This morning Mother dressed me in baggy knickers, white starched shirt and string tie. I wanted to wear long pants--like men--not knickers. While I stood in front of our hallway mirror she fussed with my collar, and then dampened and parted my hair.
“Stand still," she said. "This will only take a minute.”
I was being taken to a birthday party.
During the preceding year, when she was away from the house, I’d watched myself in that same mirror, posing, pretending to smoke cigarettes I’d taken from Mother’s purse, a cocktail glass with ice cubes and tea in my other hand, talking to imaginary friends, practicing being grown up. I didn’t like being treated as a little boy. I wanted to be grown up.
Satisfied that she had me properly groomed and presentable, Mother gave me a silver-papered box with a blue ribbon to carry. I remember walking close to her side on our way to the garage; remember her clothes smelled like the lavender in her bedroom drawers, her hands of lavender soap.
She opened the back door of the car for me. “Get in,” she said, “and be careful, don’t drop that present.”
Even the seats smelled like lavender. I got in and sat in the middle, silver-wrapped box on my lap. I wanted to open it. I wanted to see what was inside.
Mother started the motor, backed out of the garage and turned onto our tree-lined street.
I was looking out the side window when I first saw the other car. We were going through an intersection. Mother was talking about something and looking straight ahead. I knew the other car wasn’t going to stop. I closed my eyes and yelled, “Mother!”
I don’t think Mother yelled.
All the rules of the world changed. Our car flew. We spun on rubber tire toes. It sounded like everything in the world broke at the same time. Then everything stopped. I was on the floor. The car smelled like gasoline, not lavender.
Men came to the car. I saw their faces through the broken windows. I watched while they tried to open Mother’s door, but they couldn’t. They talked to mother but she didn’t speak. Men got my door open and lifted me out. The front of my white starched shirt felt warm and sticky – red, the color of Mother’s lipstick.
“Wait – wait!” I begged, trying to get back into the car.
I tried not to cry when I couldn’t find the silver box.
I never had birthday parties.
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