Home > The Serpent King(13)

The Serpent King(13)
Jeff Zentner

Either his explanation satisfied his mother or she was too tired to quarrel. Probably the former, since she never seemed to be too tired to fight with him.

Dill pulled the casserole dish from the oven. It smelled okay and it was hot and cheesy. They weren’t picky in the Early house. He took a quarter loaf of stale white bread from the top of the refrigerator, to help soak up the casserole. Grabbing a couple of plates and spoons from the drying rack beside the sink, he set the table and dished them both up some food.

They ate quietly. “How was Nashville?” his mother finally asked.

“Fine. Lydia helped me get some good clothes for cheap.”

His mother dabbed at her mouth with a napkin. “I wish you had more Christian friends from church.”

“Travis is from church.”

“I wonder about him. Dressed in black all the time with that demon necklace.”

“Dragon.”

“Same thing. Read Revelation again.”

Dill got up to refill their water glasses.

“And Lydia’s not from church,” his mom said.

“Yeah, but I told you that she’s Episcopalian or Presbyterian or something. She’s Christian.”

Dill’s mom snorted. “Love to see an Episcopalian take up the serpent or speak in tongues. Signs follow the faithful.”

“I can’t choose my friends according to who’s willing to pick up a copperhead.”

“Sure you can. It’s that you won’t.”

“Kind of hard now anyway, since the only snakehandling pastor around got locked up.”

Dill’s mom gave him a sharp look. “Don’t make light.”

“Trust me. I’m not. I visited him while I was there.”

Dill’s mom gave him another look, with a different sort of sharpness. “You might’ve mentioned that sooner. How was he?”

Dill stuffed a bite in his mouth and chewed slowly while he considered how to answer. “All right, I guess. I don’t know. Fine for prison? Looks like he’s made some friends because he had some tattoos on his knuckles.”

Dill’s mother wrinkled her forehead. “Really. Tattoos? Of what?”

“Mark sixteen eighteen. Across each of his eight knuckles.”

Dill’s mother stared at her plate. “He’s always been able to hear God’s voice. I haven’t understood everything your father’s done, but I trust that God’s willed it.” She mopped up the last bit of her casserole with a heel of dry bread.

I wouldn’t be so sure about God wanting Dad to do everything he’s done in his life. Somehow I sort of doubt that. Dill took their plates to the sink and put them in to soak. He opened a drawer, careful to not pull it off its track (it could be finicky), and pulled out a sheet of plastic wrap that they used, washed, and reused. He wrapped up the casserole and put it in the fridge.

“You better get some sleep if you’re going to start school tomorrow,” his mom said.

“Why do you say ‘if’?”

“Because I’m not making you. You know that.”

“I guess I didn’t think you were serious when you said that.”

“I was. I’d just as soon you went full time at Floyd’s. They like you there. Make you a manager and you’d be earning thirty-five thousand a year before you knew it. That’s real money.”

“What about graduating?” I can’t believe I’m actually defending school to my mom.

“You can read. Write. Add. Subtract. You got a line to a good job. What do you need a piece of paper for? I care that you learn your scripture, that’s all.”

Dill scrubbed the dishes. “Lydia’s about to apply to every one of the best colleges in America; meanwhile, my mom is telling me to become a high school dropout.”

“Lydia’s dad is a dentist and her mom works too, and they don’t have our debts. No use comparing yourself to her.”

“No use is right.”

“Your dad didn’t graduate from high school. And I quit high school to marry him.”

Dill put down the dish he was washing, turned, and gave his mother an incredulous look. “You can’t possibly believe that’ll convince me.”

“Someday you’ll learn that you’re no better than your own name.”

Someday? “Yeah, well, maybe I’ll learn it in school this year. They seem pretty determined to teach me that. Good night.”

Dill put the dish in the cracked white plastic drying rack and went to his room. He lifted up his door by the knob, on its broken hinge, and shut it. He sat down on his twin bed, the only piece of furniture in his room besides a Goodwill dresser, and the lumpy mattress groaned under his weight. He popped his new CD into his hand-me-down CD player from Lydia. He put in his earbuds and reclined with his hands behind his head.

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