I've lived in Paradise all my life.
Paradise. Sounds pretty, don't it? That's the
name of this town though I can't for the life of
me imagine why. I figure whoever named it must
have been out in the Florida heat too long or
something. Either that, or the real Paradise
is full of dust and dirt and rotting buildings,
too. I hate to think it might be, and I'll be
truly disappointed if it really is.
My Pa's Cadillac Motel is on Celestial Avenue.
It's a long, low coral-colored building -- one of
those motels where people park in front of their
room and the air conditioner sticks out of the
wall by the door and drips water on the cement.
There's no missing it. It's right between BAIL
BONDS -- 24 HOURS and all of the bicycles and
junk on the sidewalk outside Gus' Pawn Shop. Then
there's this big metal arrow sign full of light
bulbs pointing right to the office. The arrow is
supposed to flash at night, but most of the bulbs
are burned out. AIR CONDITIONED. TV. VACANCY.
Those words still work.
But the real reason you can't miss the
Cadillac Motel is the big butt end of the pink
Cadillac. It looks like it's crashed part-way
through the cinder block wall of the motel
office. Only the trunk and tail fins stick out,
and the lights in back go on and off. That was
Pa's idea. He said it would get more customers,
but I sure wish he hadn't thought of it. I had
enough to deal with, what with living in a motel
and all, and the kids at school, well, they just
wouldn't leave me alone about that pink Cadillac
butt. So I don't mess with them any more, and
they don't mess with me. I do just fine on my
In the summer I mostly read my library books,
but lots of times I help Ruby clean the motel
rooms, especially when she brings me some of her
chocolate cookies. That woman surely can cook!
Course anyone could tell that just by looking at
her. She's got little sausage fingers and sausage
arms and little sausage legs end in teeny tiny
feet. I don't know how they keep her up. Her
husband, Wendell, looks just the same.
Ruby cleaned rooms for Pa from the beginning,
when him and Mama bought the Cadillac Motel. I
was a baby then. After Mama died, it was just
Ruby and Pa and me. Ruby would bring me leftovers
to heat for supper the next day, and wash Pa's
and my clothes in the laundromat across the
street when she washed the sheets from the motel.
Sometimes she'd get us groceries when Pa gave her
money for them; otherwise I just ran over to the
little store a couple of blocks away. The stuff
in that place was so dusty, I figure it must be
at least a hundred years old, but we haven't died
from it yet.
Me and Ruby get along pretty good because
she's not a hugger. That sits just fine with me.
I don't like to be hugged and sometimes fat old
ladies just want to squeeze the bejeezers out of
"Time you started thinking about
school," Ruby said one August morning as we
ripped the sheets off a bed. "Summer's
She didn't need to remind me, but her words
felt like a fist punching me in my gut. I picked
the sheets up off the brown rug and jammed them
hard into a dirty pillow case.
I hated school. It was so boring I could
hardly stand it. Maybe it was because of my
library books, but I already knew most of the
stuff, and if I didn't, I learned it real quick
-- quicker than the other kids, I guess, because
the teachers would repeat things until I'd like
to shrivel up and die.
And this year was going to be the worst.
Probably the rottenest year in history, because
Mrs. Thornton was going be my teacher. I already
knew her from when she was in charge of the
playground. I'd be minding my own business when
all of a sudden she'd holler "Eddie
Brown!" Then she'd stomp on over to me in
those black, laced-up man shoes of hers, marching
so hard across the playground that the glasses on
the string around her neck would jump. She told
me I was a troublemaker and we had a personality
conflict. I wasn't sure what that meant, but if
it meant we hated each other's guts, well, I
guess it was probably true.
I wanted to move away before school started
because there was no getting away from her this
time. There was only one sixth-grade class, and
she was the only sixth grade teacher. I even
asked Pa if we could move, but he said no, the
motel was our home. Well, he didn't have to be in
a class with nasty Mrs. Thornton all day, or he'd
have moved in a minute.
"You hear me?" Ruby asked as she
pulled the spread over the bed. "Only a
couple more weeks till school starts. Better let
your Pa know you need some clothes." She
smoothed the bedspread over the pillows while I
threw the sheets into the hamper. "I'll take
you to Tina's on Thursday after I finish
here." She sat on the edge of the bed and
fanned herself. "Doesn't look to me like
anything you own still fits. Tell him you need
I looked down at my scruffy tennis shoes and
knew she was right. No sense in giving those kids
at school anything else to tease me about.
When we finished up, I took my library book
off the laundry cart and went to look for Pa. He
was sitting on one of the rusty green chairs in
the shade outside the motel office drinking a
beer like he usually did in the afternoon. There
were a couple of empty cans beside him.
"Pa?" I said when I got close.
He squinted up at me and gave me a little
"Ruby says I need some clothes for school
and she'll take me." I hated to ask for
money with things being so tight and all.
I think he was ready to tell me there wasn't
any money to give, but I guess the way my ankles
stuck out of my jeans and the bones on my wrists
poked out of my sleeves made him change his mind.
He got up and went inside to get some money out
of the cash box behind the counter. When he came
back out, he handed me a few bills.
"Now don't spend too much," he said,
sitting back down and picking up his beer.
"Yes, Pa. And thank you." I knew to
be polite to Pa when he handed out money because
it didn't happen that often. I carefully put the
money between the pages of my book so I'd have it
ready come Thursday.
Pa leaned forward in his chair, trying to look
down the street. "You see Jesse
coming?" he asked.
Jesse fixed cars in the old garage at the
corner and was a friend of Pa's. They knew each
other while they were growing up in another town.
His kid, Farrell, had moved to Paradise with him
about a month before and was supposed to be about
my age, but even though Pa and Jesse hung out
together at the motel or the garage and drank
their beer and whisky, Jesse's kid never came
around. Not ever.
"How come I never see your boy?" I
asked Jesse once.
Jesse just yawned and said, "Farrell's
not one for being with people much. He likes to
keep to himself."
I guess that was true because I surely never
saw him. I wondered how come, and thought maybe
there was something wrong with him or maybe he
wasn't quite right in the head.
But that didn't stop Pa and Jesse from being
together all the time, or Pa from waiting for
Jesse outside the motel most afternoons like he
was now. I looked down the street.
"No, Pa," I said. "Can't see
I was ready to go inside when I caught sight
of a boy I'd never seen before out in front of