Wise-cracking Wiley Cantrell is loud and roaringly outrageous -- and he needs to be to keep his deeply religious neighbors and family in the Deep South at bay. A failed writer on food stamps, Wiley works a minimum wage job and barely manages to keep himself and his deaf son, Noah, more than a stone’s throw away from Dumpster-diving.
Noah was a meth baby and has the birth defects to prove it. He sees how lonely his father is and tries to help him find a boyfriend while Wiley struggles to help Noah have a relationship with his incarcerated mother, who believes the best way to feed a child is with a slingshot. No wonder Noah becomes Wiley’s biggest supporter when Boston nurse Jackson Ledbetter walks past Wiley’s cash register and sets his sugar tree on fire.
Jackson falls like a wet mule wearing concrete boots for Wiley’s sense of humor. And while Wiley represents much of the best of the South, Jackson is hiding a secret that could threaten this new family in the making.
When North meets South, the cultural misunderstandings are many, but so are the laughs, and the tears, but, as they say down in Dixie, it’s all good.
We were reduced to underpants to cope with the summer heat. I was tempted to turn on the window unit in the living room so we could bed down in there, but there was no money for such extravagance and I could not risk having the electricity shut off again for not paying the bill. Did that once already. It wasn’t pleasant.
Noah climbed into his bed.
It’s hot, he complained.
I know, I said.
I wiped at his face with a wet wash cloth to help cool him off. I adjusted the box fan so that it wasn’t blowing directly on his face.
Did you like that man? he asked
He would be a nice boyfriend.
Did you like him?
He knows how to sign! But he’s not very good.
You can teach him.
I pushed hair out of his eyes, looked around his small room. Noah was an Iron Man fan, had a poster of Iron Man III on the door to his closet. Above his desk was a shelf full of pictures of the two of us, his mother conspicuous by her absence. Dirty clothes were discarded all over the floor. A wooden chest held an overflow of toys. Spider-Man curtains graced the windows, which were shut and barred because we lived on the first floor. Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss Family Robinson, Huckleberry Finn, War of the Worlds, and other novels sat in a corner, unread. I added compulsively to the pile from my trips to used book stores, hoping he would pick up my love of reading. So far, I’d had little luck on that front. Like many deaf kids, reading was difficult for him.
Does he like you? he asked.
I don’t know.
I hope he does. I don’t want you to be sad all the time.
I’m not sad all the time. I have you.
Do you love me?
Would you still love me if he was your boyfriend?
Are you sure?
You wouldn’t leave me for him?
Not a chance.
He bit at his lip as if not sure whether to believe me. Given what his mother did, it was understandable.
Do you love me a lot? he asked.
As big as a house? he asked.
The grocery store?
Bigger than anything?
There isn’t anything in this world bigger, I assured him.
There must be something, he said, looking cross and suspicious.
We had played out this little ritual on many a night.
If you had a boyfriend, you’d love him more than me, wouldn’t you? he pressed.
Of course not.
Wait. I just thought of something.
Now he looked alarmed.
There is something bigger.
S-a-r-a-h P-a-l-i-n’s stupidity.
Never mind. There isn’t anything in the whole universe more important to me than you are. And there isn’t anyone in the whole world I would ever love more than you. I don’t care who they are. Well, maybe if I met J-o-h-n D-e-n-v-e-r ...
She’s so old!
He looked thoughtful for a moment. You might love him more than me, he admitted.
You would not!
You’re right. I love O., but not as much as you.
I dabbed at his face. The humidity was so thick you could use it to rinse your chick peas. I went to the bathroom, refreshed the wash cloth with cold water, returned to his room, and laid it on his forehead, my signal that it was time for sleep.
I love you.
I love you, too. Sweet dreams.
He took my hand into his own, and I looked at his extra pinkie. He held my hand for a few moments. Then:
Do you think Mom will remember me?
I nodded, hoping my doubt was safely hid behind a confident smile.
I can’t wait to see her!
Go to sleep.