A bitterly cold winter morning. My mother has managed to feed and dress all four of us for school. The kitchen table is littered with empty cereal bowls, a frying pan with bits of egg glued to the edges, a spoon in a half empty grape jelly jar. Over her rayon nightgown, she throws on a coat two sizes too big for her. It belongs to my stepfather. It is dark gray and the sleeves hang over her hands, but she is still agile enough to slap my brother when he mouths off at her.
Then she pulls on black rubber boots with buckles, also too big for her, a splash of dark red lipstick, and runs out into the frozen morning and gets the car started. I watch her from the kitchen window. The exhaust rises up into the frigid air like a ghost. She runs back in, panting from the cold, her nose red, and throws on our scarves, our hats and our gloves. One sibling is always missing one glove. But she has no sympathy for stragglers or miscreants.
On this particular morning, with the wind chill somewhere around fifty below, with the snow drifting up to the eaves of the roofs of the houses, and the world a wild, icy universe--- you must drive slowly and she does. Slowly. But she swears the whole time, "Sonofabitch. Sonofabitch." We don't say a word as she cautiously navigates through the still quiet streets. All we hear is the crunch of snow on the tires. Nothing else. Except our breathing.
Suddenly the horn starts honking. On its own. As if it had suddenly gone insane. As if it woke up and decided to bitch and complain. My mother screams and hits the steering wheel, "Oh you bitch! You stinking bitch." There we are, the five of us, slowly moving down the streets, the horn honking, blaring--- incessantly. It is so loud we can't hear ourselves think. The world telescopes down to the frozen car, my mother in her nightgown, and the car horn. We start to laugh. Cautiously at first, then full out when my mother joins. We laugh so hard it hurts.
She pulls into the long circular drive of the parish, and drops us off. Her lipstick is smeared from laughing so hard, a bit of it is on her teeth, and the horn is still honking. She screams to be heard: "Get out. Get out. Have a good day. Come straight home." She drives off. I walk up the steps of the church, enter, bless myself, "nameofthefathersonholyghost," but in the distance I can still hear the horn. And in my mind, my mother's laughter.