“My mother dumped my father for an ostrich farmer,” Vince said yesterday. We were in a semi-private room in the heart wing of Spohn Hospital. I lay on the other bed and said, Did she now?, but just thought the codeine drip was scrambling his memory in lascivious ways. Today he’s lucid again, eating and joking about his IV, and when our son Tyler starts in about wanting to go swimming, Vince looks at me and tells us to get lost.
So I’m driving to the Sea Ranch Motel; our regular pool at the rec center is closed because the city’s in a drought. This is an unseasonably mild afternoon in Corpus Christi because there’s a trough of cool air in the Gulf. I try to see that patch of distant coolness, as if it were a cloud. Instead there is only the soapy, opaque bay, a few collapsed beach umbrellas in front of the condos, and the trees along the seawall whose dry, brown palms hang like scraps of parchment. Tyler sits cross-legged in the passenger seat. He’s reading a book on boa constrictors, one, I believe, he stole from the hospital library.
Our house is full of snakes. When we learned Tyler was allergic to pet dander and had to give our collie to a woman with acreage in Orange Grove, he and his father convinced me to let him keep a garter snake in his room. Now, we have two gray rat snakes trying to mate in an aquarium under one of my old curtains, a banded king snake that only eats after dark, a corn snake and an albino bull snake under heat lamps in the garage, and a lazy royal python in a terrarium behind the kitchen table. Each week we buy seven mice (the python gets two) that Tyler drops into the cages. The owner of the pet store is smitten with him, with his unlikely and considerable knowledge; she arranged his job lecturing at the museum. On the third Saturday of every month, families and retiree tours pay to hear my eight-year old son speak on the surprisingly docile temperament of death adders.
“This book is wrong,” he says now. “It says retics are the biggest.”
Retics are reticulated pythons; we did a book report. They’re the second largest snakes in the world, though now I can’t recall the name of the longer one—possibly it’s a boa. Ahead, the ceramic seahorse perched atop the motel becomes visible. I say, “Maybe they found a longer one.”
“Doubtful,” he says, never lifting his eyes.