As the social worker predicted, it only takes Turtle a few weeks to start talking again. She seems fairly unscathed by the encounter. Cynthia, the social worker, is confused when Turtle buries the dolls that the social worker had given her to try to help Turtle explain where she had been touched, but Taylor knows that Turtle is just treating the dolls like the plants she loves. Turtle and Taylor go to see Cynthia every Monday and Thursday, a harder chore for Taylor than it is for Turtle.
Turtle is much more resilient than Taylor is—Turtle has survived much worse, whereas this is one of Taylor’s first personal crises. Turtle buries the dolls, an act that Cynthia interprets as morbid but that Taylor sees as Turtle looking toward new growth.
Taylor is miserable, both due to the non-stop rain and her own depression in the wake of Turtle’s incident. She compares simple sadness to a head cold, whereas depression is a cancer that makes it hard for her to breathe. Taylor is slowly unraveling as Turtle’s earlier traumas come to light in Cynthia’s therapy sessions, though Cynthia’s insistence that this type of abuse, horrible as it is, happens often makes Taylor feel a bit better as it means that Turtle is not alone. But the true blow comes when Cynthia tells Taylor that Child Protection Services has realized that Taylor has no legal claim to Turtle.
Both the harsh reality of Turtle’s birth family and the reminder that Turtle is not actually Taylor’s family start to destroy Taylor’s mental health. Taylor speaks about this mental anguish as though it is a physical ailment, as Kingsolver points out that emotional and mental health are as important to a person’s well-being as their bodily health (and the two are very indeed often tied together and influence each other).
Taylor insists that Turtle is hers because Turtle’s aunt told her to take the baby that night in the Oklahoma gas station. Cynthia is sympathetic, but knows that the verbal agreement won’t mean anything to the legal system. The only option for Turtle is to become a ward of the state of Arizona, who could then be fostered with Taylor if Taylor could prove adequate income and stability.
Cynthia finally tells Taylor that Child Protective Services will be in touch in a few weeks. Taylor goes to leave, but asks Cynthia if the pin she is wearing is a family heirloom. Cynthia responds that she bought it at a thrift store. Taylor is not surprised.
Taylor feels as though Cynthia is ripping Turtle away from her family just as she bought a pin instead of wearing something with family significance.
Lou Ann is furious when she hears that CPS may take Turtle away. Yet Taylor is ready to stop fighting the inevitable, feeling helpless against the law. Lou Ann gets even madder when she hears that Taylor won’t fight for Turtle, and tells Taylor that this isn’t the person that she thought Taylor was. Taylor responds that she doesn’t know herself anymore.
This crisis has stolen Taylor’s self-confidence and fiery attitude, just as Lou Ann is becoming more comfortable in her own strength and independence. Like Taylor advised Lou Ann to fight for herself getting a job, Lou Ann now wants Taylor to fight for her family.
Lou Ann tries to inspire Taylor’s bravery, but to no effect. When Lou Ann wonders where the real Taylor went, Taylor says that that “Taylor” was as imaginary as the meteor shower she never saw with Angel. Lou Ann’s feelings are hurt and she stops fighting for a while. Lou Ann later keeps trying to convince Taylor to stand up for Turtle, but Taylor can’t imagine raising a child in the bleak world that she has come to know.
Taylor throws Lou Ann’s biggest fear back in her face, suggesting that Lou Ann really doesn’t have any control over her life. Taylor feels that she can’t take charge in her own life because the universe is constantly waiting to tear apart any kind of meaningful family bond.
Mattie is also worried, as her plans to get Estevan and Esperanza to another sanctuary in a safer state keep falling though. Yet Mattie still finds time to talk to Taylor about what to do for Turtle, as she is familiar with the loopholes in the system that might let Taylor adopt Turtle. Taylor confesses that she doesn’t have a clue about how to be a good mother for Turtle, but Mattie reminds her that all mothers feel like that at first.
Finding a way to give Turtle a home with Taylor parallels Mattie’s attempts to find safe homes for the refugees in America. Mattie continues to act as a mother figure for Taylor, giving her the advice that she probably would have heard early on from her own mother if Taylor had had a biological child.
Taylor wishes a fortune teller would tell her the right answer to how to raise Turtle, but Mattie tells her that she is asking the wrong question. Rather than asking if she can give Turtle the best possible upbringing safe from every harm (which Taylor, as well as the foster care system, obviously can’t), Taylor needs to ask herself is she is willing to giver her best effort to try. Taylor wonders if Mattie has ever had kids, but decides not to ask for fear of what tragedies she may find in Mattie’s past.
Taylor wishes for a fortune teller, ignoring the fact that Lou Ann’s experience with a fortune teller only made her more worried for her child’s future. Mattie rejects that premise altogether, reminding Taylor that motherhood is based on the effort to do the right thing rather than always doing the perfect thing.
Taylor meets Cynthia without Turtle, to discuss her options. Taylor is intimidated by Cynthia’s put-together appearance, and is further disheartened by the difficulties Cynthia describes in getting proof of abandonment for Turtle. Cynthia insists that Taylor needs a death certificate for Turtle’s biological mother and a written statement naming Taylor as the new guardian, even though Taylor points out that birth and death certificates are rare on Indian Reservations.
Cynthia appears to be the perfect, capable woman that Taylor wanted to be. Cynthia also insists on legal definitions of family, though, while Taylor knows how difficult it is to force these legal definitions to apply to the messy relationships and bonds that form in the real world. Family is far more about feeling than paperwork for Taylor.
Taylor notices that Cynthia’s office is tiny and has no windows. She asks Cynthia if she misses knowing the weather, inside all day with fluorescent lights. Cynthia is confused at the question, telling Taylor that she does plenty of field work and house visits. Taylor gets back to the matter at hand, asking how she can find out the exact requirements for proof of abandonment in Oklahoma.
Cynthia’s lack of windows points to how she is out of touch with nature. Taylor sees this as one reason why Cynthia does not understand true family and insists that Taylor jump through legal hoops even though she and Turtle are already family.
Cynthia offers to help, and Taylor is surprised to find out that Cynthia wants to keep Taylor and Turtle together. Taylor notices Cynthia’s bitten fingernails, and asks Cynthia why she has been so distant so far. Cynthia just says that she thought keeping Turtle should be Taylor’s decision. Taylor thanks her, then asks about the pin that Cynthia bought from the Salvation Army. Cynthia refuses to answer why she shops at thrift stores, saying that a trained therapist knows not to answer those kind of questions.
Cynthia then turns this idea on its head, revealing that she wants to preserve Taylor’s unconventional family. Taylor notices Cynthia’s flaw, finally realizing that Cynthia is just as human as she is. This distance allowed Taylor to realize for herself how much she wants to be Turtle’s mother. But when Taylor tries to confirm that Cynthia really does care about family, Cynthia slyly dodges the question.
Before Taylor leaves Cynthia’s lobby, a secretary comes out with a note from Cynthia. In it, Cynthia thanks Taylor for being careful about discussing Turtle’s custody in front of her. It also includes an address for Mr. Jonas Armistead in Oklahoma City. That night, Taylor watches Turtle instead of sleeping. Turtle silently moves her mouth and “talks” in her sleep much more than she does when awake. Taylor wishes she could be a part of Turtle’s dream.
Cynthia applauds Taylor’s efforts to keep Turtle’s home life as stable as possible. Turtle has already had to lose her birth mother and leave her birth family, so she doesn’t need to worry about leaving Taylor as well.
The next morning, Taylor leaves Turtle asleep and goes in to work. She finishes up a car and hangs out in Mattie’s office making coffee and thinking of Estevan and Esperanza. She thinks about how women are usually the ones who must carry their families through tragedy. Finally, Mattie comes down to have coffee and talk with Taylor.
Mattie, Lou Ann, and Taylor’s mother all had to pick up the pieces of their families when men passed away or left. Esperanza could be an exception, as she seems to be falling apart more than Estevan is. Yet Taylor identifies with Esperanza’s loss much more now that Taylor has almost lost Turtle.
When Taylor gets home, she finds Lou Ann and the kids at the park. Turtle is playing at making a garden, and Lou Ann is forcefully trying to stop Dwayne Ray from eating a purple jelly bean. Taylor tells Lou Ann that she is going to drive Estevan and Esperanza to a safe house in Oklahoma, and try to see if she can find out any information about Turtle’s birth family so that Taylor can try to get custody. Lou Ann worries what will happen if Turtle’s relatives want Turtle back, but Taylor insists that they can’t deal with that prospect until they find Turtle’s relatives.
Taylor’s decision to drive to Oklahoma will either secure or disrupt Taylor’s family, as Lou Ann worries that Turtle’s “real” family will want to take Turtle back now that she is doing so well. Turtle continues to focus on her own growth, now progressing to making her own garden beyond just caring for seeds. Taylor also seems to go back to her practical personality, refusing to worry about Turtle’s family until they actually pose a threat.
While Lou Ann worries about Turtle, Mattie is worried about what will happen to Taylor if she gets caught transporting undocumented immigrants. Taylor pushes that out of her mind, and tells Mattie to worry about Esperanza and Estevan. In any case, Mattie insists that Taylor take her truck instead of Taylor’s old car, which might break down.
Taylor’s bravery finally returns as she pushes out all thought of disaster from her mind and focuses on how she can help her family. Mattie makes sure that Taylor is as prepared as possible, even if the right car can’t guarantee that they will all be safe.
The night before Taylor is to leave for Oklahoma, Virgie comes over as Lou Ann and Taylor are arguing about what to pack. Virgie tells Taylor and Lou Ann that she and Edna have something to show the kids. On their porch are a bouquet of silvery-white flowers called night-blooming cereus. These flowers only open one night a year. Taylor had earlier noticed the spiny plant in its pot and, not knowing what it was, thought that it was ugly.
Lou Ann too is trying to prepare Taylor for any incident, but Taylor feels that Lou Ann is making her over-prepared. The flower Virgie shows them is both rare and much more amazing than it first seems. Taylor herself is like this flower, young and inexperienced at first but containing the potential for great strength and beauty.
Turtle walks up to one of the cereus flowers, which is as big as her head. Taylor kneels beside her and tells Turtle the name of the flower, which Turtle pronounces “See us.” Lou Ann notes the delicate, lemony smell of the flowers. Edna says that she can smell it from inside the house, and Virgie adds that Edna’s sense of smell is the only reason that the two women catch the flower’s bloom every year. Lou Ann insists that the flower is a sign of something good. Virgie offers to cut a flower for Lou Ann to keep in the icebox, but Lou Ann declines.
Turtle’s mispronunciation of “cereus” sounds like the sentence, “See: us”, potentially asking Taylor to see their family in the flower. Both Turtle and Taylor might not seem like much at first, but they contain miracles inside them. Edna’s blindness becomes an asset in catching the flower, as her special way of seeing the world notices the flower’s bloom. Lou Ann understands that part of the flower’s beauty is its rarity and fleetingness. If it could be saved for a long time period, it would not be as special.
The cereus flower seems to bode good weather for travel, as Taylor and Turtle go to meet Estevan and Esperanza for the trip. Taylor’s suitcase is bigger than the couple’s, even though their suitcase holds all of their possessions. A small crowd wishes Estevan and Esperanza good luck. Mattie slips Taylor a small sum of money for the couple and warns her one more time of the risks involved, but Taylor insists on doing this for her friends.
The cereus flower continues to represent hope and good fortune for Taylor. Though Taylor may be taking a risk, Estevan and Esperanza are taking an even bigger one. They must rebuild in another new home, with fewer possessions to their name than Taylor is taking for a one-week trip.
Mattie waves goodbye to Taylor, looking at Taylor the way that Taylor’s mother does. She then kisses Estevan, Esperanza, and Turtle goodbye as Taylor starts to cry. Taylor drives out of town, reaching the freeway without incident. On the freeway, Taylor has to resist the urge to stomp on the brake for a blackbird that has been run over on the center line.
Mattie continues to push Taylor to do things that are difficult but ultimately rewarding, in this case finding Turtle’s birth family. Yet Taylor worries that this trip will be like trying to save the dead blackbird: too little too late.