Alamo Plaza

The road to the coast was a long, steamy corridor of leaves. Narrow bridges over brush-choked creeks. Our father drove, the windows down, wind whipping his thick black hair. Our mother’s hair, abundant and auburn and long and wavy, she’d tried to tame beneath a pretty blue scarf. He wore a pair of black Ray-Bans. She wore prescription shades with the swept and pointed ends of the day. He whistled crooner songs and smoked Winstons, and early as it was, no one really talked. My older brother, Hal, slept sitting up, his mouth open as if he were singing silently in a dream.

This was before things changed, before Hurricane Camille, the casinos. Long before Hal’s death in a car wreck at the age of twenty-one, my father’s heart attacks and fatal stroke, the aneurism that took our mom, my younger brother Ray’s drug addiction and long-term illness.

On this trip Ray, too young to bring along, too much trouble most of the time, had been left with our grandmother. He was just two, yet already his sharp, hawkish eyes constantly sought their prey, which was insufficient attention, which he would rip to shreds with tantrums, devour in small bloody satisfying chunks until he received either punishment or, better, mollification. I was so very glad that he was not along, not only because of his querulous nature, but also because his absence made it more possible—or so I imagined—for me to get more of Hal’s and my parents’ attention myself.