"These come in pretty handy," I said, trying to be cheerful. "I know what I can use those two flat tires for."
"I've got some peanut-butter crackers," Mattie said, leaning over Turtle. "Will she eat peanut butter?"
"She eats anything. Just don't let her get hold of anything you don't want to part with. Like your hair," I said. Mattie's braid was swinging into the danger zone.
She poured coffee into a mug that said "BILL with a capital B," and handed it to me. She poured a cup for herself in a white mug with cartoon rabbits all over it. They were piled all over each other like the rocks in Texas Canyon. After a minute I realized that the rabbits were having sex in about a trillion different positions. I couldn't figure this woman out. This was definitely not 1-800-THE LORD.
"You must have come a ways," she said. "I saw your plates were Kentucky. Or plate, rather. You don't have to have them both front and back in Kentucky?"
"No. Just the back."
"Here you've got to have one on the front too. I guess so the cops can get you coming and going." She handed Turtle a peanut-butter cracker, which she grabbed with both hands. It broke to smithereens, and she got such big sad eyes I thought she was going to cry.
"It's all right, honey," Mattie said. "You put that one in your mouth and I'll give you another one." Turtle did. I was amazed. She had never been this kind to Mrs. Hoge. Mattie was clearly accustomed to dealing with kids.
"Are you on the road?" she asked me.
"Have been up to now. From Kentucky, with a stopover in Oklahoma. We're out to see what we can see. Now I guess we'll see how we like Tucson."
"Oh, you will. I ought to know, I've lived my whole life here. And that's a rare breed, let me tell you. I don't think there's hardly a soul in Tucson anymore that was born here. Most of them come, you know, from out of state. My husband, Samuel, was from Tennessee. He came out as a young man for his asthma and he never could get used to the dry. I love it, though. I guess it's all in what you're used to."
"I guess," I said. I was dying to know about the name of the place, but couldn't think of a polite way to bring it up. "Is this tire place part of a national chain, or something like that?" I finally asked. That sounded polite, but dumb.
She laughed. "No, me and my husband started it up. His dad was a mechanic, so Sam was a grease monkey born and raised. He was the one that named the place. He was kind of fanatical, you might say. Bless his soul." She handed Turtle another cracker. The kid was eating like a house on fire. "He got some Mexican kids to do the painting out front. I never did change it, it's something different. Lots of people stop in for curiosity. Does that baby want some juice? She needs something to wash that peanut butter down with."
"Don't put yourself out. I can get her some water out of the tap."
"I'll run get some apple juice. I won't be a minute." I had thought she meant she was actually going to a store, but she went through a door at the back of the shop. Apparently there was more to this building, including a refrigerator with apple juice in it. I wondered if Mattie lived on the premises, maybe upstairs.
While she was gone two men stopped by, almost at exactly the same time, although they were not together. One of them asked for Matilda. He wanted an alignment and to pick up a tire for his ORV. He said it as though everybody ought to know what an ORV was, and maybe have one or two at home. The other man had on a black shirt with a white priest's collar, and blue jeans, of all things. I wondered if maybe he was some kind of junior-varsity priest. I really had no idea. They didn't have Catholics in Pittman.
"She'll be back in about two seconds," I told them. "She just went to get something."
The ORV fellow waited, but the priest said he would come back later. He seemed a little jumpy. As he drove away I noticed there was a whole family packed into the back of his station wagon. They looked like Indians.
"Well, how in the world are you, Roger?" Mattie said when she came back. "Just make yourself at home, hon, this won't take a minute," she told me, and handed me an orange cup with a little drinking spout, which must have been designed especially for small children. I wondered if it was hard to fill it through that little spout. Once Turtle got her hands on this cup she wasn't going to want to give it up.
Roger drove his car onto a platform that was attached to a red machine with knobs and dials on it. Mattie started up the machine, which made the front tires of Roger's Toyota spin around, and after a minute she lay down on one shoulder and adjusted something under the front. She didn't get that dirty, either. I had never seen a woman with this kind of know-how. It made me feel proud, somehow. In Pittman if a woman had tried to have her own tire store she would have been run out of business. That, or the talk would have made your ears curl up like those dried apricot things. "If Jesus is indeed Lord," I said to myself, "He surely will not let this good, smart woman get blown sky-high by an overfilled tire. Or me either, while He's at it."