Mister Fearless

He laughed. “What're you running from?” He stooped down to pick up the thing. “It's just a little old rattler.”

“Number one thing I’m afraid of is being alone,” says my longtime pal.

But, this can’t be right. Because my friend is not afraid of anything. He’s fearless. Well, at least he’s unafraid of snakes.

While we walked through an overgrown field somewhere outside McKenzie, Alabama, we heard a loud rattling noise. A sound which—due to centuries of accumulated folk-wisdom and various Biblical serpent-stories—mankind instinctively runs like hell from.

Which is what I did.

He laughed. “What’re you running from?” He stooped down to pick up the thing. “It’s just a little old rattler.”

The fifty-foot diamond-back was anything but “little.” Besides, I hate snakes. Especially “little old” ones.

In kindergarten, a zoologist visited our school. The man paraded around our tiny assembly hall with a little old albino python wrapped around his neck. The thing crawled inside his shirt-collar and…

I can barely write this.

Anyway, out of twenty-five kids in our class, one child had a nervous breakdown and did something truly awful in his pants. I won’t tell you which kid. But I will say: Mrs. Welch called my mother to drop off a pair of clean britches and a bottle of bleach to the school.

My friend held the snake with a Y-shaped stick. He extended it outward letting the sunlight hit it. The thing made a terrible noise, coiling itself.

“Reason I like snakes,” he said. “Is ’cause they’re lonely creatures. My daddy walked out on us when I was ten. I must’ve spent my whole life feeling friendless.”

Poisonous snakes aside, I’m familiar with the kind of loneliness he means. In fact, I know it well. And if you grew up in a busted home, you know it, too. Each day our club gets a little bigger.

He went on, “I spent a lotta time out here, in these woods, with the snakes and animals. Thing about snakes everybody runs from’em. But they’re not bothered by it.”

Lucky them.

He set the thing down. It made a few wild loops, then slithered away in a rapid zig-zag through the prairie grass.

“Whenever I see a rattler,” he said, “I remember how lonely I was, and I swear to myself, I’ll never walk out on my daughter.”

Then, he leaned against his truck, watching the sun go down, his daughter sitting on the hood. One thing is certain, my friend’s not so lonely anymore.

While they stared at the sunset, I borrowed his phone for a very important phone call. It was nothing serious.

I just needed Mama to drop something off.

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