The days are dragging on towards summer, and Ruby just wants school to be over because Paul is being a pissy little boy, ignoring her and being all PDA with a rich girl named Suzzette Daisy. Really? That’s her real name? Paul gives Suzzette his class ring and Ruby’s heart is further broken. She feels terrible for hurting Paul, but, honey, you broke up with him because he is your brother. You really don’t have to feel but so guilty about that. The other girls at school take full advantage of the situation to be terrible to Ruby, saying things like “Paul didn’t need to be dating a Landry anyway” and “Bet you don’t think you’re so special now, do you?” (Ruby response to the latter: “I never thought I was special, but thank you for thinking so”. Tee hee.) Over time…
Wait. Wait a second. It’s almost summer? But…Ruby (SPOILER) runs away to New Orleans in just a little while, and it’s Mardi Gras then. Which is (at least next year) in February. I…what…oh never mind.
ANYWAY. The school year finally ends and Ruby notices that Paul, seemingly mellowed by the passage of time and his new lady, is starting to give her the wistful eye at church again (really Paul), but she tries to ignore it. The summer days are hard on Grandmere Catherine, whose heart is getting weaker and weaker, and she can’t seem to cure it herself. She’s still walking all over the BAYOU on her healing missions, but she’s not doing well. Ruby goes to Grandpere Jack’s shack one day to see if he can help them out, but she finds him naked on the porch with a bullwhip, screaming at and fighting off some monster that only he (thanks to booze) can see. Ruby gets the heck out of there, disgusted. Since summer is not really tourist season in the SWAMPS and school is out, Ruby’s spending most of her time painting, but all of her work is dark and depressing now, all creepy alligators and the like.
Grandmere is worried about her, but Ruby’s just not feeling anything much at all. One day Grandpere Jack shows up at their door, asking for money, and Grandmere runs him off, but it clearly strains her heart. Ruby gets a letter in the mail from Dominique’s, complete with a check for $250, which in the summer/spring of 1963 was an awful lot of money. Okay, I’d take it now. Ruby is determined that they’re not just going to sit on this money, and Grandmere reluctantly agrees to use some of it to live on, but she’s also clear that Ruby will need it someday to get out of their little town. Grandmere throws a little party to celebrate Ruby’s accomplishment, to which she invites her two old biddy friends, since Ruby’s only friend was her ex-boyfriend/half-brother. They do make a king cake, though.
Grandmere cashes Ruby’s check so that she can stack the money on the kitchen table for her friends to gawk at, which is kind of gauche, but also kind of amazing. The little party is fun and the old ladies get tipsy on Grandmere’s homemade wine (my grandfather makes brandy and trust me–homemade = STRONG when it comes to alcohol), so Ruby takes charge of cleaning up. She asks Grandmere what she should do with the money, and is surprised when GC tells her just to run upstairs and put it in GC’s trunk. See, all of Grandmere’s precious possessions (jewelry, heirlooms, photos) are in that trunk, and Ruby’s only ever seen inside it with her grandmother there. She’s never gotten to look in it on her own. Ruby runs upstairs and puts the money away, and is dismayed by how empty the trunk is, as GC’s had to pawn many of her valuables over the years. Ruby starts leafing through old photographs, and as she’s putting them away, she sees another one sticking out of Grandmere’s family Bible. Ruby takes out the picture, which is of a handsome man and a little girl standing in front of a mansion. The little girl looks exactly like Ruby did at that age, so much so that Ruby goes and gets a picture of herself to compare them. They’re identical. Ruby can’t imagine where this picture came from, though, as she would have been old enough to remember visiting a house like this one. She looks at the back of the photo, which has the following inscription:
I thought you would like to see her on her seventh birthday. Her hair is very like yours and she’s everything I dreamed she would be.
Ruby is pretty confused. Who is Pierre? Is that her father? Why would he have addressed the inscription to her mother, Gabrielle, who at that point had been dead for seven years? If the little girl is Ruby and she’d been somewhere with her father, how could he have gotten her without learning of her mother’s death, and why wouldn’t Ruby remember being with him? Thankfully, this series doesn’t have any mind control, so there’s a pretty basic explanation. Let’s go downstairs with Ruby and get it. Ruby goes downstairs and tries to hide her agitation from Grandmere and her friends, but as soon as the ladies leave, GC knows that something is up. Ruby starts out by mentioning her errand up to the chest and Grandmere puts it together pretty quickly. Ruby shows her the picture and says “The little girl–it’s me, isn’t it?” No, see, it’s not. The man in the picture is, in fact, Ruby’s real father, but the little girl isn’t Ruby, it’s her sister. Grandmere gathers her strength and tells the story.
See, the reason that Ruby belongs in New Orleans is not just because of her artwork and her talent, it’s because her father belongs to an old and important New Orleans Creole family. After Grandpere Jack sold Gabrielle’s baby, she was (understandably) depressed. She spent all of her time out in the SWAMPS, communing with the animals, wandering about with rice birds on her shoulder and talking to gators and the usual. Grandmere compares her to a swamp fairy. Well, one day Grandpere brought a couple of men from New Orleans (Charles Dumas and his son Pierre) to the house, as he was their guide on a hunting trip, and just as they’re ready to leave, Gabrielle came out of the BAYOU with a baby bird on her shoulder and Pierre was smitten. Surprisingly, though she’d been wary of men since the whole thing with Octavious, Gabrielle didn’t run from Pierre and they started having an affair. See, Pierre was/is married and had been at that point for almost two years. Grandmere warned Gabrielle about getting involved with a married man, but Gabrielle just laughed it off and said that she loved Pierre and he continued to come down from New Orleans to spend time with her. Eventually, Gabrielle got pregnant, but this time she was estatic about it. She wanted Pierre’s baby, and wanted to raise him or her to love the SWAMPS and their way of life. Of course, Grandpere Jack had to ruin it. When he found out about her pregnancy, he went immediately to Charles Dumas and concocted another plan. Pierre’s wife (Daphne) had been unable to get pregnant and Charles was determined to have a Dumas heir. So Grandpere sells another one of Gabrielle’s illegitimate children. Gabrielle starts to fade away almost immediately, not so much because of her father’s behavior, but because Pierre is so willing to go along with the plan. Betrayed, Gabrielle lets her health go and doesn’t eat right or drink the herbal drinks that Grandmere makes for her. (Hey, I’ve read Rosemary’s Baby, I wouldn’t drink mysterious herbal pregnancy drinks either.) Grandmere, though, notices something that neither Grandpere Jack nor Gabrielle does, and that’s the fact that Gabrielle is pregnant with twins.
Ruby: “I have a twin sister??” Me: “Ruby, she looks exactly like you, please follow along.”
Yes she does, Grandmere confirms, and GC kept it a secret because she knew that GJ would just run out and make a second deal if he knew. Ruby’s sister is the first baby born and she’s handed over to Charles Dumas, who is waiting out in a limo with a cigar and a nurse that he brought along but who Grandmere refused to let into the house. While Grandpere is out making the sale, Ruby was born. Grandpere comes back in, and when he sees Ruby he freaks out, yelling at GC that they could have made another $15,000! He goes to take Ruby from Gabrielle, but Grandmere hits him on the head with a frying pan and while he’s unconscious she kicks him and all of his stuff (which she’d already packed) out of her house. That’s just about the best thing ever. Although she might have done it a few years before. Sadly, the whole thing was too much for Gabrielle, and after making her mother promise to raise Ruby to love the SWAMPS and their CAJUN-NESS, she dies. Grandmere hopes that she’s done all right by Ruby, but she’s always known that her future was elsewhere. That’s why she’d always pushed Ruby’s artwork, in the hopes that one day Pierre might see the name Ruby Landry on a painting of an alligator and wonder. That seems like a pretty long shot right there, Grandmere. Sorry. Grandmere Catherine makes Ruby promise that if anything happens to her (GC) that Ruby will go to her father, and will not stay in Houma with Grandpere Jack. Ruby promises.
Ruby is overwhelmed and wishes that she could just be a normal 15-year old. She decides that her next painting will be a portrait of Grandmere Catherine. She paints her sitting on the porch, and at some point during the process Ruby decides that she’ll paint her mother’s ghost (Why the hey not?) in one of the windows, looking out at her Grandmere. When she shows GC the finished painting, Grandmere declares that her spiritual powers have been passed on to Ruby, as GC has often seen Gabrielle’s spirit in that very window, looking out. Wiggy.
Oh gosh darn it. Now all of a sudden it’s fall. And then winter. AND NOW IT’S FEBRUARY. But Ruby’s not back in school? I guess it’s just now 1963 after all? I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE, PEOPLE. Arrrrrrgh. Summer is over, but the heat is still oppressive and there are loads of thunderstorms. Before one, a neighbor comes to get GC as his son has an awful fever. Ruby makes dinner and waits up for Grandmere, but she isn’t brought home until the next morning, and she’s very sick. Later, as Ruby sits with Grandmere Catherine, she once again makes her granddaughter promise to go to New Orleans if anything happens to her. When Ruby promises, Grandmere asks her to go and get the priest. That does not bode well. Ruby runs to get the priest, but has to leave a message with his housekeeper since he’s at the barber. When she runs back home, Grandmere Catherine is dead.
The news of Grandmere’s death spreads quickly and by that afternoon friends and neighbors are coming by with food. Grandpere Jack, who was roused from the SWAMPS by some brave soul named Thaddeus Bute (the ghostwriter had way too much fun naming all of these throw-away characters), makes his arrival, stunned and filthy and nasty to everyone but Ruby. Ruby feeds him and he declares to the guests that he’s moving back into the house and will be taking care of Ruby from now on. Ohhhh great. The mourners leave for the day and some of Grandpere’s trapper buddies stop by and they drink and carry on into the night. The next morning Ruby gets Grandpere some clean clothes and gives him a haircut, all the while hoping that the shock of Grandmere’s death really will scare him straight. I consider this unlikely. More people come than the day before and Ruby starts to get overwhelmed, and then Paul shows up. Oh goooood. He’s behaving decently, though, supporting Ruby and offering his condolences. Then, of course, he gets weird. He tells Ruby that he wishes he’d been there with her, and when she apologizes for having hurt him, he immediately starts begging her to tell him why she ended it. Get a journal or something, buddy, this is neither the time nor the place, also it was APPARENTLY almost a year ago. Over it, get.
Ruby tells him why. Only, she can’t just spit it out, so she has to say pseudo-cryptic stuff like “You and I are the truths that were once buried” and “The day I lost my mother, you lost yours too” until Paul finally gets what she’s trying to say. He, naturally, doesn’t believe her, and says that it must be an old CAJUN folktale or something. I don’t think you two are quite that important, Paul. He also says that Grandmere made it up to keep them apart, but Ruby insists that it’s true and that GC didn’t lie or gossip. Paul’s unconvinced, and still thinks that GC just wanted to keep Paul and Ruby safe from his family’s disapproval and thusly came up with this story. Ruby’s all “It’s true, deal with it.”, but Paul is certain that he can disprove it, and then they can be together. Ruby tries to make him promise that if (when) he learns that it’s the truth, he’ll find someone else to love, but he tells her that he’ll never love anyone like he loves her, and besides, he won’t have to, cause it’s not true. Ruby just sighs and they hug, and then they go back in to the house. Ruby thinks about how Paul, even though he doesn’t believe it yet, has just lost his grandmother too.
RIP, Grandmere Catherine. I do wish you’d walloped that man a few years earlier.