They were driving past the feed store on highway 35 when they decided they could live without the kids. And they figured, what with Charlie being 16 and able to work and Michael not far behind, the kids would be just fine too.
So they drove out to the county line and bought some more Gordons vodka and all the "Goat Ropers Make Better Lovers" and "I'd Rather Be a Roper Than a Doper" bumper stickers the liquor store had in stock and plastered them all over their Royal Dodge Monaco. Plastered them onto the trunk and the hood, the doors and side panels and fenders and windows. Even some on the windshield. Drove off through Matagorda county and toward Mexico when last seen.
I saw them at a Jack in the Box in Brownsville just by chance. They didn't recognize me at all. She came up to me and asked me if I'd had an accident outside her house once and come to her door and asked to use the sink to wash the blood from my face. I told her, "No ma'am, I grew up with your young 'uns. Y'all lived acros the alley from us, behind old man Bailey's."
She drew back and her friendly face changed and she said, "I ain't knowing no old man Bailey and I ain't got no kids."
But I knew it was her. I remembered her letting me into the living room lots of times. Asking me if I wanted a fried egg sandwich
Months later I asked Charlie why Michael didn't talk any more. Charlie told me he stopped talking when their parents left. He told me all about them leaving a note telling him to take care of everybody and make sure the youger ones stayed out of trouble.
I told him I had seen them in Brownsville. I told him how crazy his mom had acted. And about all the bumper stickers on the car.
Charlie didn't seem too mad about it. I suppose he was maybe too simple minded to linger too much in thought on the philosophical and psychological issues regarding parents abandoning a whole passel of kids to the charge of a sweet but stupid teenager.
Michael was not simple. He had been a sweet boy who always smiled and chattered beautifully the beautiful chatter of childhood bliss. A joy to be near and a joy to think of. He could never get his head around the thought that they had left him. Had left all of them.
He never spoke again. He never smiled. He followed Charlie around sometimes; and stayed on the periphery of any crowd. He threw rocks.
He walked highways late at night and looked for the chocolate brown Royal Dodge Monaco. He never saw it.
One night, near the feed store on highway 35, a truck driver went off the road and ran him over and kept going. The driver was never found. Neither were the parents.