"Usually little kids are into faces," he informed me. "She seems kind of spaced out."
"She makes up her own mind about what she's into."
"She sure has a lot of hair," he said. "How old is she?"
"Eighteen months," I said. It was a wild guess.
"She looks very Indian."
"Native American," Fei corrected him. "She does. Is her father Native American?"
"Her great-great-grandpa was full-blooded Cherokee," I said. "On my side. Cherokee skips a generation, like red hair. Didn't you know that?"
The second house on my agenda turned out to be right across the park from Jesus Is Lord's. It belonged to Lou Ann Ruiz.
Within ten minutes Lou Ann and I were in the kitchen drinking diet Pepsi and splitting our gussets laughing about homeostasis and bean turds. We had already established that our hometowns in Kentucky were separated by only two counties, and that we had both been to the exact same Bob Seger concert at the Kentucky State Fair my senior year.
"So then what happened?" Lou Ann had tears in her eyes. I hadn't really meant to put them down, they seemed like basically good kids, but it just got funnier as it went along.
"Nothing happened. In their own way, they were so polite it was pathetic. I mean, it was plain as day they thought Turtle was a dimwit and I was from some part of Mars where they don't have indoor bathrooms, but they just kept on asking things like would I like some alfalfa tea?" I had finally told them no thanks, that we'd just run along and envision ourselves in some other space.
Lou Ann showed me the rest of the house except for her room, where the baby was asleep. Turtle and I would have our own room, plus the screened-in back porch if we wanted it. She said it was great to sleep out there in the summer. We had to whisper around the house so we wouldn't wake the baby.
"He was just born in January," Lou Ann said when we were back in the kitchen. "How old's yours?"
"To tell you the truth, I don't even know. She's adopted."
"Well, didn't they tell you all that stuff when you adopted her? Didn't she come with a birth certificate or something?"
"It wasn't an official adoption. Somebody just kind of gave her to me."
"You mean like she was left on your doorstep in a basket?"
"Exactly. Except it was in my car, and there wasn't any basket. Now that I think about it, there should have at least been a basket. Indians make good baskets. She's Indian."
"Wasn't there even a note? How do you know her name's Turtle?"
"I don't. I named her that. It's just temporary until I can figure out what her real name is. I figure I'll hit on it sooner or later."
Turtle was in a high chair of Lou Ann's that must have been way too big for a kid born in January. On the tray there were decals of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, which Turtle was slapping with her hands. There was nothing there for her to grab. I picked her up out of the chair and hefted her onto my shoulder, where she could reach my braid. She didn't pull it, she just held on to it like a lifeline. This was one of our normal positions.
"I can't get over it," Lou Ann said, "that somebody would just dump her like an extra puppy."
"Yeah, I know. I think it was somebody that cared for her, though, if you can believe it. Turtle was having a real rough time. I don't know if she would have made it where she was." A fat gray cat with white feet was sleeping on the windowsill over the sink. Or so I thought, until all of a sudden it jumped down and streaked out of the kitchen. Lou Ann had her back to the door, but I could see the cat in the next room. It was walking around in circles on the living-room rug, kicking its feet behind it again and again, throwing invisible sand over invisible cat poop.
"You wouldn't believe what your cat is doing," I said.
"Oh, yes, I would," Lou Ann said. "He's acting like he just went potty, right?"
"Right. But he didn't, as far as I can see."
"Oh, no, he never does. I think he has a split personality. The good cat wakes up and thinks the bad cat has just pooped on the rug. See, we got him as a kitty and I named him Snowboots but Angel thought that was a stupid name so he always called him Pachuco instead. Then a while back, before Dwayne Ray was born, he started acting that way. Angel's my ex-husband, by the way."
It took some effort here to keep straight who was cats and who was husbands.
Lou Ann went on. "So just the other day I read in a magazine that a major cause of split personality is if two parents treat a kid in real different ways, like one all the time tells the kid it's good and the other one says it's bad. It gives them this idea they have to be both ways at once."