Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How a black snake almost ruined my day

I came home Monday afternoon to a strange house. A confused woman who does not know me had been wandering its rooms, but now sat quietly, staring into space. Another woman that I barely know busily cleaned one room, shaken by what she'd witnessed, and a little old man hobbled in the living room. In the back bedroom, a young giant slumbered in clutter, and the family cat did not peep from behind the kitchen's bay window curtains to see who'd come to visit. Neither did the family dog bark in the backyard as he usually does when anyone arrives.

As I parked my Toyota Corolla in the front drive and left the car, I spotted our cat, a little, tortoise shell, house kitty, outside, creeping across a ledge in the garden, her tail slightly puffed. Not all that surprised that she'd escaped from the house, I called to her, but didn't expect her to come. However, she took a few steps toward me in consideration.

I mused that the Louisiana sun might cook me and registered that the cat looked spooked, but I figured she'd come home later looking for water. More than likely my 86-year-old father left the door cracked when he went to pick up the daily paper, the cat had slipped out and had since seen something she didn't like.

I unlocked the front door, walked inside, and a stench accosted me. I saw my father walking away from "his side of the sofa," and I figured he must've gotten up when he saw me pull into the driveway. He headed out of the living room toward the the back of the house, limping slightly, his skinny, frail, 5'6" frame partially supported by his steel cane. His bony brown thighs protruded from the wide circles of his khaki Carpenter shorts, and he could easily wear a smaller size of the navy blue golf shirt he wore. He'd purchased both items of clothing at the dollar store around the corner the day before.

"I see the cat got out," I said.

"Yep. You had a black snake in your yard, V.," answered my father.

"What!" I'm no fan of snakes and thought I wouldn't see any now that I no longer lived in New Jersey next to a nature reserve. Well, let's say I hoped I wouldn't see more because I'd moved back home and since I grew up in New Orleans and never saw a snake then, I'd hoped not to see any now, at least not around my own house. But I'm not quite in the city anymore. Denial paints powerful delusions.

I considered, then, that the cat's puffy tail and the black snake may be related.

My mother, 81, sat quietly on "her side" of the sofa. She wore one of her sweat suits, the plain gray one.

"Hey," she called to me, "I was just wondering where you were." It's her common greeting. I think I look familiar to her, but she has no idea who I am. She suffers dementia. "You always look so good," she said.

"Thank you, Mom." I smiled. My mother started complimented people more after her dementia worsened.

I concluded my dad was the source of the smell. He usually is, and he raced, I thought, as best he could, toward the bathroom.

Looking around the room and seeing no one else, I thought the caregiver had not reported to work, which happens sometimes. I didn't recall seeing her car when I drove up or when I called to the cat, but now I saw her large black purse on the love seat opposite the sofa.

Nervous about the source of the smell that was getting stronger, I followed my dad as he made his way through the tiny den. The den is an oddly-placed room with a door that leads to the back yard, and we only have a few items in it, a cherry wood chest of drawers, a small TV atop that, a large, deep blue recliner, and my dad's exercise bike. You must traverse this room before entering the hallway.

From the den I saw light streaming from the bathroom into the dimly-lit hall, and I cringed at the fecal smell strengthening. I hoped my dad would make it to his destination. If he didn't, I would lose at least an hour of my day to a duty I dreaded. Then I heard a commotion coming from my parents room and assumed Cece, the caregiver, must be in there.

Before I could draw any other conclusions, my father turned the corner and stopped in front of the bathroom. I stopped behind him, still in the den.

"Cece," he yelled, "Why aren't you getting ready to clean her up?"

Cece, a sturdy black woman of average height, stepped from the bedroom into the hallway. She's the caregiver who comes for five hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and unlike the caregiver who comes for five hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--Sue, a short, white woman wears jeans and cute tops and whose husband pilots one of the river ferries--CeCe wears her nurses' aid uniform when she reports. Today she wore one with a floral print top and pastel pink pants. She also wore latex gloves.

"I thought I'd better clean up in here first and then I'll finish cleaning her up," said CeCe.

"Because I cleaned her up already some as best I could," said my dad. "But she needs to get cleaned up more."

"Did mom have an accident?" I asked, thinking that's a rarity.

"Well, we saw that black snake," explained my Dad. "Cece got all excited, and we were out there looking."

"How big was the snake?" I asked.

"Oh, it wasn't that big," said my Dad, approximating a foot length with his hands, one still holding his cane.

"Oh, it was big!" Cece said, taking a step toward us. "I went to get something from my car and that thing reared up at me." She threw up her right arm, and curved her gloved hand, imitating the shape of a snake about to strike. "Scared me to death!"

"What!" I couldn't stop my voice from going up in pitch and felt my eyes stretch wide.

My dad said, "And while we were out trying to see about that, the cat got out, I guess, and when we came back in your mother wasn't in the living room and we went to look for her. I just didn't hear her leave." My dad is hard of hearing, but hasn't yet looked into hearing aids. He only spends money as a last resort.

"We found her in here." He pointed to their bedroom, the room that used to be the den before my parents moved in with me, my teenage soon, and adult daughter. "She went to use the bedside commode instead of going to the bathroom," my dad said as though my mother knows who and where she is. "I cleaned her up some. CeCe's going to finish ..."

"But I had to get to this first," said CeCe.

My dad took stepped into the bathroom to let me through. I walked past him, and CeCe moved so I could look into the bedroom. Full frontal stench. My mother had not lifted the bedside commode cover and had stooled on top of it. Apparently she'd eaten something that didn't agree with her because more feces, a loose mound, formed below the commode on the carpet.

I amazed myself with calmness, realizing that my father had gotten up from the sofa when I arrived because he wanted to show that he was taking care of business. At his previous residence, a fury of yelling would have ensued in a situation like this and someone would've accused him of not looking after mom. He would've been blamed because she managed to go off unseen and create a nauseating, unsanitary, carpet-ruining, mess.

"I guess she missed," I said. "CeCe, do you have what you need. I think I've got Pine Sol in my bathroom. And my son can go over the carpet with the spot remover when you're finished." I glanced toward the closed door at the end of the hall. Silence. My son was asleep and apparently had not even put the dog in the backyard yet.

Looking back at CeCe, I recounted how I stepped once on a black snake, near its head, in New Jersey. It was dusk. I felt something under my foot, and looked down to see the thing writhing in pain. My daughter said she's never seen me move so fast. I leapt yards away off the creature toward my doorstep, it seemed.

CeCe laughed, and I went off in search of more cleaning supplies, wondering how my teenage son could sleep through commotion in his junky room, and hoping the cat was still alive. I doubted she'd like black snakes, and if they're poisonous, how would I ever explain to my daughter what happened to the cat?

Post Script: The cat came back during the night before my bedtime. Also, my dad said some snakes move the way CeCe described the black snake moving, but that doesn't mean they're poisonous or going to strike you. Maybe he's right. He grew up in the country. I, however, did not, and have no desire to test his word. I looked up Louisiana black snakes, and generally they are not poisonous. Photo is from a Maryland site.

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Jen said...

You're dealing with a lot. You're also a fantastic storyteller. I am really enjoying your blog. The personal stuff is great - most of the blogs I read are mothers of young kids, like mine, and their parents are not yet to the point of needing care. I appreciate the insight into another stage of caretaking. But the political and social commentary is amazing to me. I stopped reading the news because I have some anxiety issues and get really wacked out by some of the horror stories they like to splash all over the front pages. But I am ashamed to admit I had no idea people were talking this way about Michelle Obama -- and I am dumbfounded. I cannot believe people still talk this way, and on television no less! I did catch a bit of radio news before Clinton dropped out of the race and was irritated that it seemed to be expected that she should bow out. I am so excited about the chance to elect someone who isn't an older wealthy white man. I am so excited that my children may grow up believing that anyone really could be president!

Vérité Parlant said...

Thank you, Jen. I go for days sometimes ignoring political news for the same reasons you state.

Thank you also for your compliments.

Michael said...

I stumbled upon your blog, and read a couple of your posts - and I have to say I like your relaxed storytelling style and your personality. So, I dunno, just keep up the good work! And snakes have ruined my day before. D: