Wednesday, January 11, 2006

IN THE BRIAR PATCH - short story

"It was a big boar, a wild woods hog. Around here folks call ‘em piney-woods rooters or tusk hogs due to their long, sharp cutting tusks. They call ‘em razorbacks up in Arkansas."


In The Briar Patch
by Bill Fullerton

Youth was not being served on the chessboard. It took a call from the hospital to halt the onslaught by the forces of Dr. Robert Miles, his grandfather. There’d been a bar fight. The loser was waiting in the emergency room. Having just finished his first year of medical school, Eli Stuart went along to watch, and maybe help, the man who’d gotten him interested in medicine.

Now he put a cup of black coffee from the nurse’s station in front of his grandfather and sat down to wait. The gray-haired man sitting behind the plain, cluttered desk nodded his thanks. Paperwork finished, he picked up the cup, leaned back in his chair and studied his grandson.

“What did you think?”

“That was a pretty bad beating. Broken nose, fractured ribs, possible concussion, plus the lacerations and abrasions. With all that, especially the ribs, I thought you might want him kept overnight for observation, in case there was internal bleeding.”

Dr. Miles nodded at this second-guessing of his decision. “Good. That’s what the book says to do. But this is where it helps to know your patients. He’ll be too sore to go anywhere tomorrow and his mother will make sure he comes in on Monday for a check-up. As for the ribs, the x-rays indicated they’re just cracked. With someone young like that boy, the bones still have some give. The sort of lick he must have taken would damn near kill an old coot with brittle bones, like me.”

The medical student smiled. He’d passed tonight’s oral exam. “According to that group with him, it was a kick, not a lick. Which reminds me, who were they?”

“Eli, I believe you’ve just had your first encounter with the Rhodes family. Let me see, there’s Rocky, Dusty, and Mac Adam. The tall girl with them was their sister, Connie Creek. The patient was a cousin, I think.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Nope. Their father’s real name is Rufus, but he’s always been called, Rough. That inspired him to name his kids after roads. If he’d had anymore, there might be Muddy, Rutted, and Asphalt running loose.”

“Why do you know so much about them? They come in all the time?”

“It’s a small place. Word gets around. No, the whole family must be healthy as horses. I delivered all of them. But I’ve only treated one. He’d gotten torn up by a hog.”

“A hog? Okay. You’ve got me hooked. What happened?”

“I never thought you’d ask.” His grandfather’s long face broke into a grin. “Rough and his tribe live way back in the middle of nowhere. Around there, people let their pigs run free. In the fall, folks use hog dogs to round ‘em up for butchering. To mark ownership, they notch the pig’s ears in a distinctive way. Kinda like branding cattle.”

He paused to light his pipe, then continued. “Rough has a reputation, well deserved I’m told, for pig stealing. During the summer, he’ll lure or chase young pigs onto his place, trap ‘em, and then re-notch their ears so it looks like his mark. Sometimes the rightful owner will notice this and, I’d guess you’d say, re-re-notch the ear. There’ve been some hard words over Rough’s habit. But so far nobody’s been shot, at least not that I know of. People say that by the fall, some of those poor porcines have nothing but stubs where their ears should be.”

The old doctor sipped his coffee and seemed lost in thought. The young man knew to wait. “It must have been about ten years ago when Rough and that brood of his came in here. He and his boys had been out “looking for strays” as he calls it. They’d almost chased a young one into some sort of holding pen, when it dodged into a thicket. The whole group went high-tailing after it. They came out on the other side just in time to see the hind end of something disappearing into a big briar patch.”

“Kinda of a Brer Rabbit type briar patch?”

“That’s it. Now I’m told that once a pig gets in one of those, you’ve got limited options. You can try to burn it, but you might set the woods on fire. If you’ve got a dog with more courage than common sense, you can send it in to do the job. In case your dogs are smart or absent, you can send somebody in to spook it out. Of course, you can also give up and go home. That’s the best choice. But Rough wasn’t about to let some pig best him.

“They didn’t have dogs?”

“Nope. I’m sure you can understand that “looking for strays” requires a certain degree of stealth. So Rough had left his pack of worthless hounds at home. However, he did have three half-grown boys with him. He decided one of them could crawl in and flush out that pig while he and the rest waited.”

“I take it there were no volunteers.”

“None. So Rough looked around and the first kid he saw was, Mac Adam, who had the disadvantage of being both the youngest and smallest. Now I grant you it’s not saying much, but even back then Mac Adam was about the smartest one of that bunch. He proved it that day by telling his daddy he didn’t believe going in after that pig was such a good idea. Said he’d had a pretty good look at whatever it was that ran into the briars and that to his way of thinking, it was a lot bigger than that shoat they were after.”

“You’re telling me Mac Adam is the Rhodes’ scholar?”

“In a manner of speaking. But don’t let that go to your head. You could end up walking home. Anyway, that’s when Rocky messed up. He’s the oldest, biggest and, in my opinion, dumbest of those boys. Maybe the kid’s name doomed him. Rough wanted a fighter. So he named the boy Rocky Garaziano. But he misspelled the great middleweight’s name, added an extra ‘A’ between the ‘G’ and ‘R’.

“Well, Rocky started ragging on Mac Adam about being a sissy who was afraid of going in after one little pig, and calling him a little baby and, well, you can imagine the scene. My guess is Mac Adam just waited until Rocky paused to catch his breath. Then he said something like, okay, Rocky, since you’re so brave and all, why don’t you go in there and show me how it’s done? That sounded good to Rough. He didn’t care who went in just so long as someone did. Before Rocky could think of something to say, Rough ordered him to crawl in among the briars and chase the pig out into the light of day.”

The doctor sat his pipe in an ashtray and started closing folders. “Now even though Rocky’s dumb as his namesake, rocks not the fighter, I don’t blame him for not wanting to crawl into a briar patch. For starters, it’s a hot, sweaty, slow job. You have to get down low and no matter how hard you try some briars are going to scratch you and catch on your clothes. Besides the ticks and red bugs, there’s always a chance you’ll come across fire ants or a snake. And once you flush the pig, you’ve still got to get out of there.”

“You’re almost making me feel sorry for Rocky.”

“Yep, the old Rock had talked himself into the deal and couldn’t figure out a way to talk himself out. So armed with his daddy’s snake stick, he started crawling in. The ones left outside say they could follow his movement by all the noise and cussing.”

The doctor paused to finish his coffee and turn off his desk lamp. The grandson felt a prompt was in order. “So what happened?”

“Turns out Mac Adam was right. What they’d seen going into that briar patch wasn’t the young pig they’d been chasing. It was a big boar, a wild woods hog. Around here folks call ‘em piney-woods rooters or tusk hogs due to their long, sharp cutting tusks. They call ‘em razorbacks up in Arkansas. No matter what the name, they’re big, mean, and dangerous. And young Rocky Garaziano Rhodes had just come face-to-face with one of them deep inside a briar patch.”

“How’d he get out?”

“Luck, although by the time he managed to escape, that hog had worked him over pretty good. And I suppose it might have killed him except for his one bit of good luck. When the hog charged, Rocky jabbed it in the eye with the snake stick. That must have made the hog even madder but it stopped that first charge. Before it could get back in gear, Rocky somehow managed to turn around so his boots were toward the hog.”

The two men walked out into the antiseptic smelling hall. Dr. Miles stuck his head into the nurse's station to say something, then they headed for the exit. “When they brought Rocky in, he was cussing and squawling and bleeding all over the place. Everybody there had to help hold him down so we could get him cleaned up. I decided to give him a sedative, can’t remember what, along with a tetanus booster. I’ve got no idea how many sutures I used on that boy. And all the while Rough’s complaining because the pig got away.”

“Makes tonight seem pretty tame.”

“Oh, yeah. What’s a bare-knuckle bar fight compared to a run in with a wild boar hog in a briar patch? Now tell me the truth Eli, are you sure you still want to be a country doctor?”


note: This story first appeared in USADeepSouth
USADS has a lot of other short stories, plus articles, memoirs, essays, even some poetry, and it's all better reading than this, honest. Check it out. bb

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Blogger Old Newt Says said...

I'd read this one before in USADS, but a good read is just as good the second (or third) time around. It's still an excellent story and an excellent job of writing.

One thing in passing, in this part of the South (East Texas Big Thicket area), them bog ol' wild boars are commonly called "tush hogs" rather than "tusk hogs". I have no idea why, just a bastardization I suppose. The "tush hog" title is also given to men who are considered to be wild and tough and good in a fight.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Bill Fullerton said...


Thanks for the kind words. You are approximately 100% correct about that "tush vs tusk" word choice.

I went with "tusk" because many readers and every editor not blessed with having been born and raised in our neck of woods would think it was a spelling error. The alternative was to add some explanatory dialogue which I was afraid would clutter things even more.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Monica said...

I lurk from time to time, Bill...I like this story.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Marti said...

I actually had a neighbor named Dusty Rhodes!

Oh lordie, I thought I was gonna wet myself I laughed so hard at “You’re telling me Mac Adam is the Rhodes’ scholar?”

Great story! Thank you for sharing!

8:16 AM  
Blogger dave hambidge said...

Hoped here from SSL. Like the story. You keep us guessing nicely to the very end, piggy or punchup?

Good bit of accurate medical detail in it as well which as an exdoctor I always approve of.



6:56 AM  

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