I knew there were snakes in France and, in particular, vipers, but fortunately I had never seen anything up close and personal until the snake slipped as smoothly as its skin into our woodpile. A shiver shot down my spine.
“What colour was it?” asked my wife.
I knew the colour was important but I didn’t notice. I didn’t observe it. I just saw it.
”Do you think it was a viper?” she continued. “You know there’re very dangerous.” I knew that.
The stone mason working on the property down the lane had told me all about vipers – and I had no reason to doubt him – he claimed that vipers have three bites but not all of their bites release venom. It would appear the viper is very economical with its precious poison. The first bite is a mere nip which says ‘you’re in my space’. The second is a bite which says ‘now you are really annoying me – go away’. The third is venomous and in some instances fatal.
He told me – at some length – about his young grandson from Paris, Albert, who, having ignored the viper’s cautionary warnings to go away had been bitten on his flip-flopped foot. Within half an hour his leg had turned black up to his knees as the poisonous venom, entered a vein and pulsed toward his heart. He survived and learned to respect the viper’s ways.
“And, of course, you’ve heard about him?” he pointed to the ‘renovation project’ across the field.
“No,” I replied. “What happened to him?”
Monsieur took a deep breath and sighed deeply.
“Bitten by a viper too,” he said.
“And what happened to him?” I enquired.
“He didn’t even notice, thought he had been stung by a hornet or something and drove all the way back home to England with his leg swelling up like a balloon.”
“Did he survive?” I asked
I couldn’t help think that Monsieur builder was somewhat disappointed by the outcome.
My wife thrust a French wildlife book in front of me with several mug shots of snakes and asked me to identify the slippery suspect now holed up in our woodpile. After careful consideration I fingered one of the likely lads.
“That’s a viper,” she declared. “It’s the most dangerous snake in France. Did you see its eyes?”
“Its eyes? I wasn’t talking to it!” I snapped.
Unabashed, she continued with her lesson on snakes in France. “Vipers have vertical pupils. That’s how you can be certain it’s a viper. All other snakes in France have round pupils.”
“Well, I don’t intend to get that close to it again or to gaze into its serpentine eyes.”
“You’ll have to get rid of it,” she insisted. “We need wood for the fire tonight; it’s going to be cold.”
“Get rid of it! How?” I yelled. “It’s the most dangerous snake in France!”
“Use some of your Gallic charm!” she quipped.