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Passing Milfin, Passing Loxley

Passing Milfin, passing Loxley. You say don’t you remember coming down here, two lanes and those azaleas, demented, big as houses, bringing down the gutters. Squinting for the memories, so dark on this stretch and nothing feels familiar. It was easy peasy "59," now with the grown-up name. "Parkway" makes it a parkway. Everybody knows that. I'm sorry...where are the parks, exactly? Hodgepodge of curious towns and silver king farm stands, moms and pops and T-shirt shacks. It’s 4 lanes now and complication.

You're up early and already down at the beach. Today feels like vacation. I sleep late, get up and gorge on citrus and ice cold melon. I lay by the pool and then walk out to the beach right as the storm rolls in. The clouds are impressive. I break my $5 sunglasses and somehow another pair appears. Back at the place, you and I start the risotto (yes, in a rented beach condo!). I stare at your gorgeous girls and their besties, all bronzed and luscious from a week in the sun, the same age as you and me when we were here last. All week long I’ve been watching them whisper and conspire. I wonder if their hearts are longing for a boy. Or if they’re anxious about the years ahead. You stir the risotto and then leave the kitchen, fussing with your hair. I holler after, "want me to braid it?" You let out a squeal.

I am 10 years old running these beaches with my dirt poor relations. It's only one case quarter to cross the bay, "Let me drop it in!" Kachink into the basket as the salt air hits my nose. Now we cross the long, long bridge, thump-thump-thump-thrump--so high it feels like fiction--and meander down to Santa Rosa Sound, calm and still, like some forgotten lake. This would be like if I had a nice book to read or for making dribble castles, maybe. But mostly, "ya'll I'm bored, lets cross on over!" We almost always choose the danger…summer cousins on the surf side now, descending the dunes like warriors. I plant my feet in the sand and stand where the waves break hard, trying to imagine what a rip tide looks like. Will it grab me from below and yank me under? Does it feel like swirling, some powerful underwater hurricane? Or will it swallow me slow-like, hypnotic hugging me into its depths until I'm limp and drunk and willing...

You say, just listen to that. Passing Daphne, passing Summerdale, windows down, the air is thick. You say it sounds like summertime in south Alabama. Cicadas, tree frogs, dry flies and crickets. Cowhides hung for sale…like laundry on the line. Deer packing plants, pecan orchards, statuary stores with life-size roosters, pine needle mulch, and one dead armadillo.

I am 8 years old up the road on meemaw’s porch, Cervantes Street and freshly washed hair. She brushes my senile platinum mane, "Surrender All," rocking on that swing in her moo moo and slippers, "creeeek, creeek." Talking, "What's for supper" or what we’ll wear to church. “Y’all cut up some hydrangea for the altar.”

The cool of the porch is so lovely after a day in the streets, barefoot and wild, feet chewed all to hell from broken glass and oyster shells and her wanting that bottle of coca-cola from up the road at the surplus store. Hours and hours detangling and discussion of my “hair rats” and their possible origins, she divides it into two piles and begins. There is precision and procedure. A Navy nurse's home is exactly as you'd imagine. Linens washed daily, starched white sheets, hospital corners, twice washed dishes and clorox, borax, ajax -- all the axes. The braids are tightly woven and perfect every time. Now she pats me on the shoulder and starts on my sister. My scalp is on fire from the siege and I wear that pain PROUD like a fancy new dress for no reason. She’s still singing. And I miss her already. But I will not cry! I won’t do it! I can smell roasted chicken coming from the kitchen. And baked potatoes too. I watch her face, so smooth and soft, the smell of witch hazel on her skin, rocking toward the end of summer, and I have just decided right here right now, I will never leave this swing, not EVER, not even if I bleed to death from scalp wounds, not if a whole bucket of Church’s Fried Chicken wanders past, not if Sean Cassidy himself walks up on this porch with a dozen roses, no death or threat of torture can move me from this spot. I burn a hole in meemaw’s back with my intentions. She slowly turns her steely eyes in my direction. No smiles, no reassurances, just her locked and prideful jaw and me with my locked and prideful jaw…a half an inch higher. She squints. I squint. And now, goddamnit, we have an understanding.