The Story of Crooked Jaw

© Anne Marshall Runyon

Crooked Jaw is a big black rat snake who has lived under our house for years. Each spring, my mother climbs down into the cellar to get out her garden tools. She opens her cupboard and reaches inside. Suddenly the thick black hose beside the watering can uncoils. My mom jumps and then she laughs as she spies that familiar crooked jaw face gazing up at her.

I first met Crooked Jaw when I was six years old. My parents stood under my maple tree watching me climb way high up. Standing on a big limb, I reached my hand up to grab another strong branch. I froze. A black snakehead was peering down at me from the branch. It had a white chin and a crooked jaw. Slowly the big snake lifted its head, staring at me. I scrambled down backwards and my dad reached up for me. He held me close, and we all watched, as Crooked Jaw rippled through the upper branches and disappeared into another maple tree. Then my dad gave me a ride on his shoulders.

The next day I was climbing in my maple again, but I didn’t see the snake. We saw him a few days later stretched out in the honeysuckle vines along our fence. He was basking in the sunshine. We knew he had just shed his old skin, because his shiny new scales glistened black among the creamy sweet flowers.

Early one morning, my father spied Crooked Jaw sunning in the honeysuckle again. It had been a chilly night and the cold-blooded reptile was slow moving. My dad carefully placed one hand around his neck and eased him up, catching his body with the other hand. He held him out for me to stroke and then gently placed the heavy snake in my hands. Crooked Jaw wrapped hard around my arm and his scales felt silky smooth. He rested, cool against my warm skin. After a few minutes, he raised his head and slid back into the honeysuckle.

Last fall, Crooked Jaw came right into our kitchen. I had just set Amy’s bowl of canned cat food on the floor and she was gobbling it up as usual. I turned toward the sink and saw a mouse pop across the countertop and skitter onto the floor near my feet. Then something else caught my eye and I looked back up at the sink. There was a large snakehead poking up through the crack in the wall behind the sink. The head was black, with a white chin and an oddly twisted jaw. It gazed at me for an instant and then the head sank back into the crack.

I looked back down at the small gray mouse. It lay flat on its belly, panting. Amy was still busily gobbling up her food. I glanced back at the counter. The snake was gone. I reached down to pick up the mouse, but it staggered up, wobbled into the living room and disappeared down the hallway.

After hearing my story, my father repaired the crack behind the sink. No one has seen Crooked Jaw inside the kitchen again, but our house is old, with lots of nooks and crannies.

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