I thank him and he pats me on the shoulder.
Night on the road is starry. Edward doesn’t want to stop tonight—he wants to get to California. The Dippers tilt above us, bright as I remember them before electric light. Elise sits up front again and I miss the weight of her against my shoulders. A black shadow of exhaustion passes in waves over my body until I’m floating in a deeper blackness and hearing my mother’s voice. She begins a song in her Highland accent, with the sound of a river behind it, but soon she’s shouting at one child or another, weary. When I blink awake, the car has stopped. Raindrops strike the roof and a strong, sweet smell drifts in through Edward’s open door. We’re on the shoulder. The headlights are off and the clouds block the stars. I smell cigarette smoke but don’t see Edward. Hugh and James, sleeping, lean against me so that I’m pinned to the seat. My head lolls back into a doze. When I’m nearly under again, I jolt awake, startled. Edward isn’t back yet. I maneuver myself from under the boys and stretch my arms over the front seat to pet Elise. At home, I wake her when I can’t sleep and feed her cake while I tell her stories about me that I hope will stick in her memory.
My fingers reach further over the leather seat but touch no flesh. I lean forward again. Grace sleeps with her eyes and lips pinched together.
“Elise,” I whisper. She is so small she could be sleeping on the floorboards, unseen. I say her name a little louder and Grace’s eyes open.
“Mom, are you all right?” She’s kindest to me on waking.
Grace scoots toward Edward’s open door and peers into the dark rain.
“He probably took her to the bathroom.”
Grace smokes a whole cigarette before Edward returns alone, damp, and smiling his white enamel grin.
The five of us search for an hour or so in the rain. Edward holds the single flashlight whose weak beam we follow. Scents of lemon and spice grow stronger as we stumble over the plants around our ankles. A few times, the beam catches sudden animal motion and we rush toward that place, only to find beetles or nothing at all. The rain stops but the clouds stay. The Cadillac is a dull rectangle behind us and the headlights of the few cars on the highway flash like cats’ eyes in the mist.
“I want to go home,” James whispers, holding my hand. “When are we going?” His breath is fast and gasping.
“Shut up,” Hugh says. Next to me, his face is almost invisible but what I can see bears a terrible false calm.