St. Patrick and the Snakes of Ireland

st patrick and the snakesThe legend of St. Patrick removing the snakes from Ireland reminds me of this excerpt from my novel The Menagerie, A Zoo Story: Even St. Patrick might not want to remove a cobra from a baby carriage—especially if the baby is still in it!



“We have a snake on the loose,” James said.

“We know,” Al replied as he and Calvin closed the door to the lion house. “Where have you looked?”

“It’s not in the office,” William walked down the hallway toward the three men. “I don’t think it’s in here. We’ve looked everywhere.”

They paused a moment as this sunk in. If the snake was not inside that meant it was outside. It could be anywhere by now. Calvin rubbed a hand through his hair. He was in charge here and he had no idea what to do. If anyone was hurt by this deadly reptile, he would be held responsible—and rightly so. The silence that filled the room was broken by a loud banging on the door. A crowd of curious bystanders had gathered outside waiting for the lion house to reopen.

“You’d better get out here,” said a breathless man through the door that William cracked open.

William looked over his shoulder to see his three bosses rushing to see what was so urgent and knowing what they were likely to discover. They were horrified to see a woman looking down into her baby stroller, her eyes wide in terror and her hand over her mouth. They approached quietly and peered into the bottom of the stroller where they were met with a baby smiling back at them, oblivious to the danger that surrounded her. On either side of the blanket she was lying on, they could see the body of the cobra. It was not moving and its head was not visible. All four men moved back a fraction, but it was James who acted. The child was on top of the blankets and the snake’s head was not. He reached carefully into the stroller to pull the child to safety, but the mother lunged forward to stop him and bumped the stroller. Cal grabbed her and pulled her away, but it was too late. They all jumped back in horror as the head of the cobra popped up from the stroller, hood spread and ready for trouble.

The mother screamed, and the crowd roared in fright as Cal and Alvin tried to move people back.

“Calm down,” shouted Cal.

“We need quiet here,” said Al. “Please, move back and give us some room to work.”

“What are we going to do?” asked William quietly, his large eyes revealing his fright.

James was still for a moment as he studied the snake. Then he looked around at the crowd.

“Go get me that broom,” he said to William, pointing to one of the custodians standing nearby.

When William returned he said, “I want you to hold the broom about two feet from the snake’s nose and wave it slowly back and forth, like this.”

The crowd had gone quiet. James edged around the stroller while William kept the snake occupied. When he was behind the snake, James rubbed his hands on his pants two times and slowly moved toward the stroller, being careful to step lightly and not bump the stroller. When he was in position, he lashed out with his right hand, grabbed the snake behind the head, and pulled it out of the stroller. As he backed away, the mother lunged to her infant and William grabbed the snake’s body to keep it from pulling itself free of James’ grasp. They walked to the building, where Cal was waiting at the door, and inside to find Alvin with his hand on the cage door. Like a well-rehearsed play, Al opened the cage, William stuffed the snake inside, James threw the head in, jerking his hand out just as Al slammed the door.

The four men stood in the hallway where, barely ten minutes earlier they had been wondering what to do. Now they were breathing heavily as the excitement of what had just happened began to sweep over them.

“Where did you learn how to do that?” asked William.

“I saw snake charmers doing that when I was in Africa,” James replied. “Only over there, they use one hand to wave in front of the snake while they grab with the other.”

“Well,” said William, “I prefer the broom method.”

They all had a good laugh.

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