In heaven, Ruby continues telling Eddie her story. On one Fourth of July, some drunken workers accidentally set Ruby Pier on fire. Emile saw the entrance columns, marked by Ruby’s name and picture, bursting into flames, and he ran in to “salvage his years of work.” But the columns collapsed on him, and the park burnt to the ground. Emile and Ruby sold the ruined park, which was later rebuilt with the same name. Though they found a home away from the ocean and had three children, Emile was permanently crippled and depressed, and they had lost most of their money. Ruby cared diligently for Emile, and passed the years lamenting that Emile had ever built the park in the first place. Ruby then announces to Eddie that her purpose now is to tell Eddie how his father died.
Eddie has always aspired to greater means and achievement than he has found in his life at Ruby Pier. Yet the story of Emile and Ruby serves as a parable for how achievements and wealth can be easily lost—human structures and material gain can literally go up in flames. While Emile felt compelled to transform his love for Ruby into a physical monument, objects can never replace true devotion. Emile allows this loss to destroy his spirits, despite the fact that Ruby herself is still present, and the power Ruby Pier had for Emile was merely symbolic.
The story flashes back to the night of Eddie’s thirty-third birthday. Eddie’s father is in the hospital with pneumonia, which started a week before with a bad cough from a drunken night on the beach. Eddie’s mother is deeply distressed, and she hardly ever leaves her husband’s hospital room. Eddie and Marguerite spend all of their time taking care of his mother, while Eddie tries to help out financially by taking over his father’s maintenance work each night after driving his taxi. In the hospital, Eddie’s only communication with his barely conscious father is to show him the track grease on his hands from doing his maintenance work.
Despite his father’s lifelong abuse, Eddie’s loyalty compels him to temporarily let go of his anger in order to make the sacrifices needed to support his parents. His love for his mother further compels him, and his mother loves his father and relies on him financially—so to help his mother, Eddie has to help his father. Eddie’s mother’s attachment to her husband despite his violent character represents another stereotypically feminine ideal of unconditional devotion.
When Eddie’s father finally dies from the pneumonia, Eddie only feels the “emptiest kind of anger.” He had wished his father would die a more meaningful or heroic death to make up for the unsympathetic, mundane way he spent his life. Eddie goes to his father’s house and rummages for something of his to keep. He takes a deck of playing cards with him.
Although Eddie deeply resents his father, he still sees himself in him, and Eddie’s self-conception would be validated if his father had died a more heroic death. That he takes the deck of playing cards shows that he still wants a connection with his father, even after everything he has done to him—but the only thing he can think of as a suitable token is something representing gambling and drunkenness.
All through Eddie’s life, he has tried to avoid the fate of working at Ruby Pier like his father. When Eddie was young and planned to go to engineering school, and later when he came back from the war and drove a taxi, his father mocked his disinterest in Ruby Pier, saying, “This ain’t good enough for you?” After his father’s death, Eddie’s mother starts to lose touch with reality, and Eddie and Marguerite decide to move in with her. Eddie starts working full-time at Ruby Pier, because the park’s proximity to his mother’s apartment lets him look after her better. Despite all of his desires to create a different life for himself, he is doing the same job as his father—and he feels an immense sense of failure.
Destiny appears to be against Eddie, as he has always dreaded the possibility that he might live out his life at Ruby Pier, and yet that is exactly what he ends up doing. Eddie’s hatred for his father further adds to his resentment of Ruby Pier—the park isn’t just a symbol of stasis, but also a place associated with the one person who has hurt Eddie the most. Though he is stuck at Ruby Pier, however, Eddie’s life isn’t over. His relationships with his mother and Marguerite give him purpose and connection.