Paint peels around a hole in the kitchen wall beside a bottle of syrup and a bag of flour. The tiny, ragged crater is a constant reminder of the moments that changed Crystal Brabham's life.
Gunshots crackled from all directions that July night. Several rounds tore through the walls as Brabham's daughter and niece crouched in her closet, screaming. Another girl vomited from nerves. Brabham sat in bed, where an infection in her legs has confined her, as the longest volley of gunfire she'd ever heard erupted outside her Dorchester Terrace home.
Bullets struck her son, McGill Cason, about a block away as he drove friends home after a birthday party at Brabham's house. She suspects the shots that killed him in a hail of traveling gunfire were meant for someone else. He was 22.
McGill considered himself the protector of his family. At age 5, he insisted on sleeping at the foot of Brabham's bed in case she fell ill during the night. He would drive his sister to work at Steak 'n Shake during breaks from his own job waiting tables at Red Lobster.
He had a fiancee, a 6-year-old stepdaughter and a 2-year-old son.
Brabham, 50, grows animated when she tells stories, but sorrow hangs in her words these days.
She types a text message six weeks after her son's death: "This house makes me sad."
Brabham never liked it here. Her rental home on South Surrey Drive, with a dark brown exterior and tiny dirt yard, was available in a pinch last year. But it wasn’t long before her family noticed drug use and prostitution outside.
Brabham dreams of a spacious apartment with a large kitchen pantry, one that's free of bullet holes. Away from here, her two daughters, 17 and 8, wouldn't have to walk past their brother's murder scene to catch the bus. The girls slept in Brabham's bed for weeks after his death and refused to walk to the kitchen alone at night.
Brabham sighs. "If I had the money, I'd be out of here tomorrow."
Just finding a new home is a major challenge. She hasn't been able to walk in three years. That kept her from attending McGill's funeral.
She runs her house from her cramped room, ironing clothes from her bed. At holidays, she whips up meals of Cornish hens, collard greens and sweet potato pies using electric skillets and a table pulled to the edge of her mattress.
The room is dark this afternoon as Brabham reaches for a pack of smokes atop a cooler doubling as a nightstand.
"I smoke cigarettes so I don't be crying all day."
McGill was so proud of her for quitting. She started again when she learned he'd been shot.
Brabham places a cigarette between her lips and lights it. She knows she needs to quit again. But not today.
Reach Angie Jackson at 843-937-5705. Follow her on Twitter at @angiejackson23.