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A Snake in the House

We made aliyah in 1963 and I didn't work until my youngest, who was born in Israel, was six. I wanted to join the ranks of the employed.

I came home tired after a job interview, walked into the kitchen, dropped my bag and flipped through the mail; then I saw it, slithering out from under my shiny, white refrigerator. First I saw the head and then a long, scaly body gliding toward me. Its glittering, amber eyes appraised me with chilling, unblinking calm. Horrified, I shoved a chair into the snake's path but pushed too hard. The chair overturned and clattered onto the tiled floor. The snake reared and then blew itself up like a small balloon, its head fanning out like a cobra's. But, surely there weren't cobras in Ramat Hasharon!

My nine-year-old son and six-year-old daughter, who spent their spare time combing the area for snakes and other creepy crawlies, came running into the kitchen.

"He's more afraid than you are, Mom," Doron said with authority.

"That's Ollie going into his act," Michal explained. "He won't hurt you, Mom."

But I wasn't convinced. The reptile blew and hissed.

"Michal, I told you we should have taken Ollie with us while we were hunting for the terrarium," Doron told her. "Then he wouldn't have frightened Mom. Now Ollie's all upset."

"The the the snake's upset, is it?" I screamed, my voice rising an octave.

"Did you notice Ollie's act, Mom? He puts on a show whenever he's afraid, hoping to out-scare whoever or whatever's frightening him," Doron explained, bending down to give the reptile a slight tap. On cue, it flopped over onto its back and lay still, managing to look quite dead, mouth partly open, forked tongue hanging out limply.

"Now watch this," Doron continued, flipping the snake right side up. Without hesitation, Ollie turned over again, as if to say, 'I told you I was dead. Let me alone.'

Michal took my hand and looked up at me imploringly. "Isn't he cute, especially his upturned nose?"

"No, he's – it's gross! Get that snake out of here, right now! I don't want a snake, any snake, not even a talented super actor snake. Take it out of my kitchen this minute."

"P l e a s e, Mom," Doron begged. "The neighborhood kids were going to kill Ollie. One kid even tried to smash his head with a rock and then kick him down the sewer. I can't let him go. A lot of people hate snakes, you know."

"You don't say."

"We have to keep Ollie," the children said in unison and bent down to stroke the reptile's head. It stirred and stretched.

"He's so gentle," Michal added. "He won't be any trouble, I promise."

I knew that I'd never feel the same way about my refrigerator again, but I was too upset and tired to fight. I had no household help, did whatever had to be done including the tending to our large garden. By day's end I was exhausted.

"Only for tonight," I conceded, watching Ollie flick out his tongue, sniff the air, then lie down and drift off to sleep right in the middle of my kitchen. I shivered.

By the time my husband, Alec, returned home from work in time for supper, the terrarium had become the serpent's official quarters, complete with wading pool, landscaping, pine branches and a hideout crafted from hollowed driftwood: all the comforts of a genuine snake pit.

"Hey, isn't that a Hognose Snake?" Alec asked. It didn't look as though he was going to be any help. Till then, I'd thought that people charmed snakes, but in my family, snakes charmed people.

It was 7 o'clock; supper time. I set the table on the patio, far away from Ollie, and whipped up a light supper. While we were eating, instead of the usual discussion of our day's occurrences, Alec was giving snake advice.

"A diet of toads, frogs or mice will do."

"No," I said vehemently. "Mice will not do."

"Why not?" Alec asked, frowning. "Freshly caught mice will be perfect."

"Uggh," I said, pushing my plate away, watching my husband and children devour every drop on their plates.

Later, when the household had quieted down, I told Alec about my job interviews.

"The first boss told me to fill out an application form and then asked what exactly I was capable of doing. I caught a flicker of interest in his eyes and exaggerated my achievements a little. Permissible puffing, I thought. I told him that I could organize a carpool to the other end of the Sinai Desert and back. I mentioned the experience I'd had as school secretary, the newsletters I'd written and that I'd served as school treasurer as well as organize fundraisers for them."

"Well, what did he say?"

"I need quality, he sneered. "All this is voluntary work. This job requires business expertise."

"And that was it. It was the same story at every interview I'd set up. I am so disappointed, Alec. I need a job."

"Don't give up," he told me. "You are bound to find something."

"Not likely. I felt quite foolish, you know. It was like begging for work while in South Africa I was principal of a nursery school with 120 children, had two teachers who worked with me as well as a helper. And look at me now." Alec hugged me.

The following morning, after the family had left for work and school, I poured a strong cup of coffee for myself and then ran my fingers down my job list. I called the Tel Aviv Teacher's Training College for an appointment for the following day as I was interested in the job of public relations assistant. I was not going to give up. The children were pretty independent and I needed adult conversation and stimulation. My Hebrew was not bad, and working would ensure its improvement.

At the appointed time, I parked in the grounds of the Teacher's Training College and made my way to the secretary's office. "Mrs. Friedman is expecting you; second door on the left". I knocked.

"Come in," called a woman's voice. I entered and looked around the small office. The shelves were stuffed with papers and folders, a computer plus printer stood in a corner and a large coffee maker dominated a wide shelf under the small window.

"All home comforts including the chaos," Mrs. Friedman said smiling, studying my resume. "Tell me about your fundraising work."

"The dinner I organized raised a few thousand shekels and the school was satisfied with my secretarial skills," I told her.

"If you get this job, you might find yourself writing press releases about everything from a visiting V.I.P. to the biology lab's new snake."

"That should make me feel at home," I said with a smile.

"Oh, and Dr. Stern, chairman of our biology department, is lecturing on his favorite subject … snakes. Now I know that this is short notice, but, could you possibly write a report on his lecture? Let's call it a trial. He is due to begin in fifteen minutes."

"That's cutting it fine, but what can I lose?"

By the time I reached the biology department on the third floor, I was out of breath from my dash up the stairs. Dr. Stern frowned when I walked in and asked curtly: "Are you interested in snakes?"

"I hesitated slightly before saying; "actually, I am."

"Really?" he asked, frankly skeptical as he reached for a pillowcase-sized canvas bag which he emptied at my feet. An irate reptile spilled out onto the floor and I had the briefest glimpse of an upturned snout before the snake reared and began hissing and inflating. The professor pinned his steely-gray-eyes on mine and regarded me as though I were a curious species. I stood my ground. His jaw dropped.

"That's a grand species of Hognose snake you have there professor, and what

a performance he's giving," I said, stroking the snake lightly, ready to bolt if necessary. Dr. Stern looked disappointed, surprised, and then impressed.

"Yes," he said as the snake rolled over and played dead. "Hognose Snakes are ideal for lectures as they're theatrical, yet harmless."

When I reached home, ready to write my report, I found a note on the refrigerator. Hunting for amphibians for the reptile. Be home in time for supper. Doron and Michal.

Next morning, Mrs. Friedman called. "Dr. Stern says that you are the first public

relations person who knows something about snakes. The job is yours."

I was thrilled. I had my first job in Israel. I felt truly Israeli.

A Snake in the House was one of the seven stories which received Honorable Mention in ESRA's 3rd Literary Competition, "My Israel". 



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Friday, 19 July 2024

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