Future Reflections                                                                                         Summer/Fall 2005

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A Boa in My Brailler

by Barbara Loos

Editor’s Note: Electronic notetakers and laptop computers are rapidly replacing the hefty, nearly indestructible, and always reliable manual Braille writing machine known variously as the Braille writer, Perkins Brailler, or just Brailler. But it’s not gone yet, so I’m confident that almost all of our readers will be able to imagine the following scenes as Barbara relates her amusing (or horrid--depending upon your orientation toward snakes, I suppose) and highly unusual story. So, just for fun, here’s Barbara’s story:

Barbara Walker Loos
Barbara Walker Loos

A few days before my sophomore year of college officially began, my mother, sister, and I went to see which room I would occupy in Selleck Quadrangle and which one my sister, a year ahead of me, would have in another dorm on the University of Nebraska, Lincoln campus. I had that butterfly feeling familiar since childhood when wondering who my roommate would be at the school for the blind in Nebraska City. One thing was different now though. Then, although I didn’t know specifically with whom I would share a room, I knew all the girls in question. Now I would be meeting someone new. The roommate I had had as a freshman had been a senior who had graduated at the end of the year. I was happy for her but sad for me. She and I had become friends. We still usually catch up by letter at Christmas time.

As we entered the room I would soon call mine, my butterflies were soon replaced by intrigue. Just inside the door my mother stopped dead in her tracks.

“Well, I guess we know which desk will be yours,” she announced in a tone of both disbelief and disgust.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because this,” she said, placing my hand on something, “is on the other one.”

“How strange,” I said, mystified. “I wonder why someone would have a skull.”

Then there was the peculiar wooden box with a light bulb in it. What on earth was that? The right-hand end of the closet bar was sparsely hung with work shirts. There were no other outward signs of occupation. Whoever this person was, I was now looking forward to meeting her.

When we came back later to move my things in, she was there. Her name was Diane. The skull was a gift from a friend. The box with the light was for Otis, her pet boa constrictor. He had his own light bulb because temperatures below eighty degrees or so would make him lethargic. Although she had assured us that Otis had no way of escaping, my mother emphatically decreed, after Diane left, that she refused to read to me in that room.

For my part I enjoyed getting to know Otis. He liked to wrap around my arm and lean toward lights or slither from one of my legs to the other when I was seated. It was fun sometimes to carry him around and let him reach for things.

Only one time was our relationship anything other than amicable. Diane was cleaning his home while I sat on my bed, enjoying Otis as he lounged companionably in my lap. Suddenly I noticed that he was moving purposefully to my left. As I slid my fingers gently along his body, I discovered his mission in progress. His head and upper body were already inside my Brailler--a machine more or less like a typewriter, except that it has only six keys for creating the dots that form letters, numbers, and other symbols; a spacebar; a carriage-return lever; and both backspace and line-advance keys. Otis had entered by climbing over the keys and through the space along which the carriage moves. He had begun to intertwine himself in the inner mechanisms in such a way that pulling him out didn’t seem possible. I tried that anyway, having no other ideas. His response was a firmer grip on something in there and a resistance in his muscles that was both fascinating and unnerving.

Diane, a pretty unflappable soul, suggested that we let him come out when he decided to. When I asked how long that might take, she said that when he had gone into her skull, he had stayed only two weeks. Two weeks! I had homework to do that very night for which I needed to use the machine. I was horrified.

After telling her that this would never do, I started weighing options. Turning the Brailler this way and that, I hoped to inspire Otis to come out and look for more suitable quarters. Instead he pulled more of himself inside. So by the time Diane reached her friend, Tim, who had graduated from boa constrictors as pets to pythons, his suggestion of pulling him out backward was absolutely out of the question. Not only was I concerned about tearing his skin, but I was also having a hard time coming up with an explanation to a repair person of just how some of the internal workings of the Brailler had become bent, should that occur. I didn’t think anyone would buy,

“My roommate’s snake did it.”

Only one genuinely rational option occurred to me. We needed to take the Brailler apart. Removing the bottom was easy. It is made of something akin to Masonite and is held in place by eleven small screws. Since from time to time other objects had found their way into the cavity now occupied by Otis, I had a Phillips head screwdriver in my desk drawer just right for the job. Removing the base had an effect on Otis similar to moving the machine around, so it was still impossible simply to pull Otis out. Since the rest of the machine is held together by screws of various sizes, my single screwdriver was insufficient.

Fortunately, just down the hall lived my friend Judy. She generally had or could find both the tools and the ingenuity to deal with almost anything. Today she makes her living as a geneticist. That night I sought her out mostly for her tools, although I was hoping for a dose of ingenuity as well. She was initially a bit dubious about the project. Ultimately, though, the thing was just too funny for her to pass up. We soon had both Otis and my Brailler restored to their proper stations, injury-free.

Although thirty-five years have passed since this event, I have never tired of telling the tale. I think that’s because, during the course of that school year, Otis managed to snake his way into my heart as well as my Brailler.

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