The Good Book and the Bad Book

O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride, and strife. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power. God, make the door of this house the gateway to Thine eternal Kingdom.—quote on the front doors of the upper school chapel at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, in Austin

Law and Disorder

Darla Lexington sleeps in a very dark room in a very large bed, alone. Like a particular kind of Houston woman, the fact that she lives on the top floor of a luxury apartment building is a sign of reduced circumstances, though in her case the loss of an impressive River Oaks home resulted from a death instead of a divorce. The bedspread and curtains are black, giving the room the gloom of mourning.

Innocence Found

The 6,640th day of Anthony Graves’s incarceration—October 27, 2010—began like any other. He awoke at five o’clock in the morning to the sound of the food cart rattling down the hall of the Burleson County jail, where a guard slid his breakfast tray through a slot in his cell door. At seven o’clock, the overhead fluorescent lights came on, illuminating the windowless cell where he had lived in solitary confinement for the past four years. Graves turned on the TV, switching it to the local morning newscast.

Innocence Lost

Editors’ note: On October 27, 2010, just a month after the publication of this story, the Burleson County district attorney’s office dropped all murder charges against Anthony Graves and released him from the county jail, where he was awaiting retrial.

Gentling Cheatgrass

The mustang has eyes that are large and dark and betray his mood. His coat is bright bay, which is to say he’s a rich red, with black running down his knees and hocks. He has a white star the size of a silver dollar on his forehead and a freeze mark on his neck. He cranks his head high as a rider approaches, shaking out a rope from a large gray gelding. The mustang does not know what is to come. His name is Cheatgrass, and he’s six years old. In May he was as wild as a songbird.

The Soul of a Man

On August 20, 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 2 spaceship on a one-way ticket to oblivion. Three weeks later, its sister craft, Voyager 1, blasted off with the same destination. Their mission for the first dozen years or so, as they cruised through the solar system, was to gather data from the planets. Their goal for the next 60,000 years or so, as they leave us far behind, is to carry a message in a bottle to the stars.

Big State, Small Screen

The snowball of critical gush that started rolling with the debut of Friday Night Lights, in October 2006, was actually a little embarrassing. That so many critics around the country would deem a show about Texas high school football to be the year’s best new drama was itself a surprise, but only mildly so, as some program had to be. But then the New York Times took the discussion somewhere else.

My Tío, the Saint

Every family has a saint; in mine, he’s certified. In the Eighties, reports began to surface of a young man in a red pickup truck bearing food and water who would arrive to help unauthorized immigrants stranded in the deserts of California, Arizona, and New Mexico. In some reports, the man appeared just in time to rescue people from drowning in the Rio Grande; in others, he made them invisible to the Border Patrol or protected them from rattlesnakes or advised them on where to find work.

That’s Oil, Folks!

One autumn morning in 1998, a soft-spoken, ruddy-faced petroleum engineer named Dennis Phelps walked out of his office at the Atlantic Richfield Company in downtown Midland and drove a company car, a four-door Chevrolet, to M. T. Boultinghouse 11-7, an oil well that had just been drilled amid some cactus and a few scraggly mesquite trees twenty miles south of the city’s airport. He parked several yards from the wellhead and stepped inside a small RV that was outfitted with some tables and chairs, a computer, and a coffeepot.

My Own Private Alamo

The Alamo has a claim to being not only the most resonant historical site in America but the most peculiar. Generations of visitors have stood in front of the old mission church in downtown San Antonio and scratched their head in confusion. For one thing, the Alamo itself seems far too small to support the unbounded legend that has grown up around it. The towering building that most people expect to see turns out to be a squat and oddly configured structure that is in almost every way inscrutable.

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