Part II: Journeys (Chapter 42)


“No one listens old people anymore,” Nana says to no one in particular. “But Doug does.”

I am surprised by this unlikely pen pal pair – I can’t think of two less likely friends, Doug, the ex-hippie who hasn’t quite given up the idea of the 60’s, and Nana who thinks the 60’s should have disappeared into a huge vacuum.

I don’t like the idea of Doug writing to my grandmother, perhaps telling her things she needn’t know.

If he’s revealed Nicole’s condition, I’ll kill him...

“He keeps me up to date on Nicole and all the Dunkels, for that matter. Did you know Sarah’s retired now?”

No, I didn’t know, but I don’t want Nana to know that I have pretty much lost contact with Doug’s family. “Of course,” I say.

“Doug says Nicole’s doin’ good...”

The relief I feel drops to my feet.

“...But I smell a big rat.”

She can smell all the big rats in the world, just as long as she never finds out the truth. It would be pointless.

“I just wish she was here now,” Nana says, her voice wavering.

Just when I think we’re about to have a huge weep fest, Ruby, Raymond, and the kids drift into the picnic area.

It hits me with a thud: Nana hasn’t seen Ruby since that day when Daddy Platts carried the screaming baby Ruby away.

“Nana, someone’s here to see you,” I say, gesturing to Ruby, glad to shift the focus away from Nicole.

Ruby slowly saunters toward us, very Mother-like, slow and languorous, hips jutting from her blue jeans, her aqua top sleeveless, her arms thin and pale, unlit cigarette dangling from her fingers. Her bobbed hair, newly cut and geometric, reminds me of Mother’s when she was experiencing a rare redheaded moment.

Nana’s eyes grow big, like she has seen a ghost – and perhaps she has.


Ruby reaches down and hugs Nana. “No, Grandma Mallory. It’s just little ole’ me, your granddaughter Ruby Platts Irwin.” She plants a kiss on Nana’s forehead and pulls away.

“Ruby! Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God, it’s Ruby...” Nana says, gripping Ruby’s arm. Her eyes wide, she shakes her head. “My God, you look like your mother.”

“So I’ve been told.”

Nana bursts into tears. “I’m so sorry, honey,” she says, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “Sammy, get me a hanky.”

Sheldon offers to fetch one and scurries away.

“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry. Will you ever forgive me?”

“What on earth for?” Ruby asks, bending over to kiss her cheek.

“For not taking you home with us...”

Sheldon returns with a tissue and hands it to Nana. She grabs it, wipes her eyes, and sniffles.

“Grandma Mallory, that’s water under the bridge,” Ruby says. “Y’all did what you thought was right.”

Nana wags her finger at Ruby. “You call me ‘Nana’.”

“Nana, then.”

“That’s much better. God, you look so much like her...You don’t drink, do you?”

Ruby laughs. “Just a little, Nana.”

“You sure?”

“I promise you. I’m not a drunk.”

“Booze killed your mother, you know.”

“Yes, I’ve been told.”

“I can’t believe how beautiful you are...”

“Thank you. But Nana?”

“Spit it out, girl.”

“Well, I’ve turned out okay, so don’t beat yourself up too much.” She points in the direction of Tess and Stevie. “See those two cute kids?”

Nana nods.

“If you had brought me here, I wouldn’t have met that man –” She points to Raymond, who is playing with Tess and Stevie – “And I wouldn’t have those kids. I love my life now. Really. If I had to suffer to get here, that’s okay.”

“I’ll never forgive myself.”

“Never look back, Nana. You can’t do anything about the past,” Ruby says as she puts her arms around Nana’s shoulders. “Let’s just concentrate on the future.”

Nana notices the unlit cigarette in Ruby’s hand. She takes it and waves it around. “You smoke too many of these, there won’t be much of a future.”

The moment is gone; I want to strangle Nana for ruining it.

But Ruby just laughs. “Y’all are right, these things are poison. I swear every day I’m going to quit, but then they call to me like a siren song. Still, you Yankees sure are obsessed by cigarette smoke. Where can a girl sneak a quick smoke without risking social ostracism?”

Nana points to a glassed-in room. “The gas chamber’s over there.”

“Well, I need a good dose about now.”

As Ruby sashays toward the smoking area, I say, “That was uncalled for.”

“I won’t treat her no different than any other family member.”

I observe a group of children, including Tess and Stevie, playing “Ring Around the Rosie…”

Nana has a point.

Copyright Notice

Unless otherwise specified, all works posted on The Fat Lady Sings are © 1991 - present, by Jennifer Semple Siegel, the author, webmaster, and owner of TheFatLadySings.comSome of the artwork has been AI generated. Her works may not be reprinted or reposted without her express permission.

Privacy Notice

Although does not use third-party ads, this privacy notice is included so that visitors can make informed decisions regarding their internet privacy. Third-party advertisers serve ads when you visit some websites, and these companies may use information (not including your name, address, email address, or telephone number) about your visits to this and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having such information used by these companies, click here.