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 by Laura Moriarty X
The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2003, 304 pages
    Jul 2004, 304 pages

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She is almost beautiful, her eyes large and blue like Eileen’s, and so many straight, white teeth in her smile. But she’s got a bad nose. It’s thin like Eileen’s but longer, with a bump, like someone tried to pick her up by it before she was done drying. She sometimes looks cross-eyed, both eyes maybe trying to see over the bump. But she also makes herself cross-eyed on purpose when she’s telling a joke, and she does it slowly, so it’s difficult to tell where being cross-eyed for real stops and where the joke starts. And this makes her funny, I think. People laugh more at her jokes than they would if somebody else said the same thing.

I have a normal nose, without the bump, but I have to wear glasses, and underneath them my eyes are brown and turned downward, drooping, so I look like I’m sad or tired even when I’m not. Brad Browning at school has asked me, "Why are you always so sleepy, Evelyn? Why don’t you just take a nap?" But my mother says she thinks sad sleepy eyes are pretty. She crosses her eyes and says, "Let’s just say if your father didn’t have sad brown eyes you probably wouldn’t be here today."

But I don’t think most people think sad-looking eyes are pretty. Brad Browning says I look like the plastic basset hounds at grocery stores that you can put quarters in to give money to the Humane Society. There is a chance I could grow up to be ugly, and this is one of many things I worry about.

My mother works at Peterson’s Pet Food, right across from the slaughterhouse on Highway 59. Her boss at Peterson’s is Mr. Mitchell, and he’s also her friend, even though he’s old. My mother says his hair is salt and pepper, not gray, and she thinks he’s still handsome. Don’t call him old, she says.

Two of Mr. Mitchell’s fingernails are purple, with some of the nail missing and yellow where the white should be. My mother says this happened when Denise Fishbone the knucklehead got her hair caught in the grinder, and Mr. Mitchell reached in and yanked it out, just in time.

"He saved her," she says. "Saved her life. Two more seconds and she would have been a goner." She drags a red fingernail across her neck, making a slicing sound, her eyes bulging.

Mr. Mitchell saved us too. When the bus service got canceled, he gave us a car. Just like that. He said it was just sitting there anyway, making his yard look trashy and his wife mad. But when he first drove it over to give to us, my mother didn’t believe it. She stood in the doorway, watching his face.

"You’re going to give me a car? For free?"

He smiled, first at her, and then down at me. "I’ve got the new truck now, so I don’t really need it." He held out the key in one of his big hands. "It’s the trickle-down theory, Tina. Embrace it."

For a moment my mother did not move. She only looked at him, as if she were waiting for something else, some more information. And then she leaned forward quickly and kissed him on his forehead, her hands in his saltand- pepper hair. "This is unbelievable!" she yelled, running to the Volkswagen. "Too good to be true!"

"Exactly, Tina," he said, laughing now, walking behind her. "I might just be giving you a headache. It’s an old car. It’s got some problems."

"No, no." She rolled down the window as soon as she got inside, waving us over. "Come on, both of you. Let’s go for a ride."

So we did. We drove up and down the highway, the three of us, a Frank Sinatra tape in the stereo. Mr. Mitchell sat in the passenger seat, telling my mother when to shift. When she went too fast, the car would shimmy back and forth, and Mr. Mitchell would turn around and look at me like he was scared, but really I knew he wasn’t.

The Volkswagen is okay from the outside, but on the inside, it’s no good. There’s an alarm that’s supposed to tell us that our seat belts aren’t on, and since there aren’t any seat belts anymore, the alarm stays on all the time. This sound makes me crazy. Also the stereo is broken. The Frank Sinatra tape is stuck inside it, and the off switch doesn’t work, so when the car starts, the stereo comes on automatically, and it can play only that tape. You can’t even turn it down. "

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