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Chapter 21: Skid Row
Taylor, Barbie, and Turtle are living in a coastal town in Washington State, which the reader will soon find out is Seattle. Taylor has a job with the Handi-Van company, a driving service in the city, and the three of them are living in a low-rent, dismal apartment. One of the few decorations Taylor has is a photograph holder in the shape of a cube. Inside she hides money that Alice has left for her.
When the chapter opens, Taylor is driving a blind woman, who tells her about how she has forgotten what colors look like. One day, Taylor goes on a date—a picnic—with a man named Kevin from the Handi-Van, and takes Turtle with her. They buy ice cream cones, but Turtle refuses to finish hers. Kevin reveals his rude, ignorant qualities. He brought one apple on the picnic, for himself. Taylor shares tuna sandwiches with him, resenting that she splurged on tuna fish, instead of peanut butter, for this guy.
Once at home, Turtle has a stomachache. When she goes to lie down, she and Taylor realize that Barbie has left. Turtle asks if Barbie left because of something she did. Suddenly, Taylor realizes that her photo cube is gone as well.
Chapter 22: Welcome to Heaven
Alice is in Sugar's house, on the phone with Taylor, who is explaining that her electricity was turned off when she could not pay the bill. Since Barbie left, Taylor now works at Penney's where Turtle can hang around till her mom gets off work. Alice criticizes her for buying Turtle school clothes instead of paying the bills, but immediately feels bad when she realizes that Taylor literally can hardly keep a roof over her head.
Alice and Sugar go out for a walk to the water hole. On the way, Sugar shows Alice the mulberry tree her husband has planted and the long string of trailer houses that belong to her children. When the finally get to the water hole called "Heaven" one of the many young people there crosses the creek to bring them a string of fish. He politely tells Alice about the fish and snapping turtles they find in the creek.
Talking to Sugar about old times reminds Alice of a gospel singer who Alice used to hear sing at the "colored church." Alice thinks that it's easy to shake and scream like people speaking in tongues, but this woman felt real. Alice thinks "it's peacefulness that is hard to come by on purpose."
The next day, Alice meets Annawake for lunch. The conversation begins cordially. Annawake has spilled some sugar and Alice responds kindly. The waitress suggests the sugar is a sign that one of the two women has a sweetheart. Annawake understands Alice's point of view, repeating back what she thinks Alice had planned to say. Alice adds that Turtle was abused, and becomes angry that people from this same community now want her back. Annawake explains that her mother's generation had a terrible time growing up, being sent to institutions to be inculcated in white America's culture. She tells Alice about her alcoholic mother, and surmises that Turtle's mother, who would have been Annawake's generation, was a casualty of this history. Alice tells Annawake the terrible economic and personal problems that the legal investigation has created for Taylor. Annawake sympathizes, but also explains that on the reservation people are not ashamed of poverty. They look across the way at a tree in Boma Mellowbug's yard which has branches stuck with all kinds of old containers and bottles, which the community has contributed. Annawake explains how it's possible to "love your crazy people, even admire them, instead of resenting that they're not self-sufficient."
The photo cube is an important symbol in Chapter 21. Taylor feels depressed and desperate living in Seattle. Like the woman who has lost her eyesight, and cannot remember colors, Taylor seems to have lost all sense of what it feels like to be secure and safe of worry. With not even enough money to buy tuna fish, Taylor has only one worthy possession that the author mentions—the photo cube. A cube with six sides showing pictures of herself, Alice, and Jax represents a secure notion of family. When Taylor hides her money inside, the cube also symbolizes financial security, however tenuous it may be. The disappearance of the cube, then, suggests that all that was anchoring Taylor—personally and financially—has left her.
Barbie's departure complicates the plot further, and also alludes to the pain of Turtle's past once again. Barbie's conversation in which she tells Taylor shamelessly about her counterfeiting stints foreshadows the thievery. In addition to taking the money, Barbie's departure means that Taylor has no one who can babysit Turtle, which causes more anxiety than the robbery. Turtle's response to Barbie leaving shows, however, that she seems to be facing her past, and learning to heal. She asks Taylor if Barbie is leaving because of something that she did. When Taylor tells her no, she is able to concentrate and believe Taylor's words instead of descending back into herself.
Alice and Sugar's walk to the watering hole give a more comprehensive description of the setting of Heaven. In addition, Alice begins to learn more about life on the Cherokee Nation. The scene of children at the watering hole symbolizes the way that family is considered differently in the Nation. It seems totally normal to Sugar, for instance, that the boy who brought them fish was being raised by someone other than his birth parents, simply because they had so many kids.
Alice's memory of attending gospel meetings when she was a young girl seems a little random, until one connects it with a passage earlier in the book. An astute reader will recall one of Sugar's thoughtful moments from Chapter 19 in which she thinks of Letty and Cash's mother. A strong woman, she ultimately became a Baptist, and organized gospel music at community gatherings. That Alice identifies with a figure who has commonalities with Cash's mother seems to be a good omen. Alice's memory of the speaker-of-tongues and Cash's mother both seem to exude a strong sense of spirituality and communion.
Alice and Annawake's lunch meeting serves as an auspicious sign for the outcome of Turtle's custody. Both women feel less hostility than they previously thought they would; Annawake feels "forgiven" when Alice makes light of her sugar spill, and Alice feels understood when Annawake anticipates Alice's side of the issue. In a situation where common ground feels impossible, the two women end up talking about the way the Cherokee Nation views economic dependence and social eccentricity. For instance, Annawake points out how poor kids do not feel ashamed in this place since most people are poor, and all share what they have with each other. Boma Mellowbug's prominent presence in her community affirms that Cherokees value the creative, prophetic qualities of this "crazy" without judging her. Both of these societal phenomena show a side of the Nation that one can only experience by living in it or visiting. Alice is slowly learning how life on the Nation could offer a child some things that white American culture cannot. Taylor's situation immediately comes to mind. If Taylor and Turtle were living on the reservation, Taylor would perhaps not feel so bad about herself.