Alaska Shorts: Vladimir, by Olga Alvord

Olga Alvord

understandable reasons, cold-blooded slithery snakes are not very common pets.
Naturally, Lydia was upset when her son Dima, a college freshman, brought home
a small ball python one day.

“Here, Mom, meet Vladimir, Vova, for

Dima was working on a class
assignment about different types of phobias. His project partner, an attractive
young lady, bought the python at a pet store as a live visual aid for their
presentation. The snake was a hit with the audience and ensured the presenters’
high score. Only then the young lady realized that she had neither desire nor
means to keep the python. Dima, who had a secret crush on the girl and kind of
liked the cool snake, came to the rescue and graciously offered to take it on.

“Will your parents be OK with it?”

“I think so… Both Mom and John are
big animal lovers. They’d appreciate the snake’s strong Russian name too.”
Dima’s assumption was only partially
correct: the snake’s regal name did appeal to his mother’s Russian heritage.
After the initial terrified reaction, Lydia and John allowed the python to stay
on one condition: Dima will be its sole care provider, treating his new pet
with ultimate responsibility.

“Looking after the animal will be
good for my son’s character,” reasoned Lydia.

Vladimir, the snake, turned out to
be a male Python regius or Royal python, a relatively small nonvenomous African
species. The rulers of Africa used to wear them as neck jewelry. When
frightened or stressed, the snake coils into a tight ball, with head and tail
in the middle, hence its common name “ball python”.
Vova was young, about a year old,
and only a foot long. Lydia did a quick research and discovered that Vova might
live 50 years and grow to about 6 feet.
“Oh, no! This potential monster
might outlive us all.”
At first Lydia struggled to overcome
her fear of snakes, but the more she observed Vladimir, the more she liked him,
both in looks and character. Vova was thin and graceful, very flexible and
elegantly smooth. On his back, the snake displayed shiny dark brown skin with
symmetrical golden-yellow markings and blotches. No wonder African kings used
pythons as live jewelry. His cream-colored belly was stout and silky. Vova’s
most remarkable feature was pensive eyes and a pleasant, almost smiley facial
expression. He seemed wise and understanding beyond his age or animal nature.
Vladimir projected tranquility and friendliness. He generally looked relaxed
and, contrary to Lydia’s fearful expectations, didn’t show any aggressiveness.
Vova never attacked or bit—quite the opposite — he was exceptionally gentle and
timid, curling into a tight ball and hiding within himself every time he felt
unwelcome, uncomfortable, or threatened.
Teenage Dima provided Vladimir with
the best care he could, but it was not good enough to maintain the snake’s
health. No one knows exactly why Vova became very sick. It could have been a
wide variety of reasons: not enough or too much humidity, wrong temperature,
lack of food or too much of it, dirty vivarium, or not enough hiding places,
but the result was awful anyway: Vova’s scales and flesh were rotting in a
disgusting and painful way. While Dima, the official owner, didn’t take the
python’s suffering too close to heart, Lydia insisted on showing Vova to the
vet immediately in an attempt to save his life.
Prescribed treatment involved
regular shots and ointments. Dima was too busy conquering the world, and Lydia
had to take over. She bought the medicine and injected Vova with antibiotics
twice a day, rubbing his tense body and comforting him after the shots. She
bathed, cleaned, and dried the snake before applying the ointment. Quiet and
weakened by illness, Vova seemed grateful. He listened to Lydia attentively and
looked at her with hope. The treatment hurt. Vova shivered from pain, but
accepted suffering graciously, as if he knew that the discomfort Lydia caused
him was for his own good. It took a long time for Vova to feel better and
recover completely. To prevent scale rot in the future, Lydia began cleaning
the vivarium and feeding the snake herself.

Slowly, but inevitably, Vladimir
became Lydia’s pet. She enjoyed watching Vova and getting to know him better,
as well as caressing and playing with him. She checked the local pet shops for
a fresh shipment of python food: small frozen mice and baby rats. It surprised
her that Vova was an extremely picky eater with unpredictable meal schedule and
appetite. He would only eat when he was truly hungry, once a week or two. Vova
preferred freshly defrosted warm food that looked alive to him, so Lydia
slightly wiggled the mice to get Vova interested. Feeding the python presented
a chore in itself, but to make it worse, there was no telling if he would
accept or reject the offering.  More
often than not, Vova would not touch his food at all, and, to Lydia’s dismay,
it was wasted, while the python remained hungry. To enhance his appetite and
maintain healthy looks, Lydia sprayed special snake vitamins on Vova’s food. It
took a lot of dedication and patience to be python’s caregiver, but, at the
same time, the more effort and energy Lydia spent on Vova, the more she felt
attached to him. The affection seemed mutual. Although John eventually warmed
up to the reptile and did not mind placing it around his neck for an occasional
massage, it was obvious that Vova’s heart belonged to Lydia…

Alvord is a Russian American living in Anchorage. She is a linguist by
education with a Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and a teacher of languages by
profession. A mother of three and grandmother to one, Olga is happily married
to Graham Alvord. She loves children, animals, gardening, and traveling to

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2 thoughts on “Alaska Shorts: Vladimir, by Olga Alvord”

  1. I'm terrified of snakes too, but when I heard about Vladimir, who is a real pet of my acquaintances, I was impressed and felt like developing the episode of python's escape and return into a story. This is only the first part of the story; the conflict and resolution follow.

    Lynn, I am so happy you liked it — thank you.

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