They Shall Take Up Serpents: Chapter 7

This work is being posted in an incomplete form for instructional purposes. I believe it is useful and illustrative for new writers to see how messy a first draft is, so I am posting this piece of writing without even a second reading. 

If you would like to peek in on me while I’m writing, you can find the live Google Doc at this link and leave comments on the story. 

Connor, startled by Gregory’s question, choked on his saliva and coughed violently.

Gregory wore a cheshire cat grin and pulled a cigarette from a crumpled pack in his shirt pocket. “I was watching you through the door, when I snuck up on you, trying to hear em.”

Connor played dumb. It wasn’t easy to admit that he thought he heard snakes whispering to him during church service. “I didn’t hear anything when I opened the snake box.”

“Don’t play dumb son. You ain’t crazy. It takes the movement of the holy spirit to hear the snakes. You can’t just do it any time you want like some kind of witches and wizards bullshit.” Connor didn’t know that a minister could swear like that, and Gregory read the shock on his face. “Can’t a minister say a curse word?” Gregory let loose a loud belly laugh. “We ain’t all uptight on that kinda stuff. Not like them baptists or them other hellfire preachers. No one ain’t never been a man sent to hell for saying ‘bullshit’ that didn’t have plenty more cause for being sent there.” Gregory took a deep drag from the end of his cigarette and then held it upright to watch the wisps of smoke float up toward the ceiling. He took another drag, “let’s start over. You could hear the snakes during the service because the conditions were right for you to hear them. It’s like when Brother Thacker has a prophecy or Cooch has a healing. They can’t just do those things any time they want, mostly because they ain’t the ones doing it anyway. The holy ghost does all the work. We’re all just vessels for it hear on Earth. You follow me?”

Connor nodded because there was really no other explanation. Either Connor had a latent genetic snake whispering superpower or a he was being acted on by an outside force beyond his understanding.

Gregory reached forward and put his hand on Connor’s shoulder, “why the long face son? This is a joyous occasion. You’re very special to the body of Christ. I came to Paw Paw because the spirit pulled me here. And you came to this tent because the spirit brought us together. You’ve been given a rare gift in the spirit. Hell, you’ve only been in church two days and you’ve gotten prophecy and serpent speaking. Those are two of the most advanced of the signs. At this pace you’ll be laying hands and healing people by tomorrow, saving souls and speaking in tongues by the day after. You will be one of the mightiest men of God to come along in many years. And I knew your name because God knows it. You’ve been discarded, mistreated, and misused. But I tell you Connor, God is your real daddy, and he has the hairs on your head numbered. He knew you before you were born, and even then he appointed you to be his spokesman to the world.”

What the old minister was saying was tempting. Connor was not used to being encouraged, and if anything, so far, the world was communicating to Connor that he was not special, and that the people of the world, apart from Jorge and Eloise, did not give a shit about him. But during the services at the little tent in the woods, Connor did feel special. No where else had strangers crowded around him and offered him words of affirmations or pronouncements of his power as a person. Out in the world, Connor could barely catch his breath for the pressure that was on him. Connor’s failure to launch into adulthood, the constant conflict with his grandfather, his father’s death, his mother’s abandonment, his boss’s greed, and his grandmother’s illness all provided heat for the crucible that was Connor McDermott’s life.

“And I’m truly sorry that I had to deliver that word about your Grandmother,” Gregory broke eye contact and shook his head. “That was not something I wanted to do. Not the way a boy should find out his grandma is losing her mind. But the spirit said ‘that boy needs a wakeup call and here it is.’ The Bible says that God makes all things work for our good. I suppose that even means the demons of disease and infirmity.” Gregory flicked his cigarette ash on the carpet and used his foot to grind the ashed into the fibers until they were little more than a gray spot. “They’ll vacuum that up tomorrow.”

It was hard to accept everything that the minister said. There was too much happening for Connor to process all at once. Connor stood, stuttered through thanks to the minister for his time, and hastily left the tent. The night air was dense with moisture, and Connor’s clothes stuck to his skin. The walk home was lonesome and quiet. The adrenaline and euphoria that his brain swam in during the frantic service was replaced by silent contemplation. Connor had more questions than he had answers. Could he really hear snakes? Was a really a prophet? How much could Gregory be trusted? What would his grandparents say about all this? What did Gregory mean when he said Connor would be a mighty man of God?

And during that long, silent walk home Connor confronted himself. Had he really been so self absorbed and narcissistic that he hadn’t even notice his grandmother’s slow decline? Connor realized that he had been so preoccupied by fighting with Jorge that he had not given the old woman much consideration over the last year, and, if anything, he had treated her terribly or contributed to her poor health by bringing discord into her home. Perhaps the holy spirit was right, Connor did need a wakeup call. He resolved to apologize to his grandparents at the first opportunity.

When Connor walked up the steps to the house, the blue glow of the television peeked through the cracks in the venetian blinds. He could hear the cackle of canned laughter even outside on the porch. But Jorge was sound asleep in his chair. The old man’s head lolled to the side, and his mouth was wide open. His arms were crossed, hugging his torso for warmth. In that moment Connor’s eyes were able to see just how frail the old man was, his body beaten and his spine bent by decades of hard and thankless work. Jorge was sleeping in his chair more often, Connor suspected that Jorge fell asleep there this night because he was waiting up for Connor, but it was just as likely it was growing more difficult to sleep in a room with his wife.

For all of Jorge’s faults, and there were many, the man did truly love his wife. When Connor was a young teenager, he used to think that the way his grandparents winked at each other and exchanged kisses was disgusting, and he told them as much. But now that he was older and wiser, he was thankful that, overall, his grandparents’ marriage was a happy one. Jorge almost never spoke roughly to Eloise, even when Connor thought the old woman may deserve harsh treatment. Likewise, Eloise was patient with Jorge’s frustrated dreams and notorious temper.

For the first time, Connor had eyes and could see. In that moment he realized that his grandparents, his only family in the world, the only people he could truly count on, he realized that they were frail. And he understood why Jorge had been so emphatic about Connor’s finding a job that paid a living wage. In short order, one or both of his grandparents would pass, and Connor would no longer be provided for, and he would have to care for himself. Connor exchanged places with the old man in his mind for the first time, and he understood everything.

Tomorrow there would be a new Connor. It was time for him to put away childish things. It was time for him to rely on himself, and in short order it would be time for him to carry others, just as Jorge had done for him.

Connor grabbed the old quilt from the back of the couch and draped it over his grandfather before tucking in the edges around the old man’s gooseflesh covered shoulders. Jorge grumbled and his jaw worked at something, but the old man remained at rest. Behind them, and down the hall, Eloise’s bedroom creaked opened. Connor didn’t hear the shuffling of the old lady’s slippers over the low drone of the still glowing television. But he heard when she called out, “who’s there?”

“It’s just me grandma.” Connor answered.

“Sean? What’re you doing here? Did that no good wife of yours kick you out again?” The old lady tisked at him and marched forward, “Sometimes I wonder who’s the real fool. Me for marrying your father, or you for marrying Kathleen,” Eloise crossed her arms over her belly and laughed, “that minister said speak now or forever hold your piece.”

Connor strode lightly across the carpet and turned the television off. The room was at once cloaked in inky blackness. Eloise gasped, “Sean? It’s dark.”

Connor whispered, “Just stay put grandma. I’ll be there in a second.”

The old woman scoffed. “Nonsense. The light switch is right over here.”

“Don’t move grandma you’ll fall.” Connor felt panic overtake him, and he raced across the room, nearly tripping over his own feet in the dark.

“Nonsense. I’m right here.” Eloise flipped the switch, and Connor put a hand over his eyes to dampen the sudden, blinding light.

Jorge grumbled incomprehensibly, squeezing his eyes closed before he shot out of his chair, wild eyed, and bursting with adrenaline. “What is going on here. Can’t a man get any goddamned rest in this house.” Jorge now stood on the blanket that Conner wrapped around his shoulders. The old man’s face was scarlet and the veins around his temples bulged.

“Don’t you give none of your shit Jorge McDermott. Who do you think you are asleep at this time of day anyway? And stepping all over my good quilt!” Eloise shuffled her feet a step forward and pointed an arthritic finger at her husband’s chest. Connor wasn’t sure he’d ever heard his grandmother swear. He wished he felt like laughing.

Jorge blinked a few time and shook off the fog of his dreams. As soon as he took stock of the room, and everyone in it, the old man’s fury left him, and he stood deflated for a moment before stepping off the blanket and scooping it from the ground. “I’m sorry sweetheart,” the old man crooned and carefully folded the old quilt. He sat the pile of old fabric on the couch with all the gentleness one would treat a child.

“Let’s get you back to bed.” Jorge crossed the room and took his wife’s hand.

Eloise ripped herself from the old man’s loose grip, “But it’s the middle of the day. There’s so much to do.”

“I know. I know.” Jorge patted her hand gently before lightly grasping only a single finger, the same one she’d wielded against him only a moment earlier. “But you were up all night last night, and it’s not good to do that two nights in a row.”

The old woman thought for a moment, and even though she seemed very unhappy to be going back to her bedroom, she nodded. Connor couldn’t do anything but stand and watch the entire grotesque negotiation play out. As she turned to walk back the hallway, she leaned her head against Jorge’s shoulder, “too bad Sean’s here” she reached across herself and patted her husband on the chest, “we could wrinkle the sheets.”

“Heh,” Jorge chuckled and put an arm around his wife, “after he leaves?”

Connor couldn’t help but smile watching the two of them inch their way slowly down the hallway.

Eloise put a hand on her bedroom doorknob, and pecked Jorge on the cheek like she were a timid, teenage girl. “It’s a date.”

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