Snake and the City

            Living in a modern metropolis innately hostile to nature, I take comfort in knowing there are certain things that, geographically, I don’t have to deal with. Monsoons, for instance. Volcanic eruptions. “Encountering a snake” had until recently been on the list as well, and as someone with a borderline psychotic phobia of these loathsome reptiles, snakelessness was one of the perks of life in Manhattan

            I was forced to reevaluate this list when I learned Kira, classmate and neighbor, had lost her pet snake, Seth.

            “Where is he now?” I asked like someone who doesn’t understand the definition of “lost.” I shouldn’t have been surprised by her response – she did not know – but her snake having gone M.I.A shocked me nonetheless. 

            I don’t know much about snakes since I’m clinically unable to read books or watch videos on the topic. I couldn’t even Google “snake” to research this column. So, I don’t know – maybe snakes hate to travel. Maybe they spontaneously combust when removed from their cages.

Or more likely, the one block from Kira’s home to mine was well within acceptable slithering distance for a healthy urban reptile.

Don’t worry, my friends said. Your chances of encountering Seth are slim.

Yes, I replied, but so is Seth. And my chances of bumping into him are significantly greater now than before he got loose. 

The problem is snakes are really good at escaping cages. They’re like limbless Houdinis. No prison can hold them.

Not only are they good at escaping, but they’re also good at hiding: It took Kira several days to locate Seth, who was found alive and well and lounging in the shower of neighboring 12-J.

Now, encountering a snake in a bathroom is terrifying even if you don’t hate snakes. First, there’s the self-evident point that there’s a possibly venomous reptile hanging out in a place where you tend to traipse around naked. It could be lurking in the drain! It could be using your shampoo! And second, the situation may cause you to question your sanity and wonder if you’re hallucinating the entire event. Either way, it ain’t good.

Let’s put ourselves in the unsuspecting shoes of 12-J. There she is, walking through her apartment. Perhaps she’s whistling a happy tune, perhaps something wonderful happened that day – maybe she just won the lottery, and the last thing in the world she’s expecting is another one-in-a-million occurrence. She decides to draw a warm, luxuriating bath – pleasant, pleasant, pleasant! 12-J enters her bathroom, and with a grand gesture sweeps aside the shower curtain.

In a basic, primal way she’s instantly aware something in her immediate environment is horribly – menacingly – wrong. Her brain scans the scene before her and compares it to multiple other images stored in her memory, perhaps from the Discovery Channel.

There is a four-foot snake in my bathtub.

Recall for a moment the last time you discovered a cockroach in your bathroom. It was bad, right? You may have screamed. Admit it, you definitely screamed. However, that close encounter with repulsive nature probably began and ended rather quickly.

Well, it’s not so straightforward for 12-J. Her eyes meet Seth’s dead reptilian gaze and there is a long, awkward pause. If you’re not totally awesome at starting contests, don’t start one with a snake.

The contest is interrupted by shrill, persistent screams. 12-J swiftly exits the bathroom. Via the plumbing, Seth disappears into the wall.

A strange snake in the bathroom reminds us of the city dweller’s perennial question: Who are my neighbors? That nice school girl who says hello in the morning? She’s secretly harboring an evil, shape-shifting, Garden-of-Eden-spoiling, parseltongue-speaking death vessel. And not harboring it all that well.

If a snake were to appear in my bathroom, the least of my problems would be that I would never shower again (that’s why the French invented perfume). I would probably have a mental breakdown and be shipped off to an institution in Ireland (where, thanks to Saint Patrick, there are no snakes) and locked in an insulated room with no plumbing whatsoever. Just to be sure.

I implore you to make an effort to get to know your neighbors. You may be surprised by what you learn, though certainly less surprised than 12-J on the fateful night she decided to take a shower. 

Caroline Silber
Age 18, Grade 12
Nightingale-Bamford School
Silver Key

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