The Python Doctor

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Alan Swann

I’m making excuses.

The beginning of the school year for teachers is a busy time. Plus everyone gets sick. There is an odd combination of stomach virus and strep throat going around. Maybe just allergies? I think not.

Writing has taken a back seat taunting me with even more guilt about not getting things done. So I decided that I would post my piece from last week’s Wednesday Afternoon Writers pretty much as it stands. Not much editing other than making sure the sentences are complete. Everyone, along with myself, decided that I didn’t know if I was writing funny or serious. Humor, yet alone dark humor, is not easy to write or do. Ask Mr. Eastwood about this.

“Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult” is credited to Edmund Keen among others. I prefer it as quoted by  Alan Swann, played by Peter O’Tool, in the lovely film “My Favorite Year.”


“We’ll always have vultures eating our dead,” Baba said as she wrapped up the only pieces of Papa left in the barren field.

The sun was setting and we had walked for hours upon hours the fields surrounding our town. Papa had disappeared days before while I was at what passed for school and mama was in town shopping for whatever was left on the shelves and could sit in our bellies as some sort of nourishment.  Luckily she took Grey with her even though he wanted to go with Papa to the fields. Mama thought it best he go with her. She said she had a feeling and when Mama had a feeling, we learned to respect her intuition

Baba stayed in her room saying her prayers to the icon of the Blessed Virgin that she kept wrapped in her mother’s scarf and placed carefully at the bottom of her pillowcase. She didn’t worry about the Czar’s Cossacks bothering her, but the paint decorating the tiny picture would bring someone a lunch if he traded it properly. And a lunch meant another week of survival. But no one would find it Baba’s bed.

Baba mumbled her words almost silently so Papa wouldn’t hear. He had given up on the Lady and her Son and their Father long ago. But not Baba, she would pray with the fervor of her youth paving a golden path in the afterlife for herself and all her loved ones, even Papa.

So when the Cossacks came, Papa rapped on her door with the three taps that told her to crawl under the bed and not make a noise. She did.  Holding the icon to her breast and wrapping the woolen shawl embroidered with the colors of summer around her head she crawled under curling into the tightest ball her stiff old bones would allow.

Papa stepped out of the house and shut the door. That click was the last we ever heard from Papa. Baba waited under the bed repeating prayers that would hold her son in safe arms through his trial. When I returned from school the house was empty and all I heard was the wearisome chanting coming from under Baba’s bed.

After Mama and Grey returned with a scoop of lard and some tea, we sat around the table and made plans to find Papa.

Mama said the townspeople were telling stories, horrible stories of the Cossacks and if we ever found Papa, he would surely be dead. And so he was.

Early the next morning, Mama, Baba, Grey and I set out to the fields stretching to the east and walked till the sun was high and then we turned and searched the same field all the way back home. We repeated the process until the third day when we found what was left of Papa. In a way it was a release. We didn’t need hope clinging to us, poking at us, makings us feel. We didn’t want to feel anymore. We just wanted to be left alone.

Baba and Mama and I took turns carrying what was left of Papa to the graveyard where generations of our family laid beneath the crusted earth under the cold, icy sun. We also took turns digging the hole. Even Grey, at five years and thin as kindling, tried to help. But Mama made sure he didn’t work too hard. A cold would surely mean a trip to the Python Doctor and that was the last place you wanted to go.

Baba had named him the Python Doctor because when Baba was pregnant with Mama and had been in labor for four days refusing to be cut open, the good doctor began telling her a story of his time in India and what they did when babies refused to leave the womb. It seems that pythons were brought to the women and wrapped around their stomachs and left to squeeze the child out.  Once the story was told he moved quickly to a box with holes bored into the sides and top, reached in and pulled out a long, writhing object. In her delirium, she saw the snake approaching her, gave an earth shattering scream and Mama was born.  The Python Doctor assured everyone that Baba was hallucinating from her pain. But Baba, nor Grey, ever went to the Python Doctor unless it was the last hope of survival.

After Papa was properly buried and prayers said and wildflowers placed gently by each of us on his grave, we returned home, packed the most important belongings we had and could carry in old flour bags slung over our shoulders.

Without even closing the door, we left the home that had housed generations of our family. The winter wind blew in the front door and through the vacant rooms and out the windows Mama and Baba had left open so the good spirits of the family would be released into the world in hopes of leading us to a new place we could call home.

Author’s Note:
Leroy designed our writing prompt this past week at Wednesday Afternoon Writers. Each of us gave him the title of one of our favorite movies. Niki gave “Dr. Zhivago.”  I offered “The Philadelphia Story.” Leroy’s was, of course, “Monty Python and the Life of Brian” and Sheila said “Casablanca.” From there Leroy made up four new titles and kept four words for each of us to use. We then each picked a number that correlated to the titles along with the four words (Cossacks, yare, vultures, release) and the starter (“We will always have….”) to write our pieces. Interesting writing to say the least.

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