The big black snake, by Joanna Walsh

An extract from Vertigo, this month’s Irish Times Book Club choice

Joanna Walsh, author of Vertigo

Joanna Walsh, author of Vertigo

 

We saw it under the road, in a ditch beneath the road that stretched under the road from one side to the other. The road was not really a road; it was more of a path. The path was so narrow that it was more of a bridge. The ditch under the bridge was so shallow that perhaps it was only a hollow. The snake was in the hollow, thick and black as a bicycle tyre. We could not see its beginning, we could not see its end.

Its head was hidden in some grass or a hole on one side of the hollow, and its tail was hidden in a hole or some grass at the other side. The path stretched over the hollow, and it stretched over the snake. There were four of us. We were all together. We could not decide which was the front end of the snake, and which was the back.

The snake did not move, and we did not move. The sun was hot. We wanted to move out of the sun, to the other side of the hollow, but we did not want to cross the snake. We knew that there were poison snakes in this area, and we saw that the snake was so very big and black that it could only be one of the poison snakes. We knew all these things all together.

Nevertheless we crossed the hollow.

When we returned in the evening the woman who met us told us that the poison snakes in this area are thin and green, and that they will come upon you without your knowing, and that they do not lie in ditches in the sun, the size and colour of a thick bicycle tyre.

And we knew that this thing about the snake that we had known all together was wrong, even though we had known it all together, and it was one time that we had known something all together, all four of us at once, the same thing. Though perhaps we had also known at the same time that what we knew was most likely unlikely, and that we had also known that even a poison snake would most likely not be disturbed if we crossed the hollow, and we had known that the snake, being so big, was most likely the kind that did not rise up. But it had been important that we agreed about the snake, and it had been important that we did not have to say this, but that we had known it at that moment, each and all of us, the same thing. Or it had been important, at that moment, to think we did. And maybe that was what it was all about, after all.

Over the next four weeks, we shall publish a series of articles by the author, writers and critics exploring Vertigo, culminating in a live interview with Irish Times journalist Laura Slattery at the Irish Writers Centre on Thursday, June 23rd, at 7.30pm, which will be made available as a podcast on irishtimes.com on June 30th. Readers are invited to read along, comment and engage.

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