Ruth lay on the bed and stared dreamily out the window. The late afternoon sun drifted into her room, and she closed her eyes and felt the light on her face, filling her with a feeling of warmth and contentment that she hadn’t felt since that summer, four years ago, when she had first come to Whistle Stop. The summer she met Idgie.
And what a summer it had been! The Threadgoodes were so loud and friendly, always joking and singing and running around, so unlike her own family back in Georgia. And Idgie. Well, to say she was unlike anything Ruth had ever seen was an understatement.
It wasn’t just that Idgie wore men’s clothes and went barefoot and spent her time up in the trees or fishing by the river. It was her simplicity, the way she did what she wanted and felt no need to apologize or explain herself that was so rare.
And oh, how Idgie could make her laugh. Ruth had laughed with abandon all summer, loud and deep and without demurely covering her mouth like she did at home. She and Idgie laughed all day, and late into the night, rocking on the porch swing when everyone else in the house and the whole town had gone to sleep. It was this time Ruth had loved the most, when the whole world was dark and quiet and consisted only of her and Idgie and the fireflies.
Later, she would regret having allowed herself this pleasure, this love that could never go on. She had been cruel to Idgie, and a fool, to have dwelt in this dream, to have let herself fall in love with Idgie and Idgie with her. But against all of her senses and instincts she had allowed it to happen, and had broken Idgie’s passionate heart when she left.
Still, the memory of that summer had been the only thing that sustained her during those horrible years with Frank, when the nights had brought a very different kind of darkness; nights when the darkness was oppressive and hostile and threatened to strangle her, nights when she would lie in bed, her eyes fixed to the space at the bottom of her bedroom door, watching for Frank’s menacing footsteps, when Frank would storm in and roughly pull her nightgown up, hitting her in the face or choking her if she protested, nights when she was forced to stare into his cold, shiny eyes while he thrust himself into her with a ferocity that shocked her every time.
Night after night, year after year, she received this punishment that she couldn’t understand but felt she must deserve, because night after night, year after year, after Frank had finished and left to sleep in the other room, Ruth would lie in bed, her insides torn apart, her sheets soaked with blood and her pillow soaked with tears, and she would think of Idgie. She would think of all the Threadgoodes, and Whistle Stop too, but her thoughts always came back to Idgie, and Ruth knew what this meant.
She had prayed about it, and cried about it, and done everything she could think of to put it behind her, but it was useless. She couldn’t let Idgie go, and deep down Ruth knew that she really didn’t want to. She had become a sort of ghost, going about her day mechanically and gritting her teeth through the nights. The only time she ever felt that she still existed was when she visited Whistle Stop in her mind, and she was back on that porch swing with Idgie, in that suspended place and time that couldn’t be and yet was.
And then, one night soon after her mother died, and Frank had come home drunk and beaten her, Ruth got out of bed and looked out the window, into the moonlight, and realized what she had to do.
Idgie had come to get her five days later, and when they arrived at home, Ruth had promised Momma and Poppa that she would never leave or hurt Idgie again. And an hour later, lying on her bed, Ruth felt relieved at having made a promise she knew she would keep.
Suddenly, someone rapped on the window. When Ruth went to see who it was, she looked down and was met with Idgie’s grin. She was hanging off the trellis, climbing up the side of the house to Ruth’s window. Idgie was a romantic; she was certainly not the type to go in the house and knock on Ruth’s door.
“Good evening, Madam,” Idgie said, climbing into Ruth’s room and presenting her with a bouquet of sweetheart roses.
“My Romeo,” Ruth said, laughing.
Idgie smiled back at her. She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to Ruth that Idgie was blushing.
Ruth moved towards Idgie who, overwhelmed with the intensity of Ruth’s look, swallowed and wiped her hands off on her shirt. Ruth had to smile at this. It almost amazed her how much she wanted Idgie. She had thought that after Frank she would never want to do such a thing again. But seeing Idgie there in her crisp white shirt, all scrubbed and full of youthful nervousness, filled Ruth’s heart with tenderness.
She moved in close. Running her hand through Idgie’s soft blonde curls, she kissed her. Idgie pressed herself close against Ruth, and she could feel Idgie’s heartbeat against her own.
Sitting down on the bed, Idgie ran her hands all up and down Ruth’s body as if she couldn’t decide what she wanted to touch most. Ruth pulled Idgie’s shirt out from her pants, and slowly moved her hands under Idgie’s shirt and up her back. Idgie took Ruth’s face in both hands, her strong, suntanned skin framing Ruth’s pale face, and pushed her mouth deeper into Ruth’s, their tongues and breath and happiness mingling together. Idgie tasted like grass and river water and summer air, and Ruth was intoxicated by the sensation of being entangled in and surrounded by the woman she loved.
Ruth pulled herself away to undo the fastenings on her dress, which slid off like water under Idgie’s steady gaze. And when Ruth was finally out of all her underclothes and felt the gentle breeze from the window on her skin, she looked up at Idgie, who was staring, mouth open, at her.
She laughed then, and said to Idgie, “You know something?”
“What?” Idgie said earnestly.
“This is the first time I can remember when you’ve been at a loss for words.”
Idgie grinned at her. Lying Ruth down, she said, “My mouth’s been occupied.” And she began kissing Ruth all over, on the sides of her neck, and on her shoulders, her kisses wiping away the memory of all the bruises and marks Frank’s coarse hands had left on her.
Later, when Idgie had fallen asleep, her face tilted up towards Ruth’s and her arms wrapped around her, Ruth took a long look at her. Idgie was pretty, a fact that was seldom, if ever, acknowledged by most people, especially Idgie herself. But she was, she was beautiful, made more beautiful by the exhausted, childlike sleep she had fallen into.
Looking down at her, Ruth realized that this was what love was. That each freckle of Idgie’s, each soft little hair on the back of her neck, the outline of her ear, every inch of her seemed miraculous and fascinating. That simple facts that she took for granted every day amazed her when they related to Idgie. Ruth lay there, with a living, breathing person on top of her, a person with air and blood pumping through her veins at this very moment and every moment, even while she was unaware, and she found this plain fact about Idgie deeply compelling. This, Ruth realized, was what drew Idgie to her and her to Idgie. This was what had kept them inextricably linked over those four years. This had been why Frank couldn’t destroy her.
Ruth leaned forward and kissed the top of Idgie’s head. Then she lay back, closed her eyes, and fell asleep.
Outside, the last bit of light slipped under the horizon, and the fireflies began to twinkle lazily in the yard