This is the beginning of a little story I am working on:
No one from town knew Taylor Van Van as anything else but Eggie Van since he was two. A good fifty percent knew his given name to be Taylor, but only a considerably smaller inner circle knew that his middle name was the same as his last. In a small town, the certified identity markers get lost, put aside for something more descriptive, if simplistic, cute and clever nickname. His dad had put his to him because the boy pretty much started talking in full sentences. From ‘dadda” and ‘maamaa’ to “Mommy, can I have my bottle now?” All within the space of about two weeks. ‘Dadda’ figured the boy to be an egghead, which, to a degree he proved out, all the way through to his PhD. When he was married, the preacher asked, “And do you, Taylor Van Van take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” there were titters throughout the church. His mother cried, for Taylor was a family name, dating back to when early pioneers of the midwest named their children after a local boy, Zachary Taylor, the twelveth President of the United States.
Throughout college, Eggie was known by his given name. College friends who had been invited to the wedding heard “Eggie” in toasts at the reception and stifled hard guffaws. He has not seen many of them since, especially since moving back home. Still, to his professional peers at conferences, he is known as Taylor Van Van. If pressed to choose, Taylor thinks of himself as a ‘Taylor’ yet responds to, and lives in, both worlds.
Eggie’s 1976 Ford F250 had only fifty-six thousand miles on it but the body was so badly rusted that the headlights were duct-taped into wooden frames that he had made. The bed was planked with treated two-by-sixes, and bolted four-by-fours made for bumpers. The wood was beginning to rot as well. Yet, the frame, suspension, drive train and engine were near perfect, and the tires brand new. Those things he kept up on. After all, it was a work truck, tacking up a muddy hillside with the best of ‘em, even with a wagon load of tree limbs, old tires and scrap metal hitched to its ass.
There was a culvert in the back eleven that had eroded pretty bad in the Spring rains and the load of junk Eggie hauled over was to fill it in. He’d been working on it all morning and each time he drove over the hill, he took a slightly different route, well aware that the gouges his tires took out could be next years gullies. He’d come back and sow some clover in tomorrow. Two days off, gone, just like that.
The lament wasn’t for his wasted days off but for the return to his regular job, teaching psychology at the local community college. Nursing students, business majors and car mechanics who pretty much approached to subject lessons from opposite ends of the spectrum. The nurses took to it like breast milk swelling their teats; the future lucre-lechers sought out a way to understand and therefore dupe clients; and the gear heads paraphrased the lessons into abusive transference on their spouses and girlfriends. He knew that this is what happened with that he tried to impart because he recognized it in its bastardized form a few years later when these same people, or their victims, sought counsel from him in his practice at the clinic.
It was this distraction from his task at hand at the culvert’s side that let him take that first step down from the truck directly onto the noisy end of a Timber Rattler. He was wearing boots but the snake came around high on his left shin and hung up in his jeans.
Startled by the jab, and his right arm and leg not quite out of the truck, he reached down with his left hand to grab at his leg. For a second he thought he might have stepped on some old bailing wire that slapped up against his leg. His curse was for himself, for if the wire was laying there instead of in the ditch, it would have been his fault for leaving it where it could flatten a tire. Changing a tire in the mud. And a tetanus shot. These weren’t thoughts for Eggie as much as a twinge, a tick in his brain developed from experiences forewarned by his father, the man who had this small farm before him. Had he known it was snake at that point, the remonstrances would have still been there, yet he might not have slapped the snake loose and his right hand wouldn’t have also taken a hit.
His right foot caught under the bench seat and he crumpled head-first, facing the edge of the ditch to see what he thought to be rattlers on the tail of the snake as it slipped away into the junk already in the ditch.
He had seen only one other rattlesnake on the place and that must have been thirty five years before and while filling another culvert just west of this one. And there was good reason for the two sightings because the culverts, filled with straw, old mattress springs and pads, tin cans and what-not, had become refuge for colonies of rats and field mice. Quite naturally, snakes of all kinds found the garbage habitat made for easy pickings. Eggie had to remind himself that he didn’t actually see the first rattler at all. His Grandpa was taking a piss along a nearby fence row and relieved himself on the head of the reptile as it cooled in the shade of a young sassafras. Grandpa came running back to the tractor, grabbed his homemade machete, went back and took off the snake’s head. He wondered then if his grandfather had worried about getting bit in his bid to off the snake, or why he even saw fit to kill it. Maybe because his penis had been exposed to danger the first go round. Anyway, his grandfather wouldn’t let him see the snake, and when Eggie walked back out to the field later on that evening, the carcass was nowhere to be found.
His great-grandma Cyd had once told him a story about a big Blue Racer she had killed with a hoe in the front yard. She told him that no matter if you cut their head off, they didn’t die ‘til the sun went down He believed it because when he was three years old he’d seen a headless chicken that was supposed to be that night’s supper run off into the woods. She also said that until sunset, the other snakes came to see the carnage. Years later when he thought of this tale of slow death and mourning, he equated it with the curiosity surrounding a house fire or car accident. He knew there was a literary term for finding human truths in Nature’s character traits, but because he intuitively knew them to more likely to be metaphorical, he didn’t bother to remember what it is called, exactly.
If the current situation had been any different — but wasn’t, and it was the trouble he was in just then that brought these things to mind — he would have indulged himself some time to reflect on the possibility of a theme of castration running throughout. Instead, a less subtle threat, the fear of his own isolated death had him completing his fall to the ground by loosing his left foot and twisted ankle from the truck. He rolled over and with his right hand, gingerly began to pull his pant leg up over his already swelling right calf.
There wasn’t much blood, nor the twin stab wounds he expected to find. A single, discreet puncture, and an adjacent graze wound with a clear fluid smeared around it. Maybe he didn’t get much venom after all. But the growing pain in his thigh and hip told him he had taken in enough. Leaving his pant leg up, he climbed back up in the truck, started it up, realizing he still had a fully loaded wagon on back. If he was going to get help quick, he’d have to unhitch.
A slight incline put enough tension on the trailer hitch so that it wouldn’t give. His left arm wasn’t as strong as his wounded right. He’d have to drive to level ground, but now his whole right side, leg arm and torso were burning. His eyes and groin too. His head was pounding. By the time he pulled himself up into the cab again, he was having trouble getting his breath. He knew that getting worked up would only make things worse, and although it may have been too late, he told himself to calm down. This thinking, not so much staying calm as thinking about the need to stay calm, saw him out to the lane.
He didn’t completely lose consciousness for another two hours, during which time the truck’s flashers had all but killed the battery, and, except when the pain blocked out thought altogether, he had plenty of time to think about his wife and daughter. Chances are, he thought, depending on when and if he were to be found alive, one of them would be working in the ER when they brought him in, just like the time he’d been hit by that ground-running lightning.