Excerpt from The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Center of Everything

By Laura Moriarty

The Center of Everything
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2003,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2004,
    304 pages.

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Chapter One

Ronald Reagan is on television, giving a speech because he wants to be president. He has the voice of a nice person, and something in his hair that makes it shiny under the lights. I change the channel, but it’s still him, just from a different angle.

The people in the audience wear cowboy hats with REAGAN printed on the front, and they clap and blow horns every time he stops talking, so much that sometimes he has to put his hands up so they’ll be quiet and hear what he’s going to say next. Nancy Reagan sits behind him, smiling and wearing a peach-colored dress with a bow on one of the shoulders, no cowboy hat. She claps too, but only after everyone else has started, so it looks like while he is talking, she is maybe thinking about something else.

"She’s a mannequin," my mother says, pointing a spatula at the television. "She freaks me out."

My mother is maybe the opposite of Nancy Reagan. I could never imagine her wearing the peach dress with the bow on it because she wears blue jeans and usually her gray sweatshirt. And she always listens to what everyone says, even people sitting in the next booth in restaurants who probably don’t want her to listen. Right now, she’s supposed to be in the kitchen, making us grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, but she came out to the front room when she heard Ronald Reagan’s voice, and now she’s just standing there with the spatula, looking at the television and shaking her head until I can smell smoke coming from the kitchen, the bread starting to burn.

She smells it too, runs back. "Zing!" she says. When she kisses me sometimes she says "Smack!"

The people listening to Ronald Reagan in the audience yell "Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray!" and wave their cowboy hats at the camera as it moves around the room. Finally Ronald Reagan laughs and says, "I think you’re playing our song." And this just makes people yell more.

My grandmother Eileen was here last week, and she said she remembered back when Ronald Reagan was an actor in movies, so handsome you’d faint if you ever got the chance to see him up close. She’s worried about him being president, though, because his middle name is Wilson, which means he has six letters in each of his three names, and if you’ve read Revelations, that alone is enough to give you the shivers. But she’s going to vote for him anyway, because she says he’s the one person who can maybe make everything right again and he’s not afraid of the Communists. Really, she says, the grand finale is coming one way or another, through him or through somebody else. The important thing is to be ready.

My mother says not to listen to Eileen about things like this. Six is just a number, she says, bigger than five, smaller than seven, and there are enough real reasons to worry about Ronald Reagan without bringing in imaginary ones.

"What’s he saying now?" she yells. She’s standing on top of a chair, waving a dishtowel in front of the smoke detector.

But I can’t talk and listen at the same time, so I just listen, and Ronald Reagan says God put America between two oceans on purpose, to help the freedom fighters in Afghanistan and the Christians and Jews behind the Iron Curtain. I don’t understand this, how a curtain can be iron. There was a metal fold-out wall between our classrooms last year at school; usually it was shut, but when Mrs. West or Mrs. Blackmore was sick, the one who wasn’t sick could unhook the latch and push it back so it folded up and we would all just be in one big room together.

No, my mother says, "Iron Curtain" is a figure of speech. There’s not really a curtain anywhere.

She brings the grilled cheese sandwiches out on a plate, burned on the edges but still okay to eat, one of her long red hairs in the melted cheese of mine. "Sorry, sorry," she says, picking it out. "It won’t kill you."

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