We are riding in a car. My dad drives the streets of New Orleans. Mom sits in the front seat. I sit in the back seat behind dad. Looking into the rearview mirror, I can see dad's eyes while he drives. It is like so many family road trips that happened long after my sisters were grown and gone - we have a seating order, the same way each family member knows his own chair at the dinner table.
Dad concentrates on the street signs, on following the directions. Occasionally, he looks at my mother and makes jokes. I don't know what he's saying, but when he teases, his eyes squint -one eye winks at her. His cheeks are rosy.
I can glance to the right and see my mother. She looks at dad, and she looks at me over her shoulder. Her eyes are alive, laughing and loving. She has a smile on her face. It's not a huge, wide smile like the kind you plaster on before someone yells, "Say CHEESE!" It's a soft, calm, thoughtful smile. A closed-mouth smile that reveals her inner thoughts. She's admiring us.
She is healthy. Not sick. Not old. Her hair is black. Her skin is young. She is so pretty. This is what I think when I look at her. My mom is the prettiest person in the world. She never speaks a word while we ride in the car.
Dad pulls over and parallel parks. We've reached our destination. It's an old house, the kind of mansion you see on St. Charles Avenue - imposing stone facade with a grand stairway leading up to a grander shaded porch. The house is gray. The fence is black. Unlike homes on St. Charles Avenue, it's not set back on a low sloping green lawn. It's right at the sidewalk. A stately mansion misplaced in the urban French Quarter. We look at a historical marker on the iron fence surrounding it. The marker tells us: This house is occupied by ghosts. This house is haunted.
When I wake up, it feels like she's been hugging me. I realize I've been dreaming of her. I tell myself, go back to sleep, and then I do.
The dreams are never enough. I used to beg for them. Now they come, but they are not enough. I want more. Next time, I want to smell her while I sleep. I want to smell jasmine. Lily of the valley. Baby powder. Maybeline lipstick. All these smells mixed together.
This desire makes me feel childish. When will I become an adult? Maybe it is a curse, being the youngest. Maybe you are doomed to forever think of yourself as the baby. Maybe you can never feel grown.
SONG: Things that Scare Me, Neko Case