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I WAS working behind the counter at the veterinary surgery one Sunday morning, a task I have to perform on the odd occasion as the wife of a veterinarian, when a strange-looking lady came in.
I say “strange looking” as she did not conform to the normal way women dress. She was not eccentric or bohemian or anything like that, she was not even very colourful, in fact she was quite drab. She was just different. Her hair was cropped short around her face yet it hung in a perfect bob into her neck. It was a beautiful blonde colour.
She wore what appeared to be navy security guard apparel with big boots. Blue jersey, blue combat pants with lots of pockets. The overall impression was lots of navy blue everywhere. She had big blue eyes and blonde, blonde hair.
The lady was in such a state! Tears were pouring down her face as she placed a one litre ice-cream container on the counter. I noticed her hands, they were scrubbed red and her finger nails had been bitten to the quick. They looked as if they were bleeding.
“Can I help you,” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, ”I need a hug.”
This took me by surprise but we aim to please in our practice so I went around the counter and gave her a big hug. She clung to me.
“What is the problem,” I asked as I patted her back like a good mother would do.
“My snake has kept me up all night,” she replied, “and I am exhausted.”
I froze. Snake! Oh no, I am petrified of snakes.
I released her and looked at the ice-cream container sitting innocently on the counter.
“What is wrong with your snake?” I questioned, while retreating behind the counter again.
“She is egg bound,” was the reply.
“I am so sorry to hear that,” I replied and hoped like mad that the vet would know what to do with an egg-bound snake as he did not often get the chance to treat many of them.
I became very efficient and brisk as I asked for her name and address, and put her details into the computer and added her to the queue. By now the other clients were showing a lot of interest in the snake lady and especially in her snake.
Oh, please don’t ask her to open the box!
“What kind of snake is it?”
I think she said a garter snake, but I was not listening too well as my heart was hammering in my chest. I could see she was about to take the lid off the ice-cream container.
Please don’t let it escape, oh please don’t. I have had to rescue puppies that have slipped their leads and cats that have escaped their cat boxes, but I would not be very professional if any snake, no matter what it is, escaped over the counter and hid behind the desk.
Luckily, the snake was almost comatose and just lay there. I suppose if I was egg bound I would also just lie there. Poor thing must have been very uncomfortable and very sore.
All the clients had a good look as she stroked her “baby” and cooed at it. They offered the right words of sympathy and interest. The snake lady revelled in the attention.
Eventually, it was her turn to be taken into the consulting room and I could give a sigh of relief.
After many long minutes the vet and the snake lady emerged from the consulting room. She had a saintly smile on her face and was clutching a hypodermic needle and syringe in her hand. The syringe contained about 2,5 mm of fluid.
“Will you manage to give her the rest of the injection yourself?” asked the vet.
“Oh yes, doctor, no problem,” answered the snake lady.
“At least we will have a good night’s sleep, won’t we baby?” she cooed.
“Thanks for everything and especially the hug,” she called to me as she ran excitedly out the door and away down the street. I did not see a car parked anywhere. I wondered where she lived.
Many months passed after that little incident and I completely forgot about the snake lady until one day in The Witness I read about a reclusive lady who had been found dead in her home in Hayfields, Pietermaritzburg. She had inherited the house from her parents and lived quietly and unobtrusively, so her neighbours said. She had been dead for quite a few days before anyone had found her.
How had she died?
She had been bitten by one of her pet snakes.
About the author
Marilyn Mills is married to Greg, who is a veterinarian, and they have three children. Marilyn retired from St Nicholas Diocesan School in May this year after 19 years of service. She was the school’s public relations and marketing officer. She has been “recycled” and now helps manage Greg’s practice, be a full-time granny to Matthew and follow her passion for writing. She is currently working on her first novel.