Mom says to pack. Pack what? She only knows two kinds of packing. There’s packing to move, cradling plates in wads of old newspapers and putting everything, everything in produce boxes. And there is packing to go to school: a lunch and a backpack with third grade math, grammar, and history books and twenty-five spelling words (homework) hastily written out the night before.
But this is a different kind of packing. Mom has suitcases and an odd mix of clothes, pictures, and tears.
Mom packs lots of clothes in a giant Samsonite suitcase. While Mom shoves the suitcase full of clothes and other things, she gets her favorite tote bag. Bright yellow with navy blue tulips. It looks like hope. Daddy had brought it for her the last time he came back from one of his business trips, a foreign place called Los Angeles. When Daddy left, he might as well be as far away as magical places like Paris and Venice she’d read about. Is Los Angeles farther than Venice? It’s under the same sky.
She packs stacks of books without knowing why and feels very grown-up to be packing a big grown-up tote bag all by herself.
Where is Daddy? It’s long past her bedtime and he still isn’t here. That’s been happening a lot lately. It’s past her bedtime, because it’s dark outside and the stars are shining. Mom doesn’t seem to care. Suddenly Mom is carrying the suitcases out to the car. The grown-up tote bag seems too heavy now. It’s past her bedtime. Where is Daddy?
When Mom says it’s time to go, she drags her tote bag out to the car and puts it beside her feet. It’s very late to go anywhere. Mom turns the key, and the Olds seems foreign in the darkness. She can barely make out the shiny plastic O of the model name scripted on the dashboard.
Then Daddy is there. His voice sounds funny. Suddenly she’s wrapped up in his familiar arms. Flannel arms. He’s wearing the red plaid flannel coat he’s always worn around the house, and it smells like him, and she’s crying without knowing why and not feeling at all grown-up anymore. She doesn’t want to let go of the soft, frayed fabric. The wind seems cold through the open door of the big, dark Olds. Daddy takes off his housecoat and hands it to her. She wraps it around her, burying her face in its folds. It smells like Daddy. The door of the Olds closes.
It’s all of Daddy she has left.