existing in possibility
Mom’s gestures were all familiar—the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of
potential value that she’d hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked.
in a hesitant manner
The wiener was hot, so Juju licked at it
tentatively, but when I stood up and started stirring the hot dogs again, I felt a blaze of heat on my right side.
in a state of mental numbness as resulting from shock
I put it in my mouth and was
stunned by the sharp sweetness.
conspicuously and tastelessly indecent
It was a disgusting low-class habit, and the nurse should have consulted her before encouraging me in such
having one side lower or smaller or lighter than the other
Tinkerbell’s once perfect little nose had completely disappeared, and her saucy red lips had been replaced with an ugly,
Quixote landed with a screeching meow and a thud, Dad
accelerated up the road, and I burst into tears.
marked by tender, romantic, or nostalgic emotion
“Don’t be so
sentimental,” Mom said.
capable of stirring enthusiasm or excitement
To distract us kids, Mom got us singing songs like “Don’t Fence Me In” and “This Land Is Your Land,” and Dad led us in
rousing renditions of “Old Man River” and his favorite, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
a person responsible for the administration of a business
Sometimes he would make mysterious references to
executives from Standard Oil who were trying to steal the Texas land that Mom’s family owned, and FBI agents who were after Dad for some dark episode that he never told us about because he didn’t want to put us in danger, too.
impossible to recognize
That way, he explained, he burned up the brand name, and if the people who were tracking us looked in his ashtray, they’d find
unidentifiable butts instead of Pall Malls that could be traced to him.
a member of a people who have no permanent home
We moved around like
providing no shelter or sustenance
desolate and isolated a place was, the better Mom and Dad liked it.
make steady progress
Most people had trouble surviving in the desert, but Mom
surround with material to protect from heat, cold, or noise
One time when a neighbor’s TV set broke, Dad opened the back and used a macaroni noodle to
insulate some crossed wires.
marked by defiant disregard for danger or consequences
“There’s many a damned
foolhardy thing that your old man has done, but this one was harebrained even for a crazy sonofabitch like Rex Walls.”
the limit beyond which something happens or changes
Dad was on the
verge of perfecting his cyanide gold process, Brian and I had the desert, Lori and Mom painted and read together, and Maureen, who had silky white-blond hair and a whole gang of imaginary friends, was happy running around with no diaper on.
make famous forever
It grieved Mom that the mine was destroying so much white rock—she said it was real marble and deserved a better fate and that, by making her sculptures, she was at least
immortalizing some of it.
characteristic of an earlier ancestral type
She didn’t have any particular style; some of her paintings were what she called
primitive, some were impressionistic and abstract, some were realistic.
Mom got upset at Dad’s
blasphemy, reached her foot over to the driver’s side, and stomped on the brake.
the act of supplying dry land with water by artificial means
He dug a bunch of
irrigation ditches that drained water out of the Colorado River to grow lettuce and grapes and broccoli right there in the middle of all the cactus and sagebrush.
walk with great difficulty
One of her friends pushed me to the ground and kicked me in the face; then they all ran off, the girl I had hit holding her head as she
a word that is formed with a suffix to indicate smallness
But we’d call the baby Maureen, a name Mom liked because it was a
diminutive of Mary, so she’d also be naming the baby after herself but pretty much no one would know it.
involving risk or danger
hazardous wastes were stored in another: corner of the dump, where you could find old batteries, oil drums, paint cans, and bottles with skulls and crossbones.
the power of creative imagination
Before, whenever we were out of food, Dad was always there, full of ideas and
meet a want or need
She thought rules and discipline held people back and felt that the best way to let children
fulfill their potential was by providing freedom.
tending to move away from a center
They’d stick their heads into her classroom and see the students playing tag and throwing erasers while Mom was up front, spinning like a top and letting pieces of chalk fly from her hands to demonstrate
influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
If she tried, he’d argue and
wheedle and sulk and bully and plain wear her down.
deliberately vague or ambiguous
So she resorted to
shaped into alternating parallel grooves and ridges
Billy lived with his dad in a house made of tar paper and
corrugated tin, down the tracks from our house.
a young offender
After all, Billy was a certified JD—juvenile
capable of being shown to be reasonable
Dad had always said that self-defense was a
justifiable reason for shooting someone.
a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude
We tried to explain that Billy had started it, that we’d been provoked and were defending ourselves and didn’t even aim to kill, but the cop wasn’t interested in the
nuances of the situation.
“My art career is going to
flourish in Phoenix. I can just feel it.”
someone who spoils the pleasure of others
Mom, however, said nuns were
killjoys who took the fun out of religion.
influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
Although we lived outside the district, Mom begged and
cajoled the principal until he allowed us to enroll.
lacking strength or vigor
They prevented people with
feeble eyes from learning to see the world on their own.
concise and full of meaning
If the typewriter keys were clattering away, she was at work on one of her novels, poems, plays, short stories, or her illustrated collection of
pithy sayings—one was “Life is a bowl of cherries, with a few nuts thrown in”—which she’d titled “R. M. Walls’s Philosophy of Life.”
move about or proceed hurriedly
After a while, entire armies were
scuttling across the walls and the floors and the kitchen counters.
a wanderer with no established residence or means of support
From time to time, a
vagrant or a wino would wander through the front door, assuming the house was deserted.
excessively hot and humid; marked by sweating and faintness
Since the weather was
sweltering, she suggested we cool off by jumping into the fountain in front of the building.
characterized by enmity or ill will
He didn’t do it to be
characterized by forceful and energetic action or activity
Dad gave the cheetah the kind of hardy,
vigorous petting you’d give a big dog.
occurring or operating at the same time
Even though it seemed awfully
coincidental, I didn’t want to push my luck by asking too many questions about who this someone was.
involving or being or having the nature of a crime
Lori said it sounded outright
felonious, but Dad said all he was doing was outsmarting the fat-cat bank owners who shylocked the common man by charging usurious interest rates.
wet through and through; thoroughly wet
Once the fire was out and the
sodden, burned tree lay smoldering on the floor, we all just stood there.