Adam and Eve live in a farmhouse surrounded by apple orchards. One spring day, Adam pokes his head into Eve’s study. “What are you doing?” he asks.

    “Working,” she says.

    “Oh. I’m going to the attic to bring down the air conditioner,” Adam says.

    “Great,” Eve says into her computer screen.

    He waits. “I might need you.”

    “Uh-huh.” Her fingers fly across the keyboard.

    A few minutes later, he calls out. “Come here! I want to show you something.”

    Eve snaps her laptop shut. She never gets any work done when Adam is home.

    In the attic, Adam points to an abandoned cot. Two black coils bask in the light coming through a dormer window.

    Yes. Adam and Eve. Apples and snakes. Snakes with tongues that flit out to greet her.

    “Oh my God,” Eve says.

    “Five feet long,” Adam says a little proudly. “Maybe six. They’re big fuckers.”

    In the last few months, they’ve found plenty of shed snake skins on the attic stairs, in the basement, hanging from tree limbs. Snakes slithering across their gravel road, and once, she almost ran over one with the John Deere. When they have friends out for sunset drinks on the long porch, Adam and Eve bring out the skins—long strips of dry paper. But they have never actually seen a snake in the house. And now, here are two.

    Eve tiptoes back downstairs and goes to her study. Adam finds her at her desk, staring at the ceiling. “They’re right up there,” she says, pointing. “How can I write thinking about them above my head?”

    Yes, Eve is a writer. Adam is, too, but this isn’t important until later.

    Adam crosses his arms. “I knew I shouldn’t have shown them to you.”

    “They must move through the walls at night,” Eve says. “How can we sleep?”

    “I knew it!” He stomps downstairs and returns a few minutes later with a shovel, the one they’ve been using to plant perennials in the front yard.

    “What?” she asks.

    “I have to kill them.”

    “No,” she yells. “That’s too dangerous. Can’t we just capture them and put them back outside?” He gives her his “I-can’t-believe-you’re-so-dumb” look, and she remembers the mice. That winter, they used a humane catch-and-release trap until Eve said, “I might be crazy, but I think it’s the same mouse.” Adam marked an X on its back with a permanent marker, and sure enough, they caught the same mouse again a few days later. So they switched to the death traps. Adam baits them with peanut butter, and at night, Eve hears them snap shut in the kitchen.

     Armed with the shovel, Adam trudges into the attic, and a few minutes later, Eve hears him whacking away. Soon he’s screaming, “Stupid motherfucking snake! Die! Die!” She wonders if the snakes are poisonous, if she should help. But help how? She doesn’t move from her desk until he yells, “Open the door!” Adam has bagged one of the snakes. It writhes on the shovel scoop, red innards bulging like sausage in its casing. Adam drips snake blood on the floors, the rugs, all the way to the front door. Tossing it far into the yard, he marches back inside. “The other one,” he spits, slamming the attic door behind him. More whacking. More motherfucking. More blood spots down the stairs.

    Eve finds Adam standing in the front yard. He’s breathing heavily, leaning on the shovel, staring down at a black and red pool of snake. Eve squats down to get a better look. One of the snakes opens its fleshy white mouth wide, like it’s screaming. “Careful,” Adam says. “They aren’t dead yet.”

    He tells her they wedged themselves in a corner, where the angled roof meets the floor, so he couldn’t just chop off their heads. Instead, he had to poke and beat the snakes to death—or to this near death. He brings the shovel over his shoulder like a spike hammer and finishes them both, pounding their tiny heads over and over with the curved underside of the shovel. Then, Adam carries the snakes toward the weed-choked sluice that feeds their pond.

    After, they sit quietly in their matching Adirondack chairs on the porch. A few days from now, Adam will discover on the Internet that he’s just killed two non-venomous black rat snakes (Elaphe obseleta obseleta), praised by area farmers as better mousers than barn cats. He’ll read the online article out loud to her, pausing after this sentence: Although it is one of our most valuable snakes, human fear and prejudice against all snakes often result in this shy and beneficial species being killed on sight. But right now, Adam and Eve are still sitting on the porch, free of this knowledge. Right now, Adam has just done a brave, brave thing. Eve touches his hand and says, “I love you,” because she is so grateful, and Adam says tiredly, “I love you, too.”

    From the porch, Eve notices that services are over at the little stone church up the road. Yes, this story takes place on a Sunday, and yes, there’s a church, and yes, there are snakes, and yes, they live in an apple orchard, but there are no actual apples yet. It’s spring, you see. The trees bear pink and white blossoms, and the orchard hums with millions of bees. The world looks like Oz, like it just snowed flowers. Eve loves this place, and she believes their finding it is a sign that her life is exactly as it should be. Some nights, Adam and Eve sit on the porch with martinis and talk about getting married in the little stone church, but neither of them ever uses a word other than “someday,” although they have been together for six years.

    That night in bed, Adam is quiet for a long time. Finally, he tells her that he had to swear in order to work up enough hate to finish off the snakes. “They’ve probably lived in this house for years,” he says. “Longer than us.” He says, “I’ll never be able to get those images out of my head. I can’t believe you made me do that.”

    “I didn’t say to kill them,” says Eve.

    “No, but you said you couldn’t stand them being over our heads.”

    “Well, could you?”

    He rolls over. “I could have lived with it.”

    “Bullshit,” she says. “You just feel bad, so you want it to be my fault.”

    There is a long silence, and then he says, “It is.”

    In the weeks that follow, Eve feels less certain about her future with Adam, as if the snakes have left a curse on the house. Adam and Eve fight about very stupid things like eggplants, The Andy Griffith Show, and bath towels. For the hundredth time, Eve asks, “What’s wrong?” and for the hundredth time, Adam says, “Nothing.”

    A few months later, during summer’s long green stretch, Adam invites a colleague and his wife over for dinner. While Adam and his colleague are casting lures into the pond, Eve gives the wife a house tour. In the study, the wife pauses for a second and looks up at the ceiling. “Something’s happened up there. I can feel it. I’m a little clairvoyant.” Eve tells her about the snakes, and the wife nods knowingly, like she already knows how this story will end.

    After the colleague and the clairvoyant have gone home, Eve sits on the porch and thinks, Maybe I’ll write a story about the day Adam killed the snakes. She’s been thinking about it ever since it happened. Actually, she was thinking about it while it was happening. Writers are weird that way. At the moment, Eve has no theme in mind, no point to make. Just images in her head: the black snakes, their white mouths, the pink and white blossoms, the blood blooms Adam scrubbed furiously from the rugs.

    Adam is inside doing all the dishes because she cooked the big dinner for four. That’s the deal they’ve struck, so that everything’s equal. Eve sits on the porch with a drink, listening to the thrum of pond frogs and the buzz of cicadas, remembering the white noise machine she and Adam used in Chicago, how they preferred the “Summer Night” sound, a recorded loop of what they now have for real. Maybe she’ll use that detail in the story she will write about the day Adam killed the snakes. Maybe she’ll change their names to John and Mary. Before they go to sleep, John and Mary will argue about whose fault it is that the snakes are dead, and then they’ll have sex, the kind that’s more like hate than love.

    Eve’s not sure what happens next or how the story will end, but this doesn’t worry her. She’s also well aware that just because something really happened doesn’t mean it will work in a story. A story can’t hold apples and snakes and sex and Sunday and church and a psychic. And won’t one snake do as well as two? And shouldn’t she move the snake from above her writing desk to above John and Mary’s bed? Isn’t that more potent, especially when they have angry sex there later?

    The truth is: Adam and Eve have never made love in anger, but it seems appropriate for John and Mary to do so, and certainly better than admitting that Adam and Eve have not touched each other—except by accident—for a long, long time. These days, living with Adam reminds Eve of college, of politely sharing space with her roommate Penny. Every Friday, Penny left to visit her boyfriend Harold, and every weekend, Eve had the room to herself. She always felt a little surprised, even a little resentful, when Penny returned from Harold’s on Sunday nights.

    Sitting there on the porch, Eve listens to Adam washing dishes and keeps thinking about her story. Maybe she’ll write a scene in which a worried Mary snoops through John’s briefcase, afraid she’ll find love letters from another woman or downloaded porn. Instead, she finds a poem typed on John’s office letterhead, a poem in which he imagines them as an old couple, sitting in rocking chairs. This poem makes Mary cry, but not for the reasons you think. Mary cries because John has crossed out every word and scrawled “Stupid” next to them. What is stupid, Mary will wonder, the poem or the thought of us growing old together?

    You think this happened, but it didn’t. Harold wrote the poem to Penny, and Eve found it once (free of edits and self-loathing) in her roommate’s jewelry box. No, Adam never wrote a poem like this. In fact, he hasn’t written anything but to-do lists for years. Lately, whenever Eve publishes a story, Adam will congratulate her and then shake his head, saying “God, I hate you.” This is a horrible truth, but Eve would rather use the fictional “stupid” poem to represent Adam’s frustration than the fact that he often—and quite literally—beats his head against a wall.

    The real truth is: when Eve snooped through Adam’s briefcase, she didn’t find any poems at all. Just the porn. But she can’t bring herself to put this detail in the story she will write about the day Adam killed the snakes. She would look bad, invading his privacy like that. Besides, Eve promised Adam she’d never reveal his secrets in her stories—that he once threw a cat off a roof to see if it would land on its feet, that his swimming coach fondled him when he was eight, that his parents have never, not once, said that they love him. So she’ll change all the real details, omit all of his secrets, but Eve knows that the story will hurt Adam anyway. There’s no way around it.

    Adam has gone upstairs, but Eve still sits on the porch, wondering, “What is this story about anyway?” She won’t know the answer for another two years. When Eve finishes the story about the day Adam killed the snakes, she’ll know it’s a story about the day she knew she could ask him for anything—to kill a snake, to marry her, to give her a child. The day she knew that everything would be fine as long as nothing went wrong. It’s a story about the bad days that always come, Adam holding out the shovel scoop full of dirty diapers and overdue bills and unwritten poems and ads for jobs he’ll never have and houses he’ll never own, telling her “Look at what you made me do.” The story will be about the day she knew in her heart (but not in her mind) that she would leave him.

    But try to remember that Eve doesn’t know any of this yet. She’s sitting on the porch, watching fireflies blink across the lawn, waiting for Adam to fall fast asleep. Maybe you think she’s sitting there because it’s such a beautiful night. That’s true. Maybe you think she’s sitting there because she’s avoiding sex. That might be true, too. But here’s what Eve thinks: that once he’s asleep, she can sneak upstairs and write without him knowing, without making him feel bad. She doesn’t yet see this as an important detail in the story, but she will. The story is forming inside her, and someday, when she’s ready, she will write it.

Cathy Day was born and raised in Peru, Indiana, which is best known as a circus town, but is also the birthplace of Cole Porter and the Spanish hot dog. She is the author of two books, most recently Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love (Simon & Schuster/Free Press, 2008), part memoir about life as a single woman and part sports story about the Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl season. Her first book was The Circus in Winter (Harcourt, 2004), a fictional history of her hometown. The Circus in Winter was a finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award, the Story Prize, and the GLCA New Writers’ Award, and has been translated into German and Czech. Her fiction and nonfiction have been broadcast on NPR’s “Selected Shorts” and “Studio 360” and appeared in New Stories from the South, Story, River Styx, Antioch Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Post Road, and Sports Illustrated online. A native Hoosier, Cathy received her BA from DePauw University and her MFA from the University of Alabama. She teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. She’s also online at Strange but true: The Circus in Winter was the solution to the New York Times Magazine acrostic puzzle in February 2005 and is currently #10 on’s “All-Time High Scores” list—for what it’s worth.

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Cathy Day


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