Okeechobee

We are on our way to visit Dad’s old friend from the army. The pine tree–shaped air freshener swings back and forth from the mirror and smells like gum. Outside our old green Dodge Swinger, there are flat roads and gas stations. There are also boiled peanut stands, and the scruffy men that run them look you in the eye as you pass, no matter how fast the car is going.

Mom and Dad had a fight before we left the house, but I couldn’t hear any of the words. He’s wearing cutoff jeans, and I bet the fight had something to do with that, since Mom is wearing a white dress with blue flowers and has her hair in hair-sprayed waves all around her face. Pearl earrings too.

My sister isn’t talking to me. Not one word. She gives me the silent treatment whenever they fight.

When Mom was little, she wore white dresses and Mary Janes, and ribbons in her butter-yellow hair. In old pictures, she is always the star, and the grown-ups stand on the lawn holding their drinks, laughing at whatever our cute little mom is doing for the camera. Her name is Dorabelle. Really.

In Dad’s family pictures, there are six kids with dark hair, lined up in size order, wearing clothes that are too small or too big. None of them is ever smiling. In one picture, they are all sitting on an over-turned tractor tire. Dad is holding a bottle of root beer with both hands. You can tell that he’s drinking it as slowly as he can, trying to make it last. It’s probably gone warm and flat, but for now, it’s still his.

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