Darla stood beside five rows of marijuana plants in the backyard sun worrying over whether she was a criminal and how long before the police handcuffed her and took her away under the staring eyes and pointing fingers of her neighbors. She looked around warily and called to her husband crawling around down below the bushy plants, “Julius, are you sure we’re okay on this? I keep thinking we’re going to end up on the Judge Judy show one day and jail the next.”
Her husband’s head popped up from the plants. “I told you a hundred times already it’s okay because I got a medical disability license to grow this stuff. Long as I got the rheumatoid arthritis and my license we’re not going to be busted. Hand me that trowel by the chair.”
Julius passed over a basket of clipped leaves heavy with buds, took the trowel and disappeared once more beneath the luxuriant green.
She wandered back to the house still not certain they were safe from the long arm of the law.
Julius came in a little while later, hands brown with dirt. Washing up at the sink he said to Darla, “Gotta drive over to Walmart and get some mulch for my plants, see if I can keep the weeds down. Think I saw in the paper they was having a sale on their garden supplies.”
Standing beside him at the sink, Darla pointed out a red welt on Julius’s hand. “What bit you there on top of your hand?”
“I don’t know what that was but it stung like hell. Maybe a bee, I don’t know.”
“Let me put some ointment on it. Dry it off…I'll be right back.”
Returning with a flattened tube of Cortaid she rubbed some on the raised welt, “That’s the last of it. You better pick up a new tube while you’re at Walmart.”
“Thank you, baby. I love you. What else you need? Want me to stop at the Winn-Dixie?”
“Yes, please. I’m getting those signals,” she patted her stomach, “would you mind getting me a bottle of Midol.”
“Oh, hell no, Darla. That’s an embarrassing purchase for a man to make. I’ll take you to the store later.”
Not waiting for an answer Julius grabbed his car keys off the hook and headed out to his truck. The Walmart was across the bridge in Weedon, a fifteen minute drive out 61. He pulled out the insert from the newspaper on the seat, looking for the Walmart garden supplies coupons. He folded the page and stuffed it in his jeans pocket. Backing out of the driveway, he had to wait for a car to pass. It was a Chula County sheriff’s car and Julius smiled, figuring Darla would be peeping through the blinds and wetting her pants.
Inside the giant store he had to walk what felt like half a mile to reach the pharmacy section, then scanned the shelves looking for the ointment Darla said she wanted. He found it after a minute and when he started toward the registers he stopped after a step or two remembering that lady’s medicine she wanted him to buy. Still not sure, he cruised the aisles looking for Midol and when he found it was too self- conscious to reach for it. Fidgeting for a minute, he thought, “What the hell,” and grabbed up the bottle.
After going through the checkout, he unscrewed the top on the Cortaid and squeezed out a half inch curl onto the bee sting, rubbing it in and thinking two times is better than one.
On the way outside to the garden supplies area he looked through his newspaper coupons hoping there was one there for garden mulch. He found a special on the Amerigrow Premium Gold and thought that would do the trick. He flagged down a guy unloading trays of petunias and asked him where the mulch was. “You know anything about this mulch offered on the discount coupons?”
From his kneeling position, the man looked up at Julius and asked, “Which one is that?”
Extending the coupon he said, “This Amerigrow Premium. I want to use it around my marijuana plants but have to be sure it’s a good match. I don’t remember the name of the one I used last year.”
Big smile on his face, the man answered, “Yep, I think the Amerigrow is just the thing you need. Walk up this aisle here and turn left where you see those pots of red flowers. The mulch is about halfway down.”
Julius saw the bags of mulch stacked up ahead, figuring in his head as he approached how many bags he would need to cover his eight foot square plot of plants. He stopped in front of the bags and still thinking about how much to buy, leaned over to pick up a small tree branch in the middle of the aisle and toss it off to the side. In a split second the ‘small branch’ lunged and attached itself to his outstretched hand. A snake about a foot and a half long clung to Julius’s hand. He tried to fling it off, but the snake held on despite the sudden jive dance and arm flaps that followed. The snake finally let go and Julius stomped on it, mashing its head flat.
Verging on shock, Julius recalled some old Boy Scout remedy and stretched out on the ground, clapped his left hand tourniquet-like on his right wrist and held his hand up from his body. “Holy mother of God, Oh, Jesus, Jesus!” he shouted from the ground.
Shopping for soil additives on the other side of the aisle, Tonya Cardamun heard the screams and rushed to help. “What is it? What’s wrong?” she said kneeling beside Julius, “Are you having a stroke?”
“Do I look like a goddamned stroke victim?” he moaned. “The snake. Look at the snake. The damned thing took a bite outta my hand!”
Tonya looked at the hand he was holding up. “Oh, my god! Did he make that big red spot on your hand?”
“Hell no! That was the bee. Look at the two holes between my thumb and index finger.”
“I see ’em now. Hold on a second, I’m going to call 911. Hold on. Don’t move.”
“Where do you think I’m going with rattlesnake venom up in my heart?”
Tonya pulled out a cell phone and punched the numbers in, leaning over to get a better look at the dead snake. “Yeah, that’s a rattlesnake alright, one of them pygmy kind…Hello? Is this 911?…I’m over at the Walmart on Highway 61 and a rattlesnake just jumped out and bit somebody…My name? Ain’t nobody got time for this! He got snakebite, fool!”
Tonya snapped the phone shut and said to Julius, “They’re too slow. Come on, I’m going to drive you to the hospital. Where’s your car?”
Julius guided Tonya to his truck, handed over the keys and got in the passenger seat. She didn’t act like the truck was any challenge to her driving skills, so he didn’t say anything. Once they pulled out into traffic she said there was an urgent care clinic at the second light and they would go there.
A hundred yards down the road she slammed on the brakes in the middle of traffic, cursing herself. “I got so nervous and worried with your condition I forgot to tell my husband I was leaving the Walmart. He’s sitting in the parking lot waiting for me.”
“Keep driving and let me have your phone. I’ll call your husband and tell him what’s going on.”
Tonya gave him her cell phone and told him the number to dial. Julius punched in the numbers and waited for an answer. After a couple of rings someone answered saying, “Tonya, what’s taking so long? I’m burning up in this car.”
Julius explained the situation and heard back, “What? Who the hell is this? What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been bitten by a rattlesnake and your wife is driving me to the hospital.”
Tonya yelled out loud enough for her husband to hear, “I’m driving this man—what’s your name?…
I’m driving Julius to the hospital. You go on home and I’ll be there in a while. Julius, he’ll take me home after he’s had the rattlesnake poison removed.”
“Did you hear that?…” Julius closed the phone saying, “He’s cool. Drive faster. Feels like somebody’s shooting fire into my hand.”
At the urgent care clinic a doctor there told Julius and Tonya that they weren’t able to handle snakebite, to drive three miles further to the Bert Belson Medical Center. Tonya looked at the doctor and asked, “You telling us you never learned how to cure a snakebite in college?”
At the medical center doctors took Julius into a curtained area to examine the bite, leaving Tonya in the waiting area arguing on the phone with her husband. Looking closely at the bee stung, snake bit hand, the doctor decided it was a dry bite, that the rattlesnake had not injected any venom. “What’s this other big red spot on your hand…Looks a little like a bee sting. That happen today as well?”
“Yeah, that happened out in my garden earlier today. Doesn’t hurt much now though.”
“I’d like you to hang around for a little while so we can keep an eye on the snakebite for a little longer. Can you do that?”
“I suppose so. Maybe Tonya’s husband can come pick her up.”
“Maybe she’s the lady that saved my life. I’ll see if she can call her husband for a ride home.”
“I appreciate your help, Tonya. But listen, they want me to wait a while before leaving so they can make sure everything is okay with this.” He held up the bandaged hand in a shy apologetic way, as if to show it was a minor accident. “Can your husband come and pick you up?”
“Yeah, sure. He’s just pissed I didn’t get the damn soil additive for his rose bushes. Said I shoulda done that before bringing you here. Kinda like trading you off for some stupid rose bushes I never have liked in my front yard.” She smiled at Julius. “You gonna be alright?”
By the time Julius got back to his house, his right hand was the size of a cantaloupe. He returned to the the medical center with Darla and was treated with two bags of anti-venom. The doctor said they wanted him to stay overnight, and if she wanted his wife could stay with him. The anti-venom had done its work but there was some concern for muscle damage in his hand.
Late that night, the room quiet and Darla half-asleep in a chair by his bed, Julius said to her, “Darla, call up that Walmart and tell them the guy that got snake bit in their garden section today wants them to hold onto that dead snake. I’m gonna skin that damn thing, make a hatband for my cowboy hat…and ask them if they got my Cortaid and Midol.”
“Aaww, honey,” Darla said, “you bought my Midol?”