The girl sits on a swing, dangling her legs. In her hand
is a bucket with fourteen snails in it, some crawling up
the sides (what word instead of crawl, the girl wonders?),
some curled up inside their shells like a wad of gum. The
girl has been watching the snail with the dark brown shell
and curved yellow patch on its back for five minutes. The
snail's reaching eyes wave at her, testing the air, and
only retract briefly when she brushes a finger over them.
The girl tries swinging next, fast, then slower, to see
if that makes the snail shrink away. Tentacles, the girl
thinks. In water do snails slide out of their shells? Would
they glide in ripples like a water snake?
This snail, the girl thinks, is an explorer. She remembers
briefly a word from a book her father used to read to her,
a great book, but a bit scary (very scary, she admits),
about a girl and her brother who wear capes and run off
to save their little brother Jacob from a terrible monster-man
(who isn't really that terrible, but the girl always forgets
this). The girl admires the cape-wearing brother and sister
because they are not afraid of anything and like exploring
in murky bogs. The word she is thinking of is exciting and
clever and hovers around the brother and sister like a vaporous
cloud. Years later, lying in darkness while the man she
left her husband for mutters in his sleep beside her, the
word 'intrepid' will come to her suddenly, but she will
not remember why it feels important, or why it reminds her
The girl with the snails stops swinging and puts the bucket
down. There is no use being a snail, she thinks, if you
are not going to be an explorer.
She lies down on the grass to the left of the swing where
the ground is covered in inedible nuts, which the girl likes
opening to squeeze the liquid out of the green flesh. The
girl spends hours lying on her belly in the yard, imagining
shrinking to grasshopper size and climbing flower stalks
and following ants. Raspberries, she knows, would be enough
for a dinner; they would be like edible stools. She loves
The girl has a friend who is coming over soon and will
bring her pet rat in her shirt. The rat is way too fat,
the girl knows, and has yellow teeth. Still, the rat is
so allied to the friend it won't leave her for even a second
and this gives the girl great respect for her friend, even
though the existence of the rat, and of all the animals
at the friend's house (three cats, one dog, two rabbits
in the backyard) makes the friend's house smell gross. Butand
the girl is not sure why she knows thisit is also
the friend's parents that make the house smell bad: their
damp anger and apathy, their cups of coffee left on top
of the TV, their brown corduroy pants worn thin at the knees.
The girl wonders if the rat would eat the snail
if they put them together in the bucket and if she would
looked away. There are things she knows she is supposed
to be upset by, like when her neighbour was blowing up slugs
with firecrackers and little grey blobs peppered the bike
ramp in front of the girl's house.
Or when her brother accidentally sat on a newborn chick,
a brown one, and her father had to snap its neck to kill
it. Or when, at the end of lunch hour, after a delirium
of sap-collecting, dead bird-burying and TV tag has left
the girl rambling erratically behind the portables, she
traps crane flies against the aluminium siding and pulls
off their wings and legs, one by one, until all that's left
is a quivering brown body and a bobbing head, and she thinks
of words she knows she will know the meaning of some day.
Precarious. Immaculate. Chrysalis.
Anna King has
been on Forget an infamous two times.