By CHARLENE PAUL
I don’t drink. I am a teetotaler through and through. My family and friends are aware of this and I need you to know it before you read any further.
My sister Susie called me one afternoon to shoot the breeze and catch up on the latest family news. Since we lived in different states, the phone was our connection. We talked at least once a week. At the time, we were both in the throes of raising children, and were trying with all our might to hang onto whatever small slice of sanity existed in our brains. We laughed and gossiped, cried and consoled one another. Those little chats were priceless.
During this particular call, I couldn’t wait to tell her about what was going on in our neck of the woods. I had been following an amusing story about a missing pet snake for quite a while. Every day, there was an update on the local news about the snake, and every day, the details got a little funnier.
The snake, an 18-foot Burmese python named Julius Squeezer, was owned by a man who lived about an hour north of us. Julius didn’t particularly like to be indoors during the summer and had gotten out a few times before. She was always quickly caught and returned safely home. But this time, she had been gone longer than she ever had in the past. (Yes, Julius was a female. The man originally thought she was a male, but after she laid eggs, he realized that wasn’t the case. However, the name stuck.)
Neighbors were concerned about their children and small animals. They watched their steps, looked under their cars before getting in, checked the bushes, and prayed they wouldn’t be the one to find her. The authorities were finally called and the search was on.
It is difficult to imagine how an 18-foot, 200-pound snake could hide in a neighborhood, but no matter where they looked, she was nowhere to be found. Besides consuming small, living things, there was a real fear that sneaky old Julius might find her way to the river and end up in the lake downstream.
After stopping for a breath, I continued. Julius’ owner loved his snake and allowed her free roam of the house. She had her favorite spots and was usually content to slither from room to room.
But for some reason, Julius got wandering fever when the temperature rose. (Most people I know would never allow a snake to wiggle around their homes. In fact, most people I know would never consider having a snake in the first place.) You might think keeping a snake safely stashed indoors would not be a difficult task. After all, with no arms, hands, or opposing thumbs, how could they open the door and slink their way down the street?
Julius didn’t allow a lack of appendages to hold her back from an outdoor adventure. She was one hefty, crafty reptile, figuring out how to open the front door of her home. She slithered up the wall, threw herself over the door knob, slithered back down the other side, and voilà, the world awaits!
People up our way were enthralled with Julius’ story. There were odds on how long it would take to find her. There were guesses about where she would be found.
The story took on a life of its own until a couple of weeks later when authorities found Julius hiding under a neighbor’s house. She hadn’t gone far, and since she had been fed shortly before her adventure, the neighborhood kids and animals were never in any danger of becoming her dinner.
Julius’ owner was cited and had to appear in front of a judge. Since it wasn’t Julius’ first offense, the judge ruled that her owner had to pay a fairly sizeable fine and keep her away from the door knobs and sentenced them both to community service.
My sister interrupted and asked what kind of community service a man and his snake could perform, which was a reasonable question. The answer was that since it was close to Halloween, Julius and her owner had to volunteer to work at the annual spook alley put on by the state mental hospital.
I finished talking, but only heard silence. I thought we had been cut off. And then I heard her take a deep breath. In a hushed tone, spoken one word at a time, she asked, “Have. you. been. drinking?”