by Maureen O'Hara Pesta

The world is divided into two kinds of people.

There are those who will smash a snake with a shovel the instant it shows up their front yard. Smack! Snake problem solved.

Then there are the others. They want the snake to go away, too, but their strategy is more subtle -- it doesn’t go nuclear right out of the gate. It involves flowerpots, tactical retreats and cardboard boxes.

Leann belonged to the second group.

* * *

Leann first spotted the snake the morning of the day she was hosting the bridal shower. It was coiled under the front porch, fat and happy. Six feet long, she guessed, and thank goodness just out of view, since her guests would be arriving soon.

Snakes are common enough in the countryside, and Leann lived out by a pond. But most of her guests were coming from town, laden with gifts of dainty hand towels, tea cozies and apricot body butter. Snakes not welcome.

Worse yet, Staci was coming. Staci, who just last week flipped out when a mouse ran across her office at the Feed Exchange. You’d think nobody would bat an eye if they saw a mouse at the Feed Exchange, what with all that corn around. Someone needs to tell that to Staci. She screamed and jumped up on her desk chair, which rolled out from under her, causing her to suffer a broken wrist.

With that in mind, Leann took a few minutes out of her party preparations to drag a potted geranium over to block the view under the porch.

The party was a tremendous success -- Staci stole the show at Pictionary even though her hand was in a cast. Everyone raved over thread counts and sateen bed linens.

Best of all, the snake stayed entirely out of view, deep in its front-porch lair.

Two days passed before the snake’s next public appearance. Leann spotted it soaking up some sun. It still looked plump. "Perhaps it’s eating mice," Leann thought to herself approvingly.

Checking her "Golden Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians," she decided it must be a water snake, which is a good thing because they’re not poisonous. Reading further, she learned that water snakes give birth to as many as 99 babies. Suddenly, a water snake didn’t seem like such a good neighbor after all.

Days went by, and then a week, and the snake become a fact of daily life. The front porch was off-limits at night.

* * *

Leann’s husband, Brad, felt pretty strongly that something needed to be done. So he offered to shoot the snake with the rifle he kept down in the basement.

Leann was dubious. They had tested Brad’s grandfather’s old rifle once, and as she recalled, it shot well left of whatever they were aiming at. There was far greater chance of shooting off someone’s toe than ever hitting the snake.

"No way you’re going to shoot Eugene with that rifle," she said to Brad. "Anyway, you promised me you were going to sell it on Ebay."

"Who’s Eugene?" Brad asked.

"The snake," Leann snapped back, sheepish at revealing that she had secretly given it a name.

Brad, obviously no fan of the snake, reminded Leann about her good friend Rose. "Remember a few weeks ago? Rose killed the snake in her driveway with a shovel. Now they don’t have to worry about it."

It was true. Rose killed the snake as soon as she spotted it slithering up the lane to her house. When Leann confronted her about the killing, Rose’s response was a matter-of-fact shrug.

The difference between them, Leann decided, was that Rose had been raised on a farm. They both lived in the countryside -- in fact, they were neighbors -- but over the years the old farms had gotten carved up into home sites. Leann had been out here for decades, but still she was an outsider in some respects. Such as, you don’t kill snakes with shovels or, for that matter, guns.

A few days later, Brad came up with a brilliant idea.

He would put a large, flat cardboard box on the ground by the porch, with the opening facing the snake. Leann would bang a broom handle on the porch to scare Eugene, who would slither into the box.

The box containing the snake would then be slammed shut, and Eugene would be deported to the far side of the county.

The plan was put into effect right away. And astonishingly, it went off without a hitch. Within seconds, Eugene was in the box.

"Ha!" Brad shouted. "What a stupid snake!"

It all happened so fast. They stood there, marveling at their ingenuity. But then the fatal flaw revealed itself: Leann and Brad hadn’t figured out who should reach down and close the box.

The delay gave Eugene just enough time to wise up. He slithered right out of the box and disappeared under the porch.

* * *

One night, not too long after, Leann awoke suddenly from a deep sleep, ears straining and heart pounding. Had she been dreaming? Had she heard, or simply imagined, the shriek of a cat? Had Eugene and 99 baby snakes been strangling Chaz, her cat?

She padded around the house till she found Chaz snoozing on the bathmat. Leann crawled back into bed, wide awake, heart still thumping, and unlikely to nod off anytime soon.

The next day, Leann decided enough was enough with the snake. She moved a wooden bench to the edge of the porch nearest the area where the snake liked to bask in the sun. With some effort, she next hoisted three large cinderblocks up onto the bench.

Then, she waited.

When Brad got home, he strolled into the kitchen and began opening cabinets looking for Cheezits.

"What are those blocks doing out there on the deck?" he asked.

Leann described her plan. "I’m going to stand on the bench and drop the blocks on the snake. You know, like bombs away."

Brad froze, hand poised mid-air over the open Cheezits box. "Bombs away?" Then he snorted. "What a plan! But can you honestly and truly bomb somebody you’ve named?"

He proceeded to the living room in search of the remote, laughing and repeating, "Poor, poor Eugene." He quieted down only to listen to the basketball scores.

Then he started laughing again. "Get Rose down here, why don’t you," he said. "Tell her to bring the shovel."

As fate would have it, Eugene didn’t sun himself that afternoon. Or the next day, either.

Then on Saturday, Brad said he saw a snake wiggling down the trail toward the pond. "I’m pretty sure it was Eugene," he said, laughing.

Eugene never returned.