In Oklahoma, where Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is a staple and Bob Barker is king, twenty-eight-year-old Darla Moon struggles to break free. But as she plans her escape to New York City, turmoil erupts and the demands of family stand between her and her suitcase. Darla must, for the first time in her life, cast an unflinching eye on the hard-to-accept truths regarding love, responsibility, and survival. The Bingo Queens of Paradise lyrically blends a powerful comic voice with a poignant tale of a woman who longs to pursue her dreams.
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Born and educated in England, June Park first trained as a ballerina and performed in many theatrical productions until a nursing career beckoned her. An avid reader, she cut her teeth on Dickens and Austen — and every encyclopedia she could lay her hands on. But become a writer? “Never occurred to me,” she says. “I thought most writers were ordained by God — that others went mad in attics, while others fell prey to alcohol in Paris, so what chance did I have? I wasn’t overly religious, I lacked an attic, and I had no plans to go abroad.”
Park, an ardent people watcher, feels compelled to write stories hinting of discrimination, and about women scrimping and struggling to raise themselves and their children—not always well, but the best they know how. Now a multi-award winning author, she is now at work on her second novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Once Upon a TimeParadise, Oklahoma. 1976.
It's Friday night, and Momma's going dancing, so I'll be in charge of Rhonda and Granny again. And when the Rialto closes, when Mr. Jarvis has cleaned up the soda fountain and locked up his drugstore, and the traffic light keeps switching from red to green to yellow for whoever the hell happens by, Preacher Maples will wrestle in the dark with Momma.
The sun's gone down, but it went to one hundred and two degrees today so it's still mighty hot up here. The black metal floor lamp is lit, and on the table next to Momma's ashtray are our leftovers: slices of bread, curled at the comers, warm cherry Kool-Aid, and a few Good Time Baked Beans stuck to our plates.
Me and Rhonda just got outa the tub. I was supposed to wash us and dry us top to bottom, but I skipped parts, so our watery footprints, mine first, Rhonda's kinda pigeon-toed, dog each other across the gritty floor. And we still stink. Not of sweat or Ivory soap, 'cause Ivory costs too much, but of Daisy Fresh which Momma says is just as good but ain't 'cause it gets slimy in the water and makes me and Rhonda smell like two rusty skillets.
Her hair is almost dry, my black curls are dripping wet, and ourdrawers, which ain't seen white in a trillion years, are stuck in the cracks of our butts. We stretch across the back of the orange sofa, Rhonda's sweaty legs curled around mine, and we stare down at Main Street, at two lines of cars and trucks creeping along with their lights on, at folks roaming about in shirts, shorts, and sandals, laughing and smoking.
We live over Macy's Hardware Store. The smell of paint gets into our oatmeal and a fine layer of dust covers our floors, but we can see lots of stuff from up here.
"Close the window," I tell Rhonda, "or them hard little June bugs'll fly in our hair."
"Momma says they send folks crazy, like Granny," she says, scratching the mosquito bite on her butt.
"Granny ain't crazy. Got a lot on her mind, is all."
"What's on at the movies?"
"Bambi. See them two girls in line with their mommas? They're in my class. Cindy Harker's the one with white patent leather shoes-- Henrietta's are black. Elijah said Henrietta's daddy is rich 'cause he buries all the dead folk 'round here."
"Momma said if we didn't eat for a month I could have a pair of those shoes. I said that was okay with me, but she must've forgot 'cause we're still eating."
"I want black, too."
"It's agin the law for six-year-olds to wear patent leather. You gotta be eight, like me."
"You lie like a rug, Darla."
I pretend I don't hear her. "Stupid the way Cindy and Henrietta are all doodied up. Them starched dresses'll be creased and ugly when they come back out."
"I wanna see Bambi."
"We seen it already."
"That's what you said about Snow White and that was a lie."
"Was not, and shut that window." I leave her to the sofa with its torn cushions, her forehead wrinkled, her chin cupped in her hands, the Rialto's lights reflecting in her eyes.
Granny's in bed and her lamp's turned off. She's finished counting her invisible frogs and she's watching Channel 3. There ain't no Channel 3 hereabouts, but the flickering screen and the crackling noises is how The Planet of Headbreakers sends her "Divine messages from God."
See, when Granny got sick after birthing my momma, the doctors in Arkansas drilled holes in her head and shot her into the mind of God, and He made her Keeper of the Frogs, something only me and her understands. And when folks ask, I tell them that's not a wire coat hanger on Granny's head, it's an honest-to-God, planet-to-earth antenna, that every night, sure as the world, she's gotta wrap her legs in newspaper and twine so her red, white, and blue blood cells don't get radiated.
Momma steps outa the tub, hair burning like fire under the glare of the bulb. She runs her fingers across her waist and over her breasts, rakes 'em through her hair, pulls wisps across her forehead and over her pink cars, pats Woolworth's talcum powder into her belly button with a blue fuzzy puff, presses the top of a black, diamond-studded bottle. The smell of the Avon lady's Occur perfume explodes into the steam and heat.
Momma's every step is recorded in the black and white linoleum. Outlined by drifts of talc, her smudged footprints shuffle forward, backward, and side to side as she admires herself in the mirror. Wish she looked more like them church ladies who bring us their kids' worn-out clothes. Their skin's so white they prob'ly sweat milk, but their hips don't wiggle and they don't wear short red dresses on Friday and Saturday night. I love what Momma wears to Bingo, though, them scoop-necked tops and the flowery skirts that dance with her sandals--but I hate her girlfriends. Loud, they are, with tapping feet, snapping fingers, and eyes like Momma's, the kind that hanker after cold beer, black undies, and fat old uncles.
Momma slides her feet into black stockings, catches the fronts and backs in the tabs of a frilly belt. Black bra, black shoes with high pencil heels come next. She wiggles into a tight red dress with slits up the sides, snaps on a pair of red earrings. Dancing stuff.
"Wash the dishes, Darla," she says, running a comb through her hair," and don't go to Elijah for anything, understand?"
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