But Arthur's home had ceased to exist. Its ghost had called to him and told him where to run.
2 - Freaks and Worthy Souls
Oneida Jones was a freak. It was nonnegotiable. It was absolute. It was common knowledge among both her fellow classmates and the population of Ruby Falls at large, but it wasn't until after her twelfth birthday that she ever considered the possibility that it was something to be embraced rather than raged against. Her fellow sixth-graders thought she was a freak because she had huge frizzy hair and dark eyebrows that touched in the middle of her forehead, because she demanded that Mr. Buckley teach them about Japanese internment camps, and because she was named after a spoon (not true). Ruby Falls, in the most general sense, considered her the freak reminder of the downfall of her mother, Desdemona Jonesthe Fallen Prom Queen, as Mona was fond of calling herself, even though the title was something of a misnomer; Mona technically never made it to the prom.
Mona, the teenage daughter of Gerald and Mary Jones, pillars of the community, their boardinghouse a veritable Ruby Falls institution, ran away in the spring of 1993and reappeared that August with a baby. Suddenly there was the infant Oneida and Mona, jiggling her on her hip, refusing to be denied or swept away: in her senior year at Ruby Falls High, shopping in the same convenience mart where all of Ruby Falls shopped, acting as though nothing remarkable had happened. Nobody ever said anything to Oneida about her mother, not directly. But she had spent her young life interpreting the awkward pauses and silences in conversations with the old guard of Ruby Falls, her grandparents' friends and colleagues, who thought her mother ought to have accomplished something more respectable with her life than having a kid at sixteen and baking wedding cakes for a living.
Oneida thought it was a perfectly acceptable way to live; Mona never gave her reason to think otherwise. When she was old enough to ask questions about her father, her mother always said the same thing: he wasn't ready to be a dad but I was ready to be a mom, so I brought you home. Her grandparents had always been kind and loving. If they had ever felt awkward around her, it must have been during her infancy, because she didn't remember anything other than juice boxes, endless hands of rummy, and pockets in cable-knit sweaters full of butterscotch candy, sticky in crackly orange wrappers. They were dead now, and her mother ran their boardinghouse, the Darby-Jones, a rambling mansion built in 1899 by her great-great grandfather, William Fitchburg Jones, and his business partner, Daniel Darby, who had sold hardware, farm tools, and milking equipment to the dairy farmers who still made up the entire tax base of Ruby Falls.
Oneida spent her childhood wandering the old creaky hallways of the Darby-Jones, variously hiding from and pestering the tenants over the years: Alice Cooper, an octogenarian who went to church every day to pray for the soul of that "devil rock musician who slanders my good name"; Roger Beers, an old hippie who worked for the post office and taught her the intro chords to "Smoke on the Water"; Kitty Grace, the former home economics teacher at Ruby Falls High who worshipped John F. Kennedy and had a small tattoo of his profile on her shoulder blade. It was a childhood almost completely devoid of other children. It wasn't until she went to kindergarten that Oneida understood not everyone had a working knowledge of mah-jongg, knew what glasnost meant, or had played with a stereopticon. Once the other kids figured out Oneida had more in common with their own parents and grandparents than with them, they found her largely uninteresting; once Oneida insisted that they would like learning about canasta and the Andrews Sisters, that the ancient set of encyclopedias in the den was a thousand times more fascinating than the Internet and she wanted to tell them all about it, the brand of raging weirdo freak named after a spoon (not true!) became permanent.
Excerpted from This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia. Copyright © 2010 by Kate Racculia. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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