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 wasnt . . . 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 doesnt 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 doesnt move. Somethings wrong with it. When shes happy, only the right side of her mouth goes up and it looks as if shes making a funny face. She is only forty-five, and she says as much as she loves me, she doesnt 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 arent 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, hell 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 isnt there to listen, my mother says its because one crazy person in my life is enough. I dont need to meet the people from Eileens church.
But when my mother isnt there to listen, Eileen says yes, actually, I do. When were outside on the step, she lowers her voice so my mother cant hear what shes 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 its very important that I believe this all the time, every single second of the day, because if Im 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 Im a believer again, too bad. She says she loves me so much that she cant stand to think of this happening to me, so its 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. "Shell go to hell, honey, if she keeps making fun. I know its 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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