|Jul/Aug 2015 Fiction|
Photography by Lydia Selk
The very first time Ruby Fae McKeever saw the Salt Fork High School Swing-Singers on stage at the Farmer's Co-op Annual Meeting and Barbecue Dinner one April Saturday afternoon, her eighth-grader soul soared up in her like a disco star's falsetto and she knew she had found her life's purpose: Show Choir.
Reverently, she beheld 14 squeaky-clean Salt Fork High School rock stars dancing grapevines and step-ball-changes while crooning "I Can See Clearly Now, the Rain is Gone." Her breath caught, her skin tingled, and her blood thrummed to the beat of Donny MacLanahan's divinely adequate upperclassman percussion skills on the school's mix-and-match trap set. She gasped when a portable klieg light with a slowly revolving red/blue filter snapped on at the precise moment the choir segued into Neil Diamond's "Song, Sung Blue." She wept just a little when a blow-dried, feather-haired, senior soloist stepped up to the mic and sang "Precious and Few" as though he sang only for her. By the time the entire troupe broke into a raucous swing-dancing rendition of "Rockin' Robin," her rapture was pure and her conversion absolute. She had been transformed, redeemed, renewed. She had found a new religion.
After the final number and the enthusiastic applause—after all, these were our Salt Fork Kids and they were pretty darn good—the rest of the Co-op members and their families meandered over to the cafeteria for their Styrofoam plates piled high with pulled pork, corn on the cob, and chocolaty sponge of wacky cake. Ruby lingered in the empty auditorium. In that state of sweet surrender usually reserved for church altar calls, she solemnly vowed to herself, "I shall be the first freshman, ever, in the history of Salt Fork, to be a Swing-Singer. And I shall sing all the best pop songs, and I shall wear a shiny Lycra dress with a handkerchief hem, and I shall spread my jazz hands and stand in spotlights, and I shall dance."
Ruby was still in the ecstasy of her musical conversion that evening when she went out with her older brothers to walk the show hogs. The McKeever Family Hampshire Hogs had an excellent reputation among the 4-H and Future Farmers of America clubs. The McKeever boys, Chuck and Leland, were banking on one of their hopefuls, either Streaker or Billie Jean, to bring home at least a Reserve Grand Champion at the Woods County Spring Fat Stock Show next week. Ruby's hog, Mr. Fancy Pants, was not as strong a competitor.
"You're too loose with him. You gotta keep his head up." Chuck looked over his shoulder to criticize Ruby and her Hamp, who were strolling behind the others down the long dirt driveway. "A good showman keeps control of his animal at all times."
But Ruby didn't want to talk about pigs anymore. She only wanted to talk about Swing-Singers.
"When do you try out? Is it before school starts? Or can I wait until August? When do you practice? Is it before school? If it's after, can I ride with you after football practice? Do you have to buy special shoes? Are the outfits the same every year? Do you sew your own or buy a senior's old one?"
Chuck and Leland were not reliable information sources in this area. The choir room was on the opposite end of the school campus from the vo-ag department, industrial arts building, and football locker room, around which they mostly orbited. Their three hours spent in the main building only took them as far as the cafeteria, the math hall, and an English class. They knew show choir kids, of course—everyone knew everyone in this school. And they certainly weren't against watching girls in slinky dresses prance around onstage. They just hadn't paid much attention to what was going on down there in that end of the building where pigs or their skins were not the prime focus. After a string of shrugs and "I dunno's and outright ignoring of Ruby's questions, Leland finally dropped the bomb. "You haven't even asked Mom and Dad yet, have you? What if they don't let you? You know, 'cause of the dancing."
Ruby's stomach dropped. She came to an abrupt halt. Her hand with the show whip fell down to her side. Mr. Fancy Pants took advantage of her inattention and reversed direction, heading back to the pens. Ruby quickly darted around in front of the hog, flicking the whip's tassel in front of his nose. "Hey-hey-hey-hey-hey!" she sputtered at him. Taking his cue like the pro he was, he turned his massive body starboard and resumed his paces with Ruby Fae trailing him, her dragging show whip plowing a tiny furrow in the powdery dirt behind her.
She hadn't even considered Mom and Dad might be against it. Of course, Holiness people don't dance. Ruby wasn't questioning that. She just hadn't really considered that glorious spectacle of the Swing-Singer performance to be dancing. Dancing was what people did in bars or night clubs or at the prom after banquet was over and the Holiness kids all left. This wasn't dancing! This was... performing! It was... choreography! It was athleticism and skill and music wedded to movement. It was art. Surely Mom and Dad would see that. Surely, surely, she prayed.
Leland, in the lead position with Streaker, called back to the others. "Hey, look! Road-runners!" He pointed the tassel of his whip down the road toward the mailbox. A gawky little dinosaur of a mother bird and her three over-sized chicks sprinted across the road with their wide, reaching gait. Backlit by a setting sun flaunting all the colors it owned, the Road-runners raced across the dirt into the sweet-clover weeds of the grader-ditch. The McKeevers, pigs and all, paused for a silent moment. They all knew to be respectful in the presence of God. They'd been raised right.
"That was a good one." Chuck said quietly. "Best sunset this week." He tapped his show whip gently on Billie Jean's meaty shoulder. "C'mon girl. Time for grub." He turned his hog toward home.
Ruby waited until after supper, when the Sloppy Joes and green beans had been wiped out and the Jello Salad demolished, the dishes cleaned and put away, and everyone settled in the living room. Dad was in his recliner reading an article about low-till farming and drinking his nightly glass of iced sweet tea (which he jokingly referred to as his mar-TEA-ni, making Mom tsk disapprovingly. "What if the kids thought you really meant an alcoholic beverage?" she would ask worriedly.) Mom was cross-stitching a Christmas-themed wall-hanging. The boys were sprawled side-by side on their backs on the Harvest Gold shag carpet, one leg crossed over a propped-up knee, sofa pillows doubled under their necks so that they could better see "M*A*S*H" on the big 27" screen. Ruby took a deep breath.
"Mom, Dad? Can I try out for Swing-Singers?"
The question did not surprise Mom. She had been sitting next to Ruby this afternoon and she had heard Ruby's breath quicken, felt her body tense. So it begins, she thought. Oh, Ruby Fae. The world wants to eat you up whole. Can we keep you safe? She tied off a green piece of thread on the backside of a holly bough. She looked over at her husband. "Charlie? What do you think?"
Dad looked over the top of his High Plains Journal and asked, "Swing-singers? What's that?"
Ruby stifled an impulse to roll her eyes. If ever her maturity and level-headedness were needed, it was now, at this critical moment of her life. Maintaining a thoughtful and adult composure was simply crucial. Because if they didn't let her do this—Oh, Dear God, if they didn't—she would probably die, right there on the naugahyde couch, dead of a broken heart at the age of fourteen.
"Remember? It was the show choir at the Co-op dinner this afternoon?"
"Oh! Yeah! Those kids were pretty good. Are you old enough for that? I thought they were from the college."
Steady, steady, Ruby told herself. "No, they were high schoolers, and I think I can try out next fall."
Mom said, "Well, their outfits were fairly modest. I noticed they weren't sleeveless. But do you think some of the movements might be a little too suggestive?"
Leland snickered at that, which caused Chuck to lazily reach over and whack Leland's abdomen with the back of his forearm, eliciting an "Oof!" and an even bigger laugh. Ruby shot them both a death-dealing look.
"Oh, no! I was watching for that. Did you notice they barely even danced together? It was mostly all in a line. Not even dancing, really. It was choreography."
"Choreography. That's almost like exercise, isn't it, maybe?" mused Dad. "They did look like they were working pretty hard up there. That's always good for kids."
"Yes!" said Ruby, gratefully. "Like exercise, only while you sing at the same time."
"Well, Ruby Fae, you know it's not strictly dancing we object to—"
"In First Kings, David danced before the Lord! And in the Book of Exodus, it says Miriam did, too! Right after the Red Sea!" Ruby Fae butted in, her voice just barely this side of whining.
"I know," Mom patiently continued, "Like I said, it's not the dancing itself, it's—"
The boys on the floor exuberantly finished her sentence for her, raising their fists in a hearty cheer and bellowing in unison "—It's what dancing could lead to!" They congratulated each other's esprit de corps with a few more belly whomps and pillow-whackings. Everyone ignored them.
Gross, Mom! I don't want to Do It right up there on stage in front of an audience! I just want to sing and dance! is what Ruby wanted to say. But instead, she mildly asked, "Daddy... what do you think?"
Dad laid the Journal down and considered Ruby deliberately, the way an experienced rancher surveys his stock. Health, temperament, musculature: these were the qualities highly prized by vo-ag boys in breeders and girls alike. Appraising her through the eyes of a state fair judging team, he was startled to notice the straight line that used to run from the shoulders of her homemade cotton blouse to the below-the-knee hem of her denim skirt was now interrupted by new-grown curves. Good conformation, smooth carriage; her coloring was healthy, teeth exceptional. The long brown hair that used to be nothing but an impatient pony-tail now showed signs of more intentional grooming. Any judge could see Ruby had the structural correctness, leanness of body and muscle balance that makes an eye-appealing champion. But what can you do? He couldn't keep her penned up at home forever. Charlie McKeever glanced at his wife. She shrugged in agreement. What can you do?
Dad said to Ruby, "You're going to be making a lot of important decisions from here on out." She held her breath. "And while your mother and I have some concerns, we trust you to do what's right. Find out more about the details—when practice is, how much it costs, what's expected of you and so on. Do your homework about it, pray over it, and we'll abide by your decision."
Ruby squealed, hugged her parents, and ran to her room. "I'm going to be a Swing-Singer! A Swing-Singer! A Swing-Singer!" she yelled as she ran up the stairs.
"You have to pass the auditions, first!" Chuck hollered after her.
Ruby didn't waste an answer on him. She knew it was her destiny. Just as surely as God had called her cousins to all to the mission fields of Papua, New Guinea, He had called her, Ruby Fae, to be a Salt fork High School Swing-Singer.
Monday, she hung back after vocal music class to talk to Mrs. Clark, who taught Junior High vocal and accompanied the senior high choir.
"Yes, freshmen are allowed to audition," Mrs. Clark said carefully, "I don't know if any have made it yet. Upperclassmen should get preference. But I encourage eighth-graders to spend the summer preparing. The try-out itself is good experience, anyway." She regarded Ruby thoughtfully. She herself was the organist at the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Lord knows they had no scruples against dancing. They hosted youth group dances right there in the church basement. Her own kids were in high school, so she had sponsored enough of those. She had seen Holiness boys, whose jeans and cowboy shirts were indistinguishable from the rest of the vo-ag crowd, drop in for "just a look." Mrs. Clark was pretty sure at one or two of these dances she had chased either Chuck or Leland and some girl out of a basement corner and back onto the dance floor. But as far as she knew, Holiness girls never came. If they did, they were not "in uniform" and they slipped in and out unnoticed.
"You are a very strong alto, which is good—there are always too many sopranos. And you're the best music-reader I have. All you Holiness kids are great at reading notes."
Ruby had been shocked so few Junior High kids could read a music staff. All the Holiness kids had descended from the same three musical families. They had all been toddlers on a grandmother's lap in a church pew, watching a finger trace the rise and fall of the notes in the hymnbook. Ruby could read music almost before she could read words, and she could pick out harmony to any song she heard. She wasn't worried about the singing.
"You know you would have to dance, right?" Mrs. Clark asked Ruby. "And you would be required to wear make-up on stage. Are your parents alright with that?"
"Yes," she answered breathlessly. "They said I could try out." Ruby hadn't yet brought up the make-up situation, but she had her arguments ready. In this case, she wouldn't really be wearing it for vanity's sake; it would be more like stage make-up, like being in costume for a play. It wouldn't really be her, Ruby Fae McKeever, wearing make-up; it would be her stage character, "Ruby, the Swing-Singer," wearing make-up. That would be different.
Mrs. Clark said, "Alright, then. I think you should. The audition would be good for you. You'll need to prepare a solo. You bring the sheet music, and I play it for you. And if you could somehow find a way to practice dancing..." she trailed off doubtfully.
Ruby knew that dancing part would be a problem. But after all, it was God who had called her, so she figured that was His problem.
The 22-mile school bus ride to Salt Fork every day gave Ruby time to prepare herself for her new sacred calling. In the dark start of the morning, as the bus crawled along the flat, wide, empty route, she prayed Please-oh-please-oh-please, God. Bus No. 3 crawled past dark miles of wheat fields salted with yard lights and kitchen lights, picking up McGill kids and Knowles kids and the rest of the school kids in Ruby's church—good Holiness kids who knew all about the dangers of dancing.
When the sun was up and the bus filled with enough dusty golden light to read by, she'd pull out her Bible and concordance. While the boys all looked out the windows for ground-nesting birds like pheasant, quail, and turkey and dreamed of new 12-gauge shotguns, Ruby studied her Bible. She meticulously looked up every single reference in the concordance to the word "dancing" (27) and copied those Bible verses in a notebook in chronological order. While the little kids tried to count trees—seven or 15, there was an ongoing argument as to whether Red Cedars were really trees or just big weeds—from the blacktop road to the edge of town, Ruby re-copied the verses under subject headings: "Angels Dancing," "Heathen Dancing," "Dancing for Joy," "Dancing Before God," and etcetera. While the only high school girl, Sherry Lutke, sneaked a make-up mirror, forbidden lip gloss, and wicked-blue eye shadow out of her bag, hastily applying it before Bus #3 picked up any town kids, Ruby Fae searched Dad's copy of Arnold's Commentary on The Bible to study the great scholars' takes on dancing.
She had even borrowed one of Reverend Dixon's Hebrew dictionaries to look up the Hebrew word for "dance." It turned out, there were eleven. Pazaz; to leap or spring, was her favorite. Ruby wasn't sure when or how God would visit her with the gift of dance, but she wasn't going to be caught empty-handed when He did. She'd be ready.
The Public Library had an Arthur Miller dance course LP Album set (copyright 1958) and accompanying instruction booklet that hadn't been checked out since 1969. Ruby checked it out, along with Square Dancing for Beginners and A History of Modern Dance in Seventy-Two Black and White Photos. The books weren't particularly informative, but she thought they might provide some inspiration. The Arthur Miller set was simply bewildering. She wasn't sure the fox-trot would be of much help, anyway.
She studied American Bandstand on Saturday afternoons and Soul Train on Saturday nights. She would stand as close as she could to the television, frozen in concentration, trying to absorb the miniature dancers, as if by osmosis she could acquire the wildness she thought dancing would bring to her bones. She would try to memorize each motion, each step or gesture or flick, to practice later in the privacy of her room. But something was wrong. She was too stiff. Too anchored. Too earthbound. Her faith wavered.
It was Leland who finally saved her.
"You know they'll teach you, right? You don't have to know it already." He said.
"What?" Ruby whirled around, startled. He had caught her in the yard one Saturday night. Barefoot, in the dark, a transistor radio gamely reaching for a Dodge City AM station that dared to air Wild Cherry. Self-conscious of her dancing naiveté even with no audience but the coyotes to judge her, she was awkwardly, mechanically trying to copy a move she'd just seen on TV.
"At the auditions. They don't expect you to already know it all, they just want to see if you can catch on. They line you all up and someone does a few steps and you copy it. They teach you right there."
"You mean, like a game of Simon Says?" Hope and relief flooded Ruby. Following directions happened to be smack dab in the middle of her strongest skill set.
"Yep." said Leland. He sat down on the porch steps, pulled off his cowboy boots and tube socks, rolled up the sleeves of his plaid pearl-snap shirt, and joined Ruby in the yard. "Like this." He walked five paces ahead of her then stopped with his back to her. "Just watch first. One, two, three, go." Whistling "The hustle," Leland, all long, lean limbs and cocky cowboy glee, expertly strutted off ten easy measures of disco dancing. "Ok, I'll repeat it once, calling out the steps, then you join in."
"Right foot back, two, three; tap-lean-clap; turn! Right foot back, two, three; tap-lean-clap; turn!"
Maybe it was Leland's encouragement. Or the relief of knowing she wasn't that far behind, after all. Or maybe it was the stars, which had been known to make people far crazier than this on an Oklahoma June night. Most likely, though, it was the dawning knowledge that Leland had definitely done this before and seemed to be, as far as she could tell, unsinged by hellfire—whatever it was that caused Ruby Fae McKeever to be Filled with The Spirit that Saturday night in her backyard by the clothesline in front of the hen house—whatever it was, it sanctified her joints and unstuck her soul.
Leland and Ruby danced late into the night. He taught her The Hustle, The Bus Stop, The Box Step, and a little something he claimed copyright to called "The Possum Stomp," which he assured her was a big hit at parties. They worked on swing-dancing and line dances and disco dances and eventually just went nuts to whatever the DJ in Dodge City gave them. When they got hot and thirsty, they danced over to the garden hose, gulped and splashed, then danced on out past the hay barn. They danced through the darkest part of the night. Just before sunrise, when the stars all came onstage for their final curtain call, they collapsed, drained and silent, onto their backs in the soft tufts of buffalo grass on the front lawn.
The transistor's little D-cell had given its all. Ruby and Leland received the holy silence and the exquisite exhaustion in lieu of God's applause. A rooster crowed, and they knew they'd brought down the house.
Ruby yawned. "We're gonna fall asleep in church today."
"I think God will get over it." Leland answered.
When the August auditions came, Ruby was ready to claim her place in show choir history.
"Aren't you nervous?" asked Chuck.
"Don't be disappointed," counseled Mrs. Clark.
"KariBeth Newton is pregnant," whispered Leland.
And that is how it came to pass that Ruby was, indeed, the first Salt Fork freshman to make show choir. Never mind she was a month behind the others—KariBeth hadn't admitted to anything until her satiny sequins were stretched past the point of all excuses— never had there ever been a more passionate Swing-Singer than Ruby. She was the first to learn each new song, each new step. She sold five times as many fall concert tickets as any other member. She sewed her dress herself—with Mom carefully monitoring the hem length, of course. She never, ever missed a practice.
That year the Salt Fork High Swing-Singers were the biggest sensation to hit the Oklahoma School Music Association circuit (Class 2A Division) since the electric keyboard. They swept up the Superior ratings at contests, racked up the trophies and medals, and terrified their competitors with their incomparable cover of "Turn the Beat Around." Billy Clagg's solo on "I Write the Songs" sounded enough like Barry Manilow that girls all over the state remembered his name and envied that little brown-haired alto who stood beside him. But it was that little brown-haired alto, Ruby, whom the judges loved. "Great stage presence!!!!" they would write on the criticism sheets. Their teacher, Mr. Wills, the founder, creative director and heart and soul of the Swing-Singers, would simultaneously thrill and mortify Ruby as he read the crit sheets aloud on the bus after every contest, "Alto, front stage left—magnetic! Can't stop watching her!" or the like somehow always showed up in the judges' notes. Ruby gloried in it—as humbly as possible, of course.
For the next four years, singing, dancing, competing, and performing were Ruby's life. Mom and Dad worried some, but told each other it was just something she had to get out of her system, as if she'd eaten bad chicken salad. It would pass, they told each other each time they came home from a performance, dazzled and confused and proud after watching this daughter of Holiness of theirs hustle and bump in a sequined dress on a public stage.
But Ruby vowed that it would not pass. She knew God lived in her body, and when she danced, it was only Life Itself making its way to the surface. She knew when an audience watched her light up a stage, it was only God reaching out of her, saying, "I'm here! I'm here! Can't you see me in this joy?"
The trouble started at a youth revival weekend.
While the rest of Ruby's show choir friends were celebrating their final contest season with a ski trip to Red River on spring break of her senior year, Ruby was at the Pilgrim's Holiness Bible College Youth Retreat and Pre-College Weekend. She hadn't really wanted to go, but next weekend were the scholarship tryouts at Northwestern Oklahoma State. She thought it would please her parents if she went this weekend, but Mr. Wills had connections at Northwestern and Northwestern had a show choir.
Blame the music. Due to shake-ups in the higher levels of Holiness Youth Authority, younger blood had come on board for the planning of this year's revival. And with the younger blood came newer music. This year, the kids all filed into the first chapel session to organ music. Instead, something listed in the program as a worship team was on the stage. Worship Team was a dozen college students plus a small instrumental crew, dressed very much like any other satiny show choir—with much more modest hems and sleeves, of course. A drummer, guitarist, and keyboard player hit the first chord. Ruby sat up. What did this mean?
Contemporary Christian Music had come to the Holiness Camp, is what it meant. The Kingdom Seekers, as this group was called, capably covered Andrae Crouch, Keith Green, and The Imperials. Excitement rolled over the auditorium in flood waves. Five hundred teenagers leapt to their feet. Contemporary music! For us! At last! We can party, too! A Holy Craziness gripped them all. Making a Joyful Noise unto The Lord was the party anthem of this crowd, and Ruby was born to be joyfully noisy.
Of course, there was no actual dancing. Each Kingdom Seeker held a microphone at all times, so that only one hand was free to gesture a synchronized move. And while pivoting and strategically stepping back or kneeling were freely used, at no time did the one stationery foot, the right foot, ever leave the ground. But in the mania of that night, the heady excitement of a base guitar in church, this distinction was not immediately apparent to Ruby. She didn't notice. She was too busy dancing.
Maybe an opening act like that explains how Ruby fell for Rev Rick. Not just some fusty old preacher who was good-natured enough to not hate teens, Rev Rick—just Rev, not Reverend— was an evangelist for teens. A graduate student in Evangelism, with wavy brown hair that barely touched his collar, a straight hard jaw and deep, soulful eyes. He wore a white suit with a vest and no tie. He looked right at Ruby when he preached heaven and Holiness and purity and passion. He told Ruby Fae Jesus loved her with a jealous love. He told her Jesus wanted her all to Himself. Rev Rick told her everything but Jesus had to go.
The Kingdom Seekers struck up a rousing song about The Rapture and the horrors of being Left Behind.
Rev Rick boomed above the music and the noise of the crowd. "What is holding you back? What do you love more than Me, asks Jesus?"
Teenagers—especially the girls—poured out of their pews and stampeded down the aisles to the stage, where junior evangelists guarded the altar, hands upraised, receiving the penitent. Teenagers lined up to blurt out their sins and clear their accounts. Rev Rick came down and took a place with the other evangelists on the floor. Ruby was drawn to his line by the gravitational pull of those otherworldly gray eyes.
"What are you hanging on to, Little Sis?" He asked her with a quiet intensity. She felt his eyes mournfully search hers for her hidden sins which, she was sure, would devastate him with grief if he were to know the magnitude of them. "What do you need to let go?"
That handsome young evangelist looked at her with all eternity in his eyes and she betrayed her own soul. She forsook her first love, show choir. Right there at the altar, she lost her religion.
Sunday morning, back at her own home church, at the conclusion of the sermon when the pastor always invited people to come forward to kneel at the altar, to accept Jesus or rededicate their lives, Ruby came. She told Reverend Dixon she was ready to re-commit her life. She was forsaking worldly music and enrolling at Bible College. Her parents were stunned. She'd shared none of this with them.
"Are you sure?" Dad asked.
"Scared to try out for college show choir?" Chuck asked.
"Are you going to burn all your records?" Leland asked.
Yes. All her records.
After Ruby had made show choir, she had hung up her pig whip for good. She'd sold Mr. Fancy Pants and retired from 4-H Stock Shows. Ten percent of the profits of his sale, of course, she tithed to the church, then 40 percent went to her savings account; but most of the rest was spent on a Pioneer Stereo system from Radio Shack. Over the next four years she had patiently curated a collection of Top 40 hits. Every Friday afternoon, while Mom was at the grocery store, Ruby would walk down to TG&Y where she would spend 99 cents on a 45 record and $1.07 on a new color of nail polish. These were the very worldly goods Ruby had consigned to the Fires of Holiness—which, for Ruby, was just the pit out back where all the family's trash was burned.
At the retreat, a lot of Holiness kids had made a lot of rash promises about burning their rock music, so most of the youth pastors had jumped right on that and phoned their home churches. Some kids got right off the church buses that weekend to be welcomed by a blazing bonfire in the church parking lot, their parents holding boxes of records and 8-tracks at the ready.
For the McKeevers, though, bonfires lacked the drama city kids gained from these ritual. Farm families had no trash trucks; sanitation service for them meant a ditch downwind from the house where they dumped all the family trash and set it on fire every few days. Burning trash was not a religious statement for Ruby, it was just another weekly chore. So when she packed up her record collection, nail polishes, and three Harlequin Romances in a box and set it by the trash can on the back porch for Dad to haul to the trash ditch, she considered the matter closed.
Telling Mr. Wills about her decision, however, would not be so simple.
"I'm speechless. I don't know what to—Ruby—are you sure?" Mr. Wills asked. "I know you could get a good scholarship at Southwestern, or maybe even Central State. It would be such a great opportunity for you. Is this really your decision, or someone else's?" he asked that part very carefully. As much as he hated to see Ruby's talent wasted, he did not want to be accused of interfering with parental guidance. He had a family and a job to think about, after all.
"Yes." Ruby said firmly. "It's decided. I finally see how I've been wasting my life. I could have been building up the kingdom, instead I'm just being swallowed up by the world and its pleasures." She shuddered slightly. What would Rev Rick—I mean, Jesus—think, if he'd seen me, only a month ago, flaunting and prancing? "Besides, they have a select group, kind of like a show choir, that does contemporary Christian music! I can get into that, and I wouldn't be wasting my talents!"
Mr. Wills looked at her through his round, wire-rimmed glasses that, with his straight blond hair completed his John Denver-ish signature look. He sighed. Yes, Ruby was wasting her talent, but, he had seen it before. Stars all burn out eventually. What difference did it make if Ruby stopped dancing now, or four years from now, when she graduated from college and turned into yet another show choir teacher, in yet another school, watching yet another Ruby flare across the sky? He congratulated her convincingly.
Fall came, and Ruby struck out for the Promised Land. She'd heard the call; she knew her mission. And, Oh! She was so fiercely willing.
Only, once at Bible College, something went dreadfully, terribly wrong. Ruby was not a soloist, and the Kingdom Seekers had no use for a dancer—no matter how much sparkle and spunk she brought to the stage. She did not make the cut for the select ensemble. Suddenly, her star turn was over.
She lost interest in her major, Music Ministry. Her advisor told her, "Teaching and nursing are good careers for women." She flipped a coin and enrolled in the LPN program.
She found an interest in college boys, and Rev Rick told her, "I think you would be a good wife for my brother." His brother's eyes were not as mournful, and more green than gray, so she brought him home for Easter.
Mom asked, "Are you sure?"
Chuck said, "You're a fool."
Dad cleared his throat and went to the barn.
But Rev Rick said, "Surely God's hand is in this," So what else could they do? The brother asked, she said yes, and their wedding was gorgeous—though Ruby privately thought the music a little bland.
The babies came; she raised them.
The folks died; she buried them.
The hair threatened to gray and the body threatened to soften; she fought off one and laughed off the other.
The husband left her for Chuck; she cussed at them, threw a potted geranium at them, then cried, then hugged them, then wished them both well.
The frackers came, waving big fat checks, which she cashed, tithing her ten percent, of course, and—sure, why not?—also throwing in a new piano and set of hymnals for a tip. She reclaimed the farmhouse, filling it with granite counter tops and stainless appliances, a luxury en suite and a very fine sound system with state of the art speakers inside and out, so she could listen to music in her new bed as well as in her new hot tub on her new deck while drinking her new favorite drink—a nice, chilled Riesling.
What kind of music did she listen to?
Digital downloads of bluegrass and jazz, boxed CD gospel sets gifted from Chuck and the husband, and, on a sweet vintage turntable wired into her Bose Sound Wave speakers, she often stacked a dozen 45's from a private collection she had found while cleaning out her parents' closet, stored in a box labeled in her dad's hand: "Ruby Fae 1977." The box didn't even smell of smoke.
The kids asked, "Are you lonely?" She said, how sweet of you to ask, but no.
Chuck asked, "Can you forgive me?" She said, of course. But don't do it again, you big, dumb goof.
Jesus asked, "Hey, Ruby, remember me?" She said, oh! I have missed you so. Where have you been?
The hen house and hog pens are gone now. The hay barn is a hot new wedding venue. Guests stay long into the night, dancing and celebrating. Ruby always drops by to make sure her guests are happy. She is always, always invited to stay.
There are still a few places, if you know where to find them, where the stars are so thick, their light is the backdrop and the dark night sky nothing but the pinpricks that dot it. Places of worship so holy, the coyotes' howls and the crickets' songs pass for the voices of hymn-singers. Ruby Fae's barnyard is one of those sanctuaries. You can find her almost every night on her barnyard-turned-dance-floor, sometimes alone, sometimes surrounded by a congregation of new friends, her face lit by the Holy stars, praising the Lord and dancing for Jesus.