I don't do snakes

DYLAN had been missing for three weeks. He had been gone before, but he always appeared eventually. This time, however, I was not so sure. It had to do with painting Caitlin's room pink and taking the grill off the heating duct. Dylan could easily have slithered into the bowels of the heating system in the quiet of the night. Then how would a four-foot corn snake find his way out of five levels of ductwork, buffeted by blasts of hot air? David wondered about that late at night while he worked developing some pictures in the darkroom. Could that rustling be Dylan, and should he stop his work to investigate? One thing we have learned is that a snake wishing to stay hidden, does. When he is ready to come out, he appears as suddenly and as silently as the Cheshire cat.

The first time Dylan disappeared was a foot ago, when he was three feet long and Megan was still in high school. Now she is a junior in college and reluctantly leaves Dylan behind. (How she tried to take him to Illinois in a pillowcase with his four-foot cage tied to the top of the VW Rabbit is another story altogether.) Some months after Meg brought her snake home from the pet store, she found him missing. Megan and her sister were used to corralling roaming gerbils and such. But no one could find Dylan. This being the first time, we all walked around very carefully, and left lights on at night. It seemed like months, but it was only two days before Dylan appeared in the bottom of the baby's closet. The baby (now the nearly five Caitlin of the fresh pink room) was not yet walking, so we were less horrified than intrigued when Dylan appeared among the diapers.

That was a short trip, as Caitlin's room is next to Megan's. The next trip was even shorter in distance, but much longer in duration. When Dylan managed to escape, he didn't venture out of his (and Megan's) room. Actually, we have to assume he stayed there those six weeks, as no one ever saw or stepped on him during that time. One morning Megan, who is, I might add, not at her best in the morning, opened her lingerie drawer and found Dylan coiled among her jungle-print panties. Later on, we removed the drawer and found the narrow ledge where he probably holed up for all that time.

Once or twice Dylan again escaped and repaired to the drawer ledge. How in the world does he get out so frequently? His cage is sturdy and secured with two large hooks. But alas, Dylan disappears when someone is careless and leaves the top of his cage open while going to get fresh water, or some such. After all, he has little to do but wait patiently. That is what happened several months ago, so it was only herpetological justice that, since Gwyn let him out, Gwyn was the one who found him, curled behind a bag of Legos in the ``toy attic.'' And I hasten to add that it was she who picked him up and returned him to his cage.

Unfortunately, Gwyn was out biking last week, and David was investigating the purchase of a lilac when Dylan came out of hiding. Caitlin and two small friends were in the sandbox, studding castles with dandelions, so I went down in the basement to drum out a letter. I sat at the typewriter table, fiddled around with envelopes and undarned socks when I suddenly became aware of being watched. Just at sitting-down eye level, windowsill high, threaded through the venetian blind, was Dylan.

Now, as you may have concluded, I am an animal-tolerant mother. I can clean up muddy dogs. I can remove from the house all sorts of flying and creeping things without flinching; but like the maid who ``doesn't do windows,'' I ``don't do snakes.'' I called the little girls so they could see the snake, but I also called our neighbor who is a Navy flier. I figured, correctly, that he would not be squeamish. He took the front end of Dylan while I unwound the tail from the blinds. We paraded up the stairs to return Dylan with proper ceremony to his home. Our neighbor went, shaking his head.

So all is quiet; Megan will soon return from college; and we again walk barefoot in the night.

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