THE SEEDY CORNER
The house in Galveston, in Fish Village, on Albacore Avenue specifically, is no longer yellow but I will always think of it so: a pale milky yellow, like I imagine cream with a pat of butter stirred in to be—but that sounds so Midwestern, doesn't it, that cream and butter shit, and apart from one trip to Wisconsin and a friendship with some Minnesotans I know fuck all about the Midwest—so instead let's say it is a golden-white like sunlight, why don't we, the scorching sunlight of the Texas coast that I know well, slanting down through the palm trees to leave sunburns in strange patterns across our young brown shoulders and the tops of our feet where we never remember sunscreen—but a golden-white pockmarked by spotted brown snails, smears of mud and tar that none of us kids know how they got there but my dad says they're tossed by the sea breezes and salt air that move without our knowledge and often without warning, building steadily into terrifying organic forms, like the hurricane that will finally force my grandparents out of this home and off this island in just over fifteen years; but before that this house still has the screen door that's worn, riddled with tears and gaping wounds in the mesh meant to be protective but instead permitting those fucking resilient Galveston mosquitoes, drawn to the white, white walls, white as pearls—not pearls like the nubby gray one I found once, prying open the hinge of an oyster my tío from the Valley procured from his buddy, a Gulf shrimper, just a pebble, really, giving a gritty, gravel scrape against my teeth—but pearls like rich women wear in movies set in New England, a place as exotic and foreign to me as Sierra Leone, pearls with a sheen of class and clean against that white to draw the eyes of men named Conrad or Geoffrey—but these walls have no such sheen, and this white lures only mosquitoes and moths and a mess of other bugs through the screen door into my grandparents' home on this steamy island where I was born, where I spent holidays and summers and long weekends all my life until that hurricane, thinking this island—this city—this neighborhood of Fish Village—this sun-white house on Albacore Avenue was the ultimate vacation escape, because it's only ten minutes from Stewart Beach and its brown sand, its empty lifeguard towers of softly feathered wood that still splinters into the webs of our hands, its tar globs that we rub from our heels and ankles with baby oil before we put our shoes back on, and it's only two blocks from Lindale Park where my cousins and I play halfhearted tennis for an hour before getting bored and spinning my sister on the merry-go-round until she screams, the park where we know not to be after 5 because the gangs come out, and we know not to wear red or blue at certain times of the day as we walk back quickly with our hands in Rosalinda's, her grip tightening when we cross the street hoping the knot of teenage boys over there won't catcall so much but they always do because at thirteen she already has C-cups and the rest of us don't but we are still female, still something to be snagged in the net of their eyes; and it isn't until Hurricane Ike sweeps into Galveston with the surge that floods the house—leaving an inky bruise on the white walls four feet from the floor—that takes so much construction and red tape to renovate that my family finally rents the home out and stays permanently in the neighborhoods over the causeway that they call nice, they call safe, and it isn't until I describe that house in Fish Village to my Houston-native professor, and he nods and says that's part of the seedy corner huh that I sit back and blink through his words, realizing where he thinks I am from, where I was all along, why the pizza delivery boy on the phone once heard us say Albacore Avenue and immediately answered with We don't deliver out there.
Galveston is a strange, historic, ugly, beautiful island off the Texas coast, but when I was growing up it was simply the beach town where my family lived, the neighborhood where my cousins and I played, the house where we huddled beneath the window AC and rode out hurricanes. After Ike hit in 2008, news reports referred to neighborhoods like ours as “lower-income;” later, my professor from Houston offhandedly called it the seedy corner. Those labels struck me, and I sat there, remembering and realizing all in one moment. How a place can be one thing when you are a child, how as adults we learn it is something else. An intertwined chain of memory and epiphany.
I'm working on a story collection set mostly in Galveston. It's a fascinating place, y'all. I'd point anyone interested, in the island or history or natural disasters, to Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson, about the devastating 1900 hurricane.