The two of them went out to the wall of tires and pulled down a couple of smallish fat ones. They hit the ground with a smack, causing both Turtle and me to jump. Roger picked one of them up and dribbled it like a basketball. He and Mattie were talking, and Roger was making various vibrating sounds with his lips. I supposed he was trying to describe something that was wrong with his ORV. Mattie listened in an interested way. She was really nice to Roger, even though he was bald and red-faced and kind of bossy. She didn't give him any lip.
When she came back Turtle had drunk all her juice and was banging the cup against the tire, demanding more in her speechless way. I was starting to get embarrassed.
"You want more juice, don't you?" Mattie said to Turtle in a grownup-to-baby voice. "It's a good thing I brought the whole bottle down in the first place."
"Please don't go out of your way," I said. "We've put you out enough already. I have to tell you the truth, I can't even afford to buy one tire right now, much less two. Not for a while, anyway, until I find work and a place for us to live." I picked up Turtle but she went on banging the cup against my shoulder.
"Why, honey, don't feel bad. I wasn't trying to make a sale. I just thought you two needed some cheering up." She pried the cup out of Turtle's hand and refilled it. The top snapped right off. I hadn't thought of that.
"You must have grandbabies around," I said.
"Mmm-hmmm. Something like that." She handed the cup back to Turtle and she sucked on it hard, making a noise like a pond frog. I wondered what, exactly, could be "something like" grandbabies.
"It's so dry out here kids will dehydrate real fast," Mattie told me. "They'll just dry right up on you. You have to watch out for that."
"Oh, right," I said. I wondered how many other things were lurking around waiting to take a child's life when you weren't paying attention. I was useless. I was crazy to think I was doing this child a favor by whisking her away from the Cherokee Nation. Now she would probably end up mummified in Arizona.
"What kind of work you looking for?" Mattie rinsed the coffee cups and set them upside down on a shelf. A calendar above the shelf showed a bare-chested man in a feather headdress and heavy gold arm bracelets carrying a woman who looked dead or passed out.
"Anything, really. I have experience in house-cleaning, x-rays, urine tests, and red blood counts. And picking bugs off bean vines."
Mattie laughed. "That's a peculiar resume."
"I guess I've had a peculiar life," I said. It was hot, Turtle was spilling or spitting juice down my shoulder blade, and I was getting more depressed by the minute. "I guess you don't have bean vines around here," I said. "That kind of limits my career options."
"Well, heck yes, girl, we've got bean vines!" Mattie said. "Even purple ones. Did you ever see purple beans?"
"Not that were alive," I said.
"Come on back here and let me show you something."
We went through the door at the back, which led through a little room jam-packed with stuff. There was a desk covered with papers, and all around against the walls there were waist-high stacks of old National Geographics and Popular Mechanics and something called The Beacon, which showed Jesus in long, swirling robes floating above a lighthouse. Behind the desk there was a staircase and another door that led out the back. I could hear someone thumping around overhead in stocking feet.
Outside was a bright, wild wonderland of flowers and vegetables and auto parts. Heads of cabbage and lettuce sprouted out of old tires. An entire rusted-out Thunderbird, minus the wheels, had nasturtiums blooming out the windows like Mama's hen-and-chicks pot on the front porch at home. A kind of teepee frame made of CB antennas was all overgrown with cherry-tomato vines.
"Can you believe tomatoes on the second of January?" Mattie asked. I told her no, that I couldn't. Frankly that was only the beginning of what I couldn't believe. Mattie's backyard looked like the place where old cars die and go to heaven.
"Usually we'll get a killing frost by Thanksgiving, but this year it's stayed warm. The beans and tomatoes just won't quit. Here, doll, bite down, don't swallow it whole." She handed me a little tomato.
"Okay," I said, before I realized she had popped one into Turtle's mouth, and was talking to her. "It hailed this morning," I reminded Mattie. "We just about froze to death for a few minutes there."
"Oh, did it? Whereabouts?"