The Snake

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The Snake
 
Henderson Cole
 
 
I’m a dentist thinking about retiring. A local news item today caused me to remember one of my first patients. He was a strapping young man, as I was then, I was just starting out, and he complained of a painful tooth. The x-rays showed a small cavity which I prepared to clean and fill. When I laid the rubberized apron on him he pushed up and took off his shirt. “Expensive,” he said, “no need to take any chances.”  I smiled and he sat back down. There was a tattooed snake, a long pulsating snake, with a vicious look in its eyes, on his right forearm. Its sharp tail began at his wrist and its body wound its way up his arm to that dangerous looking head that pointed up. When I commented on the snake, he laughed, said it happened in Vietnam during a drunken weekend of R and R. “I didn’t really need the R and R,” he said, with a slight sneer, “I was having too much fun.”  He paid me with a check and although I had his name and address, for the record, I couldn’t help but think of him as The Snake.
A number of years later The Snake showed up again, this time with a broken tooth and a swollen jaw. He had put on weight. He said he had been in a fight. “You should see the other guy,” he boasted. He took off his shirt without waiting and sat in the chair. The snake, along with his arm, had grown fatter and longer. Shockingly the snake was no longer on his forearm but now encompassed his elbow! In addition to its size, its colors gleamed and it looked even more venomous. When I finally made a remark about the snake, he said no, the snake had always been there. I shook my head. Maybe I had misremembered. I gave myself the benefit of the doubt, but I felt, nonetheless, that something was amiss.
More years went by. I did well. I expanded my practice, took in partners, put on a little weight myself and lost a little hair. I kept my old chair even in the new facility. The Snake came in again. The receptionist assigned him to another dentist but he asked for me. He had bulked up considerably, looked tough, and needed some dentures. Without a word he took off his shirt and sprawled out in the chair. There were scars on his chest and arms. I stepped back instinctively. The snake was enormous and was up on his right shoulder. A forked tongue seemed to flicker behind his ear. He laughed at my shocked expression and question but insisted the snake was where it had always been. I finished the work as quickly as good workmanship permitted, being careful to stay away as far as possible from his right shoulder.
Then, today, while taking a break in the office, I read in the paper that The Snake had been hunting alligators in the Everglades and while in the water had been bitten by a poisonous snake, in the back of his neck, and had died.
I threw down the paper and sat in silence. Could his snake have? No! It was certainly a coincidence. Was the snake some quantum effect and could be anywhere on his arm and I had just sampled its location three times? No, quantum probabilities were for small things. Was my place a portal to other universes for him and he was from another universe each time I worked on him? Of course not.  Maybe a Vietnamese voodoo tattooist had put a spell on him? I didn’t believe in such things. 
I could make some calls and make some inquiries. But what if there was no snake at all? Had my mind played tricks on me? I was confused into inaction.
There is so much we don’t comprehend. I sighed. We observe but we don’t understand.

About the Author: 
Retired physicist from IBM Research and later retired physics teacher from regional high school in CT, US. Born and now living in south east coastal NC.

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