Also by Kate DiCamillo: The Magician’s Elephant The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane The Tale of Despereaux The Tiger Rising
Mercy Watson to the Rescue Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride Mercy Watson Fights Crime Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig Mercy Watson: Something Wonky This Way Comes
The author owes a joyful debt to Betty DiCamillo, Linda Nelson, Amy Ehrlich, Jane Resh Thomas, Liz Bicknell, the Wednesday night group, the Monday night group, and to Kara LaReau, founding member of the Because of Winn-Dixie Fan Club and editor extraordinaire.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.
Winn-Dixie ® is a Federally Registered trademark and service mark owned by The Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. This work has not been prepared, manufactured, approved, or licensed by The Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. Neither the author of this work nor its publishers are in any way affiliated with The Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.
First electronic edition 2009
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows: DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn-Dixie / Kate DiCamillo. — 1st ed. p. cm. Summary: Ten-year-old India Opal Buloni describes her first summer in the town of Naomi, Florida, and all the good things that happen to her because of her big ugly dog Winn-Dixie. ISBN 978-0-7636-0776-0 (hardcover) [1. Dogs — Fiction. 2. City and town life — Florida — Fiction. 3. Florida — Fiction.] I. Title. PZ7.D5455Be 2000 [Fic] — dc21 99-34260
ISBN 978-0-7636-1605-2 (paperback) ISBN 978-0-7636-4432-1 (reformatted paperback) ISBN 978-0-76364945-6 (electronic)
Candlewick Press 99 Dover Street Somerville, Massachusetts 02144
visit us at www.candlewick.com
My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog. This is what happened: I walked into the produce section of the Winn-Dixie grocery store to pick out my two tomatoes and I almost bumped right into the store manager. He was standing there all red-faced, screaming and waving his arms around.
“Who let a dog in here?” he kept on shouting. “Who let a dirty dog in here?”
At first, I didn’t see a dog. There were just a lot of vegetables rolling around on the floor, tomatoes and onions and green peppers. And there was what seemed like a whole army of Winn-Dixie employees running around waving their arms just the same way the store manager was waving his.
And then the dog came running around the corner. He was a big dog. And ugly. And he looked like he was having a real good time. His tongue was hanging out and he was wagging his tail. He skidded to a stop and smiled right at me. I had never before in my life seen a dog smile, but that is what he did. He pulled back his lips and showed me all his teeth. Then he wagged his tail so hard that he knocked some oranges off a display, and they went rolling everywhere, mixing in with the tomatoes and onions and green peppers.
The manager screamed, “Somebody grab that dog!”
The dog went running over to the manager, wagging his tail and smiling. He stood up on his hind legs. You could tell that all he wanted to do was get face to face with the manager and thank him for the good time he was having in the produce department, but somehow he ended up knocking the manager over. And the manager must have been having a bad day, because lying there on the floor, right in front of everybody, he started to cry. The dog leaned over him, real concerned, and licked his face.
“Please,” said the manager. “Somebody call the pound.”
“Wait a minute!” I hollered. “That’s my dog. Don’t call the pound.”
All the Winn-Dixie employees turned around and looked at me, and I knew I had done something big. And maybe stupid, too. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t let that dog go to the pound.
“Here, boy,” I said.
The dog stopped licking the manager’s face and put his ears up in the air and looked at me, like he was trying to remember where he knew me from.
“Here, boy,” I said again. And then I figured that the dog was probably just like everybody else in the world, that he would want to get called by a name, only I didn’t know what his name was, so I just said the first thing that came into my head. I said, “Here, Winn-Dixie.”
And that dog came trotting over to me just like he had been doing it his whole life.
The manager sat up and gave me a hard stare, like maybe I was making fun of him.
“It’s his name,” I said. “Honest.”
The manager said, “Don’t you know not to bring a dog into a grocery store?”
“Yes sir,” I told him. “He got in by mistake. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.
“Come on, Winn-Dixie,” I said to the dog.
I started walking and he followed along behind me as I went out of the produce department and down the cereal aisle and past all the cashiers and out the door.
Once we were safe outside, I checked him over real careful and he didn’t look that good. He was big, but skinny; you could see his ribs. And there were bald patches all over him, places where he didn’t have any fur at all. Mostly, he looked like a big piece of old brown carpet that had been left out in the rain.
“You’re a mess,” I told him. “I bet you don’t belong to anybody.”
He smiled at me. He did that thing again, where he pulled back his lips and showed me his teeth. He smiled so big that it made him sneeze. It was like he was saying, “I know I’m a mess. Isn’t it funny?”
It’s hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor.
“Come on,” I told him. “Let’s see what the preacher has to say about you.”
And the two of us, me and Winn-Dixie, started walking home.
That summer I found Winn-Dixie was also the summer me and the preacher moved to Naomi, Florida, so he could be the new preacher at the Open Arms Baptist Church of Naomi. My daddy is a good preacher and a nice man, but sometimes it’s hard for me to think about him as my daddy, because he spends so much time preaching or thinking about preaching or getting ready to preach. And so, in my mind, I think of him as “the preacher.” Before I was born, he was a missionary in India and that is how I got my first name. But he calls me by my second name, Opal, because that was his mother’s name. And he loved her a lot.
Anyway, while me and Winn-Dixie walked home, I told him how I got my name and I told him how I had just moved to Naomi. I also told him about the preacher and how he was a good man, even if he was too distracted with sermons and prayers and suffering people to go grocery shopping.
“But you know what?” I told Winn-Dixie. “You are a suffering dog, so maybe he will take to you right away. Maybe he’ll let me keep you.”
Winn-Dixie looked up at me and wagged his tail. He was kind of limping like something was wrong with one of his legs. And I have to admit, he stunk. Bad. He was an ugly dog, but already, I loved him with all my heart.
When we got to the Friendly Corners Trailer Park, I told Winn-Dixie that he had to behave right and be quiet, because this was an all adult trailer park and the only reason I got to live in it was because the preacher was a preacher and I was a good, quiet kid. I was what the Friendly Corners Trailer Park manager, Mr. Alfred, called “an exception.” And I told Winn-Dixie he had to act like an exception, too; specifically, I told him not to pick any fights with Mr. Alfred’s cats or Mrs. Detweller’s little yappie Yorkie dog, Samuel. Winn-Dixie looked up at me while I was telling him everything, and I swear he understood.
“Sit,” I told him when we got to my trailer. He sat right down. He had good manners. “Stay here,” I told him. “I’ll be right back.”
The preacher was sitting in the living room, working at the little foldout table. He had papers spread all around him and he was rubbing his nose, which always means he is thinking. Hard.
“Daddy?” I said.
“Hmmm,” he said back.
“Daddy, do you know how you always tell me that we should help those less fortunate than ourselves?”
“Mmmmmm-hmmm,” he said. He rubbed his nose and looked around at his papers.
“Well,” I said, “I found a Less Fortunate at the grocery store.”
“Is that right?” he said.
“Yes sir,” I told him. I stared at the preacher really hard. Sometimes he reminded me of a turtle hiding inside its shell, in there thinking about things and not ever sticking his head out into the world. “Daddy, I was wondering. Could this Less Fortunate, could he stay with us for a while?”
Finally the preacher looked up at me. “Opal,” he said, “what are you talking about?”
“I found a dog,” I told him. “And I want to keep him.”
“No dogs,” the preacher said. “We’ve talked about this before. You don’t need a dog.”
“I know it,” I said. “I know I don’t need a dog. But this dog needs me. Look,” I said. I went to the trailer door and I hollered, “Winn-Dixie!”
Winn-Dixie’s ears shot up in the air and he grinned and sneezed, and then he came limping up the steps and into the trailer and put his head right in the preacher’s lap, right on top of a pile of papers.
The preacher looked at Winn-Dixie. He looked at his ribs and his matted-up fur and the places where he was bald. The preacher’s nose wrinkled up. Like I said, the dog smelled pretty bad.
Winn-Dixie looked up at the preacher. He pulled back his lips and showed the preacher all of his crooked yellow teeth and wagged his tail and knocked some of the preacher’s papers off the table. Then he sneezed and some more papers fluttered to the floor.
“What did you call this dog?” the preacher asked.
“Winn-Dixie,” I whispered. I was afraid to say anything too loud. I could see that Winn-Dixie was having a good effect on the preacher. He was making him poke his head out of his shell.
“Well,” said the preacher. “He’s a stray if I’ve ever seen one.” He put down his pencil and scratched Winn-Dixie behind the ears. “And a Less Fortunate, too. That’s for sure. Are you looking for a home?” the preacher asked, real soft, to Winn-Dixie.
Winn-Dixie wagged his tail.
“Well,” the preacher said. “I guess you’ve found one.”
I started in on Winn-Dixie right away, trying to clean him up. First, I gave him a bath. I used the garden hose and some baby shampoo. He stood still for it, but I could tell he didn’t like it. He looked insulted, and the whole time, he didn’t show me his teeth or wag his tail once. After he was all washed and dried, I brushed him good. I used my own hairbrush and worked real hard at all the knots and patches of fur stuck together. He didn’t mind being brushed. He wiggled his back, like it felt pretty good.
The whole time I was working on him, I was talking to him. And he listened. I told him how we were alike. “See,” I said, “you don’t have any family and neither do I. I’ve got the preacher, of course. But I don’t have a mama. I mean I have one, but I don’t know where she is. She left when I was three years old. I can’t hardly remember her. And I bet you don’t remember your mama much either. So we’re almost like orphans.”
Winn-Dixie looked straight at me when I said that to him, like he was feeling relieved to finally have somebody understand his situation. I nodded my head at him and went on talking.
“I don’t even have any friends, because I had to leave them all behind when we moved here from Watley. Watley’s up in north Florida. Have you ever been to north Florida?”
Winn-Dixie looked down at the ground, like he was trying to remember if he had.
“You know what?” I said. “Ever since we moved here, I’ve been thinking about my mama extra-extra hard, more than I ever did when I was in Watley.”
Winn-Dixie twitched his ears and raised his eyebrows.
“I think the preacher thinks about my mama all the time, too. He’s still in love with her; I know that because I heard the ladies at the church in Watley talking about him. They said he’s still hoping she’ll come back. But he doesn’t tell me that. He won’t talk to me about her at all. I want to know more about her. But I’m afraid to ask the preacher; I’m afraid he’ll get mad at me.”
Winn-Dixie looked at me hard, like he was trying to say something.
“What?” I said.
He stared at me.
“You think I should make the preacher tell me about her?”
Winn-Dixie looked at me so hard he sneezed.
“I’ll think about it,” I said.
When I was done working on him, Winn-Dixie looked a whole lot better. He still had his bald spots, but the fur that he did have cleaned up nice. It was all shiny and soft. You could still see his ribs, but I intended to feed him good and that would take care of that. I couldn’t do anything about his crooked yellow teeth because he got into a sneezing fit every time I started brushing them with my toothbrush, and I finally had to give up. But for the most part, he looked a whole lot better, and so I took him into the trailer and showed him to the preacher.
“Daddy,” I said.
“Hmmm,” he said. He was working on a sermon and kind of muttering to himself.
“Daddy, I wanted to show you the new Winn-Dixie.”
The preacher put down his pencil and rubbed his nose, and finally, he looked up.
“Well,” he said, smiling real big at Winn-Dixie, “well, now. Don’t you look handsome.”
Winn-Dixie smiled back at the preacher. He went over and put his head in the preacher’s lap.
“He smells nice, too,” said the preacher. He rubbed Winn-Dixie’s head and looked into his eyes.
“Daddy,” I said, real quick before I lost all my nerve, “I’ve been talking to Winn-Dixie.”
“Is that right?” the preacher said; he scratched Winn-Dixie’s head.
“I’ve been talking to him and he agreed with me that, since I’m ten years old, you should tell me ten things about my mama. Just ten things, that’s all.”
The preacher stopped rubbing Winn-Dixie’s head and held real still. I could see him thinking about pulling his head back into his shell.
“One thing for each year I’ve been alive,” I told him. “Please.”
Winn-Dixie looked up at the preacher and kind of gave him a nudge with his nose.
The preacher sighed. He said to Winn-Dixie, “I should have guessed you were going to be trouble.” Then he looked at me. “Come on, Opal,” he said. “Sit down. And I will tell you ten things about your mama.”
One,” said the preacher. We were sitting on the couch and Winn-Dixie was sitting between us. Winn-Dixie had already decided that he liked the couch a lot. “One,” said the preacher again. Winn-Dixie looked at him kind of hard. “Your mama was funny. She could make just about anybody laugh.”
“Two,” he said. “She had red hair and freckles.”
“Just like me,” I said.
“Just like you,” the preacher nodded.
“Three. She liked to plant things. She had a talent for it. She could stick a tire in the ground and grow a car.”
Winn-Dixie started chewing on his paw, and I tapped him on the head to make him stop.
“Four,” said the preacher. “She could run fast. If you were racing her, you couldn’t ever let her get a head start, because she would beat you for sure.”
“I’m that way, too,” I said. “Back home, in Watley, I raced Liam Fullerton, and beat him, and he said it wasn’t fair, because boys and girls shouldn’t race each other to begin with. I told him he was just a sore loser.”
The preacher nodded. He was quiet for a minute.
“I’m ready for number five,” I told him.
“Five,” he said. “She couldn’t cook. She burned everything, including water. She had a hard time opening a can of beans. She couldn’t make head nor tail of a piece of meat. Six.” The preacher rubbed his nose and looked up at the ceiling. Winn-Dixie looked up, too. “Number six is that your mama loved a story. She would sit and listen to stories all day long. She loved to be told a story. She especially liked funny ones, stories that made her laugh.” The preacher nodded his head like he was agreeing with himself.
“What’s number seven?” I asked.
“Let’s see,” he said. “She knew all the constellations, every planet in the nighttime sky. Every last one of them. She could name them. And point them out. And she never got tired of looking up at them.
“Number eight,” said the preacher, with his eyes closed, “was that she hated being a preacher’s wife. She said she just couldn’t stand having the ladies at church judge what she was wearing and what she was cooking and how she was singing. She said it made her feel like a bug under a microscope.”
Winn-Dixie lay down on the couch. He put his nose in the preacher’s lap and his tail in mine.
“Ten,” said the preacher.
“Nine,” I told him.
“Nine,” said the preacher. “She drank. She drank beer. And whiskey. And wine. Sometimes, she couldn’t stop drinking. And that made me and your mama fight quite a bit. Number ten,” he said with a long sigh, “number ten, is that your mama loved you. She loved you very much.”
“But she left me,” I told him.
“She left us,” said the preacher softly. I could see him pulling his old turtle head back into his stupid turtle shell. “She packed her bags and left us, and she didn’t leave one thing behind.”
“Okay,” I said. I got up off the couch. Winn-Dixie hopped off, too. “Thank you for telling me,” I said.
I went right back to my room and wrote down all ten things that the preacher had told me. I wrote them down just the way he said them to me so that I wouldn’t forget them, and then I read them out loud to Winn-Dixie until I had them memorized. I wanted to know those ten things inside and out. That way, if my mama ever came back, I could recognize her, and I would be able to grab her and hold on to her tight and not let her get away from me again.
Winn-Dixie couldn’t stand to be left alone; we found that out real quick. If me and the preacher went off and left him by himself in the trailer, he pulled all the cushions off the couch and all the toilet paper off the roll. So we started tying him up outside with a rope when we left. That didn’t work either. Winn-Dixie howled until Samuel, Mrs. Detweller’s dog, started howling, too. It was exactly the kind of noise that people in an all adult trailer park do not like to hear.
“He just doesn’t want to be left alone,” I told the preacher. “That’s all. Let’s take him with us.” I could understand the way Winn-Dixie felt. Getting left behind probably made his heart feel empty.
After a while, the preacher gave in. And everywhere we went, we took Winn-Dixie. Even to church.
The Open Arms Baptist Church of Naomi isn’t a regular-looking church. The building used to be a Pick-It-Quick store, and when you walk in the front door, the first thing you see is the Pick-It-Quick motto. It’s written on the floor in little tiny red tiles that make great big letters that say “PICK PICK PICK QUICK QUICK QUICK.” The preacher tried painting over those tiles, but the letters won’t stay covered up, and so the preacher has just given up and let them be.
The other thing about the Open Arms that is different from other churches is there aren’t any pews. People bring in their own foldup chairs and lawn chairs, and so sometimes it looks more like the congregation is watching a parade or sitting at a barbecue instead of being at church. It’s kind of a strange church and I thought Winn-Dixie would fit right in.
But the first time we brought Winn-Dixie to the Open Arms, the preacher tied him outside the front door.
“Why did we bring him all the way here just to tie him up?” I asked the preacher.
“Because dogs don’t belong in church, Opal,” the preacher said. “That’s why.”
He tied Winn-Dixie up to a tree and said how there was lots of shade for him and that it ought to work out real good.
Well, it didn’t. The service started and there was some singing and some sharing and some praying, and then the preacher started preaching. And he wasn’t but two or three words into his sermon when there was a terrible howl coming from outside.
The preacher tried to ignore it.
“Today,” he said.
“Aaaaaarrooo,” said Winn-Dixie.
“Please,” said the preacher.
“Arrrroooowwww,” said Winn-Dixie back.
“Friends,” said the preacher.
“Arrruiiiiipppp,” wailed Winn-Dixie.
Everyone turned in their lawn chairs and foldup chairs and looked at one another.
“Opal,” said the preacher.
“Owwwwww,” said Winn-Dixie.
“Yes sir?” I said.
“Go get that dog!” he yelled.
“Yes sir!” I yelled back.
I went outside and untied Winn-Dixie and brought him inside, and he sat down beside me and smiled up at the preacher, and the preacher couldn’t help it; he smiled back. Winn-Dixie had that effect on him.
And so the preacher started in preaching again. Winn-Dixie sat there listening to it, wiggling his ears this way and that, trying to catch all the words. And everything would have been all right, except that a mouse ran across the floor.
The Open Arms had mice. They were there from when it was a Pick-It-Quick and there were lots of good things to eat in the building, and when the Pick-It-Quick became the Open Arms Baptist Church of Naomi, the mice stayed around to eat all the leftover crumbs from the potluck suppers. The preacher kept on saying he was going to have to do something about them, but he never did. Because the truth is, he couldn’t stand the thought of hurting anything, even a mouse.
Well, Winn-Dixie saw that mouse, and he was up and after him. One minute, everything was quiet and serious and the preacher was going on and on and on; and the next minute, Winn-Dixie looked like a furry bullet, shooting across the building, chasing that mouse. He was barking and his feet were skidding all over the polished Pick-It-Quick floor, and people were clapping and hollering and pointing. They really went wild when Winn-Dixie actually caught the mouse.
“I have never in my life seen a dog catch a mouse,” said Mrs. Nordley. She was sitting next to me.
“He’s a special dog,” I told her.
“I imagine so,” she said back.
Winn-Dixie stood up there in front of the whole church, wagging his tail and holding the mouse real careful in his mouth, holding onto him tight but not squishing him.
“I believe that mutt has got some retriever in him,” said somebody behind me. “That’s a hunting dog.”
Winn-Dixie took the mouse over to the preacher and dropped it at his feet. And when the mouse tried to get away, Winn-Dixie put his paw right on the mouse’s tail. Then he smiled up at the preacher. He showed him all his teeth. The preacher looked down at the mouse. He looked at Winn-Dixie. He looked at me. He rubbed his nose. It got real quiet in the Pick-It-Quick.
“Let us pray,” the preacher finally said, “for this mouse.”
And everybody started laughing and clapping. The preacher picked up the mouse by the tail and walked and threw it out the front door of the Pick-It-Quick, and everybody applauded again.
Then he came back and we all prayed together. I prayed for my mama. I told God how much she would have enjoyed hearing the story of Winn-Dixie catching that mouse. It would have made her laugh. I asked God if maybe I could be the one to tell her that story someday.
And then I talked to God about how I was lonely in Naomi because I didn’t know that many kids, only the ones from church. And there weren’t that many kids at the Open Arms, just Dunlap and Stevie Dewberry, two brothers who weren’t twins but looked like they were. And Amanda Wilkinson, whose face was always pinched up like she was smelling something real bad; and Sweetie Pie Thomas, who was only five years old and still mostly a baby. And none of them wanted to be my friend anyway because they probably thought I’d tell on them to the preacher for every little thing they did wrong; and then they would get in trouble with God and their parents. So I told God that I was lonely, even having Winn-Dixie.
And finally, I prayed for the mouse, like the preacher suggested. I prayed that he didn’t get hurt when he went flying out the door of the Open Arms Baptist Church of Naomi. I prayed that he landed on a nice soft patch of grass.
I spent a lot of time that summer at the Herman W. Block Memorial Library. The Herman W. Block Memorial Library sounds like it would be a big fancy place, but it’s not. It’s just a little old house full of books, and Miss Franny Block is in charge of them all. She is a very small, very old woman with short gray hair, and she was the first friend I made in Naomi.
It all started with Winn-Dixie not liking it when I went into the library, because he couldn’t go inside, too. But I showed him how he could stand up on his hind legs and look in the window and see me in there, selecting my books; and he was okay, as long as he could see me. But the thing was, the first time Miss Franny Block saw Winn-Dixie standing up on his hind legs like that, looking in the window, she didn’t think he was a dog. She thought he was a bear.
This is what happened: I was picking out my books and kind of humming to myself, and all of a sudden, there was this loud and scary scream. I went running up to the front of the library, and there was Miss Franny Block, sitting on the floor behind her desk.
“Miss Franny?” I said. “Are you all right?”
“A bear,” she said.
“A bear?” I asked.
“He has come back,” she said.
“He has?” I asked. “Where is he?”
“Out there,” she said and raised a finger and pointed at Winn-Dixie standing up on his hind legs, looking in the window for me.
“Miss Franny Block,” I said, “that’s not a bear. That’s a dog. That’s my dog. Winn-Dixie.”
“Are you positive?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am,” I told her. “I’m positive. He’s my dog. I would know him anywhere.”
Miss Franny sat there trembling and shaking.
“Come on,” I said. “Let me help you up. It’s okay.” I stuck out my hand and Miss Franny took hold of it, and I pulled her up off the floor. She didn’t weigh hardly anything at all. Once she was standing on her feet, she started acting all embarrassed, saying how I must think she was a silly old lady, mistaking a dog for a bear, but that she had a bad experience with a bear coming into the Herman W. Block Memorial Library a long time ago and she never had quite gotten over it.
“When did that happen?” I asked her.
“Well,” said Miss Franny, “it is a very long story.”
“That’s okay,” I told her. “I am like my mama in that I like to be told stories. But before you start telling it, can Winn-Dixie come in and listen, too? He gets lonely without me.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said Miss Franny. “Dogs are not allowed in the Herman W. Block Memorial Library.”
“He’ll be good,” I told her. “He’s a dog who goes to church.” And before she could say yes or no, I went outside and got Winn-Dixie, and he came in and lay down with a “huummmppff” and a sigh, right at Miss Franny’s feet.
She looked down at him and said, “He most certainly is a large dog.”
“Yes ma’am,” I told her. “He has a large heart, too.”
“Well,” Miss Franny said. She bent over and gave Winn-Dixie a pat on the head, and Winn-Dixie wagged his tail back and forth and snuffled his nose on her little old-lady feet. “Let me get a chair and sit down so I can tell this story properly.”
Back when Florida was wild, when it consisted of nothing but palmetto trees and mosquitoes so big they could fly away with you,” Miss Franny Block started in, “and I was just a little girl no bigger than you, my father, Herman W. Block, told me that I could have anything I wanted for my birthday. Anything at all.”
Miss Franny looked around the library. She leaned in close to me. “I don’t want to appear prideful,” she said, “but my daddy was a very rich man. A very rich man.” She nodded and then leaned back and said, “And I was a little girl who loved to read. So I told him, I said, ‘Daddy, I would most certainly love to have a library for my birthday, a small little library would be wonderful.’”
“You asked for a whole library?”
“A small one,” Miss Franny nodded. “I wanted a little house full of nothing but books and I wanted to share them, too. And I got my wish. My father built me this house, the very one we are sitting in now. And at a very young age, I became a librarian. Yes ma’am.”
“What about the bear?” I said.
“Did I mention that Florida was wild in those days?” Miss Franny Block said.
“Uh-huh, you did.”
“It was wild. There were wild men and wild women and wild animals.”
“Yes ma’am. That’s right. Now, I have to tell you, I was a little-miss-know-it-all. I was a miss-smarty-pants with my library full of books. Oh, yes ma’am, I thought I knew the answers to everything. Well, one hot Thursday, I was sitting in my library with all the doors and windows open and my nose stuck in a book, when a shadow crossed the desk. And without looking up, yes ma’am, without even looking up, I said, ‘Is there a book I can help you find?’
“Well, there was no answer. And I thought it might have been a wild man or a wild woman, scared of all these books and afraid to speak up. But then I became aware of a very peculiar smell, a very strong smell. I raised my eyes slowly. And standing right in front of me was a bear. Yes ma’am. A very large bear.”
“How big?” I asked.
“Oh, well,” said Miss Franny, “perhaps three times the size of your dog.”
“Then what happened?” I asked her.
“Well,” said Miss Franny, “I looked at him and he looked at me. He put his big nose up in the air and sniffed and sniffed as if he was trying to decide if a little-miss-know-it-all librarian was what he was in the mood to eat. And I sat there. And then I thought, ‘Well, if this bear intends to eat me, I am not going to let it happen without a fight. No ma’am.’ So very slowly and very carefully, I raised up the book I was reading.”
“What book was that?” I asked.
“Why, it was War and Peace, a very large book. I raised it up slowly and then I aimed it carefully and I threw it right at that bear and screamed, ‘Be gone!’ And do you know what?”
“No ma’am,” I said.
“He went. But this is what I will never forget. He took the book with him.”
“Nuh-uh,” I said.
“Yes ma’am,” said Miss Franny. “He snatched it up and ran.”
“Did he come back?” I asked.
“No, I never saw him again. Well, the men in town used to tease me about it. They used to say, ‘Miss Franny, we saw that bear of yours out in the woods today. He was reading that book and he said it sure was good and would it be all right if he kept it for just another week.’ Yes ma’am. They did tease me about it.” She sighed. “I imagine I’m the only one left from those days. I imagine I’m the only one that even recalls that bear. All my friends, everyone I knew when I was young, they are all dead and gone.”
She sighed again. She looked sad and old and wrinkled. It was the same way I felt sometimes, being friendless in a new town and not having a mama to comfort me. I sighed, too.
Winn-Dixie raised his head off his paws and looked back and forth between me and Miss Franny. He sat up then and showed Miss Franny his teeth.
“Well now, look at that,” she said. “That dog is smiling at me.”
“It’s a talent of his,” I told her.
“It is a fine talent,” Miss Franny said. “A very fine talent.” And she smiled back at Winn-Dixie.
“We could be friends,” I said to Miss Franny. “I mean you and me and Winn-Dixie, we could all be friends.”
Miss Franny smiled even bigger. “Why, that would be grand,” she said, “just grand.”
And right at that minute, right when the three of us had decided to be friends, who should come marching into the Herman W. Block Memorial Library but old pinch-faced Amanda Wilkinson. She walked right up to Miss Franny’s desk and said, “I finished Johnny Tremain and I enjoyed it very much. I would like something even more difficult to read now, because I am an advanced reader.”
“Yes dear, I know,” said Miss Franny. She got up out of her chair.
Amanda pretended like I wasn’t there. She stared right past me. “Are dogs allowed in the library?” she asked Miss Franny as they walked away.
“Certain ones,” said Miss Franny, “a select few.” And then she turned around and winked at me. I smiled back. I had just made my first friend in Naomi, and nobody was going to mess that up for me, not even old pinch-faced Amanda Wilkinson.
Winn-Dixie’s bald spots started growing fur, and the fur that he had to begin with started looking shiny and healthy; and he didn’t limp anymore. And you could tell that he was proud of looking so good, proud of not looking like a stray. I thought what he needed most was a collar and a leash, so I went into Gertrude’s Pets, where there were fish and snakes and mice and lizards and gerbils and pet supplies, and I found a real handsome red leather collar with a matching leash.
Winn-Dixie was not allowed to come inside the store (there was a big sign on the door that said NO DOGS ALLOWED), so I held the collar and the leash up to the window. And Winn-Dixie, who was standing on the other side of the window, pulled up his lip and showed me his teeth and sneezed and wagged his tail something furious; so I knew he absolutely loved that leash and collar combination. But it was very expensive.
I decided to explain my situation to the man behind the counter. I said, “I don’t get a big enough allowance to afford something this fancy. But I love this collar and leash, and so does my dog, and I was thinking that maybe you could set me up on an installment plan.”
“Installment plan?” said the man.
“Gertrude!” somebody screamed in a real irritating voice.
I looked around. It was a parrot. She was sitting on top of one of the fish tanks, looking right at me.
“An installment plan,” I said, ignoring the parrot, “you know, where I promise to give you my allowance every week and you give me the leash and the collar now.”
“I don’t think I can do that,” said the man. He shook his head. “No, the owner, she wouldn’t like that.” He looked down at the counter. He wouldn’t look at me. He had thick black hair, and it was slicked back like Elvis Presley’s. He had on a name tag that said OTIS.
“Or I could work for you,” I said. “I could come in and sweep the floors and dust the shelves and take out the trash. I could do that.”
I looked around Gertrude’s Pets. There was sand and sunflower-seed shells and big dust bunnies all over the floor. I could tell that it needed to be swept.
“Uh,” said Otis. He looked down at the counter some more.
“Gertrude!” the parrot screamed again.
“I’m real trustworthy,” I said. “I’m new in town, but my daddy is a preacher. He’s the preacher at the Open Arms Baptist Church of Naomi, so I’m real honest. But the only thing is, Winn-Dixie, my dog, he would have to come inside with me; because if we get separated for too long, he starts to howl something terrible.”
“Gertrude doesn’t like dogs,” said Otis.
“Is she the owner?” I asked.
“Yes, I mean, no, I mean . . .” He finally looked up. He pointed at the fish tank. “That Gertrude. The parrot. I named her after the owner.”
“Gertrude’s a pretty bird!” screamed Gertrude.
“She might like Winn-Dixie,” I told Otis. “Almost everybody does. Maybe he could come inside and meet her, and if the two of them get along, then could I have the job?”
“Maybe,” Otis mumbled. He looked down at the counter again.
So I went and opened the door, and Winn-Dixie came trotting on inside the store.
“Dog!” screamed Gertrude.
“I know it,” Otis told her.
And then Gertrude got real quiet. She sat on the top of the fish tank and cocked her head from one side to the other, looking at Winn-Dixie. And Winn-Dixie stood and stared back at her. He didn’t hardly move. He didn’t wag his tail. He didn’t smile. He didn’t sneeze. He just stared at Gertrude and she stared at him. And then she spread her wings out real far and flew and landed on top of Winn-Dixie’s head.
“Dog,” she croaked.
Winn-Dixie wagged his tail just a little tiny bit.
And Otis said, “You can start on Monday.”
“Thank you,” I told him. “You won’t be sorry.”
On the way out of Gertrude’s Pets, I said to Winn-Dixie, “You are better at making friends than anybody I have ever known. I bet if my mama knew you, she would think you were the best dog ever.”
Winn-Dixie was smiling up at me and I was smiling down at him, and so neither one of us was looking where we were going and we almost bumped right into Sweetie Pie Thomas. She was standing there, sucking on the knuckle of her third finger, staring in the window of Gertrude’s Pets.
She took her finger out of her mouth and looked at me. Her eyes were all big and round. “Was that bird sitting on that dog’s head?” she asked. She had her hair tied up in a ponytail with a pink ribbon. But it wasn’t much of a ponytail, it was mostly ribbon and a few strands of hair.
“Yes,” I told her.
“I seen it,” she said. She nodded her head and put her knuckle back in her mouth. Then she took it out again real quick. “I seen that dog in church, too. He was catching a mouse. I want a dog just like it, but my mama won’t let me get no dog. She says if I’m real good, I might get to buy me a goldfish or one of them gerbils. That’s what she says. Can I pet your dog?”
“Sure,” I told her.
Sweetie Pie stroked Winn-Dixie’s head so long and serious that his eyes drooped half closed and drool came out of the side of his mouth. “I’m going to be six years old in September. I got to stop sucking on my knuckle once I’m six,” said Sweetie Pie. “I’m having a party. Do you want to come to my party? The theme is pink.”
“Sure,” I told her.
“Can this dog come?” she asked.
“You bet,” I told her.
And all of a sudden, I felt happy. I had a dog. I had a job. I had Miss Franny Block for a friend. And I had my first invitation to a party in Naomi. It didn’t matter that it came from a five-year-old and the party wasn’t until September. I didn’t feel so lonely anymore.
Just about everything that happened to me that summer happened because of Winn-Dixie. For instance, without him, I would never have met Gloria Dump. He was the one who introduced us.
What happened was this: I was riding my bike home from Gertrude’s Pets and Winn-Dixie was running along beside me. We went past Dunlap and Stevie Dewberry’s house, and when Dunlap and Stevie saw me, they got on their bikes and started following me. They wouldn’t ride with me; they just rode behind me and whispered things that I couldn’t hear. Neither one of them had any hair on his head, because their mama shaved their heads every week during the summer because of the one time Dunlap got fleas in his hair from their cat, Sadie. And now they looked like two identical bald-headed babies, even though they weren’t twins. Dunlap was ten years old, like me, and Stevie was nine and tall for his age.
“I can hear you,” I hollered back at them. “I can hear what you’re saying.” But I couldn’t.
Winn-Dixie started to race way ahead of me.
“You better watch out,” Dunlap hollered. “That dog is headed right for the witch’s house.”
“Winn-Dixie,” I called. But he kept on going faster and hopped a gate and went into the most overgrown jungle of a yard that I had ever seen.
“You better go get your dog out of there,” Dunlap said.
“The witch will eat that dog,” Stevie said.
“Shut up,” I told them.
I got off my bike and went up to the gate and hollered, “Winn-Dixie, you better come on out of there.”
But he didn’t.
“She’s probably eating him right now,” Stevie said. He and Dunlap were standing behind me. “She eats dogs all the time.”
“Get lost, you bald-headed babies,” I said.
“Hey,” said Dunlap, “that ain’t a very nice way for a preacher’s daughter to talk.” He and Stevie backed up a little.
I stood there and thought for a minute. I finally decided that I was more afraid of losing Winn-Dixie than I was of having to deal with a dog-eating witch, so I went through the gate and into the yard.
“That witch is going to eat the dog for dinner and you for dessert,” Stevie said.
“We’ll tell the preacher what happened to you,” Dunlap shouted after me.
By then, I was deep in the jungle. There was every kind of thing growing everywhere. There were flowers and vegetables and trees and vines.
“Winn-Dixie?” I said.
“Heh-heh-heh.” I heard: “This dog sure likes to eat.”
I went around a really big tree all covered in moss, and there was Winn-Dixie. He was eating something right out of the witch’s hand. She looked up at me. “This dog sure likes peanut butter,” she said. “You can always trust a dog that likes peanut butter.”
She was old with crinkly brown skin. She had on a big floppy hat with flowers all over it, and she didn’t have any teeth, but she didn’t look like a witch. She looked nice. And Winn-Dixie liked her, I could tell.
“I’m sorry he got in your garden,” I said.
“You ain’t got to be sorry,” she said. “I enjoy a little company.”
“My name’s Opal,” I told her.
“My name’s Gloria Dump,” she said. “Ain’t that a terrible last name? Dump?”
“My last name is Buloni,” I said. “Sometimes the kids at school back home in Watley called me ‘Lunch Meat.’”
“Hah!” Gloria Dump laughed. “What about this dog? What you call him?”
“Winn-Dixie,” I said.
Winn-Dixie thumped his tail on the ground. He tried smiling, but it was hard with his mouth all full of peanut butter.
“Winn-Dixie?” Gloria Dump said. “You mean like the grocery store?”
“Yes ma’am,” I said.
“Whooooeee,” she said. “That takes the strange-name prize, don’t it?”
“Yes ma’am,” I said.
“I was just fixing to make myself a peanut-butter sandwich,” she said. “You want one, too?”
“All right,” I said. “Yes, please.”
“Go on and sit down,” she said, pointing at a lawn chair with the back all busted out of it. “But sit down careful.”
I sat down careful and Gloria Dump made me a peanut butter sandwich on white bread.
Then she made one for herself and put her false teeth in, to eat it; when she was done, she said to me, “You know, my eyes ain’t too good at all. I can’t see nothing but the general shape of things, so I got to rely on my heart. Why don’t you go on and tell me everything about yourself, so as I can see you with my heart.”
And because Winn-Dixie was looking up at her like she was the best thing he had ever seen, and because the peanut-butter sandwich had been so good, and because I had been waiting for a long time to tell some person everything about me, I did.
I told Gloria Dump everything. I told her how me and the preacher had just moved to Naomi and how I had to leave all my friends behind. I told her about my mama leaving, and I listed out the ten things that I knew about her; and I explained that here, in Naomi, I missed Mama more than I ever had in Watley. I told her about the preacher being like a turtle, hiding all the time inside his shell. I told her about finding Winn-Dixie in the produce department and how, because of him, I became friends with Miss Franny Block and got a job working for a man named Otis at Gertrude’s Pets and got invited to Sweetie Pie Thomas’s birthday party. I even told Gloria Dump how Dunlap and Stevie Dewberry called her a witch. But I told her they were stupid, mean, bald-headed boys and I didn’t believe them, not for long anyhow.
And the whole time I was talking, Gloria Dump was listening. She was nodding her head and smiling and frowning and saying, “Hmmm,” and “Is that right?”
I could feel her listening with all her heart, and it felt good.
“You know what?” she said when I was all done.
“Could be that you got more of your mama in you than just red hair and freckles and running fast.”
“Really?” I said. “Like what?”
“Like maybe you got her green thumb. The two of us could plant something and see how it grows; test your thumb out.”
“Okay,” I said.
What Gloria Dump picked for me to grow was a tree. Or she said it was a tree. To me, it looked more like a plant. She had me dig a hole for it and put it in the ground and pat the dirt around it tight, like it was a baby and I was tucking it into bed.
“What kind of tree is it?” I asked Gloria Dump.
“It’s a wait-and-see tree,” she said.
“What’s that mean?”
“It means you got to wait for it to grow up before you know what it is.”
“Can I come back and see it tomorrow?” I asked.
“Child,” she said, “as long as this is my garden, you’re welcome in it. But that tree ain’t going to have changed much by tomorrow.”
“But I want to see you, too,” I said.
“Hmmmph,” said Gloria Dump. “I ain’t going nowhere. I be right here.”
I woke Winn-Dixie up then. He had peanut butter in his whiskers, and he kept yawning and stretching. He licked Gloria Dump’s hand before we left, and I thanked her.
That night when the preacher was tucking me into bed, I told him how I got a job at Gertrude’s Pets, and I told him all about making friends with Miss Franny Block and getting invited to Sweetie Pie’s party, and I told him about meeting Gloria Dump. Winn-Dixie lay on the floor, waiting for the preacher to leave so he could hop up on the bed like he always did. When I was done talking, the preacher kissed me good night, and then he leaned way over and gave Winn-Dixie a kiss, too, right on top of his head.
“You can go ahead and get up there now,” he said to Winn-Dixie.
Winn-Dixie looked at the preacher. He didn’t smile at him, but he opened his mouth wide like he was laughing, like the preacher had just told him the funniest joke in the world; and this is what amazed me the most: The preacher laughed back. Winn-Dixie hopped up on the bed, and the preacher got up and turned out the light. I leaned over and kissed Winn-Dixie, too, right on the nose, but he didn’t notice. He was already asleep and snoring.
That night, there was a real bad thunderstorm. But what woke me up wasn’t the thunder and lightning. It was Winn-Dixie, whining and butting his head against my bedroom door.
“Winn-Dixie,” I said. “What are you doing?”
He didn’t pay any attention to me. He just kept beating his head against the door and whining and whimpering; and when I got out of bed and went over and put my hand on his head, he was shaking and trembling so hard that it scared me. I knelt down and wrapped my arms around him, but he didn’t turn and look at me or smile or sneeze or wag his tail, or do any normal kind of Winn-Dixie thing; he just kept beating his head against the door and crying and shaking.
“You want the door open?” I said. “Huh? Is that what you want?” I stood up and opened the door and Winn-Dixie flew through it like something big and ugly and mean was chasing him.
“Winn-Dixie,” I hissed, “come back here.” I didn’t want him going and waking the preacher up.
But it was too late. Winn-Dixie was already at the other end of the trailer, in the preacher’s room. I could tell because there was a sproi-i-ing sound that must have come from Winn-Dixie jumping up on the bed, and then there was a sound from the preacher like he was real surprised. But none of it lasted long, because Winn-Dixie came tearing back out of the preacher’s room, panting and running like crazy. I tried to grab him, but he was going too fast.
“Opal?” said the preacher. He was standing at the door to his bedroom, and his hair was all kind of wild on top of his head, and he was looking around like he wasn’t sure where he was. “Opal, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” I told him. But just then there was a huge crack of thunder, one so loud that it shook the whole trailer, and Winn-Dixie came shooting back out of my room and went running right past me and I screamed, “Daddy, watch out!”
But the preacher was still confused. He just stood there, and Winn-Dixie came barreling right toward him like he was a bowling ball and the preacher was the only pin left standing, and wham, they both fell to the ground.
“Uh-oh,” I said.
“Opal?” said the preacher. He was lying on his stomach, and Winn-Dixie was sitting on top of him, panting and whining.
“Yes sir,” I said.
“Opal,” the preacher said again.
“Yes sir,” I said louder.
“Do you know what a pathological fear is?”
“No sir,” I told him.
The preacher raised a hand. He rubbed his nose. “Well,” he said, after a minute, “it’s a fear that goes way beyond normal fears. It’s a fear you can’t be talked out of or reasoned out of.”
Just then there was another crack of thunder and Winn-Dixie rose straight up in the air like somebody had poked him with something hot. When he hit the floor, he started running. He ran back to my bedroom, and I didn’t even try to catch him; I just got out of his way.
The preacher lay there on the ground, rubbing his nose. Finally, he sat up. He said, “Opal, I believe Winn-Dixie has a pathological fear of thunderstorms.” And just when he finished his sentence, here came Winn-Dixie again, running to save his life. I got the preacher up off the floor and out of the way just in time.
There didn’t seem to be a thing we could do for Winn-Dixie to make him feel better, so we just sat there and watched him run back and forth, all terrorized and panting. And every time there was another crack of thunder, Winn-Dixie acted all over again like it was surely the end of the world.
“The storm won’t last long,” the preacher told me. “And when it’s over, the real Winn-Dixie will come back.”
After a while, the storm did end. The rain stopped. And there wasn’t any more lightning, and finally, the last rumble of thunder went away and Winn-Dixie quit running back and forth and came over to where me and the preacher were sitting and cocked his head, like he was saying, “What in the world are you two doing out of bed in the middle of the night?”
And then he crept up on the couch with us in this funny way he has, where he gets on the couch an inch at a time, kind of sliding himself onto it, looking off in a different direction, like it’s all happening by accident, like he doesn’t intend to get on the couch, but all of a sudden, there he is.
And so the three of us sat there. I rubbed Winn-Dixie’s head and scratched him behind the ears the way he liked. And the preacher said, “There are an awful lot of thunderstorms in Florida in the summertime.”
“Yes sir,” I said. I was afraid that maybe he would say we couldn’t keep a dog who went crazy with pathological fear every time there was a crack of thunder.
“We’ll have to keep an eye on him,” the preacher said. He put his arm around Winn-Dixie. “We’ll have to make sure he doesn’t get out during a storm. He might run away. We have to make sure we keep him safe.”
“Yes sir,” I said again. All of a sudden it was hard for me to talk. I loved the preacher so much. I loved him because he loved Winn-Dixie. I loved him because he was going to forgive Winn-Dixie for being afraid. But most of all, I loved him for putting his arm around Winn-Dixie like that, like he was already trying to keep him safe.
Me and Winn-Dixie got to Gertrude’s Pets so early for my first day of work that the CLOSED sign was still in the window. But when I pushed on the door, it swung open, and so we went on inside. I was about to call out to Otis that we were there, but then I heard music. It was the prettiest music I have ever heard in my life. I looked around to see where it was coming from, and that’s when I noticed that all the animals were out of their cages. There were rabbits and hamsters and gerbils and mice and birds and lizards and snakes, and they were all just sitting there on the floor like they had turned to stone, and Otis was standing in the middle of them. He was playing a guitar and he had on skinny pointy-toed cowboy boots and he was tapping them while he was playing the music. His eyes were closed and he was smiling.
Winn-Dixie got a dreamy kind of look on his face. He smiled really hard at Otis and then he sneezed and then his whiskers went all fuzzy, and then he sighed and kind of dropped to the floor with all the other animals. Just then, Gertrude caught sight of Winn-Dixie. “Dog,” she croaked, and flew over and landed on his head. Otis looked up at me. He stopped playing his guitar and the spell was broken. The rabbits started hopping and the birds started flying and the lizards started leaping and the snakes started slithering and Winn-Dixie started barking and chasing everything that was moving, and Otis shouted, “Help me!”
For what seemed like a long time, me and Otis ran around trying to catch mice and gerbils and hamsters and snakes and lizards. We kept on bumping into each other and tripping over the animals, and Gertrude kept screaming, “Dog! Dog!”
Every time I caught something, I put it back in the first cage I saw; I didn’t care if it was the right cage or not. I just put it in and slammed the door. And the whole time I was chasing things, I was thinking that Otis must be some kind of snake charmer, the way he could play his guitar and make all the animals turn to stone. And then I thought, “This is silly.” I shouted over Winn-Dixie barking and Gertrude yelling. I said, “Play some more music, Otis.”
He looked at me for a minute. Then he started playing his guitar, and in just a few seconds, everything was quiet. Winn-Dixie was lying on the floor, blinking his eyes and smiling to himself and sneezing every now and then, and the mice and the gerbils and the rabbits and the lizards and the snakes that we hadn’t caught yet got quiet and sat still, and I picked them up one by one and put them back in their cages.
When I was all done, Otis stopped playing. He looked down at his boots. “I was just playing them some music. It makes them happy.”
“Yes sir,” I said. “Did they escape from their cages?”
“No,” Otis said. “I take them out. I feel sorry for them being locked up all the time. I know what it’s like, being locked up.”
“You do?” I said.
“I have been in jail,” Otis said. He looked up at me real quick and then looked back down at his boots.
“You have?” I said.
“Never mind,” said Otis. “Aren’t you here to sweep the floor?”
“Yes sir,” I told him.
He walked over to the counter and started digging through a pile of things, and finally, he came up with a broom.
“Here,” he said. “You should start sweeping.” Only he must have gotten confused. He was holding out his guitar to me, instead of the broom.
“With your guitar?” I asked.
He blushed and handed me the broom and I started to work. I am a good sweeper. I swept the whole store and then dusted some of the shelves. The whole time I worked, Winn-Dixie followed me, and Gertrude followed him, flying behind him and sitting on his head and his back and croaking real quiet to herself, “Dog, dog.”
When I was done, Otis thanked me. I left Gertrude’s Pets thinking about how the preacher probably wouldn’t like it very much that I was working for a criminal.
Sweetie Pie Thomas was waiting for me right out front. “I seen that,” she said. She stood there and sucked on her knuckle and stared at me.
“Seen what?” I said.
“I seen all them animals out of their cages and keeping real still. Is that man magic?” she asked.
“Kind of,” I told her.
She hugged Winn-Dixie around the neck. “Just like this grocery-store dog, right?”
“Right,” I said.
I started walking, and Sweetie Pie took her knuckle out of her mouth and put her hand in mine.
“Are you coming to my birthday party?” she asked.
“I surely am,” I told her.
“The theme is pink,” she said.
“I know it,” I told her.
“I gotta go,” she said all of a sudden. “I gotta go home and tell my mama about what I seen. I live right down there. In that yellow house. That’s my mama on the porch. You see her? She’s waving at you.”
I waved at the woman on the porch and she waved back, and I watched Sweetie Pie run off to tell her mama about Otis being a magic man. It made me think about my mama and how I wanted to tell her the story about Otis charming all the animals. I was collecting stories for her. I would also tell her about Miss Franny and the bear, and about meeting Gloria Dump and believing for just a minute that she was a witch. I had a feeling that these were the kind of stories my mama would like, the kind that would make her laugh out loud, the way the preacher said she liked to laugh.
Me and Winn-Dixie got into a daily routine where we would leave the trailer early in the morning and get down to Gertrude’s Pets in time to hear Otis play his guitar music for the animals. Sometimes, Sweetie Pie snuck in for the concert, too. She sat on the floor and wrapped her arms around Winn-Dixie and rocked him back and forth like he was a big old teddy bear. And then when the music was over, she would walk around trying to pick out which pet she wanted; but she always gave up and went home, because the only thing she really wanted was a dog like Winn-Dixie. After she was gone, I would sweep and clean up and even arrange some of Otis’s shelves, because he did not have an eye for arranging things and I did. And when I was done, Otis would write down my time in a notebook that he had marked on the outside, “One red leather collar, one red leather leash.” And the whole time, he did not in any way ever act like a criminal.
After working at Gertrude’s Pets, me and Winn-Dixie would go over to the Herman W. Block Memorial Library and talk to Miss Franny Block and listen to her tell us a story. But my favorite place to be that summer was in Gloria Dump’s yard. And I figured it was Winn-Dixie’s favorite place to be, too, because when we got up to the last block before her house, Winn-Dixie would break away from my bike and start to run for all he was worth, heading for Gloria Dump’s backyard and his spoonful of peanut butter.
Sometimes, Dunlap and Stevie Dewberry would follow me. They would holler, “There goes the preacher’s daughter, visiting the witch.”
“She’s not a witch,” I told them. It made me mad the way they wouldn’t listen to me and kept on believing whatever they wanted to believe about Gloria Dump.
One time Stevie said to me, “My mama says you shouldn’t be spending all your time cooped up in that pet shop and at that library, sitting around talking with old ladies. She says you should get out in the fresh air and play with kids your own age. That’s what my mama says.”
“Oh, lay off her,” Dunlap said to Stevie. Then he turned to me. “He don’t mean it,” he said.
But I was already mad. I shouted at Stevie. I said, “I don’t care what your mama says. She’s not my mama, so she can’t tell me what to do.”
“I’m going to tell my mama you said that,” shouted Stevie, “and she’ll tell your daddy and he’ll shame you in front of the whole church. And that pet shop man is retarded and he was in jail and I wond