The car’s back window forms a lop-sided circle and beyond that dusty circle is a glass door propped open with a metal chair and in the dark interior, my mother, shadowed like a ghost, lifts clothes from basket to washing machine. The moon is a fingernail in evening dusk dripping Midwest fireflies for us to catch in jelly jars. Ice cream cones melt chocolate rivers onto blistering sidewalks while the air hangs like heavy blankets around my neck and drip along my spine. The seldom used dining room table has stretched itself to fit the cousins and the dishes of pan-fried red fish, jambalaya, etouffee. The air is drenched with the spicy smells of Cajun cooking, the melody of patois. My mother’s first name was Marion, but the church would not allow it. A boy’s name the priest said so they changed it to Marian. Marian was everyone’s
There is a picture of her, a faded black and white, in a cane field where she stands on a wagon, laughing in shorts, her beautiful legs eyed by smiling workers. Route 66 is the road we took in a car where the windows were almost square and my mother’s name was no longer Marian, but Marianne because when she enlisted in the Marines—the world was melting in another great war—they misread it on her papers and never did get it right. Her husband, my father, was also a Marine and wore his hair in a crew cut to prove it. They met in a nightclub on her twenty-first birthday in California where the smells were salty Pacific, the drinks were gin, and he was soon to leave for the China as a flight instructor while she drove officers around Camp Pendleton. California was snowless unlike Iowa with less humidity bayou country, the promised land where the sun shone on sandy beaches and a couple of GIs could buy a tiny house on a half-moon street on land that had once been a rice paddy and drained for a housing tract. There had been miscarriages, but I was six when we migrated out west, my dad where would teach math and my mother would housewife.