Remembering Rue: Part Three
Stacey’s room was different from hers in another way, Rue found—there was another door opposite the door that led to Ruth and Rue’s kitchen. Rue stepped over a small wooden wagon and opened the unfamiliar door.
It led to a larger room, with a couch and a table and chairs. Rue got the feeling that the owner of this house would have put doilies and pillows everywhere had they not been so obviously poor. An apron lay carefully on the table, and on it were embroidered the words ‘Neopia’s Best Grandmother.’
“Hello? Who’s there?”
A tiny Shoyru poked her head around an open doorway leading into this large room. Her wide blue watched Rue curiously as the latter leaned against the doorway leading back to Stacey’s room. The Shoyru watched Rue, clearly expecting an answer.
“I’m Rue,” the Purple Krawk answered finally. “I live next-door. Rue Grace,” she added, and the Shoyru nodded.
“Mattie?” A thin, elderly voice rang out from the open doorway next to the one that the little Shoyru had come out of. Another Shoyru came into the big room. She looked very much like her granddaughter aside from their different colors.
“This is Rue Grace, Gran,” the little girl told her grandmother.
The grandmother smiled, a little uneasily, her green tail swishing back and forth. “Ah, yes. Are you. . .feeling alright?”
“Yes,” Rue answered. “Are you Mrs. Thompson?”
“I am,” Mrs. Thompson answered.
“Do you live here, with your grandmother?” Rue asked the little Blue Shoyru.
“No,” the girl answered. “My mommy and daddy live with me and my big brother Ron. We live in Tyrannia. But we’re visiting my Gran,” she added.
“Yes, that’s my son Larry’s room,” Mrs. Thompson said, pointing to the only room that someone had not come out of. “Mr. Thompson and I live alone now that our boy is all grown up. Larry works for the Yes Boy Ice Cream backstage crew, so he took his family to live in Tyrannia. They’ve got quite a lot of money now; he’s an important man. He might not have been if he hadn’t got. . .a lucky break. Given where he came from.”
Rue thought about this. Larry and her father, Jean, had both grown up in poverty, and both in Happy Valley. They might even have lived next-door to each other, if Jean’s family had owned Ruth’s flat before Ruth moved in. Both of them had been very smart, and yet it was Larry who was no doubt living in a mansion right now and Jean who was still working as a poor farmer in Meridell. It was all luck.
But there was still something that didn’t make sense in Rue’s mind. When Ruth had moved away from Meridell, why had Jean not come? Was it because Ruth was a widow and was too distraught to tell Rue about it?
As she thought, she blinked once, and another memory surfaced in her mind, just as vivid as the first one. She was in a very different place than Happy Valley. It was moderately warm here; there was no snow and there was green and brown everywhere, and trees and bushes and rocks and flowers. Rue got a distinct sense of peace, looking around it all.
She was sitting in a haystack, and it scratched at her through her thin red dress. Rue clutched her knees and then flinched as the sounds of raised voices came from around the other side of the haystack.
“Why didn’t you take that job offer?”
The voice was her mother’s. Rue peeked quickly around the haystack and saw the Red Krawk standing angrily with her hands clenched into fists, facing a Krawk whose lilac skin was almost the exact same shade as Rue’s own.
“I didn’t want it,” the Purple Krawk snapped at Ruth.
“We would have been making almost twice what we’re making now!”
“But he just wanted to control us! He just wanted another person working for him under his complete control!”
“So what?” Ruth shouted back. “Who cares if he wants to control us, Jean? At least you’ll be using your talents!”
“My talents?” Jean said. “Exactly! Tim wanted my talents for his own! And he didn’t care how much money he had to pay!”
“Tim’s one of the most successful pets in Meridell. You don’t get that often with farmers. Why didn’t you take the opportunity he offered you? We could’ve stayed at a place for more than a year for once!”
“At least when we’re always moving I’m the one who decides my own life,” Jean snapped.
“I’m sick of it!” Ruth burst out. “I hate being poor! All my life, I’ve worn hand-me-downs and worked from sunup to sundown and never known where I was going to sleep or if I’d have something to eat the next day!”
“Is that all you care about?”
“Why shouldn’t I care about that?” Ruth stomped her foot. “I’m done, Jean. Meridell isn’t working.”
“W-what do you mean?” Jean stuttered, completely thrown.
“Maybe we’ll have a better chance, away from all these farms,” Ruth answered him.
“I’m not leaving,” Jean said stubbornly.
“Fine. You don’t have to.”
There was a short pause. Jean looked surprised to have won so easily. “R-really?” he asked.
“Yes,” Ruth snapped. “You don’t have to go. But I will. And I’m taking Rue and Stacey with me.”
Rue blinked again, hard, and found Mrs. Thompson’s wide and anxious face staring up at her. Matilda stood by her grandmother, staring up at Rue fearfully. “Are you alright?” the Green Shoyru asked.
“I’m fine,” Rue answered, shaken. She turned and walked back into Stacey’s room without another word, all but slamming the door behind her and walking into her own room, where she sat on her bed.
Her mother hated being poor. She hated it so much that she left her home and Jean for the hope of a better life.
But life wasn’t better here.
Maybe it had something to do with getting away from the farm work. Unwillingly, the ghost of another memory came to her: Ruth and Rue and Jean, working all day, in the mud and the hay and always bending and lifting and shoveling, and going to bed stiff and hungry and exhausted, and always being forced to move. One farm after another.
She remembered Jean, and when he was first hired his skill was seen as useful and nice, and then later, when his bosses realized that he was smarter than them, then they became jealous and tried to control him, and so Jean left.
And Ruth had taken Rue and Stacey to Happy Valley. Ruth probably worked in the shop below the flat.
Stacey was her brother.
But why wasn’t he here? Ruth was here, and Rue knew why Jean wasn’t. What had happened? Why did Ruth look so stricken at the mention of Stacey or the lift?
A door slammed, and Rue started.
“Rue?” It was her mother’s voice.
“I’m in my room,” Rue called back uncertainly, and Ruth poked her head around the edge of the doorway. “Oh, hello, dear—I was out shopping, and I got some food. I see you already had lunch.”
Rue looked up at her, noticing how Ruth didn’t go farther than the doorway into Rue’s room. The Red Krawk cast a distasteful look at the cluttered floor.
“Have you been reading all afternoon?” Ruth asked after a long silence, a hint of annoyance in her voice.
“Partly,” Rue admitted.
“Since you’re feeling better, you ought to start working,” Ruth said. “You can work with me at the shop down below.”
Rue didn’t know quite what to say to that.
“You were meaning to, before you... lost your memory,” Ruth told her daughter, her eyes flickering away from her face. Rue got the feeling that her mother had been meaning to say something else.
“How can a person just sit idly and do nothing for an entire afternoon?” her mother pressed.
“I didn’t read all afternoon, I said,” Rue told Ruth, a bite of impatience in her voice.
“What have you been doing, then?”
“I went into Stacey’s room,” Rue blurted out.
Ruth said nothing, only stared at her daughter. Finally she said, breathlessly, “We don’t own that room. The Thompsons do.”
“But you sold it to them, didn’t you?”
Ruth looked down at her daughter, her mouth firmly closed.
“I remembered,” Rue said accusingly, “I remember hiding behind a haystack in Meridell and watching you tell Jean you were leaving.”
Ruth’s face went pale.
“Why did you leave him? That’s not what families do. Families should stay together, no matter what. You were just so sick of being poor that you left.”
“I had to!” Ruth burst out. “It’s not fair! My whole life I was poor, and when I finally moved, I got the short end again and now I work two shifts at a shop every day! It’s the same! Always, always, wearing secondhand clothes and counting every Neopoint and being laughed at!”
Rue found herself shouting as well. “So you cared more about money than anything else? More than your family?”
“I cared about Stacey! Don’t you dare tell me I wasn’t sad when he left!”
Ruth paused. When she spoke again, her voice was a mere whisper. “The lift,” she said faintly. “He was always asking to ride that thing so he could go sledding, and I was working so I made you take him and something went wrong. . .and I thought you’d be gone too, and I spent nearly my last Neopoint to take you to Neopia Central, where the best doctors in the world are.”
“What happened to Stacey?” Rue asked her mother, her voice hushed.
“He didn’t make it,” Ruth answered softly.
To be continued...