The Lost Country

Fall 2015 • Vol. 4, No. 1

issn 2326-5310 (online)

One Glance at Ruby Jones Tells You

By Ann Applegarth

This work was published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Lost Country. You may purchase a copy of this issue from us or, if you prefer, from Amazon.

One glance at Ruby Jones tells you
that he’s had a hard life.
He might have been born with that
squinty grimace like a shriveled-up
peach and that football-leather
skin, for all I know. Ruby said he
recollects just how he came by his name:
his mama hoped—prayed hard—for
a red-headed girl to be her little jewel.
Sixteen hours of labor and childbirth
left her too weak, too disappointed,
too indifferent to think up any new name
for the scrawny, stringy boy she got—
him with nary a hair of any color
on his lopsided purple-streaked head.
But, by the grace of God, Ruby doesn’t
remember all those grade-school kids
teasing hard about his name. But
by the time he was fifteen—
a rawboned, steel-muscled, tough
stringbean—no one called him
“Ruby-Booby” any more, and little
satin-haired Sweet McClatchy had
even started calling him “Hon.”
Ruby married Sweet the Tuesday after
her sixteenth birthday—the
smartest thing either of those two
ever did. From that moment on,
life—for Ruby—was Sweet, and
life for Sweet sparkled brighter than
most young girls ever dream it can.
Ruby didn’t put on weight like some
contented husbands tend to do,
but he worked hard and earned a
good wage, grinned a lot, and paid
cash money for the trailer he still
lives in today. He hummed hymns and
whistled tunes as he worked, and he cut
a beeline home every night to Sweet.
Then, on the Thursday morning
after she turned twenty-one, Sweet
leaned in too far and tumbled head-first
into the well. Ruby came home
to an empty house, and he stopped
whistling right smack in the middle
of Roomful of Roses when there
was no hot supper on the table,
no warm Sweet kiss of welcome,
no fragrant coffee steaming on the stove.
He saw the water bucket was gone—
then bolted down to the well and found his
darling drowned. For fifty years—
almost to the day since that bone-shaking,
mind-chilling Thursday—the only song
to pass Ruby’s lips has been the soulful
murmur you hear brushing in and out,
soft and low like a sigh or a breath,
as he works or walks or rocks on his porch,
a sound as pitiful as Rachel weeping for
her children, as heart-killing as Jesus
mourning His Jerusalem, as unrelenting as
Lot bewailing his beautiful Pillar of Salt:

“Poor little Sweet, O Lord,
    my poor, poor little Sweet.”