not poison them.
The game became more fun with fewer consequences. They stayed where they were. Even Billy. He was doing great. The snake slithered closer. It was at her feet now. Slowly crawling over them. Slowly moving towards Billy. He growled. The snake stopped. Everyone stopped. Even through it wasn’t a poisonous snake, it was still a snake. And even though she wasn’t scared of snakes, it was a snake on her feet and on her dog. Deep breath. Deep breath. Stay calm. Stay calm. She told herself that over and over and over.
Finally. Movement. Billy was being such a good dog. He was completely still. She was completely still and the snake was moving. She watched it slither across the road. She watched the way it slithered side to side. Interesting. It went into the ditch on the other side of the gravel road. Wow!!! She couldn’t believe they held still. She was so proud of herself. She was so proud of Billy.
She walked over and looked at the snake swishes on the gravel. It was so cool. Billy walked over and sniffed like crazy, back and forth and back and forth across the road. She finally told him to stop and they headed back home.
On the way home, she noticed the trees and the grass. She noticed the light green leaves on the Russian Olive trees. She noticed the darker green leaves on the Honey Locust trees and she noticed the varying green colors of the pine trees. She noticed the sounds of the birds and she noticed the sounds of the locusts. Buzzing and buzzing and buzzing. She noted in her brain that she would have to go look for locust shells the next day.
About the time she and Billy got home, so did her mom. Her mom asked her how her day was and if she did anything fun. She told her, “No, just the usual.”
They went to her favorite burger joint and she had the best burger ever. When they got home, she clipped her fingernails.
It really was a great day to have a great day and she had had one.