For the Good Times

The London Magazine - - CONTENTS - David Keenan

When we were kids my da loved to take me and my brother to the rep­tile house in the Belfast Zoo at the Cave Hill. I was never a fan of snakes, but I al­ways loved that bit when you walk through the door and you’re plunged into dark­ness and it takes you whole min­utes to get your eyes ac­cus­tomed to the light, that bit when you have your arms out in front of you to steady your­self and all you can see are these aquar­i­ums float­ing in mid-air, all of these colour tel­lies from hell.

My da al­ways says to us that snakes are the most in­no­cent crea­tures in the world. Look into their eyes, he says to us, take a good look and be hon­est with your­self. There’s not a bad bone in their bod­ies, he says. I didn’t even know snakes had bones in their bod­ies.

Then, one day, he brings one home, as a present, for my brother. He brings a real-life snake home as a pet and starts feed­ing it on live ham­sters, live ham­sters that he’s breed­ing in the garage and that never see the light of day out­side of when he marches across the back gar­den with one of them squirm­ing in his hand on its way to get­ting eaten whole.

I need to teach you, he says to us, then he would sit us down, in the dark, in Peter’s room, in front of this lit-up aquar­ium, like we were at the movies, and he would ed­u­cate us. A snake is just do­ing what it does, he says to us, with no mal­ice what­so­ever. It’s play­ing with it, Peter says to him, look, it’s taunt­ing it. Snakes don’t taunt, my da says, what are you talk­ing about? Then the snake would pounce and its big hinged jaw would go back and it would swal­low half the body of the ham­ster, whose legs would be kick­ing out be­hind it as its head dis­ap­peared down this great black throat and end­less belly that God Him­self had cre­ated, that’s what my da says, God Almighty Him­self cre­ated snakes, he says to us, and then Saint Pa­trick kicked them out of Ire­land. Beat it, Pa­trick says to them, go on.

But that was your man Saint Pat’s big mis­take, my da says. Saint Paddy’s orig­i­nal balls-up was boot­ing the snakes out of Ire­land in the first place, be­cause that meant there was no one left, no thing left, is what he meant to say, no thing left to get vic­timised, no thing left to take all of the blame for the suf­fer­ing of the world, and so the Ir­ish turned on one an­other. In the ab­sence of snakes they just fuck­ing went at it, but they went at it as in­no­cent as snakes them­selves, with that same look in their eyes, that same look that says, what about you?

If snakes could shrug, my da says to us, they’d be at it all day. But you need shoul­ders for that.

So you see, that’s why, in The Bi­ble, there’s a snake in the Gar­den of Eden what takes the rap for ev­ery­thing, my da says to us, and when Peter would say to him, but wait a minute, da, wasn’t it Jayzus that was sup­posed to take on all the sins of the world, wasn’t that his job, then my da would look at us both and he would laugh with those eyes of his, eyes like a happy snake that could shrug all it wanted, and he would grab our shoul­ders and he would kill him­self, he’d be crack­ing up, as if we were the most naive kids in the world, and he loved it, but one day we were go­ing to have to wake up to the re­al­ity of Christ Jayzus and snakes and what goes on in Ire­land, and in Eden.

My brother came out as a gay when he was eigh­teen year old. My da threat­ened to beat it out him. What about snakes, I says to him, what about in­no­cent snakes? We were hav­ing this big fight in the liv­ing room the night Peter dropped the bomb. Snakes don’t turn gay, my da says. You don’t know any­thing, Peter says to him. All snakes do it up the arse. My da knocked him halfways across the liv­ing room for that one.

In the end Peter moved to Canada just so as he could get away from the fuck­ing Gar­den of Eden. But it’s true, I found out later, Peter was right, all snakes do it up the arse.

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