Excerpts for Turtle in Paradise
Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I've lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten. The only difference between grown-ups and kids is that grown-ups go to jail for murder. Kids get away with it.
I stare out the window as Mr. Edgit's Ford Model A rumbles along the road, kicking up clouds of dust. It's so hot that the backs of my legs feel like melted gum, only stickier. We've been driving for days now; it feels like eternity. In front of us is a rusty pickup truck with a gang of dirty-looking kids in the back sandwiched between furniture--an iron bed, a rocking chair, battered pots--all tied up with little bits of fraying rope like a spiderweb. A girl my age is holding a baby that's got a pair of ladies' bloomers tied on its head to keep the sun out of its eyes. The boy sitting next to her has a gap between his two front teeth. Not that this stops him from blowing spitballs at us through a straw. We've been stuck behind this truckfor the last few miles, and our windshield is covered with wadded bits of wet newspaper.
A spitball smacks the window and Mr. Edgit hammers the horn with the palm of his hand. The no-good boy just laughs and sticks out his tongue.
"There oughta be a law. No wonder this country's going to the dogs," Mr. Edgit grumbles.
Mr. Edgit ("You can call me Lyle") has a lot of opinions. He says folks in the Dust Bowl wouldn't be having so much trouble if they'd just move near some water. He says he doesn't think President Roosevelt will get us out of this Depression and that if you give someone money for not working why would they ever bother to get a job? But mostly Mr. Edgit talks about a new hair serum he's selling that's going to make him rich. It's called Hair Today, and he's a believer. He's used the product himself.
"Can you see the new hair, Turtle?" he asks, pointing at his shiny bald head.
I don't see anything. It must grow invisible hair.
Maybe Archie should start selling hair serum. If his pal Mr. Edgit's anything to go by, most men would rather have hair than be smart. Archie's a traveling salesman. He's sold everything--brushes, gadgets, Bibles, you name it. Right now he's peddling encyclopedias.
"I could sell a trap to a mouse," Archie likes to say, and it's the truth. Housewives can't resist him. I know Mama couldn't.
It was last May, one day after my tenth birthday, when I opened the door of Mrs. Grant's house and saw Archie standing there. He had dark brown eyes and thick black hair brushed back with lemon pomade.
"Well, hello there," Archie said to me, tipping his Panama hat. "Is the lady of the house at home?"
"Which lady?" I asked. "The ugly one or the pretty one?"
He laughed. "Why, ain't you a sweet little thing."
"I'm not sweet," I said. "I slugged Ronald Caruthers when he tried to throw my cat in the well, and I'd do it again." Archie roared with laughter. "I'll bet you would! What's your name, princess?"
"Turtle," I said.
"Turtle, huh?" he mused, stroking his chin. "I can see why. Got a little snap to you, don't ya?"
"Who's that you're talking to, Turtle?" my mother called, coming to the door.
Archie smiled at Mama. "You must be the pretty lady."
Mama put her hand over her heart. Otherwise it would have leaped right out of her chest. She fell so hard for Archie she left a dent in the floor.
Mama's always falling in love, and the fellas she picks are like dandelions. One day they're there, bright as sunshine--charming Mama, buying me presents--and the next they're gone, scattered to the wind, leaving weeds everywhere and Mama crying.
But Mama says Archie's different, and I'm starting to think she may be right. He keeps his promises, and he hasn't disappeared yet. Even Smokey likes him, which is saying something, considering she bit the last fella Mama dated. Also, he's got big dreams,which is more than I can say for most of them.
"Mark my words, princess," Archie told me. "We'll be living on Easy Street someday."