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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  • First Published:
    Jul 2003, 304 pages
    Jul 2004, 304 pages

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Print Excerpt

Eileen cries when she gets to this part of the story.

"The Gates were on the right," she says, her small hands pressed together, pointing to her right. "And the Braggs were on the left." She points to her left. "But when we came out, it was just us. Our house wasn’t . . . even . . . touched."

I try to imagine it, a tornado hopping over her house at just the right moment, like a skip in a record. "You were lucky, Eileen."

She shakes her head, wiping her eyes. "Not lucky, Evelyn. We were spared." My mother turns around so only I can see her face and puts her soapy hands around her own throat, sticking her tongue out to one side like she is choking. Eileen is somehow able to see her doing this, though she does not turn her head.

"Think what you like, Tina," she says, picking her rib back up, her eyes already dry again. "Think what you like."

My mother doesn’t like cigarettes, so Eileen has to go outside and sit on the front step when she wants to smoke. She smokes Virginia Slims out of the right side of her mouth because the left side doesn’t move. Something’s wrong with it. When she’s happy, only the right side of her mouth goes up and it looks as if she’s making a funny face. She is only forty-five, and she says as much as she loves me, she doesn’t feel like a grandmother yet. This is why I call her Eileen.

I go outside with her sometimes, and she tells me that the real problem with my mother is that she believes everything she sees, but really, Eileen says, they can put anything on television these days. There are pictures of astronauts standing on the moon, but they have been faked by the government, and if you look closely, you can tell. There aren’t even any stars in the background, but people are just too stupid to notice. The scientists want us to think that they know more than they really do, but really, the stars are where the angels live and also a way for God to see you, even at night. If you do something wrong, or even think it, he’ll know.

She wants us to come visit her in Wichita sometime, to come with her to her church. But we have never gone, and when Eileen isn’t there to listen, my mother says it’s because one crazy person in my life is enough. I don’t need to meet the people from Eileen’s church.

But when my mother isn’t there to listen, Eileen says yes, actually, I do. When we’re outside on the step, she lowers her voice so my mother can’t hear what she’s saying and tells me I have to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins even before I was around to make them. She says it’s very important that I believe this all the time, every single second of the day, because if I’m a believer when I die, I will go to heaven, but if I die a doubter, I will go to hell and I will be on fire for the rest of everything. If I am walking down the street and I start to doubt just a little, if I just start to wonder if Jesus and heaven is a story that somebody made up and a bus comes around the corner and hits me before I’m a believer again, too bad. She says she loves me so much that she can’t stand to think of this happening to me, so it’s very important that I always believe and never doubt.

"What about my mother?" I ask. "What will happen to her?"

Eileen frowns, taking a drag off her cigarette. "She’ll go to hell, honey, if she keeps making fun. I know it’s sad, but those are the rules."

Men like my mother. They run after her with socks if she drops them from the laundry basket, and they dig into their pockets and wallets for change when we run short in the checkout line at the store. The bag boys are only in high school, but they found out her name. When we go through the line they smile and say, "Hi Tina."

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