I woke up around 8 a.m. just as my wife was leaving for work. I stumbled to the dining room to give her a kiss as she ran out the door. She called me a few minutes later and told me that her Subaru had stalled at the corner of Eastbrook and Aloma. I pulled on a pair of pants, drove the four blocks and found her standing on the sidewalk next to the dead car. Rush hour traffic was backed up behind it, and I caught some angry glares as I gingerly stepped onto the road, opened the hood and pretended to look for something to fix. I gave up after making a token effort.
Judy got in the car to steer, and I began to push. I had 150 yards to go to get to the next cross street, and by the time I reached the 75th I was huffing and puffing. A cop pulled up behind us, parked and helped me. When we started to make the turn onto the side street Judy yelled out the window that she wanted the car another thirty feet further up the road for safety’s sake. I turned to the policeman and said, “Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do and die.” He laughed.
I drove Judy to work, got the car towed to our mechanic and raked up some dried magnolia seed pods in our front yard. My right shoulder started to feel stiff, probably as an after effect from pushing the Subaru, but I paid it no mind and kept working. I went down to my studio and painted later that afternoon, and I held the palette balanced on the finger tips of my right hand. My shoulder felt even tighter and sore, but I bulled through and worked for several hours. I noticed that evening that I had some trouble raising my hand above shoulder level, but figured that a night’s rest and some aspirin would take care of the problem.
When I woke up the next morning my arm was nearly immobile. The muscles in my right shoulder were brick hard and I couldn’t lift my hand above my waist. I called my chiropractor for advice about my symptoms, but he was busy with a patient. I left a message with the receptionist. I decided that I had to take the day off and sat under the magnolia, read a book and smoked a cigar while I waited for the doctor to call me back. I didn’t have a cell phone, so I left the front door open just a crack so that I could hear the land line phone when it rang. When Dr. Harris called he told me to ice the shoulder and take extra strength ibuprofen, and I made an appointment to see him the next day.
I had to pick up my son at Eastbrook Elementary that afternoon. Shifting gears in my stick shift Honda gave me a lot of trouble. When I unlocked the front door of our house Alan started to go in ahead of me, and the next thing I knew he was down by the road hovering near the mail box. He quavered, “Snake!” I looked inside and saw the tail of a snake disappear behind a phone stand near the door.
The phone rang at that moment, and I picked up the receiver with my left hand well aware that the serpent was coiled and hidden inches away. My useless right arm hung at my side. The caller said that he had been to a show at the Orlando Art Museum the week before and had seen a painting of mine that he wanted to buy. The canvas featured lots of animals engaged in cartoonish activities, and it didn’t escape my notice as we dickered over a price that the animal kingdom was giving me contrary signals at that moment.
I sold the painting for $500, hung up the phone and wondered what to do next. Alan was still down by the road waiting for me to do something fatherly and protective, so I tilted back the telephone stand and found a five foot yellow rat snake wrapped around itself in a tight bundle against the baseboard. It didn’t look happy as it stared insolently at me.
I went to the kitchen and grabbed a broom. I pulled out the stand one foot and back hand swept the snake sideways toward the open door using my good arm. I slid it about four feet. It didn’t take the hint to leave, but reared up like a cobra and hissed at me. I said, “All right, buddy,” and I swept it to the door sill, and its reaction was the same except that it looked even more pissed off as it faced me. It drew itself into a tighter coil as if getting ready for a lunge, but I didn’t give it a chance. I swept it onto the porch, but the damn thing didn’t slither away. It curled itself around the iron grill work along the side of the porch, pointed its snout at me and hissed again.
I motioned to Alan to come to me and he responded by circling the yard without actually getting any closer. I had the broom pointed at the angry snake: it showed no signs of admitting defeat. Alan thought that I was going to enlist him in some snake wrangling and refused to come nearer, so I yelled, “I’ve got the snake against the rails. I want you to run into the house so that I can slam the door! We go in! The snake stays out!” He nodded and sprinted toward me, passed me in a blur and found sanctuary inside. I edged backward with the broom between me and my adversary, and closed the door.
I watched for several minutes as the snake lingered on my porch, and it finally withdrew after it had decided that it had made its point. Both of my shoulders were sore now, but I had no one to blame but myself. I realized that the rat snake had probably slithered into the house while I sat under the magnolia waiting for my call.
I met the buyer of the animal painting a couple days later at Star Dust, a coffee house that rented art films. We drank some espressos after I turned over the painting and he gave me a check. I realized as we talked that he was one of the directors of “The Blair Witch Project”. I said that I had a horror story of my own and told the tale of my one armed battle with a rat snake. He smiled politely, but didn’t offer to buy the rights.