Chapter 10 Summary

Ruth imagines an alternate reality in which her mother did not commit suicide. In this version of her life, Helen and the girls visit with their grandmother and then drive back home. As the girls grow older, they notice their mother’s oddness and it brings them closer. Ruth knows that such a reality would deprive them of knowing how their mother struggled; how she came close to suicide and decided against it for their sake. In reality, Helen was distant and distracted the day she dropped the girls off on Sylvia’s porch. Looking back, Ruth can see in her mother the odd calm of someone who has resolved to end her life. Even at her young age, Ruth understands that some of what makes memories of her mother special to her is that fact that her mother is gone. In death, Helen has become transfigured in a way that wouldn’t have happened if she had stayed alive.

Sylvie senses that she is on the verge of losing Ruth and tries to present a new respectable front to the Fingerbone community. She starts a large bonfire in the back of the house and burns all of the newspapers and magazines she has collected that have been cluttering up the house. Feeling that the neighbors are watching their every move, Sylvie periodically remarks loudly about how well they are doing. She tells Ruth that she is going to give her a makeover—some new clothes, a new hairstyle—all of the things that will make them appear normal to Fingerbone. She also insists that Ruth will start going to church while Sylvie will participate in other town activities. When Sylvie heads inside for more stuff to burn, Ruth runs off into the orchard. Sylvie returns looking for Ruth, but does not dare yell for her out of fear that someone might overhear her. When Sylvie looks in the orchard, Ruth continues to dodge her. Suddenly, the sheriff shows up asking about Ruth. Sylvie tries to cover for her absence by saying she has gone to bed. When the sheriff insists on looking in on Ruth, Sylvie must admit that she has run off somewhere. At this point, Ruth comes out of the orchard, and the sheriff asks her why she was running around at night without a jacket. He then tries to get Ruth to come home with him, but Ruth refuses (even when he tries to entice her with his wife’s cooking). Eventually, the sheriff departs, vowing to return the next day.