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Rhonda Soullier lives and works in south western Canada. She received two fine arts degrees from the University of Victoria and has been producing paintings for several years with a heavy emphasis on process. She recently began her journey as a writer and has a reoccurring column with a small quarterly and has also written criticisms for an art magazine. Her main focus now is on a series of writings concerning her own story and her family's story.

Medusa Me by Rhonda Soullier

I could see him out of the corner of my eye. He was impossibly tall, gray ash all in a big sheet, like yesterdays news. Moody. The breeze would kick his hips out when a hot burst of air gathered and stirred a tropical heat around the room. He smelled smoky and sweet, faint hot breath of jasmine. It was an old smell, something lost. I sensed he could see me and see me for what I was, and in the condition I'd been left.

The pythons shifted their weight.

I'd seen the snakes in my hair for the first time when I was five, and I pretended not to see.

The house was lurching and decrepit. The one my granny Viola shared with her brood of strange sons, it was a house of wax oddities. There was no light in the house and granny liked to keep the whole thing wrapped in plastic. My mother left me there while she worked; she'd married one of the sons.

Viola was a woman who wore nothing but shades of purple, fully costumed everyday to accentuate her name and the creepy light of the wax house with its' blue TV screen light, illuminating two generations of frightening men.

Viola, in her mauve house dress with matching pinny intricately embroidered and immaculately ironed, Viola with her woolly mauve cardigans and the long braids done everyday and wrapped across the top of her head, one two and three times. It was a latticework of hair, shades of white and gray forming a steely crown; she was the queen of the stardust ballroom. It was a dance floor where no one ever shook a leg. Viola worked like a man in her wax museum of a house, her boys good for nothing, she had a favorite, though and by comparison unobtrusive and harmless even kind.

Uncle Mike had a gardening shed where the sharps were kept sharp and artfully displayed along with two varieties of garden hose.  Uncle mikes' garden was a Louisiana swamp, a copse of buggered fruit trees dripping with caterpillars . The floor of the garden nothing but deep furrows like the wrinkles on his face, my grandmother's face. The yard was Swiss chard, scarlet runner beans, potatoes and it was raining caterpillars. The ground was soaked with tobacco spit. I asked him for a pinch one day and he gave it to me, I was five. Uncle Mike also had homemade wine brewing in the basement and liked to give me some in a juice glass mornings to start my day, and then out into the dark garden we'd go. It was on one of those mornings I first noticed the snake. I could feel delicate lips kissing my brow the hiss of a wicked smile and I cocked my head a little and out of the corner of my eye the snake winked. Uncle Mike and I went to the shed for the tool he'd use to claw the stones and rocks back from the chard, dead bodies of naughty caterpillar's heads smashed in, guts ripped out. It was on a morning in the swamp this hellish garden I shouted, "Hey Uncle Mike, there's a snake in my hair!" I gave it a yank, nope wouldn't budge, the snake liked its new home and liked it fine. I could see the python the knowing smile, perfect ease - it was a dancer. Uncle Mike blushed the colour of cabernet and pretended not to see the snake - ignored me when I spoke. I'd said a bad thing. And then I could feel it, heart sinking shame rising, the snake coiled tighter around my skull. When I looked in the mirror I didn't see the angelic child with white blond hair, I saw hair out of place - a funny film of a girl. A life passing in celluloid. It was an act to be endured living this little girl's life, the dark secret circling around my head setting the knots in my hair.

That first summer, was the season of the caterpillar harvest, and the snake in my hair, a tiny white python to match the platinum curls of my head. And there I was this glowing creation standing in the deep furrows of the black soil where nothing would grow, because it was too dark
and there was no sunlight allowed in. This was Medusa's garden.

Viola understood my desperation to rescue the dying caterpillars. Underneath the suffering fruit trees they would rain cats and dogs.  The caterpillars decked out in their best faux fur would squirm in panic awaiting their fate in the form of a gardening tool, a claw raked over their backs, heads ripped mercilessly from their bodies and squashed unceremoniously under the clod hoppers of my Uncle Mike. It was a tragedy and a disaster of certain proportions to the girl with snakes in her hair and granny Viola gave her glass jars to put the caterpillars in to save them from their cruel fate. And forgot to tell her to poke holes in the lids. Soon all the caterpillars were loaded into the glass jars and displayed along the rail of the old back porch.  After two days they had formed a stew in the oasis of calm I'd created in their glass houses the sun glinting off the torrid display of dead bodies. Undeterred a fresh generation of caterpillars was already snacking on the fugitive green of viola's dank garden plot - this time I poked the holes.

The snake smiled impishly as I worked, it knew something I didn't.

The others, the unviolated and safe would let their eyes land on the girl long enough to count to ten and then they had to look away, convinced she had the devil. That dirty secret. No one touched the girl, careful not to get within an arms length in case they would brush up against her. They wanted to ward off her advances, soon more snakes came and they grew there in the crown of her white blond hair, feeding on her shy smile.

She knew as she grew older the fairytales weren't real, no Santa Claus no Cinderella, no yellow brick road and no snakes in her hair. Her eyes were her enemies - she couldn't trust them.

This was an alternate reality and one she did not choose. The little girl had a hand mirror from Viola and she used to sit on the red vinyl chair in the kitchen dangle her feet and tilt the mirror in such a way as to take away the ground beneath her. A trick she learned while her legs dangled and her head swam.

It was the hydra, it was the black heart of Davey Jones' Locker.  Medusa dove to the depths and took the pythons. They loved to swim. They craved the lack of oxygen and the hiss of strangled emotions.

Then the girl grew into a woman one day, carefully trained as no ones lover, no ones mother. She smiled and waved anyway, heart as sweet as a moon pie, large as the wooden roller coaster at the p.n.e. Her boyfriend took her on the ride 7 times, trying to give her emotion: crying, screaming, laughing, swearing. Her composure was in tact and the snakes were comfortable, content. She felt dizzy, a detached mysterious lost feeling of alarm somewhere in her gut, way down low. Medusa still kept her garden, dank and crawling. Medusa laughed lightly, she was beautiful and she new it and yet hideous, par boiled in solitude. Time meant nothing; she knew she would live forever that was her promise - an eternity with an itchy scalp.

Then came a day past the bloom of youth the Medusa looked in the mirror and saw the snakes, by this time she new she was crazy, they'd told her so. She felt alive now, rejection was the drug, an ugly obsession - she laughed out loud. Where'd those damn snakes come from, they were kind of pretty the way they would kiss her brow and hiss in her ear,' you got what you deserved', and she smiled at the revelation. This must be the truth and felt relief.

As she was looking at the reflection of herself in a plate glass window, admiring how the snakes could make themselves look like curls and coil in delightful shapes around the crown of her head she noticed the shape of a man. He looked like a spirit and he smelled of musk and oranges. She could feel him in the air and it grew heavy and a mist fell -the whiff of jasmine.  Then he saw her, saw her hair with the snakes. The woman blushed and stammered, and he laughed a low laugh, like he'd seen this kind of thing before, like it didn't matter to him. When he spoke she heard every word and tried to understand what he said, his voice was like music and his words laid across her soul like myrrh poured from an alabaster flask. The snakes, grew intoxicated, the jasmine perfume loosened them up.  Their eyes lolled up in their heads and they fell to the women's feet coiled like Uncle Mike's gardening hose.

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