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212 fiction The road to the coast was a long, steamy corridor of leaves. Nar‑ row bridges over brush‑choked creeks. Our father drove, the windows down, wind whipping his thick black hair. Our mother’s hair, abun‑ dant 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 prescrip‑ tion 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 ca‑ sinos. 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, Brad Watson 213 devour in small bloody satisfying chunks until he received either pun‑ ishment 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. By noon we smelled the brine-and-fish stink of the bays. The land flattened into hazy vista, so flat you could see the curve of the earth. Downtown Gulfport steamed an old Floridian vapor from cracked side‑ walks and filigreed railings, shaded storefronts—not a soul out, every‑ one and everything stalled in the heat, distilling. The beach highway stretched out to the east, white and hot in the sun. Our tires made slap‑ ping sounds on the melting tar dividers and the wind in the car win‑ dows was warm and salty. We passed old beach mansions with green shutters, hundred-year-old oaks in the yards. A scattering of cheap red‑ brick motels, slat-board restaurants, bait shops. The beach, to our right, was flat and white and the lank brown surf lapped at the sand. East of Gulfport, the Alamo Plaza Motel Court, with its fort-like fa‑ cade of white stucco, stood flanked by low regular motel rooms around a concrete courtyard. The swimming pool lay oddly naked and exposed in the middle of the motel’s broad front lawn, one low diving board jut‑ ting over the deep end like a pirates’ plank. No one was out. We stopped in the breezeway beside the office and went inside, where the floor was cool Mexican tile. Lush green plants sprouted from large clay pots in the corners, and there was a color television on which we could watch programs unavailable back home. I have a vivid mem‑ ory of seeing a Tarzan movie there in which Tarzan, standing in the crook of a large tree, is shot right between the eyes by a safari hunter’s rifle, and doesn’t even flinch. Is it possible this is a true memory, not invented or stretched? Would Hollywood in the thirties—for this was an old movie even then—have allowed Tarzan to be shot directly in the forehead with a high-power rifle, the bloody spot at the point of entry jumping out on his skin, without so much as blinking his eyes? I was, I am, as incredulous as the safari men on the jungle trail below, holding their high-power rifles and gaping at this jungle god, who just stared coolly back at them with the bullet hole in the center of his forehead. It seemed very real and possible, however, in the moment. ✶ 214 ecotone We rented a bungalow in the rear of the Alamo Plaza. In the morn‑ ings we went to the beach, joining hands to cross the white...


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