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"I'm just totally screwed up, that's all there is to it."

"No, Lou Ann. You have your good points too."

Usually Lou Ann spit out compliments you tried to feed her like some kind of nasty pill, but that night her blue eyes were practically pleading with me. "What good points?" she wanted to know.

"Oh gosh, tons of them," I faltered. It's not that it was a hard question, but I was caught off guard. I thought a minute.

"The flip side of worrying too much is just not caring, if you see what I mean," I explained. "Dwayne Ray will always know that, no matter what, you're never going to neglect him. You'll never just sit around and let him dehydrate, or grow up without a personality, or anything like that. And that would be ever so much worse. You read about it happening in the paper all the time." I meant it; she did. "Somebody forgetting a baby in a car and letting it roast, or some such thing. If anything, Lou Ann, you're just too good of a mother."

She shook her head. "I'm just a total screwed-up person," she said. "And now I'm doing the same thing to poor Dwayne Ray. But I can't help it, Taylor, I can't. If I could see the future, if somebody offered to show me a picture of Dwayne Ray in the year 2001, I swear I wouldn't look."

"Well, nobody's going to," I said gently, "so you don't have to worry about it. There's no such thing as dream angels. Only in the Bible, and that was totally another story."

In June a package came from Montana, all cheery and colorful with stamps and purple postage marks. It contained, among other things, a pair of child-sized cowboy boots-still years too big for Dwayne Ray-and a beautiful calfskin belt for Lou Ann. It was carved or stamped somehow with acorns, oak leaves, and her name. There was also a red-and-black Indian-beaded hair clip, which was of course no use to Lou Ann at this particular point in the life of her hair.

Angel had changed his mind about the divorce. He missed her. He wanted her to come up and live in Montana in something called a yurt. If that was not an acceptable option, then he would come back to Tucson to live with her.

"What in the heck is a yurt anyway?" Lou Ann asked. "It sounds like dirt."

"Beats me," I said. "Look it up."

She did. "A circular domed tent of skins stretched over a lattice framework," she read, pronouncing each word slowly without a Kentucky accent. She pronounced "a" like the letter "A." "Used by the Mongol nomads of Siberia."

As they say in the papers, I withheld comment.

"So what do you think, Taylor? Do you think it would have a floor, or plaster walls inside, anything like that? Think the bugs would get in?"

What popped into my head was: George eats old gray rutabagas and plasters his yurt.

"The part I can't get over is that he asked for me," she said. "He actually says here that he misses me." She mulled it over and over, twisting her gold wedding band around her finger. She had stopped wearing it about the time she started working at the salsa factory, but now had put it on again, almost guiltily, as though Angel might have packed a spy into the box along with the belt and the boots.

"But I've got responsibilities now," she argued, with herself certainly because I was giving no advice one way or the other. "At Red Hot Mama's."

This was surely true. In just three weeks' time she had been promoted to floor manager, setting some kind of company record, but she refused to see this as proof that she was a good worker. "They just didn't have anybody else to do it," she insisted. "Practically everybody there's fifteen years old, or worse. Sometimes they send over retardeds from that Helpless program, or whatever the heck it's called."

"It's called the Help-Yourself program, and you know it, so don't try to change the subject. The word is handicapped, not retardeds."

"Right, that's what I meant."

"What about that woman you told me about that breeds Pekingeses and drives a baby-blue Trans Am? What's-her-name, that gave you the I Heart My Cat bumper stickers? And what about the guy that's building a hot-air blimp in his backyard? Are they fifteen?"

"No." She was flipping the dictionary open and closed, staring out the window.

"And Sal Monelli, how old's he?"

Lou Ann rolled her eyes. Sal Monelli was an unfortunate fellow whose name had struck such terror in her heart she forbade him to touch any food item that wasn't sealed and crated. Lou Ann's life was ruled by the fear of salmonella, to the extent that she claimed the only safe way to eat potato salad was to stick your head in the refrigerator and eat it in there.