The woman drops the Styrofoam head with its sunflower hat. It falls onto the floor, bounces once and begins rolling. Before it comes to rest, she is already running down the wide aisle, dodging shoppers as she runs. Dodging to the right, to the left, around groups. She runs toward the museum exit doors. Holiday shoppers turn to watch. Vendors pause and crane their necks to follow her progress. Security guards begin migrating toward the action. Meanwhile, the fiber artist has come around the table and picked up the head. She stands holding it, watching the woman push through the exit doors and disappear into a winter snowstorm.
Once outside Anna keeps running. Other pedestrians are either shuffling their booted feet across ice, or if wearing cleats, punching their steps down into the ice. Anna gives no deference to ice. Instead she continues to run headlong. She comes to the one-way intersection and does not stop. She looks neither left nor right. Instead she runs into good luck, and passes through a space created by a lull in traffic. She runs on. Pedestrians stop and turn with her movement as she passes them by. She stops and leans on the passenger side of a silver Subaru. Standing on the curb, her arms braced on the top of the car, she bows over and breathes. Catching her breath. Without changing position, she reaches into her pocket and presses her key. The car responds by flashing its lights and starting. Gradually her breathing quiets. She is staring down into the space where the street meets curb. Feeling quieter. Calmer. Then suddenly she straightens up and lets out a hoarse shout. She continues a low pitched guttural scream as she backs into the sidewalk.
“Ma’m, are you alright?” A man walking toward Anna asks.
“A snake! There’s snake!” Anna’s shouts in a hoarse voice.
“It’s okay.” A woman wearing a fur parka has stopped and is stroking Anna’s upper arm as she speaks. “It’s okay. There are no snakes in Alaska. There are no snakes in winter.”
“No, no! I saw it. It’s a big, orange snake. It’s crawling there beside the curb!”
The man walks over and looks along the road where Anna’s car is parked.
The woman in the parka says, “It’s okay. Your eyes must be playing tricks on you. We’ll just let him check, then we’ll go over and check ourselves.” She continues to rest her hand on Anna’s shoulder. It’s going to be okay,” she repeats.
A small crowd is gathering. “She thinks she saw a snake,” someone says. “I bet she’s high,” says another.
The man returns to Anna. “I do not see a snake. There is an old piece of flagging tape partially buried under the ice and snow. Maybe that’s what you saw.”
“No, it was moving. It was crawling” Anna says.
“Let’s go over and have a look.” The woman takes her hand off Anna’s shoulder and then taking her by the upper arm walks with her to the curb. As the two of them look down, the man points. “See there is the orange flagging tape. It’s partially under the snow and ice.”
The woman in the parka speaks up, “See the orange plastic? It’s winding around under the snow. I suppose it could be taken for a snake if you lived somewhere, like Florida, where there are a lot of orange corn snakes. But not here. It’s not something we expect to see on a winter street in Alaska during a blizzard. Can you see now that it is not a snake?”
Anna nods her head. “Yes, I can see it is not a snake.”
“Lady, it’s not my business, but are you okay to drive?” the man asks.
“Yes, I’ll be okay to drive. I feel much better now. I’m not sure what happened, but I feel fine now.” Anna admits to herself that she has lied as walks around the car and opens the driver’s door. Before getting in she says, “Thanks for helping me.”
“You take care of yourself,” the woman says.
“Drive carefully,” the man is shaking his head as he turns to leave. The woman remains on the sidewalk and watches as Anna pulls out and drives away, the car disappearing into falling snow.
Then Anna finds herself standing inside her warm condo, standing in her entryway still shivering. She tries to piece together the events of her day. She remembers the museum bazaar and the sunflower hat that spoke to her. She remembers the orange snake under her car. She realizes that she has no recollection of how she got to the museum or how she got home. She must have driven. Anna opens the door and looks out into carport. Her silver Subaru is parked exactly where it is should be. Yet she has no recollection of driving.
Still shivering, she takes off her winter gear and hangs it up. She catches a glance of herself in the hallway mirror and sees that her hair is spiked up and oily. She suddenly feels unclean. When is the last time she showered? She is unsure. What’s wrong with me, she wonders. Have I had a stroke, or maybe a brain tumor? She tells herself these options are unlikely. She is only thirty-six after all. She decides to take a shower. More than anything right now she wants to be under warm flowing water. She wants to feel warm. She wants to feel clean.
And the water does feel heavenly. When at last she gets out of the shower she slips into her thickest of bathrobes and wraps it tightly about herself. Towel drying her short hair she glances into the steamy vanity mirror. She sees it. A note is taped to the mirror, with arrows drawn in lipstick pointing to it. A shiver begins at her neck and runs down her back. She steps back, as though it is a nest of black widow spiders or a tear in the cosmos that is taped to her mirror. She waits a few minutes, breathing deeply. Then steps forward and leans toward the note. “Read me” is written in black sharpie. It's her own handwriting!