“I Love You Snakeface” By Olivia Treynor
It was the start of summer: my mother driving, her fingers clutching the steering wheel with a grip
that seemed impossibly serious to me in the June heat. Our drive was mostly wordless, save for my
mother naming the birds stuck in the trees. (Bluejay, that one. You can tell by its head, see. The blue.)
By the time we got to the camp, the sunlight had evaporated to an anemic pink that soon boiled to
the plain navy of my school uniform skirts. My mother left the car running as I got out (Go on then,
I’ll see you in August. And try to stay out of trouble, alright?); she gave me a tight, cruel kiss atop my
forehead that made me wince (There’s a good girl.); she drove off, back towards the ferry landing,
the car sputtering steam.
An old woman, no more than five feet, found me walking aimlessly through the camp’s large
and hypnotically empty main lodge sometime after my mother left. I had been looking at the flowers
painted on the ceiling, none of them true varieties, I sensed, but rather an assortment of imagined
ones, bright purple with thirteen leaves and other kinds of impossible combinations. Enough time
had passed that when the woman took me outside the lodge onto its imposing wooden steps, I saw
the sky had gone black completely.
How strange it was, that old lodge with no people. How quiet, that blank night.
The old woman asked for my name and hand, then marched me to the registrar’s office
where a goose-skinned and white-haired lady gave me a room assignment (That’ll be Juniper Cabin,
dearie). I was told that I had missed the orientation day festivities (Oh, it was marvelous. Maybe next
summer you’ll see it, eh?) but that I could take whichever courses I liked, and to tell my counselor
(Name’s Martha) that I was to be hers for that summer, and also to please, Martha, please not have
fires burning in the cabin hearth when she leaves at night to do godknowswhat
The other girls were already being told a bedtime story by Martha when I arrived. The counselor––a
girl really, no more than five years older than any of us––had ruddy, pockmarked skin and a large
pink sunburn on her chest. She seemed confused at my presence but her interest dried as quickly as
it had sprung, returning to the book before I could tell her my last name.
I took the last empty bed, a top bunk by the back of the cabin, and tried to get situated as
quietly as I could manage. I rolled my sleeping bag out and it crinkled loudly as I dusted it off and
shrunk my body inside of it, bearing quietly the pallid smell of mildew it so thoroughly reeked of.
The story Martha was reading was about a girl ghost: someone from long ago trying to make
her presence known in the darkness. Martha’s voice, (What is a ghost but a body without a witness?)
the purr of the ocean, the basement-scent of my sheets.
When Martha went out to smoke, one of the cabinmates thought we should sit in a circle and tell
secrets. The girl named after a kind of cookie––one I had loved then, as a girl of eleven, that now I
find to be terribly soft––said that Yes, we should sit in a circle and say our secrets, it might be fun.
So the rest of us came and placed our bottoms on the unevenness of the wood. The fire logs were
still live and hot: winking red in long, gentle flares. One girl braided plaits into another’s hair that
looked, in the lowness of the light, as if it could have been the color of lemons. I imagined how the
strands might feel, slipping between sleepy fingers. God, was it glossy.
The girl with deep-set dimples and a box-shaped jaw went first and all our eyes went fat with
disbelief. A whole hairbrush? Yes, she told us, beaming slightly in a way I thought was embarrassing.
There was a great, long pause as we all imagined her fitting it inside. Something like horror but
brighter, redder, stirred at the seam of my pajama shorts. The kind with a soft handle, the girl added.
One of the others broke into laughter at this. Oh, the other girl said, I thought you meant
Soon the lot of us doubled over into giggles that rang and rang against the night.
Did it hurt? the hopelessly freckled girl asked.
The dimpled girl shook her head slowly, as if recalling pleasure. Only a little, she told us. I
liked it, she admitted in a short breath, I felt wide open.
We went on. The girl with the long, motherly nightdress had given a blowjob to an older boy
who smelled like vinegar. The girl with short, wobbly fingernails and one tooth sharper than the rest
said she had gotten drunk at her parent’s dinner party. The girl with the voice like a balloon rising
had cut herself on purpose once––we went quiet. She showed us the evidence: a long, pinkish scar
that jumped and glittered in the light like a fish’s scales. Its stroke felled her wrist into two halves.
I could hardly look but still, in a strange and urgent way, I wanted to reach out to her arm.
Wondering what the scar would feel like under the soft press of my fingerpads. I’d touch it gently, I
thought. I would touch it so gently.
A stumble outside broke our stunned silence. Our counselor tiptoed in, stinking of cigarette
Talking about boys? Martha asked, a half-hiss on the last syllable.
We all nodded.
We were shooed to bed by Martha, but I couldn’t fall asleep. Instead I stared at the ceiling
until my eyes became fluent in the blackness. I watched the balloon girl on the bottom bunk
opposite mine. I wondered what her mother had thought of it: the knife, I imagined, or maybe a
stolen car key. Was there blood? Did it hurt? The soft wet of her eye caught the last of the moonlight
and I knew then that she was staring back at me, that we were looking at each other.
The girl with the balloon-voice was called Boa. Her cheeks were round and her palms the color of
strawberry yogurt. I think I loved her.
The next morning I asked if she would like to play pickleball with me. She told me her name
(Like the snake?) and said Okay, why not. We played a few games and made a neat team: the paddles
whistling, the slap of our gum-soles against the concrete. At breakfast I split my fig bar with her and
dusted the crumbs from my lap when I stood to leave. I asked Boa would she like to come with me
for first elective. I have pottery, I explained to her, you can make whatever you want. She said yes,
and in class on the art deck we built a strange, sideways face that was large enough the teacher
insisted we destroy it (Too much of a hazard, I’m afraid, girls. Could explode in the kiln, what with
all those air bubbles, and we don’t want that, now do we?); at second period we picked frogs from
the pond and flung them against the grass; after lunch we pulled carrots out hair-first in the garden
and held our pee to avoid the dreadful compost toilet.
When the bell rang for free period, Boa asked if I’d like to go visit the horse pasture. I didn’t
tell her that I had been bitten once––those horrible piano-key teeth!––and nodded, giving a look of
confidence convincing enough that soon we had made our way to the barn and were trading our
sandals for riding boots. I slipped uneasily onto the back of a spotted, sturdy horse named Frederick
after a counselor raised my body up and placed me in its saddle.
As we began to trot I thought Boa looked beautiful: she cast her helmet off after we rounded
into the forest trail, just the two of us, and soon she was near-galloping up a hill, her velvet hair
tangled and a mess and every shade of lovely I believed existed.
I followed behind her awkwardly. Kicking my ankles against the animal too hard so that it
gruffed, ducking my head under the same tree branches Boa seemed to weave under so easily. Soon
she and the creature both came to full gallop. We had arrived at a large, flat clearing with grass dried
to the color of honey. Nervously, I cracked my boot against Frederick but the thing wouldn’t speed
up. I could see Boa bouncing towards the bend that would lead us back down into the forest,
towards the camp barn again. I clicked my tongue in my mouth (Go on, boy! Please, come on, hurry
up!) but the thing wouldn’t move. Frustrated and seeing Boa bob closer to the dense lushness, I
pulled my foot out and slapped it against the animal with all the force I could gather.
Frederick made a loud, angry syllable and then stood onto its two hind legs, and when my
body hit the ground I thought I might cry. It ran off quite defiantly towards the barn, without so
much as a glance backwards, and I began to call Boa’s name with the stupid loudness of a child. She
had rounded the bend into the forest greenness already. I really did think I might cry.
But then: two girls standing beyond the clearing, watching me. Their hands intertwined and
both their eyes the color of topsoil, unblinking. I was so taken by their presence––so mesmerized, so
unnerved––that Boa had already pulled one of my bloomer pant legs up by the time I noticed she
I looked at her hands: she was pulling an oyster-colored tick from my leg. (Get up, you’re
probably covered in them! Oh, gross, look, it’s so big. That’s all your blood, you know.) I looked at the
bug in her hand, then back up the forest, serene, girl-less.
Oh, I said. Oh god. I got up quite suddenly and thought, for a second, that I might fall over.
My queasy, sudden disorientation passed. Boa was standing in front of me, her horse a few yards
away and feeding on weeds near the edge of the clearing.
Where’s Frederick? Boa asked. I began to laugh, strangely, in long, rolling bursts.
I’m not so sure, I told her between giggles. We should probably go look for him, I guess.
Boa nodded in agreement, tears from laughing making both our eyes watery. I turned around
to start back for the barn when Boa grabbed my wrist (Wait!) and pulled me back towards her.
We should check you for ticks, she said. Before the rest of them bite. You can get awful sick
from them, you know, Boa told me.
Oh. Yes, I guess so. I said awkwardly. My face was hot. A thin shiver laced my spine, a rope
Boa began to lift up my blouse––a stiff blue-and-white sailor’s top––and I held my arms up
dumbly, too surprised to say anything. She slung the top over her shoulder and told me to turn
around and pull up my hair.
Good, I could hear her saying, Now I’ve got you. Good riddance, Boa said, sprinkling the
tiny pests on the ground. I nodded, and then Boa’s hand was unbuttoning my bloomers, and I was
nudging them off to help her. She squatted to inspect the backs of my thighs: I felt her hands
passing over the fine mesh of my body hair without making contact.
Okay, she said. All clear.
Right, I said, dumbly. Well, good. No ticks. She helped my shirt and bloomers back on.
Boa smiled. We’d better get going, she said, nodding her head to the direction of the barn.
Yes, I replied.
We stood there, both of us looking at each other. Waiting, wondering when the moment
It did, of course: a slim and tall figure from the boy’s camp with too-big jeans calling out
(Girls! Hey, giiiirls! Someone lose a horse?) with Frederick’s bit in his hand, the creature marching
solemnly behind the boy. The boy walked me back, scolding me playfully (Got a little over your
head, did’ya? Yeah, that’s alright, I can teach’ya sometime, if you’d like. Say, wait a minute, is it your
first summer here? I don’t think I’ve seen you before, and I think I would’a remembered you) while
Boa bounded off with her horse after an awkward goodbye. I told the boy Yes, it was my first
summer, it was stupid of me to try to ride so fast, yes, something could have happened. Something
could have happened.
Boa and I spent the summer in small fits of intimacy: I crept into her bed some nights after Martha
had left the other girls were asleep, drew faces in the red trails the beets from her salad left; Boa
taught me how to burn my name into wood with only a magnifying glass and the sun, sucked a
hickey on the thick of my shoulder and drew a ladybug’s spots onto the round bruise her mouth left.
In art class, I asked Boa to sit for a portrait. I had her pose for me on a tree stump with her hands in
a lap like I thought an adult would: serious, unsmiling, ankles crossed.
Hold still, I told her.
Okay, she said. I will.
It might be a while. I’m kind of slow at drawing.
That’s okay, she said.
I began sketching her out with a blue colored pencil, pulling into focus first the round of her
head, then the balance of her shoulder, then her knees, then her clasped hands.
Her hands. Her wrists: there was that scar again, the silver-shade like the whites of a dog’s
Boa, I said, trying to keep my eyes focused on the sketching. My heart knocked against itself
in a kind of canted rhythm. How’d you get that scar? The eager sharpness of my voice surprised me.
Oh, Boa said. She knotted the scarred arm under her other hand. Um. I looked up and was
horrified to see Boa’s eyes were slick with tears.
That’s okay, Boa, I said. Nevermind.
I expected Boa to tell me regardless. As a child I believed that secrets were an ugly and adult
thing, that we should give ourselves over to each other as often and wholly as we could. But then I
could see Boa was grateful for the quiet I gave her, grateful in the way the whole of her softened. So
she kept sitting and I, drawing, her body revealing itself on my page in indigo. The afternoon rolled
out in all its bloated blueness until we were called to lunch.
The camp dance was the closing festivity of the summer. It was the last night and some girls had
been crying while getting ready in the cabin (I can’t believe I won’t see you until next summer!) but
Boa and I said nothing on the subject. I knew I would not come back; my scholarship to attend was
only for the year. I think that we also knew that ours––whatever it was that we had––was a bottled
kind of thing, sealed from the outside world. However much two little girls can know that; we didn’t
have words for it, of course, the knowing passed between us like air.
So we did not cry. At the dance, we pulled the party decorations down when the counselors
weren’t looking and stuffed them into our bloomers. We got wonderfully sweaty swinging to the
music and Boa spilled half a pitcher of lemonade onto her shirt. When the lights came on at the end
of the dance, I swore it was the latest I had ever been up in my whole short life. The sky was fogged
over and a milky kind of dark, starless and bright.
Martha rounded us up with the other girls from our cabin and told us we were going on an
adventure. The dimpled girl complained but the rest of us persisted: No, we weren’t too tired, we
chorused, please let us do the adventure, Martha, we’ll be good.
Ok, then. Adventure it is, Martha said. We all nodded, even the dimpled girl, who looked a
little pale with humiliation.
The adventure: we walked down to the water and we filed into canoes. We pushed off into
the Sound and there was another complaint from that same girl (It’s so cold out) but we ignored her,
taut with the excitement of a final excursion. As I dipped my paddle into the water I saw the water
was dense with light: tiny, iridescent pinholes of green that crowded my paddle as it cut the water.
Oh! I heard a girl exclaim. I turned around, and saw that all of us were discovering the same
What is this? Boa asked, not looking up from the water below us.
Martha explained what we were seeing: tiny living organisms blooming with bioluminescence. I
don’t remember the details; at the time the mechanism of the light seemed as unimportant as a thing
could be. Instead, I was taken with the impossible beauty of the image. The green dots falling off my
paddle over and over, the darkness obliterated each time the water rippled.
I reached my hand in and it came out a new color.
In the middle of that last night, after we had gotten home and went to bed without Martha reading
to us (It’s too late for a story, girls, and you all need to rest for the drive home tomorrow), Boa woke
me. Her face wobbled in the thickness of the dark, the kerosene leak of the moon spilling, spilling.
Hey, Boa said. Are you awake?
I registered in the darkness the perk of her ears, the splay of her hair blotting out the ceiling.
I asked what is it, I’m tired, please go back to bed.
She said my name with a watery urgency that startled me.
Ok. I’m awake. I told her I was awake, and I saw she was shaking ever so softly, all
seventy-some pounds of her, so I said as gently as I could: Come into bed. And she did. Her body
heat gilded the sheets.
I think––she paused; a mosquito shivered in the light––I think I might be dying.
I don’t know. I’m warm all over, is all. I feel awful.
Ok. Well. That’s okay.
Olivia Treynor is a Barnard College student from northern California. Her work appears in Southeast Review, CutBank, Gone Lawn, phoebe, and elsewhere. In 2023, she was named a semifinalist for the inaugural cohort of Adroit Journal Anthony Veasna So Scholars. Olivia loves lakes but is scared of the ocean.