Cleland Park has been a haunt of the town’s latchkey children since the sugar boom of 1920s when one Dr. Cleland, whose disdain of canals is well documented, and one Clarence Riley, well versed in the invasive propagation of canals on account of his southward penetration from Illinois, were hired by the town to drain its namesake swamps. Hyped up on caramel apple suckers bought with hard saved reading bucks doled out by Mrs. Roberts at 3rd grade school year end and the diphthong catch phrases of the late Mr. Irwin collected over many a Corcodile Hunter sleep over, a ring of dimples were beating around the park bush for snakes. Or rather, the snake. The dimples first learned of the snake from the locksmith’s grandfather who swore on his fathers pickaxe that the Clealand Park Riley Zoo, the capstone of a tamed Western river delta, was once home to Harry Houdini’s albino king cobra.¹ Once being the operative word as the snake, according to the locksmith’s grandfather, was an escapologist in its own right performing its final trick, much to the dismay of the philanthropic Women’s Club, on the same day Dr. Cleland announced the opening of the park pool with a jubilant directive to “Jump in!” The locksmith, who admired his stepfather with the same zealous fever he admired the late Mr. Irwin, was certain of the snake’s existence and, because neither his grandfather nor Mr. Irwin would die for a few more years, its immortality. Thus the dimples were dragged along, pockets full of snake skin, through oak and cotton, and over a canal that would have Dr. Cleland rolling in his grave, until they stumbled upon evidence of an altogether different kind of vanishing act. As if the philanthropists of the Women’s Club had once shed themselves for a moonlit tryst in the park pool, the dimples stepped into a pixie ring of perfectly white women’s unmentionables (garments none of them had previously been intimately familiar with outside of shameful discoveries in family linen baskets while playing hide-and-seek). The dimples were immediately divided in diphthongs and ideas about the nature of their temporal trespass. One called for an immediate retreat, already dreading Sunday confessionals. One offered a commanding second boasting that his father, the local detective, was the only man equipped for this kind of work. Another, whose 3rd grade science project on the faking of the moon landing which received a “bullshit” C grade from Mrs. Roberts, was certain this was altogether extraterrestrial. Another still was short on diphthongs and observations, distracted by the caramel that had sealed his molars together like the industrial strength concrete of a bygone era. But the locksmith, determined to make his great-grandfather’s pickaxe proud, proclaimed they had found the den of Harry Houdini’s long escaped albino king cobra. “The snake is here.” Crikey, he was sure of it.
¹ Despite Stu Carlson’s impressive historical account The Cleland Park Pool and Zoo - Splash From the Past in the High Country Shopper (2021), this author can find no evidence of an albino king cobra residing in the Riley Zoo at any time. Or a perfectly normal king cobra for that matter. Indeed this author is skeptical that Harry Houdini owned a snake and is left to believe that the locksmith’s grandfather was full of shit.