Jim Thompson saw Eggie’s truck on the dirt lane between the fields of winter wheat to the north and clover to the south. It never ceased to strike him as rather comical that the young Van still rotated his crops the same way his father and grandfather had. To grow the clover just to turn it under in the fall was a wasted growing season. And that old manure spreader he insisted on using did little more than stink up the countryside, for his yields were no better, if not worse than liquid nitrogen. At least he wasn’t a pig farmer. One of those per county, thank you very much, and Pete Sellers down at Mt. Olive, was enough.
Jim knew what Eggie was doing at the ditch and wondered why the truck was facing the direction of home with the wagon still loaded up. He casually drove up to and down the lane. At about fifty yards from the truck he saw Eggie’s capped head resting on the steering wheel. He went no further. For the first time he wished he had one of them cell phones and cut a hypotenuse over the wheat to get back to the main road. He had seen Delmar out with the chickens and could use his phone.
As Eggie had grown older, the farm had become less about farming. He raised crops as part tribute, part compromise to the memories of Dad and Grandpa. He had turned most of the hilly pasture and some of the woods into a fifteen acre pond, and stocked it with bass, crappie, blue gill and channel cat. He loved to fish of a weekend and rotated his crops because he didn’t want all of that chemical shit running off into his pond. He took pride in his pond the way a gardener will talk to her rose bushes. The crops did little more than pay the taxes on the property.
The farm itself totaled about fifty acres. Apart from the four and half acres the County bought off of his dad for the new road, the size had stayed the same for three generations. Eggie himself had briefly entertained buying the next farm over when it came up for sale ten years before. He could have built another, still bigger pond but he didn’t want as much tillable as there was and there was no real way to divide it up where he could still get to his pond. And he couldn’t be bothered with buying it only to then rent the tillable to someone else just to have them fuck it up by taking out the fence rows or spraying. His one pond would have to do. Fortunately, a retired couple, the Shaws, bought the place and let it all go fallow, much to the consternation of the neighbors who were always looking for a few more acres to plant on. And they didn’t have any cats or let anyone hunt over there either. It was fine just the way it was for now.
Eggie pretty much hated cats. Or rather, he hated all cats except the neutered tom they had in their barn. One was good. And one dog. Any dog of size. And you didn’t have to go looking for a new one when one died. They found you. Still, if more than one showed up, the extra would have to be put down. Grandpa, Dad and he all used the shotgun for cats and ground hogs exclusively, except for the odd stray dog that looked like trouble. Farms, like Nature itself, had a delicate balance that those living on the land had a duty to maintain as best as possible.
Grandpa had a lived-through-the-depression-and-the-apocalypse-is-right-around the-corner attitude towards life. He read two newspaper every day, scanning for signs of the world’s demise, and he would announce to the room that which he would find, interpreting the absurdity of the situation related in an article to fit into his prophesy. In this manner, one could say he was self-educated, and knew the importance of any education as he himself attended school to the eighth grade It was Grandpa that had helped get Eggie through college, but he was also somewhat responsible for his own son’s laziness. Presented with his father’s vision of a doomed world for his whole life, Dad chose the life of a lay-about. Whereas Grandpa went off to a job every day of his adult life, Dad had done as little as possible, taking work when Grandpa could arrange for an extra guy on the job site, otherwise spending a good deal of his day up at the tavern playing cards. “After all,” he had said through the beer more than once, “I’ve been to Korea.” He had been, in 1958, for six months and before his general discharge.
“Shit,” Eggie remembered his Dad saying after Grandpa told the family about the rattlesnake he had killed, “there aren’t any rattlers this far north. Must’ve been a puff adder or somethin’. I ain’t never seen a rattlesnake out in them fields my whole life.”
“Well, neither have I,” Grandpa said but wasn’t conceding, “until today. And I’m tellin’ you , I killed a rattlesnake. It rattled!”
When the snake bit Eggie, he didn’t hear a rattle for his foot rested on it. Neither animal had sufficient warning to avoid the other. Through the initial pain he thought to himself that Grandpa had been right and, under different circumstances, that would have brought a little smirk to his face. The pain was like someone had hooked up a car battery to his leg and hand and the current had nowhere to go but through him, completing a circuit that burned its way slowly, creeping up the two extremities, meeting somewhere near where he imagined his heart to be. And, as he had struggled with the trailer, the burning moved on to through the rest of his body, efficiently paralyzing each newly effected area. He could feel his brain swell and hear his heart push the hottest of the blood past his ears. His vision became so blurred that he had no choice but to stop the truck and close his eyes. He was not waiting or hoping to be found and saved. He was not expecting to die. He could not will any conscious thought, let alone recognize that he was in severe shock and smirk again. Nor would he remember, except later, in dreams, what occupied his mind for the next twenty-four hours.