This Is My America(10)

Did you watch the Susan Touric interview of my brother, Jamal Beaumont? It aired today (on Saturday).

Please review James Beaumont’s application (#1756).

Thank you for your time.

Tracy Beaumont



Usually I roll to school with Jamal, but Monday he dipped out of the house before I could ride with him, and then he crept in close to curfew. Skipped a visit with Daddy. Again. I shouldn’t have expected different just one day later; now it’s Tuesday and I have to go with Mama to Galveston so I can catch a ride with my best friend, Dean, at his parents’ antique store, where she works.

I usher Corinne into the car and frantically roll down the windows to let the heat out, wishing we could take Daddy’s old Buick. It stays hitched under a tree and tarped away with layers of filth—seven years deep.

I wipe my brow from the morning heat. The humidity is the worst, though, the way dust particles stick to my skin like it has a natural adhesive. Another shower is useless, since the sweat will build right back up. Part of me knows the same feeling from stained memories. They never disappear. Just dormant, till they awake in full force during summers in Texas.

Mama joins us, taking the passenger seat so she can finish getting ready. We swerve onto the dirt road, leaving a billowing trail of dust behind us. I cough and hack, then frantically roll up my window before jabbing my fist onto the front dash in three quick pops, hoping the AC will kick in faster.

“We can’t survive without AC this summer,” I say. “It’s already hotter than usual.”

“Hush and be patient while it cools.” Her voice has a sharp edge she hasn’t let go of since the interview.

“We could always sell our car and the Bu, then get a new one.”

The words come out before I can stop them. I know we’d never sell the Bu. Even when money’s tight. Because selling it means giving up on Daddy ever coming home. And if he ever does, Mama wants one thing that hasn’t changed, so he won’t have a constant reminder of the years taken away from him.

“We’re not touching—”

“It stinks.” Corinne pinches her nose at the stale air pumping out of the vents.

“You stink.” I give Corinne a wink in the rearview mirror. Even she knows not to go there with Daddy’s car. She must’ve been born with that gift, ’cause I sure don’t have it.

We take the exit to Galveston Bay, leaving Crowning Heights behind us. Within ten miles, the difference between the cities is glaring. Crowning is basically the no-man’s-land part of Galveston County. We’re more inland, closer to Houston, but poor and rural. The homes in Crowning Heights are shoddily put together, unlike the resort living you see the closer you get to the bay.

All talk of developments stopped in my area after the Davidsons were murdered. Daddy and Mark Davidson had plans to build out here, but after the trial, no one’s touched it. This left Crowning with a long stretch of gravel roads, one rickety gas station, a market owned by a Vietnamese family, and the few migrant workers who stuck around after the farms dried out. We stayed out here because we can’t afford to move closer.

Forty minutes later, we park in front of Corinne’s school. She takes her sweet time getting out. She’s a mini version of Mama when it comes to being on her own schedule.

“Need help?” I motion so Corinne can see how easy it would be for me to unbuckle her jammed-up seat belt.

“I don’t need your help.” Corinne squints at me before fiddling her fingers so the latch releases and she can jump out of the car.

As she gets out, Mama gives her a once-over, studying her heart-shaped brown face before kissing her cheeks. Mama leaves a big red smudge of her lipstick. Corinne scrunches her face, acting like she don’t love the attention.

I should be more like them, enjoying these little moments. I can’t help myself. The pull of being on the move takes over. That rush to hurry, even if it’s to wait and do nothing. Jamal always walks Corinne to class if he’s dropping off, no matter how late we’re running.

Mama wraps her arms around us for a daily prayer. I bow my head. When she’s done, Mama takes off her hair wrap and presses her hands around her edges before checking for stray hairs as she smooths out her thick black hair. She steps into the sunlight, and her long dark brown legs send a shadow climbing up the sidewalk as she walks Corinne to the entrance. You can hear the screams of kids rushing to beat the bell.

“Can’t I go with you guys?” Corinne asks.

“Tracy’s going to school. You want to switch and have her homework?”

Mama’s threat works. Corinne throws her backpack over her shoulder and turns to school, but not before waving goodbye. I love her smile. My heart twinges at how much different her life is at that age from mine. When I was her age, Daddy took Jamal and me to the park down the street from our house every weekend. We used to earn points during the week so we could pick out ice cream when the truck would ride by in the afternoon. We never asked for money ’cause he didn’t have much to spare, so those times were everything to us. I even miss those empty threats of spankings when we were awful. Corinne will never know what it was like to have Daddy home. All she’s known is Daddy locked up.

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