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'You know," Lou Ann said a while later, "if that had been Angel, he would've given himself two points for every one he could hit."


Knowing that Turtle's first uttered sound was a laugh brought me no end of relief. If I had dragged her halfway across the nation only to neglect and entirely botch her upbringing, would she have laughed? I thought surely not. Surely she would have bided her time while she saved up whole words, even sentences. Things like "What do you think you're doing?"

I suppose some of Lou Ann had rubbed off on me, for me to take this laugh as a sign. Lou Ann was the one who read her horoscope every day, and mine, and Dwayne Ray's, and fretted that we would never know Turtle's true sign (which seemed to me the least of her worries), and was sworn to a strange kind of logic that said a man could leave his wife for missing a meteor shower or buying the wrong brand of cookies. If the mail came late it meant someone, most likely Grandmother Logan, had died.

But neither of us could interpret the significance of Turtle's first word. It was "bean."

We were in Matties backyard helping her put in the summer garden, which she said was way overdue considering the weather. Matties motto seemed to be "Don't let the grass grow under your feet, but make sure there's something growing everywhere else."

"Looky here, Turtle," I said. "We're planting a garden just like Old MacDonald in your book." Mattie rolled her eyes. I think her main motive, in insisting that Turtle watch us do this, was to straighten the child out. She was concerned that Turtle would grow up thinking carrots grew under the rug.

"Here's squash seeds," I said. "Here's pepper seeds, and here's eggplants." Turtle looked thoughtfully at the little flat disks.

"That's just going to discombobble her," Mattie said. "Those seeds don't look anything like what you're saying they'll grow into. When kids are that little, they don't take much on faith."

"Oh," I said. It seemed to me that Turtle had to take practically everything on faith.

"Show her something that looks like what you eat."

I scooped a handful of big white beans out of one of Matties jars. "These are beans. Remember white bean soup with ketchup? Mmm, you like that."

"Bean," Turtle said. "Humbean."

I looked at Mattie.

"Well, don't just sit there, the child's talking to you," Mattie said.

I picked up Turtle and gave her a hug. "That's right, that's a bean. And you're just about the smartest kid alive," I told her. Mattie just smiled.

As I planted the beans, Turtle followed me down the row digging each one up after I planted it and putting it back in the jar. "Good girl," I said. I could see a whole new era arriving in Turtle's and my life.

Mattie suggested that I give her some of her own beans to play with, and I did, though Lou Ann's warning about windpipes and golf balls was following me wherever I went these days. "These are for you to keep," I explained to Turtle. "Don't eat them, these are playing-with beans. There's eating beans at home. And the rest of these in here are putting-in-the-ground beans." Honest to God, I believe she understood that. For the next half hour she sat quietly between two squash hills, playing with her own beans. Finally she buried them there on the spot, where they were forgotten by all until quite a while later when a ferocious thicket of beans came plowing up through the squashes.

On the way home Turtle pointed out to me every patch of bare dirt beside the sidewalk. "Humbean," she told me.

Lou Ann was going through a phase of cutting her own hair every other day. In a matter of weeks it had gone from shoulder length to what she referred to as "shingled," passing through several stages with figure-skaters' names in between.

"I don't know about shingled," I said, "but you've got to draw the line somewhere or you're going to end up like this guy that comes into Mattie's all the time with a Mohawk. He has 'Born to Die' tattooed onto the bald part of his scalp."

"I might as well just shave it off," said Lou Ann. I don't think she was really listening.

She was possessed of the type of blond, bone-straight hair that was, for a brief period in history, the envy of every teenaged female alive. I remember when the older girls spoke so endlessly of bleaching and ironing techniques you'd think their hair was something to be thrown in a white load of wash. Lou Ann would have been in high school by then, she was a few years older than me, but she probably missed this whole craze. She would have been too concerned with having the wrong kind of this or that. She'd told me that in high school she prayed every night for glamour-girl legs, which meant that you could put dimes between the knees, calves, and ankles and they would stay put; she claimed her calves would have taken a softball. I'm certain Lou Ann never even noticed that for one whole year her hair was utterly perfect.