Mom did much of her growing up in southwest China, where there are lots of snakes, several of the unfriendly sort. (Mrs. Derbyshire took her revenge on the suborder Serpentes during a 2001 trip to China.) I was raised in England, which has only one species of snake, the humble and harmless adder.
Nellie assured me that Ike is properly housed. He dwells in her bedroom in a glass-walled terrarium (I am reading from the box: seems to me it should be “herpetarium”) that came complete (I told you this girl knows how to spend money) with energy-focusing light fixtures, black-light heat bulbs, “Bark Blend Premium Reptile Bedding,” humidifiers, “rock den hiding place”—the works, courtesy of Central Aquatics (A Division of Central Garden and Pet) of Franklin, Wisconsin. Well, at least we’re buying American.
What does Ike eat? You’d be better off not knowing, but I’ll tell you anyway. He eats mice: live mice.
I was reluctant to believe this until a couple of days later when Nellie came home from the pet store with a mouse. It was a cute little pink-and-white thing in a box that was a masterpiece of origami, folded up so that there was just a small rectangular opening at each end. The mouse was poking his wee pink nose out of one of these holes.
“Nellie, you’re not going to…”
“Sure. Ike has to eat, doesn’t he?”
This is the lass who eleven years ago had begged me to spare the life of a rat. A filthy gray evil-eyed rat! And now she wants to feed cute white mice to her pet snake. They grow up so fast!
I chose not to be present for the feeding. My son, who I am afraid rather enjoys that sort of thing, gave me a full report. “Ike just lay there dead-still while the mouse sniffed around. Then, when he got close enough, Ike pounced—grabbed him with his fangs. Then he coiled ’round him, squeezed him ’til he was still. Then he got the mouse’s head in his mouth and started sucking him in. It took ages.”
We fell to speculating about whether the mice in the pet store know. Do they scope out each customer who comes into the store, squeaking out to one another: “This one wants a pet mouse! Please let him choose me!” Or: “That one’s a snake owner! Not me! Puh-leeze, not me!” Did they have a whole mouse theology in which the mouse who’d lived a good life got taken up into pet-hood, while the delinquent mouse ended up as snake lunch?
There are some doors man was never meant to open. There lies Ike, in his “rock den hiding place,” out of sight most of the time. “He’s nocturnal,” Nellie explains. And still digesting the mouse, I guess.
I’m not sure Bertram Chandler had it right. I can see asserting our mastery over the brute creation, but the way to do it is in a fair contest—by hunting them, then eating them. But shutting them up in a glass cage, even one equipped with (reading from the box again) Two (2) 8.5” Reflective Dome Light Fixtures?
Should Ike trap some smaller creature and fashion a wicker cage for him, or if he were to scratch out Pythagoras’s theorem with his fangs in his Bark Blend Premium Reptile Bedding, I’ll know him for a fellow rational being, a man and a brother, and let him out to roam free. Until then, the main thing is to keep him out of Mom’s sight.
Image of ball python courtesy of Shutterstock
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