Brian Wilson, Gone to Town
From “Brian Wilson, Gone to Town,” The Greensboro Review, Number 87, Spring 2010
Thing is, Mother was a painter. Or just, “She painted.”
She sold a few pieces here and there, smaller ones mostly, some as small as index cards, seascapes and the like. Of course she found them distasteful—she had a creative mind and was then, I realize now, far ahead of her time—but she could still do these tiny sentimental pieces in her sleep and turn them around the next day for cash. See them hung now in kitchens and bathrooms where their owners think windows should be. She signed them all, cramped brush strokes standing in for her name, sequestered in the bottom right-hand corner, illegible, often mistaken for driftwood. She even taught some too, working her way down the coastline one school at a time (community colleges, art centers, high schools) often changing her name from place to place.
I did the math once: twelve addresses in three years. Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, and Charleston, a condo in each. In Charleston we could even see the water. In Savannah there were eight apartments in succession, until finally we found a yellow three-bedroom bungalow a block off Broad street, which is where all the blacks lived then, with us beside them. I was fifteen. My sister, Jamie, was eighteen and a freshman at Mt. Vernon.
Our street was lit at one end with a mercury vapor lamp from Georgia Power and at dusk and afterwards the street glowed green and white. In summer, the trucks from the city would come and spray Malathion to knock down the mosquito population. Shirtless black boys on bicycles would ride behind the trucks weaving in and out of each other’s paths, in and out of the green-gray light and between the trails of white fumes down to the darkened corners of the block, their voices carrying, muddled together over the ionized air. At night, heat lightning filled the sky and the August breezes were saturated with echoes of thunderstorms already out to sea and also with the whistles from the Norfolk southern engines carrying kaolin up from below the Edisto river to the Garden City terminal.