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Ruby between the cracks, p.17
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.17

           P.D. Workman
 

  * * *

  Marty sat beside Ruby’s bed, bouncing Stella on her knee.

  “So did they say the baby was okay?” she questioned.

  Ruby shrugged.

  “They didn’t say anything.”

  “It was another girl, like the ultrasound said?”

  “Yeah. A girl,” Ruby said curtly.

  “Are they going to bring her in?”

  “I hope not. I told them I didn’t want to see her.”

  “Is Jamie coming to pick her up?”

  “I haven’t called him yet.”

  “Do you want me to call him?” Marty offered.

  “No. Not yet.”

  Marty rolled her eyes.

  “You’re being so difficult. So are you going to get your tubes tied?”

  Ruby looked at Marty, frowning.

  “What?”

  “Get your tubes tied. So you can’t get pregnant a third time.”

  “What do you mean?”

  Marty cocked her head to the side.

  “You know; your fallopian tubes. It’s an operation that keeps you from getting pregnant. Ever. But you can’t get it reversed later, if you decide you want kids when you’re thirty or something.”

  “How come you never told me about that before?” Ruby demanded, leaning toward Marty.

  “I thought you knew all about it. And I didn’t think you were going to get pregnant again after Stella.”

  “Well, I didn’t plan on it,” Ruby muttered. She lay still and didn’t say anything else, eyes brooding.

  Marty’s mom came in.

  “Hi, girls,” she greeted with a smile, and she sat on the other side of the bed from Marty. A few minutes later, a nurse came in with the new baby. She handed the baby to Ruby.

  “Baby’s hungry, mom. Time to feed her.”

  Ruby tried to hand her back.

  “Give her a bottle.”

  “She needs to nurse. Nothing’s as good as mother’s milk.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I don’t do that.”

  The nurse opened Ruby’s robe, exposing her chest. Ruby reddened and clutched it shut, trying to handle the baby and keep the nurse back.

  Mrs. Rodger stood up.

  “Why don’t you just let Ruby get comfortable with the baby first,” she suggested.

  The nurse frowned, but left the room. Ruby sat there awkwardly with the baby.

  “Do you want to hold it?” she questioned Marty.

  Marty nodded. Her mom took Stella, and Ruby handed the new baby to Marty. Marty beamed, holding the newborn on her lap.

  “Oh, she’s precious,” Marty murmured. “She’s so tiny. I forget that Stella was ever so small.”

  Marty unswaddled the baby, stroking her skin. The baby stared up at her placidly. Ruby watched the TV in the corner of the room rather than the baby. She smoothed out her hospital gown carefully.

  “Hey, Mom,” Marty said. “Did you see she has webbed toes?”

  “Does she? That’s funny. It runs in your father’s family. I was surprised that you didn’t, actually.”

  “Come look at her, Mom. She’s so sweet.”

  Mrs. Rodger got up and stood over Marty’s shoulder, looking on.

  “She looks just like you did when you were born,” she breathed, “just exactly the same.”

  “She sure doesn’t look like Stella. I don’t see any resemblance.”

  “No. Neither one takes after Ruby.”

  “Must look like daddy,” Marty agreed. Her mom nodded slowly.

  Jamie took the baby from Ruby once they got out of the hospital. He looked down at her, marveling.

  “Oh, she’s just beautiful,” he cooed.

  “She’s yours.”

  “Well, you can come by any time to see her.”

  “Marty’s mom knows some lawyer who does guardianship and stuff. Whatever you want, I’ll sign it.”

  “Okay. I’ll talk to her about it,” Jamie agreed, looking at her.

  “Yeah.”

  “You’re still going to come over, right?” Jamie checked. “You’re not going to stop just because I’ve got the baby?”

  “Yeah, I’ll come over sometime. You get tired of her, just call Social Services.”

  “I won’t get tired of her,” Jamie said irritably. “You know I love babies.”

  Ruby shrugged.

  “Whatever.”

  Marty was sitting in the front room watching TV while looking after Stella. Her mom was in the bedroom. Her father walked in the front door and acknowledged Marty and went into the bedroom where her mother was. Marty muted the TV and listened to them.

  “What’re you doing?” her father questioned.

  “Looking through Marty’s baby pictures.”

  “Why?”

  “She was such a cute baby, wasn’t she?”

  “Sure.”

  “But she never looked like me—she always looked like your side of the family.”

  He grunted.

  “Strong genes.”

  “Ruby’s baby looks just like Marty did when she was a baby.”

  “Yeah?”

  “She could be Marty’s sister, they look so much alike.”

  There was silence. Neither of them said anything. Marty looked down at Stella, her stomach tightening. Ruby had always been paranoid about Marty’s dad. She’d always been worried about the way that he looked at her; she wouldn’t stay in the same room with him. Marty had never believed that he would ever touch Ruby. She had thought that Ruby was just being paranoid. She tried to decide whether to get up and join the conversation. But she couldn’t think of what to say.

  “What’re you saying?” her father said finally.

  “Tell me you’re not the father of Ruby’s baby.”

  Again there was a period of silence. After a while, her father spoke.

  “I don’t think that the baby could be mine.”

  “But you don’t know for sure.”

  “No, I couldn’t say for sure.”

  “How could you do that? You know how confused Ruby is. She’s vulnerable. You can’t take advantage of her like that!”

  He said nothing. Marty went to her bedroom to get Stella’s stroller and went out for a walk.

  Ruby was a little nervous going back to the gang after having the baby. Especially after going into labor right there in Tim’s apartment. This time she was going to talk to the doctor about what Marty had said—about getting her tubes tied so that she couldn’t get pregnant again. Whatever happened, she did not want to end up getting pregnant again. She was never going to get married and decide to have kids when she was thirty. Someone should have told her about that before she got pregnant with Stella.

  Ruby walked into the arcade, looking around carefully for any gang members other than Jags. Ruby plugged change into one of the games and played half-heartedly for a while. Her mind wasn’t really on the game.

  “Looking for some action?” someone said from behind her. Ruby turned, recognizing Jack’s voice.

  “Sure. What’s up?”

  “Nothing yet. I’m sure we could stir something up.”

  “Sure.”

  “Let’s go get a drink.”

  Ruby nodded and went with him. He put his arm through hers as he always did when he was taking her somewhere. Ruby always thought it odd that Tim or one of the other boys would put his arm around Ruby’s waist, or in her back pocket, or around her neck, but Jack escorted her like a gentleman, his arm through hers or his hand lightly on her back. He had been taught, sometime, how to treat a girl. The rest of his training had disappeared. He was rough and cold and rude. He was mean and vicious. He was rarely gentle or kind. But he still took her by the arm instead of around the waist, and she had once heard him call an old woman “ma’am,” though he’d never met her before. Ruby walked with Jack to a pub that was open all day.

  It was the first time that Marty had even considered not going home. Finding out about Ruby and her dad wa
s just too much. He knew how much Ruby had gone through, the struggles that she had with her life, the way she always got entangled with boys. He had heard all about it—he definitely knew about Ruby having Stella! There was no way he could say that he didn’t think it was wrong. But he’d done it. And Marty knew that Ruby would never have gotten involved with him willingly. Ruby was afraid of him, paranoid about even being in the same room with him. She wouldn’t be left alone in a room if she knew he was in the house. She wouldn’t shower if she knew that he was around, and Ruby was fanatical about her showers. How long had something been going on?

  When it started to get dark, Marty knew she had to figure out whether she was going home or not. She had Stella with her, and she really wasn’t sure about going to a shelter or something. She finally sat down in a mall with Stella and thought. She opened her phone and did a 411 search.

  An hour later she was at Jamie’s apartment. They both walked around on eggshells, extremely awkward.

  “Thanks for letting me come,” Marty said. “I couldn’t go home and I didn’t know what to do—with Stella.”

  “Why not?”

  Marty bit her lip.

  “I really can’t talk about it. I have to sort things out for a bit. But thank you.”

  “Aw, no trouble. The couch is a hide-a-bed. Just pull it out and you and Stella can share it, I have to get to bed, because Sheree just got off to sleep and she’ll have me up in a few hours.”

  Marty nodded.

  “I remember what that’s like. Thanks again.”

  Jamie nodded, and went to bed. Marty laid in the hide-a-bed wide awake, thinking about her father and Ruby, and thinking about Jamie sleeping in the other room and what he must think about her. She didn’t trust him and didn’t like him, yet he was the only one she could think to call when she needed something.

  In the morning, Marty sat with the baby, Sheree. Ruby’s second baby. Maybe her half-sister. She studied Sheree’s features, looking for similarities, for familiar nuances. As a child, she’d always dreamt about having a baby sister. She’d imagined a baby, imagined what she would look at, poured over her own baby pictures for hours. The doctors had removed the webbing between Sheree’s toes, but there was that too. Her mother had not doubted that Sheree was Marty’s father’s baby.

  “Umm, are you staying?” Jamie questioned.

  Marty tried to think of what to do.

  “Uh—no. I’ll find somewhere else to go. It’s okay.”

  “You’re still not going home?”

  “No.”

  “Why don’t you stay here, then?”

  “Are you sure you wouldn’t mind?”

  “Not at all. In fact, if you want to take care of Sheree, I’ll pay you to stay.”

  “I’ll take care of her. You don’t have to pay me anything.”

 
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