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Entries in Buddha (1)

Sunday
Dec182011

I Wanted Her to Go Kicking and Screaming

(Watch and listen to Wendy reading "I Wanted Her to Go Kicking and Screaming" at a 2013 St. Paul Almanac Lit Festival reading.)

Instead, Ruby lied, crafted a story of shells and salt, Buddha and incense. As if in a trance, she spoke not a word when she brushed my cheek with her wispy lips. When will you come back? I asked as I pushed stray hairs off her forehead, anything to touch her, to keep a hold of her. I reached for her hand and instinctively felt for the ring I’d given her in the spring, but she pulled her hand away before I could feel its absence.

She never answered my question. She flashed a brief grimace of a smile, glanced at the giant airport lobby clock, and she was off through security, piling her backpack filled with her sole possessions into a grey tub on the conveyor belt. She passed barefoot through the metal detector, never looking back.

That was in November, a year after my promotion to grain consulting manager and the 60-hour work week, a year before I joined AA and surrendered to the Higher Power, and two years before I met and married my wife.

It was seven years before I saw Ruby again.

My wife, our three-year-old daughter, and I were at the Minnesota Zoo and had stopped along the Northern Trail. Families of wild Asian horses and Bactrian camels lounged in the grass stubble of their enclosures, lazing in the Indian summer sun. Did they have any clue that they lived the royal, free-lunch life of captivity? Or that their wild, peasant ancestors, the few that survived on the wind-swept steppes of Mongolia, had to fend for themselves? I couldn’t decide who had the better life, the coddled captives or the barbaric beasts. My wife told me to not think so hard, Honey, relax. It’s just a zoo. She was right. Come on, Daddy, said my daughter. They moved on ahead to see the prairie dogs while I went back to the refreshment stand to grab us some drinks and a snow cone—grape—my daughter’s favorite.

There she was, ordering a Coke. I was ninety-nine percent sure it was Ruby. Sunglasses, the movie star kind with thick, black rims and gold embellishments rested on the bridge of her nose—her nose with the little crook in it, the nose I used to suck on with my lips, nibble with my teeth, and stroke with my tongue. She’d bleached her hair. Instead of going gray and in spite of her Czech blood, she’d chosen to go Swedish and it gave her a sexy, coquettish look. It reminded me of when we first met, back in college over summer breaks when we used to lifeguard together at the rec center pool, but then it was natural, burned blond by chlorine  and the Midwestern sun.

I tapped her on the shoulder.

Oh, my god, Ruby said.

My thoughts exactly. I was right. Lady Lazarus stood before me, but instead of the foul rancidness of four days’ rot, a field full of lilies of the valley blossomed invisibly around her. My cock stiffened.

She pushed her sunglasses up and over the top of her curling hair and with her jaw agape, she stared as if to verify what she’d seen through the Polaroid lenses.

I asked her how long she’d been back in town. She pulled her glasses back down and grabbed her Coke. She said, a while, and stepped back from the stand.

She invited me to sit on a bench in the shade with her, but by then I had two Cokes and a melting glob of ice in a soggy paper cone balanced in my hands. Couldn’t she see I had other plans, other responsibilities? I fumbled with the snow cone and spilled some of the purple syrup on my sandal as I explained that I had to catch up with my “group.”

She looked at me suspiciously from the corner of her glasses.

The familiar lull of Ruby’s voice and a peek at those doe eyes of hers made me want to confess my sins and forgive any misunderstandings there’d been between us years ago: my growing neglect of her, the drinking, her flirting, my jealousy. I loved her, asked her to marry me, but if this was love, she sure as hell didn’t want to get married. I’d work less, quit the booze, give her space, but unless she moved to the other side of the planet, I wouldn’t let her go.

All forgiven, all forgotten.

I wanted to nuzzle into the girlish ringlets that haloed her face and inhale her perfume. I wanted to find out what adventures she’d had without me in Asia over the last seven years. Had she found herself? God? Was it all worth leaving me?

I asked her to meet for drinks after work the next day. She winced, sipped on the Coke, and shrugged her shoulders. I suggested I give her a call and just as I asked for her number, I heard a man’s voice call her name from behind us.

I gotta go, she said.

I blurted out, Exactly how long have you been back in town?

I never left.

You never went to Thailand?

Ruby slowly shook her head.

She set her face flat towards me and grimaced just like she did in the airport. More syrup dripped across my toes.

Coming, Ruby called back over her shoulder to the man’s voice as she stood up. She skipped around me where she ringed her arm with another man’s and walked away barefoot, never looking back.

 

Unfortunately, some online lit mags evaporate into cyberspace and along with them, writers' hard-earned stories. This flash fiction piece once appeared in Verbumcavus. Now, it only appears here! Thanks to inspiration from The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field (see my previous blogs!).