Cousins with fancy toys

Uncle Reid, Aunt Rhonda’s husband was a quiet man with a knack for capitalizing on the infrastructure needs of the oil boom.

This meant a steady stream of gifts of accelerated value and then horsepower for the cousins from Dry Creek.

They had a wealth of family on their father’s side as well, which meant that when Mamaw and Papaw and sometimes Uncle Weaver visited them the sense of smallness you felt was magnified by the rich amusements of your cousins.

With their voices like sugar cubes in ice tea and their fearless beauty.

They sang loud, played hard and attracted boys like shoo-fly pie.

And you, in your quiet watchfulness found yourself lapsing into the vaguer similes of southern matrons.

Durn the road.

And there was Chris Graciano, Adonis of your long-forgotten childhood, standing there before you all real-and-growed-up. But so much like the boy you once knew who tucked you into his overalls hanging in your cousins’s closet so you could stay still and quiet and win a game of hide-and-seek.

So many years ago.

Advertisements

Your face only older

It is in the midst of a dream about swimming–the pool in the subconscious has been partially drained, the rules tell her she must wait, she labors to perform the Australian crawl in what amounts to inches of water, she sees a drain at the end of the pool hemorrhaging water. How can she staunch the flow? And what is the tick, tick, tick growing louder and more insistent?

She is startled awake by the trio of real-world sensations–knocking on glass, heat and a human face peering down at her with a blaze of sun eclipsing any shot at distinct facial features.

Where the hell is Betsy Lee?! she wonders as she instinctively swings at him.

Whoa there, Tex, he chastens her calmly, preventing her slap but then holding her hand in a way that was disconcertingly inviting.

You look familiar. He says squinting at her features and using his free hand to make a frame through which to examine her.

Not from around these parts?

She means to say–my dog-gone birth certificate is from around these very parts Mister. Now where is my dog?!

But what comes out resembles air being released from a tire more than English.

He shifts a little and she sees he is grinning. Grinning and still holding onto her hand.

She pulls it back and purses her lips.

Who the hell are you and where is my dog? This time in actual English.

He moves his chin casually in the direction of the front porch where Betsy can be seen sniffing the canna lilies in the flower boxes.

Her annoyance deflates in the relief of seeing the dog and the steady sense that man and dog have gotten acquainted during her sleep-swim.

You often run dry and end up sleeping in old folk’s driveways?

Yep. Actually I do. I am writing a book–private drives of the coastal plains I have met and conquered.

I admit the title is unwieldy.

Hm. He glances up in a look of studied concentration. Maybe could use some tweaking.

But seriously, you do look familiar. You know the folks who live here?

Maybe. You know, I could ask you the same question. What are you doing out here on Orphanage Road so early in the morning and uninvited to?

Hm..not the right tone, little missy. 11 am is not exactly the crack o’ dawn and I am in fact invited.

I have been mowing this lawn for the last couple years, now, I reckon.

She rubbed her face in rhetorical defeat. Best fess up, she guessed.

This is my grandparents’ house. I drove down to…

It seemed way too complicated to explain her reasons for driving down.

Chris Graciano, he announced, grabbing her hand with both of his and pumping it vigorously in an exaggerated gesture of welcome.

You must be…Laura or Julia? Miss Rhonda’s daughters? I used to hunt with Jack and Dwayne when they went down to The Land.

No…those are my cousins.

She looked straight ahead as she said this, almost wishing she had said yes and gone with impersonating one of her pitch-perfect cousins.

His eyes widened and his mouth dropped at the same time in what would have been a comic gesture of surprise if she had retained an sense of humor about her own identity.

Cindy Lou Who?!! Is it really you?!

Durn She thought. Durn that road.

Never the same river twice

You want a place you love to stay the same forever. You want the people to be there—the same. The coffee brewing in the kitchen–the same. The old black rotary phone on the recessed shelf in the hallway by the bath, a dial tone still on the phone…the same number…same area code, the ring and click of each digit a reminder of the years of calling home.

The slow, even tick of the clock on the wall in the kitchen, a heartbeat.

Uncle Weaver comes through from the back porch, careful to close, not slam, the screen door or Mamaw will give him what-for, careful to extract yesterday’s brisket and beans from the ice box.

Girl, he says to me, you wanna go fishing?

Always.

We get down to The Land and drive the pickup down across the field to where the river runs. The cows regard us with sleepy suspicion.

He has already begun asking me if I think the alligator will be lurking in the shallows by the red cedar.

All the rivers in Texas run to the sea all with their pretty names, women and saints with hibiscus flowers in their hair–Trinity, and Guadalupe, and Sabine and Angelina.

He hands me stuff–tackle box and styrofoam bucket full of minnows. I wonder what would happen if we just let them all go free. Do we even like to eat fish? We come for other things.

You don’t realize till afterward that the story telling is a blood and bones thing, that it is a piece of him and will be a piece of you. That the danger is in who you tell and how you tell it, that facts are immaterial and always have been. That fishing for nothing and fishing for significance are both activities that do not require a license.

Only what you catch and hold and skin and kill requires the intervention of the state.

Never mind that anyway, girl, he says, this is private property here. A testament to what happens when rich men have only daughters.

Swimming in air

She arrives exhausted just as the still moving earth turns from night to extract particles of light from a rising sun.

She rolls down the windows as she drives the last two miles through the still sleepy town. The air is so wet with sea, she feels submerged–driving through water the same color as the sky. Deep alive blue.

It is so close to the sea, the end of this road.

Oddly enough, after hours and hours of fighting sleep and passing rest stops, she fingers the keys to the house, still cradled in the padded mailer from the law offices of…

Looks down at Betsy Lee, curled asleep with her head in her lap, pulls a blanket gently around them both and falls asleep, leaning against the interior of her grandfather’s old pickup for ballast, afraid to disturb anything.

The last few hours

Stretch out in the darkness. The highway begins to tilt upward even though she knows this land is flat like a sea.

She sings lullabies to Betsy Lee, loud, then quiet, but BL doesn’t mind.

She regrets passing rest stations and travel centers, envies the truckers lining these oases with their lights still dotting the parking lots.

She rolls and unrolls the windows of the pickup. Takes a strand of hair and winds it up into the glass. A last resort against falling asleep at the wheel.

From Wharton to Ganado she trails an 18 wheeler. He is her guide. She will be safe if she stays close to him.

She longs for rest like a drug, a glass of water.

So far still to go.

Sushi Bar Prophet

She stops in the Woodlands on the way down, despite a an uneasiness about peripheral Houston and it’s snooty burbs.

The only brown people here are on the clock,she thinks as she navigates through an uneasy sea of pink and white faces.

She orders takeout at a sushi bar and sees a distinguished looking man in his middle years. He don’t look so Texan, she makes a snap decision to chat.

Probably ill-advised.

He is Flemish, an oil industry someone and she asks him obvious questions about mud engineering.

Yes, he says, it is happening. This is the next big boom. It is already here.

Good news for selling an old house, surely. You would think. But she still remembers the wreckage of the last boom and the bust that came with it.

She thanks the man for permitting her intrusion. Tells him she liked Belgium once a long time ago.

And pays the harried waiter for the brown bag full of raw fish wrapped in seaweed. All non-native to the Woodlands.

Never capitalize the The, it only encourages the white folk.

The Endless

They said, when they finally reached her, that she was a hard woman to find.

She thought, but didn’t say–there is a reason for that.

She asked them twice to repeat the information, then asked them if she could call them back. They said sure but sounded unsure, maybe even a little annoyed.

Clearly they were used to different responses than this. But then she doubted they had a grasp of the complexities of the situation.