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Good-bye and Good Riddance
by Wayne Hepburn
Helen was seated on a padded chair in the front row, close enough to be able to see Bobby's face, but not so close as to impede those who desired to view the body and pay last respects. Though, truth be told, not much in the way of respect was forthcoming. He looked lovely; so life like. The undertaker had done a really good job of it.
Her reverie was interrupted when Ruby Gundersen sat in the chair next to her. Just seeing Ruby brought forth a new flood of tears. They had exchanged cards at Christmas time, but that was about the extent of their social interaction these last ten years, since the Gundersens had moved away from their subdivision at the edge of the Everglades.
Helen remembered the scene that Sunday. The two families were on the Gundersen's patio, having a cookout. A gator came up the canal, into the Gundersen yard, and right before their eyes, made off with their poodle Toodles. They watched it slither back into the water with Toodles gripped firmly in its toothy jaws. Toodles was yapping up a storm, for a while. Soon after the gator submerged, the dog ceased barking.
Helen guiltily remembered how pleased she was to be rid of that yapping little nuisance next door. She had pretended to adore Toodles in order to maintain her friendship with Ruby.
Ruby saw the obituary about the accidental death, and came to offer what comfort she might, to Helen, in her time of grief. Ruby was presently the only audience for Helen's outpouring of misery, grief, and guilt.
"If I told Bobby once, I told him a hundred times. Get that Alberto out of my house, Bobby. He frightens me."
Bobby had said, "Mom, I've told you just as many times that Alberto is not a threat. He behaves well. He doesn't make any mess or noise. I don't see what you have against him", Bobby whined. "Besides, on the first of the month I'm moving into my own apartment."
"But Bobby", she said, that's two weeks away. What if he attacked me before then?"
"He isn't going to attack you Mom. If I turned him loose, he'd just slip out into the Glades", Bobby said.
Ruby, aghast, "Alberto came from the Everglades? Was he a Cuban refugee, or what? Why was he living in your house? Tell me everything Helen."
"No", she said, "not Cuban. Bobby said he came from Burma. He's Burmese."
"Burma? Burma isn't even a country anymore Helen. It's Myanmar now", Ruby stated with certainty. "There hasn't been a Burma for thirty years."
"Well, I won't argue the point. It doesn't matter now anyway if Alberto was Burmese or Myannmarese or whatever. He's gone now", Helen said. "Probably just as Bobby told me, out in the Glades eating rats and mice."
Ruby Gundersen interrupted for clarification, "Bobby's friend ate rats and mice? And you let him stay in your house? Helen, I can't believe what I'm hearing."
"Not a friend, exactly, Ruby. I guess Bobby thought of him as a friend. He was more like a pet than a friend", she said.
"A pet? What kind of pet eats rats and mice?"
"Oh, you know. Some kind of boa constrictor. Bobby said a Burmese python, something like that. I may have the name confused with that stupid show he watched so often on public television. Something about a python. I can't remember."
"Helen! Tell me you don't mean he had a large snake for a pet", Ruby pleaded, to no avail. "But, but, where did it live?" Ruby wanted to know.
"In his room. In a cage. I couldn't stand the thing. I hated it when he put a mouse, or small rabbit, in the cage with Alberto. It was awful", Helen lamented.
Ruby put her hand to her mouth, squeezed her cheeks, and asked, "Where is it now, this snake? How big is it.?"
"Out in the Glades I guess. And good riddance", Helen replied. "I left the door open so it could get out, and it left after the accident. I don't know how big it is. Plenty big enough, I can tell you."
"I read about the accident Helen. This is so terrible for you. I used to tell Sonny, 'Don't you get on that motorcycle with Bobby. He drives it too fast. You'll get killed.' I guess, tragic as it is, I'm not surprised all that speeding around came to a bad end. I am just so, so sorry Helen."
"It wasn't his motorcycle that ki .. kill ... I can't even say it. It wasn't a motorcycle accident."
"It wasn't?! What on earth was it? How did your son die, Helen?"
"This is what happened Ruby.
"After Bobby signed the lease for that apartment, I called and talked to the manager. I asked, just making sure, you know, what the rules were about pets. He told me absolutely no pets were allowed. No dogs. No cats. No ferrets. No birds that make noise. Tropical fish in a tank were about the only kind of pet allowed.
"I knew what was coming next. Bobby would take his clothes and stuff, telling me he would back for Alberto. Then he would call and say the complex wouldn't let Alberto live in the apartment, so he would just leave Alberto in his bedroom at my house. He would swear up and down he didn't know about the rules. He would promise to come over every day and take care of Alberto's needs. I know .. I mean knew, Bobby well enough to know what would happen. I would be stuck with the horrible giant snake living in my house.
"I decided Alberto had to go. Four nights ago I put a plan into action. After Bobby was asleep, I opened wide the patio door, so Alberto could get out and go feed himself in the Glades, because there is no way I was going to feed him mice.
"I went into Bobby's room and unlatched Alberto's cage door, then I got out quick as I could. He had told me Alberto would be happy as a lark in the Glades, so I was sure he would slither down the hall, across the kitchen, and out the family room door. It was a good plan.
"With the cage door being opened, I figured Alberto would be gone with the hour. I got into my car and drove over the Denny's on Loxahatchie. I ate a slice of French Silk pie and had a cup of coffee. Have you ever tried that French Silk pie?" Ruby shook her head in the negative. Helen said, "It is absolutely delicious. You should definitely try it."
Ruby bobbed her head in agreement. "I will. I Will. So what happened to the snake?"
"Oh. Well, when I got home, I carefully peeked into Bobby's room. I was cautious, you know, in case Alberto was still in there. I was sure he was long gone. So I peeked in. What I saw was," she shuddered visibly, recounting this part of her story, "my Bobby, on the bed, and the snake was on the bed too. Alberto was wrapped completely around Bobby's body, three or four times. He was, or is I guess, a very long snake.
"The first thing I did was scream. Alberto didn't seem to care about my screaming. He kept on squeezing Bobby. Bobby was trying to say something to me, or to Alberto, but all that came out of his mouth was 'ummmph .. cun beez' or something I couldn't understand.
"I suddenly realized what Alberto doing. He was opening his mouth really wide like they can do, and getting ready to swallow Bobby head first. I screamed some more. I stood there for a moment frozen by the horror I saw. That hateful snake was squeezing the life out of my Bobby before it ate him.
"I tried to think what I could do. I ran into the kitchen to grab a broom, or something. I didn't know if I could beat it off with a broom. Then my eyes fell on the kitchen fire extinguisher. I grabbed that and rushed back into Bobby's room.
"The snake had already got Bobby's head in its moth down to his ears. I pulled the handle on the fire extinguisher, expecting a blast of some kind of chemicals. Nothing happened. I hit the snake with the red tank part. It did not phase him.
"Then I saw the little round thing you must pull out before an extinguisher will work. I pulled it out, and pressed the handle. White foamy stuff came shooting out. A lot of white foam. I put the nozzle as close to Alberto's head as I dared get, and emptied the entire fire extinguisher on his face, and eyes, and mouth. Alberto pulled his head back and started uncoiling. I could see he was angry. 'He's coming for me next' I thought.
"I ran out to the carport and jumped in my car. I closed and locked the door. I realize a snake can't open a car door, but as scared as I was, I didn't really think at all. I was taking no chances. Thank God, I had left my cell phone on the seat in my car. I used it to call 911. I can't imagine how I sounded to the operator. I was hysterical.
"Bobby used to always tell me, 'Mom. You have to stop leaving your cell phone in your car. Somebody will steal it. They could make calls to China and talk for hours and hours before you got the service stopped.'
"I said to Bobby, 'That's ridiculous. There aren't any Chinese people living around here.'
Agitated, and impatient to get the grist, Ruby encouraged her, "Never mid about the cell phone. What happened after you called 911?"
"It took eight minutes for the police and paramedics to come. It seemed like eight years while I waited, not knowing what Alberto was doing. There was an EMT truck, a fire truck, and three police cars in front of my house. All their emergency lights were flashing. It was just like on TV.
"A deputy stayed with me while the others went into the house. He told me not to worry about Alberto. He was certain Alberto would slither off into the Glades and join a colony of his relatives. He said Alberto has about thirty thousand relatives living in Glades so he wouldn't be lonely.
"Thirty thousand!" I said.
"He told me they either are turned loose by people, like I was going to do with Alberto, or they escape their confines. They're multiplying like rabbits out there. Speaking of rabbits, the deputy said the pythons will eat them too. They seldom show up in people's yards but sometimes they have to remove a twenty footer. As long as there is food for them, they will keep multiplying. Maybe we'll get lucky and they will eat all the gators.
"I appreciated the information, but told him it was Bobby I was worried about, not Alberto. He told me most times the boas and pythons don't hurt anyone. They just want to live in freedom.
"After a while, a woman in a white uniform, a paramedic I guess, came out and sat in my car with me. I asked her what they were doing inside for so long and when could I see Bobby.
"She said he was getting the best possible emergency medical care. They were trying to resuscitate him. When I thought about what she said, and realized what it meant, I mean, you don't resuscitate living people, do you? I started wailing. It was through my tears I saw the gurney, with the long black bag on top, roll down the front walk to the ambulance.
"I opened the car door and rushed over to see my Bobby, maybe ride with him to the hospital, but they wouldn't let me. Later I found out they had taken him directly to the morgue for an autopsy. A new round of terrible grief swept through her. Ruby tried to console her.
After a time she quieted down. Ruby said, "I know you'll think I'm terrible for saying this Helen, but it was his own fault for having something like that Alberto in the first place. Some pet. It ended up killing him."
"No Ruby. It wasn't the snake that killed him. I thought it was. But the coroner's office ruled it accidental death by asphyxiation. His crushed lungs were filled with fire extinguisher chemicals. He suffocated."
Copyright ©2009 by Wayne Hepburn - All Rights Reserved
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