And Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?
Book of Ruth, Chapter 3 Verse 1
It turns out that Ruth left her everything.
“I don't see why you're so surprised,” her mom says. She sounds faintly preoccupied, like she always does nowadays when Mim calls. It's been hard work stitching the mother-daughter bond back together, and Mim still isn't sure that her mom trusts her not to disappear again. “She liked you best.”
“But you’re her sister,” Mim protests. She gnaws on the skin around a nail. It's been a bad week since the shiva ended. Her hands look terrible.
“We weren't that close, dear,” her mom says. “There's your father with the groceries. I told him to get the delivery, he just never listens. I'll talk to you later, okay?”
“Okay,” Mim says. “Love you, mom.”
“I love you too.” The call goes dead.
Mim closes her eyes and lets her head thunk gently into the back of the sofa. There are twenty different things she needs to do, all of which she’s been willfully neglecting. Mostly, she's been crying a lot. It feels like dealing with the practical side of things would make Ruth’s death more real.
It doesn't make sense, and Mim knows that. Ruth won't magically come back to life if she just ignores the attorney’s politely insistent calls.
Sighing, she goes to grab her laptop. One of the things she’s learned living with Nadia is that Googling the answers to stuff she doesn't know is practically the same as being an adult.
“Fuck,” Nadia says, and sighs, a long gusty expression of disbelief that Mim utterly agrees with. “Couldn't Ruth move house before she died so we didn't have to go back to Juniper Lane?”
“She liked annoying the neighbors too much,” Mim says absently.
Nadia laughs. “Yeah. Damn, she would have laughed her ass off at the funeral.”
“She probably would have preferred not having a funeral.”
Nadia looks stricken. “Shit. Sorry, Mim.”
“No, I meant-” Mim shrugs. “I think she'd prefer it if we just made a huge bonfire in the middle of the street and danced around it.”
“Turn her ashes into a garden gnome,” Nadia says, nodding along.
“Mix them in with the Fourth of July fireworks,” Mim says, nudging Nadia in the ribs.
“Hey, I'm driving here.”
“Or sprinkle them over the canapés,” Mim continues.
“That's disgusting,” Nadia says, grimacing. “But I’m pretty sure that you can't make those sad watercress sandwiches any worse.”
“She would have hated the shiva, too,” Mim says. It comes out watery.
“Hey,” Nadia says softly, moving one hand from the wheel to squeeze Mim’s knee. “It's gonna be okay, you know?”
Mim nods and covers Nadia’s hand with her own. She falls asleep like that, only waking up when they stop at a gas station so Nadia can pee and Mim can buy food.
They eat chips and ice cream for lunch, because Nadia doesn't condone gas station sandwiches. Nadia steals Mim’s Doritos, because she’s a food snob who’ll never admit to actually liking fake cheese flavoring. Mim’s indifferent to Doritos, but she always pretends she's getting them for herself.
It's a comforting thought. She might be going back to Juniper Lane for the second time this month, but at least she has Nadia with her. At least this time round, she knows Nadia’s ins and outs.
“I'm glad you're coming with me,” Mim says.
“No big deal,” Nadia says. She blows a stream of smoke into the chilly autumn air and twines the fingers of her free hand with Mim’s.
It's not that Mim had thought that Ruth was immortal. Ruth’s lifestyle wasn't exactly the healthiest, and she wasn’t the kind of person who would hang onto life by her fingernails until all her contemporaries were dead. She had to die sometime, and in the context of her life - her age, her health, her habits- a heart attack wasn't the most gruesome way to go.
It was more like she hadn't thought about Ruth in that context at all.
When she'd mentioned this to her mom at the shiva, Mrs. Robinson had given her a sad look and a hug. “Of course you didn't, Mimosa.”
Apparently, Jewish tradition dictated that you only learned funeral and death rites when it bedroom absolutely necessary. Mim, who'd gone back to lighting menorahs and buying hamantaschen a few years after meeting Nadia, hadn't come across that particular tidbit of information in the revival of her lax religious observation.
But, by Mim’s circuitous reasoning, maybe it meant that she shouldn't have been prepared at all. Maybe being, like, constantly aware of the possibility that someone you loved could die was the absolute worst way to live.
Just a thought.
Ruth’s house is still as god-awful as it had been when Mim had first met Nadia. The mourner’s tent pitched outside it during the shiva had distracted from the god-awfulness, but standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, Mim can really appreciate how it's fallen into disrepair.
She and Nadia stand there, looking up at the water-stained facade and sagging porch. A moment of silence, in respect for Ruth’s spiteful perseverance.
“No wonder she always met us at those hippy fairs,” Nadia says finally.
“You love the hippy fairs,” Mim reminds her. Mim’s first hippy fair experience is part of why they're together. The decanter she bought for Nadia back then still sits in their kitchen at home.
Nadia goes soft and misty for a rare moment. “Yeah, I do.”
The inside of the house, when they unlock the door, is only marginally better than the outside. It's moderately neat, mostly because Ruth never really bothered with stuff, but it's incredible dusty. There's also a huge amount of weed paraphernalia lying around. Everything is old and bears the marks of use and, Nadia tells Mim, not even worth the effort it would take to put it up on Ebay.
“No Rubens in the attic either,” Mim mutters, promptly stumbling over a bong. It's all pretty fucking depressing.
It's not like they need the money. Nadia’s restaurant is going strong, fueled by a few excellent reviews and a steady stream of foodies and hipsters. Mim’s up for a promotion, and besides, Ruth left a tidy sum along with the house. But maybe if they joke around about money, Mim won't cry.
She won't cry. She won't.
“Oh, baby,” Nadia says at the awful scrunched-up face Mim makes. “Just let it out.”
The remnants of Ruth's life fit in a stack of boxes that seems much too small to hold anything, let alone- well, Mim’s not sure what exactly she’s trying to say. Ruth didn't own a lot of stuff. It was her personality, her weird, prickly affection that took up so much room. Ruth filled out the corners of her life like she filled the house, with her own stubborn joie de vivre. Mim’s heart feels as if there's a gap in it as big as the house.
They haul out industrial-sized bags of garbage and leave them out on the curb to disturb the neighbors with their vibrant orange. It's like they're continuing Ruth's legacy.
They sweep the rooms, shifting dust that hasn’t been moved for years. They empty the closets, pocketing Ruth’s pot because there's no sense in letting it go to waste. At Mim's insistence, they even rummage through the attic. It's mostly empty, apart from a colony of spiders large enough to pass for hockey pucks. (Mim beats a hasty retreat. Nadia laughs until it hurts.)
Even after the house is completely empty of trash and all the broken furniture has been tossed out to sit by the orange garbage bags, it still looks bad. It looks desolate, something sad revealed under the patina of Ruth’s life. It’s not Ruth's sadness, and it's not theirs, exactly, but it's still there. It demands to be felt.
“This house is going to need a lot more work than we can put into it if you want to sell it, hon,” Nadia says, after they've gone to bed.
Mim sighs in agreement and rolls onto her side, facing Nadia. “Expensive work.”
“It's not like we can't afford it now,” Nadia says frankly. “And the payoff would be amazing. Anyone who wants to live in Juniper Lane will pay through the nose for the privilege.” She grimaces. “Or something.”
“Yeah, but I feel kinda bad throwing money at it,” Mim says.
“I can't believe that I ever thought you fit in here.”
Mim smiles in the darkness and shifts closer. They kiss.
Nadia wakes up alone. It's a rare enough occurrence, since neither one of them is a morning person. They always end up rolling out of bed together, groaning and swiping blearily at the alarm clock.
There's that brief feeling of disorientation, of who-what-where-why am I awake, and then Nadia is left wondering what was so immediately pressing that Mim got out of bed without kicking her in the ribs.
She finds Mim standing at the grimy living room window- they hadn't brought any Windex and neither one of them had wanted to make the trip to the grocery store- and staring out at the street. Juniper Lane itself hasn't changed, even though Nadia knows for a fact that old Mrs. Craddock has joined the choir invisible and that her own parents have moved to some fancy old people's home in Fresno. The only substantial difference that she can spot is-
“No more garden gnomes,” Nadia says, and Mim jumps. “Sorry. Morning.”
“Morning.” Mim flaps a hand at the scene outside. “It's like time travel.”
“Kinda creepy,” Nadia says. “Were you dwelling on sins of the past?” She gives the Clausen-Godwin house a glare.
Mim doesn't notice. “Not really. Just… I guess,” Mim says, as a man Nadia has never seen before in her life sprints down the street and climbs the rose trellis up the side of the Neary house, “that woke me up.”
“Did the ghost of your aunt wake you up and tell you to come ogle the neighbors’ dirty laundry?” Nadia asks incredulously.
They watch as the man manages to scramble through a window. He’s barefoot and as far as Nadia can tell, he's wearing someone else’s shirt.
“She always did have a sense for this kind of thing,” Mim agrees.
Mrs. Warwick emerges from her house and throws a fallen branch over the fence between her yard and what used to be Nadia’s parents’ yard.
“Oh my god, I think she did the exact same thing last time I saw this,” Mim says. “With Ruth. God, this place never fucking changes.”
“Yeah,” Nadia says, mostly as punctuation. “Come on, let's go get breakfast.”
To sell a house on Juniper Lane you need the agreement of the entire street, a bunch of really complicated paperwork, a sacrificial poodle and a scroll signed in blood.
Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration. You could probably substitute cordon bleu for the poodle.
Although Mim was constantly, nervously, excessively involved for every step of the renovation, she delegates the task of actually selling the house to a real estate agent. She declares this to the Jewels of Juniper women with such confidence that Nadia is a little turned on.
They leave before anyone can invite them to dinner, or pry into their lives.
“God,” Mim says fervently. “I am so glad that that's over with.”
Nadia laughs. “Did you see their faces? I thought Gale was going to have a stroke.”
“No? I was imagining them naked,” Mim says, so utterly herself that it takes Nadia a moment to recognize the sarcasm.
“That is fucking gross, Mim. I don't want that image in my brain.”
“I saw Mrs. Warwick naked once.”
“I know,” Nadia says, shuddering. “It's been ten years and you still bring it up.”
“Ruth was with me when I saw that,” Mim says. She goes a little quiet, like she does every time Ruth comes up in conversation. “She was happy for her. You know, for realizing her lesbian potential. Or something.”
Nadia raises her eyebrows.
“Okay, so mostly she thought it was hilarious,” Mim admits. She glances over at Nadia. “But she was nice about it.”
“Eyes on the road,” Nadia says. She stretches. “Shit, I'm tired. Wake me up when we get there, okay?”
“Sure, I'll wake you up when we get to the graveyard,” Mim says drily.
Mim huffs. “Love you too.”
The trees by the side of the road are turning red. Ohio in the fall is beautiful, although Mim thinks it will always be sad for her. Then again, maybe she'll move past it someday.
Nadia snuffles in the passenger seat. Mim turns on the radio, fiddling with the channels until she finds something tolerable. She lowers the volume so as not to wake her wife and checks the GPS on her phone. An hour until their destination.
And then home.