At the tender age of thirteen, young Elizabeth Dourseá struggles everyday of her life with a birth defect, as well as the haunting question of why she lives with her paternal grandfather, Raymond Dourseá. Lizzy’s resolve is tested to the brink when she learns her father is serving time in McNanna Penitentiary for the accident that killed her mother. Upon hearing of the early release of her father, Leroy Dourseá, she discovers the undserved elict sins of the family she loves. With the help of the town’s bag lady, silent steps are taken to fight back.
The small town sheriff, Billy Woolker, harbors a big hate for the Dourseá family, especially Leroy Dourseá. For reasons unknown, Billy’s hate filled rivalry ignites a vengeance that turns into a raging inferno of foul play.
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With a half glance and a wave of Elizabeth’s hand, the subject was closed. The matching pair of mules is her most cherished gift from her grandfather. They look forward to the attention Lizzy is faithful to give them. The treats she kept hidden in her pockets didn’t hurt their feelings either. Betty nuzzled under one of Lizzy’s arms with a “Me first” attitude. Lizzy teased Betty as she led her out to the old bathtub filled with fresh water and waited, making sure she drank her fill. Lizzy looked up in time to see, Ruth hunting for her rocks. All of a sudden, Lizzy was getting wet, because Betty wanted her attention, the mule began splashing the water in the tub with her muzzle so Elizabeth decided this was a good time to leave Betty and Butch to their water games. She returned to the house before her grandfather left to pick up Lee.
Vesta began carrying baskets of vegetables she and Lizzy gathered from their garden placing them in her grandfather’s new truck. Lizzy met Vesta beside the truck with a gallon jug of fresh whole milk. “Thank you Lizzy, your grandfather is almost ready to leave I was hoping Ruth would reconsider going home this morning I think it is too soon; she still has seeping sores and is in danger of getting an infection. I don’t think she will be safe staying in town. NO SIR. Grippers Bluff isn’t going to be kind to Ruth Plier, but there is no changing her mind.”
Trying to understand the thinking of the adults mind, Lizzy leaned against her grandfather’s truck looking at Vesta, “how did Ms. Ruthie get hurt so bad? Why would anyone want to beat up a nice person like her? You know, she is attractive when you stop and really look at her. If she would stay here until she got stronger and if she put on a little weight I bet she would turn some of those old farts heads that stand around that IGA store watching the ladies as they come in to buy their groceries.”
Vesta was flabbergasted at Lizzy’s summarization about the old farts and Ruth Plier. “YOUNG LADY, I think you need to stay after church on Sunday and have a private talk with our pastor. I can’t believe my ears Lizzy Dourseá, your Great One isn’t too happy with you right now. I suggest you think about that the rest of the day, but yes, I have known for a long time that Ruth has deliberately hiding her looks, the reason for her doing that is her business. As to what happened to her, that is something we will talk about after she has left this morning. Whatever you do Lizzy, be careful what you say around her because she has some awfully deep hurts and it is up to her friends to give her the support she needs to get on with her life. I see her coming so let’s change the subject.”
“HI! Ruth, did you find the rocks you needed for your flower bed?”
With a big smile she held up her sack with one end tied then placed it in the bed of Raymond’s truck. “I found just what I needed Vesta, I want to thank you and Raymond for sharing your home with me, I hope to come again sometime…under different circumstances.”
Elizabeth’s innocent nature caused her to hear a life of loneliness in Ruth Pliers voice. It sounded lonely and desolate reminding her of the time her grandfather took her and his longtime friend Whipper Thornton, to the top of Grippers Bluff to hunt coyotes. Lizzy never will forget that solitary feeling huddled in her blanket watching their campfire dwindle to a flicker. Way off in the distance, almost beyond the ears ability to hear she listened to the droning cry of a lone freight train.
Out of shear companionship, one human for another Lizzy placed her thin arms around Ruth’s neck and whispered, “You can stay here with us or you can come as often as you like…you’ll always be welcome here.”
Ruth hugged her young friend as she swallowed back the lump forming in her throat and patted Lizzy on the back, “I feel welcome here, for me that is a new feeling, a feeling I’ve only dreamed of. You have shown me a kindness that I had forgotten existed anymore, but it is time for me to go home I have some personal things I need to take care of. One thing you can count on is my coming back. Elizabeth, don’t you ever change.” With that said Ruth stepped out of Lizzy’s arms and took Vesta’s hand, “In my whole life you are the best friend I’ve ever had. I will pray to your Great One for bushels of blessings to be poured out on your head.” Ruth crawled into the trucks passengers’ seat and stared straight ahead, as if she were afraid to look back.
Raymond stepped back into the shadows of the doorway and waited until the tender scene beside his truck ended before heading out to the truck. He dreaded picking up his son for the dirty business they had to attend to this day; he also dreaded taking Ruth back into town leaving her without any protection from the likes of Sheriff Woolker.
Every day he drove past the pond, he dreaded the fact that he was the one that tore the guts out of Lizzy’s swimming hole and placed the first scar on the valley’s floor. Shaking his head Raymond placed a small ice chest full of frozen beef next to Ruth’s bag of rocks, and slammed the tailgate shut. At that very moment, Ruth wanted to jump out of the front seat to check on her sack full of treasures, but she forced herself to stay put. Ruth held tight to her walking cane until Raymond climbed into the truck’s cab, then she relaxed and decided to enjoy the rest of the trip.
In some ways, Ruth felt stronger this morning than she had in years. Belonging to someone is powerful medicine and her brief stay with the Dourseá family is better than any medication Dr. Rogers could prescribe, in more ways than one. Her physical strength would take care of itself. It was Ruth’s damaged mental condition that absorbed every particle of family unity and the fire of belonging, that everyone openly displayed toward each other that started the healing process. For her, it turned out to be that rare combination that unlocked a hidden power somewhere deep within herself, that she knew, she would obey. Family is the newly found magic she will defend and protect.
It really didn’t matter that Ruth wasn’t a Dourseá or that she was a poor newcomer to Grippers Bluff, the Dourseá family took her in, simply because they cared about their neighbor. All her life Ruth wished for a sister like Vesta, and in Vesta, she came as close to having that sister as any human could without having the same blood coursing through their veins.
Lizzy watched as the truck bounced down the new dirt driveway. She felt like they were sending a puppy back to the humane shelter, “THIS STINKS! She wanted to stay with us, I know she did.” Lizzy read the fear on her grandmother’s face as she watched the truck leave. Elizabeth decided right then, not to bring up the subject of Ruth’s beating again. Adults were so complicated sometimes, she thought she might just stay a teenager forever, after all, Ms. Ruth did not have a single soul in Grippers Bluff who gave a hoot and holler about her so why go back there. Elizabeth was so engrossed in her own thoughts she wasn’t aware that Vesta had led her into the thick boulders surrounding the gravel pit until one of the drivers gave a blast on the truck’s horn and waved. “Vesta! What are we doing out here? That trucks horn sounded like it was right on top of us. What are you looking for?”
With a quizzical expression on her face, “I don’t know Lizzy; I guess I’m hoping to find some nice rocks to use in my flower garden like Ruth. I can’t for the life of me figure out why she wanted to go back home this morning, when only a day ago she talked as if she was going to stay here until the end of the week. I think what I am really looking for is answers, to both questions.
“Maybe what happened last night scared her away. You have to admit it was a little bizarre.” Lizzy tried helping Vesta look for imaginary rocks but lost interest and thought it best to wait until she found what she was looking for or give up and decide to head back to the house. Either way Lizzy was going to have a go at the mystery behind Ruth’s beating.
Vesta searched every place she thought Ruth might have gone in her quest for rocks but gave up, motioning for Lizzy to follow. “This is no help at all. Let’s go home, have a cinnamon roll with a glass of milk then I’ll try to explain as best as I can about Ms. Ruth’s beating.”
Dump trucks were on a steady roll and the air smelled of diesel fuel, Lizzy was glad that the wind blew away from the small farmhouse carrying the pungent fumes up into the bluffs of Grippers Mountain.
Vesta took a package of store bought rolls out of the breadbox while Lizzy poured cold milk into large coffee mugs. The next hour was spent sitting at the table hashing over all the horror of the rape and the beating at the hands of Sheriff Woolker. A beating that was still a mystery and it left the family’s newest friend close to death. Vesta was careful not to reveal the connection between Lee’s visit to the jail and the McNanna Penitentiary’s release papers that her father was ordered to leave with the local sheriff. Vesta also held in check her personal fear about Ruth going back to her apartment and the alarm she covered up over the idea of Ruthie going back into the Jail to fulfill her commitment to the city to clean the sheriff’s office.