I turn around and scream. In front of my face is a black snake. It’s so close, and it can almost touch my nose with its weird forked tongue. I try to back up, but I trip over my feet and fall to the ground. My older brother, Flanagan, begins to laugh.
“It’s not funny!” I yell.
“You should’ve seen your face!” Flanagan continues to giggle. How dumb. His green eyes close every time he laughs, and he does this weird wrinkly thing with his nose. His silly face usually makes me want to laugh, but not this time.
My hands feel a little sore from my fall. I check them. There are tiny pebbles and small grains of sand stuck to my skin. I rub my hands together to get it all off. Then I slide my bottom lip out and frown.
“What’s with the look, eh?” Flanagan uses his elbow to swipe a few blond strands out of his face. They fall right back over his eyes, and he tilts his head so that his hair sways to the side instead.
“Nothing!” I look away and push the hair out of my face as well. I need a haircut, but I don’t like getting them. They feel weird. My hair keeps poking me in my eyeballs. I examine my brother. Okay. We both need to get our hair cut. We look the same. We could be twins if it weren’t for the height difference.
“Did I scare you?” Flanagan grins.
I inhale deeply through my nose and hold my breath, pursing my lips tightly together. I stare at the snake, ignoring the question. “It has a blue tongue!” I gesture toward it. “Is it poisonous?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. The corners of his mouth curl up in a more mischievous smile. “Give me your finger! If it bites and your finger falls off, then it’s poisonous!” he holds the snake out closer to me.
“Non!” my eyes widen, and I spring to my feet. “I’m telling!” I turn around fast before he can stop me and run down the sandy path to the greenhouse. “Mama!” I call as I enter.
The greenhouse is not that huge on the inside, and it feels warmer than outside. There are no flowers — just beds of vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots, potatoes and the like.
I look around, and within a few seconds, I spot Mama near the back, watering the tomato plants. Her light brown hair is in a side ponytail beneath a straw pink cowboy hat. She’s wearing an old purple t-shirt, faded jeans, gloves, and thick muddy black boots.
“Mama!” I hurry. I almost reach her when I accidentally trip over the hose. I come close to falling face-first on the ground again. I manage to save myself somehow.
“Kermy?” Mama notices me. She switches off the hose and wipes her forehead with the back of her hand, leaving a slight trail of dirt on her face. “What happened?” she asks.
I continue up to her and wrap my arms tightly around her waist. “Flan caught a snake! He’s going to make it bite me! I don’t want my finger to fall off!” I hold onto her tighter.
She stares down at me for a moment with her mouth partly open. I don’t think that she understands. She blinks her green eyes a few times before turning her attention past me with her eyebrows slightly raised.
I look over my shoulder and see Flanagan standing by the door. The black snake is still in his hands. “See?” I point. “I told you!”
“I was kidding!” Flanagan gives me a cold stare. “It doesn’t bite!”
Mama shakes her head with a sigh. “You’re brave, eh? I’ve told you many times! If it has a mouth, then it can bite!” she puts the hose on the ground and approaches him. I follow behind, still holding on tightly.
“See?” Flanagan holds up the creepy crawly. “It’s friendly!”
Mama leans forward for a better look. “It’s such a small snake,” she says. “It must be a baby.”
“Can I keep it?” Flanagan asks.
“No!” Mama responds. “Put the poor thing down.”
“I said no,” Mama straightens up. She readjusts her gloves and picks back up the hose.
I stay standing in front of my brother, and he looks at me funny. I give him an odd look back. It’s not my fault that she said no. Mama has never allowed him to keep any of the strange creatures that he’s brought home before. I don’t know why he thought that it’d be different from the snake.
Flanagan mumbles something, but I don’t catch what he says. I watch as he carries the snake to the sandpit area in front of the greenhouse just before the forest. Then Flanagan disappears through the trees toward the stream. He’s probably going to try and catch frogs next.
I do agree with Mama. I don’t know how my brother has not been poisoned by anything yet. Flanagan is ten years old and very brave. I would never go into the forest because it’s dark and dangerous! Bears and wolves live in there. Mama warns us all the time not to go too far, but Flanagan wanders further every day. So far, the only bites he has ever received were from mosquitos and deer flies.
I feel drops of cold water splash over my head. Rain? Wait. Inside the greenhouse? I turn around. Mama has the hose on low pressure and is sprinkling the water at me.
“Mama!” I chuckle and shield myself with my hands. “Stop it!”
She giggles and begins chasing me around. I squeal and laugh as I try to dodge around her. After a bit, my tummy starts to hurt. Ow! Cramp! I stop trying to run and bend over with my hand on my side where the pain is. It’s hard to breathe. I try, but I can’t stop laughing. At last, Mama redirects the water back to the plants.
“Can we pick anything?” I ask, shaking the water out of my hair.
“Not yet,” she says. “By the end of next week, the cucumbers will be ready. Then I can make pickles!” she winks.
“Yay, pickles!” I jump up and down. I love pickles! Mama makes them juicy and sour. “When are the raspberries going to be ready?” I ask.
“Hm?” she rubs her chin, getting more dirt on her face, and I giggle. Mama looks like she has a beard! “Not for another few months,” she says.
The wild raspberry bushes are not too far from the greenhouse. There are also wild blueberry bushes close to the edge of the forest. I’m scared to go that far.
We live in Ferme-Nueve. It’s in Canada and French for New Farm. That’s pretty much what this whole place is. A lot of farmland and even more trees, but not many people live here. There are a few farmers. If anyone takes a drive past the town, they will see a lot of cows and horses.
I don’t live on a farm. My brother, Mama and I live far away from town up in the mountains. We have a big house with four bedrooms, and we own a massive plot of land. Part of the forest belongs to us. There aren’t any neighbours nearby. It’s just us, and we have a dog named Lucky. He’s a golden retriever.
Flanagan and I can both speak French. Mama can’t. We only know French because Papa taught us. He can speak both languages.
“So!” Mama turns the valve off and begins rolling up the hose. “Are you excited about your birthday soon?” she asks.
“Yeah!” I grin.
“How old are you going to be?”
“Six!” I show her using my fingers. It’s weird, but it also feels cool that I will need to use two hands to show how old I am.
“Wow!” she takes off her gloves and removes her hat, putting them away on the wobbly wooden table against the back wall. “You’re getting to be a big boy, eh?” she says. “Do you know what you want for your birthday dinner?”
“Poutine!” I shout.
“Poutine?” she holds my hand and leads me out of the greenhouse. “That’s junk food! If you eat a lot of junk food, you’re going to get a fat butt!”
“That’s ok!” I giggle. “I want a fat butt!”
“You want a fat butt?” she chuckles and locks the door. “You don’t want a fat butt. Fat butts are bad!”
“They are?” I follow her down the path to our home.
“Yep! Very bad!”
“But, you have a fat butt!” I point to her behind.
Mama stops and looks at me with big eyes.
“I like it! It’s bouncy like a ball!” I walk up behind her and tap both my hands on her butt. “Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy!”
“I have a bouncy ball butt, eh?” she throws her head back and laughs.
“Yeah!” I’m pleased that something I said made her happy. It makes my cheeks feel tingly as I giggle with her.
“Okay.” Mama ruffles my hair. “Thanks!” she continues to pass her fingers through my hair. “You need a haircut.”
My smile turns upside down, and I fold my arms over my chest. “I don’t want one!”
“Doesn’t matter. You need one!”
“I hate haircuts!”
We continue to the house and pause in front of the garage. The sound of tires crunching on rocks and sand can be heard from a distance. A cloud of brownish-orange dust starts to float up from down the dirt road.
“Ah,” Mama says. “He’s here!”
Lucky rushes out of the forest. Barking, he runs down the road. It takes about two minutes before we can see a green 1994 Isuzu Rodeo with Lucky scampering next to it.
I try not to watch. Lucky is always running next to anything with tires, and I’m scared that he will get hurt. He never does. He must be a lucky dog!
Papa parks on the side in front of the garage.
Mama approaches him as he gets out of the truck. “Welcome back, Phil!” she says.
“Salut, Jennie!” Papa responds, and the two of them kiss each other twice. Once on each cheek.
Papa makes me nervous. He doesn’t smile much, and to me, he’s strict. Papa has blond hair like Flanagan and me, but his eyes are yellowish instead of green. He’s tall and muscular with a loud voice.
Mama is gentle and sweet. She almost always has a smile on her face, even when upset. Mama doesn’t raise her voice often. Instead, her tone has a slight change, and that’s how I know when she’s really mad.
I head over, making sure to lift my feet as I walk. Papa gets upset at me when I let them drag. I stop beside him. He doesn’t see me yet. He’s too busy talking to Mama about work. Maybe I can surprise him. I smile. I’m ready to jump up and say hi when I feel something rough and scaly drop inside my underwear.
“What is it?” I panic and clamp my hands over my butt. Something is moving. “Get it out! Get it out! Mama, help me!” I stagger over to her and cry. “There’s something in my jockey shorts!”
Quickly she grabs me, and then the next thing I know, my shorts are down, my underwear is down, and I fall over. I see something brown moving.
“Get it away!” I scream.
Mama whacks it out of my clothes, and the thing lands next to me. It starts hopping, but Flanagan catches it before it can get far.
“Relax!” he laughs. “It’s just a toad!”
I stare at him quietly. I hate him so much! My lips taste salty, and I try rubbing away my tears with the back of my hand. It’s useless, and I can’t stop crying. I hate him! I hate him! I hate him!
“Flanagan!” Mama frowns. “Inside the house now! Put the toad down!”
“But, I want to say hi to Papa!” Flanagan pouts.
“Leave him,” Papa says. “Let him come and say hi.”
Mama sighs before grabbing my arms and helping me to my feet. She brushes sand off my skin before pulling my underwear and shorts back up. She turns to my brother, who is showing off the toad to Papa. “That wasn’t nice, eh?” Mama says.
“I was just joking!” Flanagan says.
“Look at him!” she motions toward me. “Does it look like he’s laughing?”
I look away. I’ve finally managed to wipe all my tears, but now I have the hiccups. Great!
“Apologize to him!” Mama says.
“Why?” Flanagan asks.
“It’s okay.” Papa steps in between them.
“No, it’s not okay!” Mama places her hands on her hips.
“You heard him, eh?” Papa raises his voice a little. “It was just a harmless prank! No one got hurt.”
“That’s not the point, Philippe!” Mama snaps, and the two of them continue to argue.
Flanagan stands next to me. “Awesome! Papa just got here, and thanks to you, they’re already fighting!”
“What did—” hic “— I do?” I ask.
“You’re such a baby, Kermit! Stop being scared of everything that moves!”
“Don’t—” hic “—call me—” hic “—a baby!” I glare at him. “I’m not—” hic “—a baby! Also, you know that I—” hic “—hate reptiles! Dumb—” hic “—hiccups!” I hold my breath and fold my arms tightly over my chest.
Flanagan rolls his eyes with a chuckle. “You also hate bugs, and bears, and wolves, and your own shadow! Better be careful! Your shadow’s right behind you! It might attack you when you’re not looking.”
“Shadows don’t do that!” I say, keeping my breath in and rolling my eyes back at him.
“Are you sure?” he grins. “Cause it’s crawling up your legs right now!”
“Quoi?” my breath escapes me as I jump and glance down.
“Made you look! Chicken! Buck-buck-buck!” he flaps his arms up and down.
“I’m not a chicken!” my hands ball into fists. Why do I always fall for Flanagan’s tricks? It’s not fair!
“Oh, non? Prove it, eh? Catch!” Flanagan tosses the toad at me.
I let out a yelp and trip over my feet again. This time the toad manages to hop away and escape.
Mama and Papa both look in our direction, and Papa’s the one who reacts first.
“Alright, ça suffit!” he comes up to me and grabs me forcefully by one arm, lifting me to my feet. “Man up!” he says.
“Flan started it!” I point to my brother.
Flanagan gasps. “Did not!”
“Did too!” I argue.
“No, I didn’t!”
“Yes, you did!”
“Enough!” Papa yells. “I don’t care who started it, eh, I’m ending it! You!” he turns to me. “Are you hurt? Did you die?”
“No…” I mumble.
“Exactly! It was just a frog!”
“Papa, it was a toad,” Flanagan says.
“That’s true,” I nod my head slowly. “It was a toad.”
“Frogs are slimy,” Flanagan explains.
“And gross!” I make a face. “And toads are bumpy.”
“Oh, now you two agree with each other, eh?” Papa rubs his face and looks at Mama, but she’s laughing. “Bon!” Papa gives both of us a slight shove toward the house. “Inside! Both of you!”
I sigh and throw my brother a dirty look. He sticks his tongue out at me before grabbing Papa’s hand with a grin. I watch the two enter inside the garage and kick at a few tiny rocks. Oh, I realize now that my hiccups are gone.
“Let’s go, Kermy.” Mama places her hand on my shoulder. “Inside!”
“It’s his fault!” I slump my shoulders.
She doesn’t respond and holds the door open for me.
“Why does Papa always take his side?” I ask, stepping inside the garage.
“Your father doesn’t take sides.”
“Yes, he does!” I whine.
Mama shakes her head and doesn’t say anything more as she wiggles out of her boots.
I step on the heels of my runners to get them off. Papa and Flanagan head into the hallway. I glare after them. I can hear Flanagan talking excitedly about all his adventures in the forest. It’s always about Flanagan.
Papa never waits for me. He never listens to me either when I want to tell him stories about how my week went. It’s like what I do doesn’t matter. I wish…
I wish that I didn’t have a brother!