Ruby

Ruby (Published by Flashquake, 2011)

By the time Ruby was twenty-eight, she had four sons: Big Bastard, Little Bastard, Weasel, and Psycho. Those weren’t their real names of course, but that’s how she referred to them in her head and occasionally out loud. She lived in a Cracker Jack box on a postage stamp backed up against wooded acreage, none of which she owned, but all of which had been peed on by at least one of her boys. She lived confidently knowing that her territory was well marked.

The two-year-old was running naked around the back yard. The three older boys fell over, like a pack of laughing hyenas, when Little Bastard’s penis erupted in a spray of yellow.

“Ruby,” Psycho yelled, “He’s peeing on Barney.”

Her three oldest had referred to Ruby by her first name ever since she had a meltdown in the bathroom stall at Wal-Mart and ordered them to, “Quit calling Mom, Mom, Mom!”

Ruby stuck her head out of the screenless kitchen window and caught a glimpse of the black lab running for cover. “Hose off the dog,” she ordered.

“He already got hosed,” Psycho replied and, like fireworks, the laughter exploded again.

Ruby lit a cigarette and watched her youngest toddle naked after the dog. His legs and behind were covered with dirt . . . at least she hoped it was dirt. “Hose off the baby too,” she yelled, and under her breath, “Goddamn Little Bastard.” She closed the window and took a seat at the kitchen table next to her ashtray and stack of National Enquirers. She was just learning how John Travolta had given birth to an alien, when the baby wandered in, soaking wet and crying. She heaved a sigh as heavy as her breasts. “What?” She asked.

He held his small hands in the air and Ruby hoisted his wet cold body onto her lap, sliding a bowl of M & Ms within his reach. “Have yourself a little sugar high,” she said. “You’ll feel better soon.”

Psycho appeared at the door, “Hey, why does he get candy?”

“’Cause he doesn’t bug the crap out of me, that’s why. Go back outside. I’ll make lunch in a few minutes.”

“Can I have Doritos?”

Ruby nodded and her boy fled, smiling.

She slid the baby off her lap and began half-heartedly smearing peanut butter on white bread. She was piling them on a paper plate when she heard the scream. She was used to screaming; it ceased to register alarm. She lit another cigarette and began digging juice boxes out of the fridge when Psycho reappeared on the porch.

Panting and pale, he blurted, “Ronnie fell out of the tree, and his leg bone is sticking all the way out of his skin!”

Ruby stood, staring purposefully into her son’s eyes; her instinct was as good as any lie detector. The boy met her gaze with a leveled stare. “Shit!” Ruby grabbed the phone and ran. She hadn’t run since she turned out for track in the seventh grade and even then her courageous attempt at athletics only lasted two weeks. She tried out for the team to satisfy a massive crush she had on Mr. Daley, the sprint coach. Fourteen days into it, she found out he was engaged; she quit track and solidified her life as a couch potato.

Her lungs felt like wet garbage bags, heavy and thick. By the time she reached the tree, she had already barked orders to the 911 operator in exasperated gasps.

She knelt by her son and held his hand. “You’re fine,” she whispered, over and over. So intent on her chanting, she didn’t hear the sirens or see the paramedic approach.

“What’s his name?” the paramedic asked, squatting next to the injured boy.

“Ronnie,” Ruby’s voice cracked. “Ronald James Spencer.”

She slid back; a tear balanced on the rim of her eyelid, then slid slowly to the crease beside her nose. Holding both hands over her mouth, she mumbled to herself, “What were you thinking? Weasels can’t climb trees.”

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