An excerpt from Somerset Grove

Ruby

Spring 1949

Ruby’s mother, Ingrid, came into the bedroom the two women had shared since they moved into the house and told the girls it was time for Anne to leave. Ruby missed the grave look on Ingrid’s face as she was hugging Anne goodbye before turning back to finish her packing.

“There wasn’t anything at the post office for you,” Ingrid said to Ruby’s back.

Ruby stopped packing, but didn’t turn around. “It’s fine. The mail must be delayed, that’s all.”

“You don’t even know where you’re supposed to be going when you get there. Did he tell you when he was picking you up from the port? Did he even tell you the address where you’re supposed to be living?” Ingrid fired off questions as she watched Ruby moving about the room looking for things to pack and avoiding eye contact.

Ingrid leaned against the doorframe and let out a sigh as she began to unravel her long braid of black and gray hair that hung almost to the middle of her back. She was once what people described as exotic, with her dark satiny skin and wavy jet black hair. Her prominent cheekbones portrayed her mixed Panamanian heritage. She had moved to Jamaica with her Scottish-born husband, Samuel, who had plans of developing a large sugar estate on the island’s rich soil. Those plans had perished soon after Samuel returned home one day with a raging fever. All of Ingrid’s island remedies did nothing for her husband who took to his bed that evening and never rose from it. Thirteen-year-old Ruby had stood by her mother at her father’s graveside with only four other people from the tiny town who showed up to pay their respects.

Ingrid aged almost overnight after Samuel died, trying to recover from the loss of her husband and their home. Her hair developed silver streaks and lines began to show in her barely 35-year-old face. She found work as a seamstress and moved herself and Ruby into a tiny house just outside the estate they once owned.

Ruby’s teen years were marked with isolation. The girls looked on her dark bronze skin and flowing locks with a mixture of fascination and scorn, especially when Ruby started receiving attention from boys.

Only two girls, Anne and Cynthia Jones, befriended Ruby during her school years. Anne and Cynthia were twins who were also born of mixed heritage; their father was an Englishman who taught at their school and their mother was a petite Jamaican woman with a nut brown skin tone. The twin girls were tall and slim, and had complexions that reminded Ruby of her morning tea after the cream had been added. The three girls bonded over their differences and were as close as if they were sisters born of the same blood.

The girls attended the same school as Winston though he was two years older than them. Winston was the color of rich dark cocoa, with piercing dark eyes to match and he was regarded as one of the nicest looking boys in town. It was unclear, at first, who Winston was interested in, drawn in by their exotic looks, as he flirted equally with all three girls and all three girls flirted back. Ruby eventually became the frontrunner for Winston’s attention as their path home always took Ruby and Winston three-quarters of a mile past the twins’ front gate. Anne shrugged off the loss since her attention was soon turned towards one of her older brother’s friends. Cynthia, on the other hand, chose to address Winston’s slight by saying she was never really interested in him anyway. “He seems very sneaky to me,” she would say. “I wouldn’t trust him.”

Ruby ignored Cynthia’s remarks, and the closer she and Winston became, the more distance grew between her and Cynthia, though her friendship with Anne remained strong. Ruby would gush about her blossoming relationship and Anne would always smile and listen without interrupting. The day that Ruby announced her engagement to Winston, all three girls were sitting in the twins’ bedroom on the double bed they shared. It was a bright spring morning following a crisp rain. Ruby could hardly wait for the early morning storm to stop so that she could deliver her news. She undid the braided ponytail she customarily wore and styled her hair in a more sophisticated up-do. She had examined herself in the tiny mirror in the bedroom and decided to keep the style, even if it did look too formal for a Saturday morning.

Cynthia had looked at Ruby’s new hairstyle with amusement when Ruby appeared unexpectedly at their gate, but she didn’t say anything. The amused look quickly faded when Ruby bounced up and down on the girls’ bed while she shared her future plans.

“We’re getting married in two months, just before Winston goes to England. Of course I’ll be following him as soon as I send the marriage certificate and he gets all the paperwork processed and everything set up.” Ruby concluded by asking Anne to be her maid of honor.

“But I want you to be my bridesmaid,” Ruby said as she turned to Cynthia. “I know you don’t like him.”

Cynthia pulled her lips into a thin, tight smile. “I’ll be there.”

The day of the wedding Anne arrived promptly and stood by Ruby’s side. Cynthia was nowhere to be found. She finally arrived minutes before they were about to walk down the aisle in front of the tiny crowd of 20 or so guests. A look of relief passed over Ruby’s face when she saw Cynthia walk casually towards them, patting her hair into place.

“Sorry I’m late. I had a little problem with my dress.”

Normally Ruby would have had some words for Cynthia, but she let it go that day. “I’m just glad you’re here,” Ruby said.

“You look pretty,” Cynthia commented.

Ruby smiled. “I’m so nervous, and I haven’t been able to keep anything down all morning.”

They lined up ready to walk down the aisle—Cynthia first, Anne second, and Ruby third. Just as they were about to begin the procession, Ruby leaned forward and whispered loud enough for both sisters to hear. “I’m pregnant.”

Anne looked back, not bothering to hide the look of shock on her face. Cynthia stiffened and turned her head slightly to look over her shoulder, but didn’t say anything.

“I can’t believe what you’re telling me. When? I mean, you’re not married yet,” Anne said.

“After we were engaged,” Ruby said. “And as of today, it doesn’t matter. I’ll be in England when the baby is born. No one will know if I’m off a month or so.”

“I guess not,” Anne said and looked at her sister.

Cynthia faced forward. “You ready?” she called over her shoulder.

“Yes,” Ruby said.

~~

Three days ago, Ruby received news about her husband, but it was not what she had anticipated. When Winston hadn’t sent the money to pay for her fare, Ruby walked to her godmother’s house to see if she could borrow the money from her and her husband. They reluctantly parted with their little savings with the assurance that Ruby would send it all back just as soon as she received it from Winston. When she reached home, she informed her mother that there was no need to worry about the fare now.

“I’m just waiting for the sponsorship papers. If you can take me to pay for my fare now, I should have everything together by the time I’m ready to leave,” Ruby said.

It broke Ingrid’s heart to tell her daughter what she had learned that day. Ingrid had been at the post office when the twins’ neighbor had come in complaining about Jamaica’s rough roads as he picked up his mail. He grumbled on about the cost to repair his car’s axle, which was damaged during the drive to Palisadoes airport to drop off one of the twins who was going to England.

Ruby watched her mother’s lips moving, but couldn’t comprehend the words coming out of her mouth. “Cynthia…England…Winston.”