Dad doesn’t understand me anymore, so he volunteered us both for the last remaining slots on the Python Patrol. That’s what the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission calls it, and each month it hosts a free workshop to help people in the Everglades identify and capture the python population mushrooming in our own backyards. “You imagine, Toby?” he asked me a few weeks back. “A hundred thousand Burmese pythons slitherin’ around out there! That animal guy on the radio, Kip whatever, he says they caught one 16 feet long—sixteen!—just last month. You picture that?”
We drive in silence to the workshop. Dad’s truck smells like brine and bad coffee, and something loose rattles beneath the dash. In the distance, the oak hammocks begin to show themselves, their outlines taking shape beneath a leftover moon. I lean my forehead against the glass and sigh louder than I mean to. My mom told him not to worry, that boys had a way of turning inside themselves. She called it a phase, said I wasn’t the first to go through it. “How’d you feel at 15?” she asked him. Dad conceded the point, but I can tell he’s not convinced. Sometimes he lowers the morning paper to look at me, then starts counting something on his fingers. He’s spent the last few months performing a strange courtship dance, offering unnecessary gifts—ice cream after school, a new Gerber multi-tool—trying awkwardly to fix whatever it is he thinks is broken.