The life of a desperate romantic has many twists and turns. Ruby always feels compelled to follow her heart, and she sees romance in everything around her. Every sight, sound, and sensation captivates her. Her love of life leads her forever onward in a reverie of dance and song. So when her marriage disintegrates, Ruby staggers off into the great unknown to rebuild her life.
Then she meets an old grandpa named Joe, and the two embark on a journey of adventure and romance, two oldies who simply won't act their age. Far from settling down into a sedentary lifestyle, they dare to chase their dreams right to the end.
In When Everything Changes, Change Everything, author Karen Elizabeth Russell tells a tale that celebrates the twilight years. Through Ruby and Joe she shows that, for those who feel the best in life as passed them by, daring to live is the only viable option.
|Publisher:||Balboa Press Australia|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.12(d)|
Read an Excerpt
When Everything Changes, Change Everything
By Karen Elizabeth Russell
Balboa PressCopyright © 2015 Karen Elizabeth Russell
All rights reserved.
Nothing lasts forever.
Old Ruby had lived a comfortable, satisfying life. However, everything changed the day her "lifelong" marriage disintegrated.
She staggered off into the great unknown to rebuild her life.
Her family and friends watched with mounting concern as Ruby swung precariously between despair and ecstasy. She made radical choices, some of which were potentially disastrous.
Ruby had always been a city girl. She moved to a small country town. She stopped dying her hair. She also stopped cutting her hair. The long grey tresses gave her the appearance of a green-eyed witch.
When everything changes, there is an opportunity to change everything, so Ruby flung herself willingly into the arms of an uncertain future.
She bought a small motorcycle and applied for her rider license. A year later, she traded in her bike for an old Cossack motorcycle with a sidecar attached. It bucked and weaved a little, but Ruby managed to tame it.
Her choice of abode was an abandoned wooden house that had seen better days. Ruby purchased it for land value only. It suited her perfectly. She named it Om Shanti, a Sanskrit name that invokes peace.
Grass grew through the floorboards, and the roof leaked. When it rained, Ruby placed her red enamel saucepans on the floor. She loved the sound of raindrops tinkling musically into the pots.
Red was Ruby's favourite party colour. Her feather boa was red. So was her garter. She had a red leather vest for special occasions. A special occasion didn't seem likely, but she lived in hope.
One day, Ruby found an old grandpa standing at the crossroads. He had sad eyes and a friendly smile. His name was Joe. Ruby revved her glorious motorcycle. She invited Joe for a ride in her sidecar. He said yes.
They rode towards the mountains, Joe clinging tightly to the sides of the sidecar. His grip loosened as daylight faded, and then he fell asleep.
Ruby was also feeling sleepy, so she pulled up outside an old pub. The pub looked warm and welcoming. Joe had started to snore. She shook him gently by the shoulder, and he woke with a start, staring at her wildly with vacant eyes. "Where the hell am I?" he squawked.
They booked a room for the night. There was a huge open fire burning brightly in the dining room. Ruby clapped her hands with delight.
They chatted cordially over dinner, and then Joe became depressingly glum. "Life isn't all beer and skittles, you know."
Ruby listened attentively as Joe spiralled downwards with bitter tales of unrequited love and lost opportunities. He poured out his heart until the clock struck midnight.
Ruby and Joe helped each other up the winding staircase, found their room, and collapsed in a heap on the double bed. Neither of them stirred until daybreak.
Country cafes cook bacon and eggs like nowhere else on earth. The dishevelled pair staggered across the street and found such a cafe. Wordlessly they tucked into breakfast until they were well satisfied.
Ruby leaned across the table towards Joe. "All that stuff you said last night," she began, "it's called living, Joe. It only hurts when you don't let it go."
"Bullshit!" growled Joe. "What would you know?"
Ruby held her ground. "I've been hurt too, Joe." She paused to gather her thoughts. "I tell you this: holding grudges makes you ugly. It's like drinking poison."
Joe's demeanour hardened with controlled anger.
"Is that so?" he retorted sharply.
Ruby swept the crumbs off the table with her napkin. She pushed back her chair and stood up. Their eyes were locked in silent combat. "Do you want to go home?"
"I'm in no hurry!" responded Joe. Ruby had ruffled his feathers, but she certainly wasn't boring. Besides, he hadn't done anything out of the ordinary for a very long time.
Joe heaved himself back into the sidecar. Ruby revved her beloved motorcycle into action. They headed out of town towards who knows where.
"Thank you for the bliss! Thank you for the wild unknown!" Ruby made up the words and set them to her own tune. She sang them into the visor of her helmet, and they echoed in her ears. Joe glanced at her every now and then, occasionally shaking his head.
Mesmerised by the endless vista of red dirt, paddocks, and gum trees, Ruby's powers of concentration became addled. She pulled over near a bridge and nodded towards a green patch of vegetation. "Let's rest," she said simply. Joe nodded.
They crawled through a fence with great difficulty. Ruby's arthritic hip was playing up, and Joe had a bad back. Arm in arm, they limped towards the creek and surveyed the grassy verge. At close quarters, it didn't look very inviting. They both groaned in pain as their limbs connected with the unforgiving surface. Ruby rested her head against Joe's belly and moments later drifted into deep slumber.
In spite of the hard ground, it was a long time before Ruby stirred. With a start, she realized she was alone. Her head was resting on Joe's rolled-up jacket, and the sun had slipped behind the horizon. In a panic, she struggled to her feet. Her whole body ached. Where was Joe?
She spotted him leaning over the railing of the bridge. His frame was silhouetted against the backdrop of a glorious sunset. He clicked his heels and saluted.
It was almost midnight by the time they arrived back at Ruby's place.
"Better stay the night," she said. Joe nodded.
They spent the next day sitting in the backyard, indulging in idle chatter. Ruby chattered, and Joe mainly listened.
"I wish I had a platform built high above my rooftop." Ruby sighed ecstatically. "I would write amazing novels and drink red wine with a knight in shining armour."
"Is that so?" muttered Joe.
"I could see rows of chimney pots from up there. I love watching smoke rising out of chimney pots." Ruby clasped her hands together. "Do you know what's so great about growing old, Joe?"
"We've got time on our side. Time to sit beside the fire; time to write; time to dance in the garden. Do you like growing old, Joe?"
"When are you going home, Joe?"
Joe held out his hand and caught a large raindrop. "When this shower passes."
"Oh! Is it raining?" Ruby looked skyward at the black clouds scudding above. The rain shower developed into a dramatic storm and persisted for three days.
"Your roof leaks!" Joe stared up at the rivulets of water streaming through the ceiling.
Ruby gathered up her red enamel pots and placed them strategically on the floor. "It only leaks when it rains, Joe. Besides, just listen to this marvellous raindrop symphony. Plink, plonk, plunk! Isn't it great?"
Joe stared at her long and hard. "You're just a young girl with wrinkles, aren't you?" They both laughed.
Ruby cooked up a big pot of spaghetti bolognaise for dinner. "I love eating spaghetti bolognaise on a night like this. It sort of goes with rain on the roof and open fires."
"I suppose it does," mumbled Joe as he sucked up a long spaghetti strand. It swirled and kicked like a worm, splashing bolognaise sauce all over his shirt. "I haven't done that since I was a kid," he said with a chuckle. Ruby sponged him down with a wet cloth.
After dinner, Ruby sat at one end of the lounge and rested her feet across Joe's thighs. "Joe," she said pleadingly, "I've got these little sore spots on the bottom of my feet. Would you mind rubbing them for me?"
Joe encircled her feet with his large rough hands and gently rubbed the soles with his thumbs. "Ohhhhhh!" groaned Ruby ecstatically. "That feels so good!" Her chattering ceased. All she could manage was an occasional delirious moan.
It seemed quite natural to snuggle up in bed together each night. Who really cares? thought Ruby with a giggle. She particularly enjoyed wrapping herself around Joe's back. It was such a primal, comforting thing to do.
The three days passed quickly. When they awoke on the fourth morning, the sun was high in the sky. Ruby served brunch in the garden. "Will you be going home today, Joe?"
There was a long awkward silence before Joe responded. "I'd like to mend your roof first."
Ruby kissed Joe on the end of the nose. "That's very kind."
Such a clattering and banging emanated from the rooftop over the next couple of days. Joe was out of sight most of the time. He laboured under adverse conditions somewhere between the two roof peaks and adjoining chimney stack.
"Joe, what are you doing up there?" yelled Ruby towards the end of the second day.
Joe peered over the edge of the roof, grinning. "Fixing leaks!" It was almost dark when he climbed wearily down the ladder.
After dinner, Joe kept peering through the sitting room window. "What are you looking at, Joe?" Ruby was curious.
Moments passed. "Ah! There it is!" Joe took Ruby by the hand and led her outside.
A huge orange moon was rising up beyond the horizon. Joe placed his hands on Ruby's shoulders and propelled her towards the ladder. He nudged her up, rung by rung, towards the rooftop. She climbed over the edge and lay sprawled against the corrugated iron. Joe clambered up beside her.
"Crawl this way," he whispered. She crawled beside him towards the chimney stack. He pulled her to her feet, covered her eyes with his hands, and jostled her through the opening between the two roof peaks.
She felt his lips hot on her cheek. His hands gripped her shoulders. "Open your eyes!" he whispered huskily.
There, between the two roof peaks, lay a large wooden platform. "It's a castle!" explained Joe.
"Of course it is! Oh, Joe, I think I'm going to cry!" Ruby clung to the old grandpa and giggled wetly against his neck.
Joe disentangled Ruby firmly, leant down, and produced two folding chairs from beneath the frame. He also produced a small esky.
"Sit!" Ruby obeyed without question as Joe reached into the esky and, with a flourish, produced a bottle of red wine and two glasses. Ruby was mesmerized by the rich colour as it swirled into the sparkling glasses. They clinked their goblets together and drank deeply.
The bewitching moon rose above the rooftops, and a mopoke broke the silence. Joe mimicked the call of the mopoke in reply.
A rascally breeze danced around the strange couple. Their laughter echoed amongst the chimney stacks. The moon shone its magical light over all.
As they consumed the last drop of wine, the night breeze was cool upon their arms. Ruby shivered. It was time to leave their rooftop paradise. Therein lay a great challenge. Ruby couldn't even imagine how she could possibly return the way she had come. "Oh, Joe! I'm scared! What if I fall?"
Joe led poor Ruby to the edge of the roof. She peered over the edge and panicked. "No! No, I'm not ready! I've had too much to drink, and my hip is hurting. Oh dear!" She twisted onto one side and stuck her foot over the edge towards the ladder. "Oh no!" she cried again. "Oh, Joe! What will I do?"
Poor Joe tried to comfort her with encouraging words. It made no difference. "Wait here!" He backed awkwardly towards the top of the ladder, lowered his leg onto the top rung, and slowly disappeared from sight.
Ruby pushed herself away from the edge and sat hugging herself for warmth. Moments passed as she stared out over the backyard. In spite of her dilemma, she couldn't help feeling a little thrill deep inside. How marvellous! How beautiful everything looked from up here, bathed in moonlight.
Joe reappeared at the top of the ladder with a thick rug. She thankfully wrapped it around her body and felt immediate comfort. "Thank you, Joe."
"I've called for help. You'll be all right." Joe patted her foot and slid out of sight again.
The moon reflected off the corrugated iron and bewitched Ruby with its glow. There were night sounds of creaking, rustling, and the occasional mopoke. Ruby stared and stared in wonder. Her heart swelled with awe at the fullness of her life. Was there ever a woman as blessed as she?
Flashing red lights and unimaginable commotion startled her from her reverie. Something amazing was noisily happening down below, just out of her sight. A strange platform rose up above the edge of the roof, upon which loomed the outline of a huge firefighter. Ruby was immediately enchanted. If this was a dream, it felt very real. Strong arms swept her up as though she was a small child. She gazed up into the handsome young face looking down at her. Her heart fluttered. "Oh, how beautiful you are!" she cried ecstatically.
For a few moments, Ruby felt like Cinderella in a golden carriage as she and the firefighter descended slowly to the ground. It was one of Ruby's grandest moments.
The first cup of tea following high adventure is always the sweetest. Ruby and Joe clutched their mugs with reverent hands and savoured every drop before retiring wearily to Ruby's warm bed. Sleep encircled them like black velvet.
"When are you going home, Joe?" enquired Ruby over breakfast.
"After lunch. Sometime after lunch." Joe spread butter thickly on his toast.
Lunchtime came and went. Joe pulled out some weeds in the afternoon and repaired a broken drawer. He stayed for dinner. It seemed sensible to stay another night.
"Where do you live, Joe?"
"Oh, here and there. All depends!" he replied over his shoulder as he walked into the garden. Ruby watched from the kitchen window as he stooped over the garden, pulling weeds and kissing the new seedlings. He kisses plants. Ruby was delighted. There was something strong and honest about the curve of Joe's back. She could tell he was a good man.
Later that morning, Ruby made a pot of tea. She called Joe, but there was no answer. She looked for him behind the tool-shed. He wasn't there either. Joe had gone. He had gone home, wherever that was. Ruby was startled to remember that she didn't know where Joe lived. She drank her cup of tea alone, sadly alone.
The next day, Ruby climbed aboard her beloved motorcycle and rode to the crossroads. Joe wasn't there. She rode slowly around the town. Joe was nowhere to be seen. Never mind, she thought. I'm sure he will visit me again. Days and weeks passed. No Joe.
The summer heat was oppressive, so Ruby decided to escape the heat by visiting her three sons and families. They all lived far away, so she would need to fly from one to the other. She booked her plane fares and packed her bags. Her plan was to stay with each family for one week.
Before locking the house, Ruby wrote a large note on cardboard and pinned it to the veranda post. "I miss you, Joe. Please come back." Surely she would see him again. The taxi arrived and whisked her off to the airport.
Ruby's family had multiplied dramatically over the years. She was blessed with many grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren. The thought of spending quality time with loved ones filled her with delight.
The days and nights were filled with chatter and much laughter. She went for long walks with each of her beloved sons, catching up on all their dreams and schemes. Her grandchildren enchanted her with their optimism and vigour. She bribed them to rub her poor aching shoulders each night before she went to bed. She could feel the love of family warming her heart at every turn. How she adored these glorious beings.
Three weeks flashed by rapidly. Her eyes were filled with happy tears as she boarded the last plane home. Home! How sweet it is! Her home was her haven. It had a way of exuding a welcoming perfume when she entered.
Ruby was wearier than usual when the taxi dropped her off. She needed an afternoon nap. The note to Joe was still attached to the post. It was weathered and the ink had faded. No sign of Joe.
Christmas came and went. The summer heat was sapping Ruby's energy. She spent many midday hours resting quietly on her bed beside a fan. She stayed indoors as much as possible and achieved very little. Every now and then, she peered through the kitchen window, imagining that Joe was in the garden.
The constant humming of the fan began to fuel Ruby's imagination. Her fantasies ebbed and flowed with the heat of the day, and she started writing stories in her head—lots of stories. Her muse wouldn't leave her alone. It was time to start writing again. Ruby was a writer. She was born to write. It was like living with a bittersweet curse. The stories thundered in her brain until she could bear it no more. She struggled off the bed and into the study. Settling into her office chair, she flipped open the computer lid and began to write.
Excerpted from When Everything Changes, Change Everything by Karen Elizabeth Russell. Copyright © 2015 Karen Elizabeth Russell. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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