When the Shaws decided that Florida might be a better place to retire, they sold the old Young place to Sonny Brunetti and his mother. Eggie had never been back to Sonny’s place even though he could see it from the back eleven acres. Both Eggie and his brother spent a fair amount of time up there as kids. The older couple often needed help with the few cows and pigs they raised. And the boys helped out with a few other chores, rode their pony and fished their pond. The Youngs had dug a small farm pond, mostly for watering the cows, but they also stocked it with bullheads, sunnies and bass. In those days the Department of Natural Resources gave fish away to anyone who dug a hole and filled it with water. Maybe he and his brother fished it so much that all of the big predator fish were gone, for over the years the pond turned into something of a stunted catfish farm. Thousands of three or four-inch cats that bit at anything the boys threw at them. It was a bit disappointing but they made a game of it. They learned the Doxology in Vacation Bible School: “Hear our prayer Oh heavenly Father! Amen,” and each time they threw an empty hook into the water, they sang the Doxology, and immediately hooked a fish. “It’s a miracle!” they would yell, laughing. They never returned to the pond after that.
Soon after Old Man Young died and Mrs. Young was put in the nursing home. The Shaws had it for about ten years and then Sonny and his mother bought the place. Over the years it became increasingly apparent that there was something odd about that mother and son, yet Eggie saw enough people with problems in his practice, and it wasn’t worth the effort to find out what panapoly of issues presented themselves in that household.
Sonny and his mother were of a religious bent that Eggie had not seen before. Eggie went to church, believed in the God, and loved his Lord Jesus, though that had tempered a bit since his college days. Maybe because of his psychology degrees, but maybe more because of folks like Sonny and his Mom. He might call them zealots, but that wasn’t adequate. They were beyond that, and told him all about it the first time they met. They were Catholics but didn’t practice, charismatic, but stayed out of the Pentecostal Church right down the road. They watched the televangelists, and carried literature they sent away for, and, Eggie imagined, must send a fair amount of money to those charlatans. The first time they met was the last time he had much to do with them, otherwise Eggie might have known that Mom and Sonny had added a new doctrine to their mismatched theologies. They were taking up serpents. The timber rattler was an escapee.
Three days after Eggie got bit, Sonny’s mom, Agatha Brunetti, seventy-eight years and forty-one days old, was admitted to Memorial. She suffered a stroke the night before after going to bed. Sonny came down for breakfast and she wasn’t there fixing it. He found her in bed, awake and soiled with a look of both hatred and fright on her drooping, mute face. She died twenty-four hours later. Marie helped with the funeral arrangements as the neighborly thing to do, although truth be told, she didn’t much care for Sonny either. It wasn’t his sermonizing that got under her skin. It was his shiny-smooth face and long, manicured fingernails. She wrote it off as him being a bit of an eccentric and a Mama’s Boy, as he most certainly was, never married and never anywhere without her. She knew that his mother’s death had to be a terrible blow for him, which he made no effort to hide at her death bed or when he stopped by the house coming home from the funeral parlor.
Marie was off that day, ready to go up to the hospital to see how Eggie was doing and change his dressings. His leg and arm were still painfully swollen and the doctor was keeping an eye on the blackened fingers, figuring them to go gangrenous. The skin on the arm and leg remained hot to the touch, except for the fingers. There was no detectable pulse and they were cold to the touch. Today would be the determining day. Sonny pulled up into the drive just as she was walking out the door.
“Missy Van,” he started, “Oh, I see you’re ‘bout to leave. Goin’ to see your husband? I’ll come by a bit later.”
“No, that’s alright, Sonny,” she said in what she recognized as her tone she reserved for the grievers she had grown impatient with, “what is it?”
“Well, I was just ...” and he started to bawl a high-pitched hysterical cry, head-in hands with those nails wetting with the tears and shining in the sun,. “No, no, no,” he slobbered, climbing back into his car. He backed out quickly, hitting the newspaper box, the plastic splintering as it hit the ground. The metal post it had been attached to sprung back up and put a sizable scratch in the right rear fender of his yellow 1975 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. At about the same time Sonny let out another mournful shriek. She thought at first it was for his mother but it then reconsidered. She knew that car was his pride and joy, and maybe the one covetous item he allowed himself. She watched long enough to see that he made it safely up his own lane and made a note that she’d go up to see him when she returned.
“That man is somethin’ else.”
When Eggie was once again conscious, he was unable to tell the hospital staff exactly what kind of snake bit him. “It was a rattler,” was all he knew for sure. “I saw the rattles.” The hospital had not treated a rattlesnake bite for as long as anyone could remember. The vial of universal anti-venom was the only one they stocked as a just-in-case type thing and it took some looking in the refrigerator to find it at all, even though every nurse in the ER knew it was on the monthly inventory checklist. Not surprisingly, the case was the talk of the hospital for days to come and many of the staff made a point to visit a while with Eggie to see how he was doing but also to see what the hell a snake bite victim looked like. Two new staffers, the intern, Roy Campeneau and a young LPN, Nancy Hargrave were in with Eggie when Marie showed up. Nancy was holding a cup of water and straw up to Eggie’s mouth.
“There you go Mr. Van,” she said sweetly. “Now, let’s take a look at those bandages.” She put down the cup and was ready to lift the sheet canopied over his legs when Marie walked up.
“That’s alright, Nancy. I’ll change the dressings.”
“Oh, hi Mrs. Van. Okay. I’m working down on Two this evening. I’d better get goin’. Feel better, Mr. Van,” Nancy called back as she swung out the door.
Dr. Campeneau nodded to Marie in a practiced compassion, overly stilted and authoritative for just an intern, and left at the same time. Marie watched as the good doctor stared at Nancy’s ass the whole way out.
“Hi, Honey. How you feeling?” Marie asked with true concern, unadorned by the sickeningly sweet niceness reserved for patients. “It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if those two don’t have something going on.”
“Probably so but it wouldn’t be the first time in this little Peyton Place.” Eggie winced as he shifted in bed to better see his wife.
Marie felt a pang herself but wasn’t going to cry. The nurse mode came into play just enough to prevent it. “Here, let me come around to the other side so you don’t have to put weight on your bad side. What did the doctor say?”
“He hasn’t been up yet today. He’s supposedly got another stroke. Mrs. Overbeam came in this morning.”
Marie opined, “Well, then there’ll be a third one as well. Always come in threes.”
“Maybe I’m number one,” Eggie said with a hint of self-pity. “After all, my whole left side’s pretty messed up. What kind of stroke would that be?”
Marie thought to herself, “A right-sided bleed that didn’t effect the speech center,” but caught herself for thinking something so sarcastic for no apparent reason. “You know, I’ve never trusted a red-head, even if it is a dye-job like that new LPN.”
The swelling was down in his arm and leg, and the hand looked somewhat better, the necrosis perhaps finally subsiding and beginning to heal, but the middle and fourth fingers looked worse. They’d probably be lost ... Where was his wedding ring? She couldn’t remember. She knew that his hand was too swollen to take it off by the time he arrived at the ER. They would have had to cut it off but she hadn’t seen them do it. Certainly someone would have given it to her. She had been right there. It was probably in his personal property envelope that she took home that first night.