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Ruby between the cracks, p.22
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       Ruby Between the Cracks, p.22

           P.D. Workman
 

  * * *

  Ruby walked up and down between the parallel bars countless times, until her legs refused to hold her any longer. Dickenson stood her up several times, but Ruby’s legs only buckled. He shouted at her to work harder, and Ruby managed to stay up for a second before collapsing. He finally conceded and carried her over to one of the gymnastics mats, where he laid her down and rubbed her feet and legs to stimulate the nerves.

  “You’re making progress,” he encouraged. “Last week there’s no way you could have gone for so long. It won’t be much longer before you can throw away that walker.”

  “Umm.”

  “Don’t get lazy on me, Simpson. A short “yes sir” will do.”

  “Y-y-yess-ssir.”

  “Yes sir.”

  “Y-yes s-s-sir.”

  “Good. We’re going to have to work on “Mr. Dickenson”.”

  “F-f-firs n-n-n…”

  “Mr. Dickenson.”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “F-firsst n-name.”

  “No short-cuts, Simpson. As far as you are concerned, I have no first name. Mr. Dickenson.”

  Ruby rolled her eyes. She grunted when he pushed her knee up to her chest.

  “M-m-mis-s-ster D-d-d…” the word dissolved into something unrecognizable. Dickenson laughed.

  “Dickenson,” he pronounced, and brought her other knee up to her chest.

  “D-dick!” Ruby said strongly.

  He grinned.

  “You’ll get there,” he promised. He relaxed her legs and pulled her into a sitting position. Ruby leaned forward with her hands on the mat between her wide-spread legs, and stayed balanced. Dickenson went over to the colorful shelves on the other side of the room, and got out a shapes activity board. He removed the puzzle pieces and put the pieces and board in front of Ruby. He picked up the stopwatch on a string around his neck.

  “Go.”

  Ruby didn’t move.

  “D-don’ t-t-time.”

  “Clock’s ticking. You’d better get started.”

  “N-no,” she insisted.

  “Why not?”

  “P-p-prac-t-t-tice.”

  “You want to do a practice run first?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Okay.”

  Ruby slowly picked up each of the pieces and maneuvered them into the matching holes. A couple of times she used both hands to get them into place, but she didn’t drop any of them. Dickenson nodded.

  “Good job.”

  He dumped the pieces back out, and started the stopwatch. Ruby dropped the first one she picked up. She cornered it and fit it awkwardly into place. The next one she dropped three times.

  “Slow down,” Dickenson advised.

  Ruby threw one at him.

  “Sh-sh-shut-up!”

  He chuckled, and waited. Ruby fit the next three into place, but couldn’t get the last one properly settled into the hole. She struggled with it for a minute, and then threw the whole thing over, dumping out the pieces. Dickenson raised an eyebrow, looking at his stopwatch.

  “This is going to be the longest one yet.”

  Ruby stared at him, not moving. He waited, watching the clock. Ruby set the board upright again, and slowly picked up each of the pieces. A few minutes later, they were all in place. Dickenson stopped the clock, grinning.

  “Ten minutes. I would only have been six if you’d kept at that piece instead of having a temper tantrum.”

  Ruby swore.

  “Those words seem to come easy to you, don’t they?” Dickenson commented. “Why do you think that is?”

  Ruby considered it for a moment.

  “Sh-short.”

  “Maybe.”

  Ruby touched the board.

  “N-n-no m-more.”

  “You want to do something else?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Umm.”

  “Yes Mr. Dickenson,” he prompted.

  “Y-yes-s s-s-sir.”

  “There you go.”

  He picked up the board and went over to the shelves to find another activity.

  Charlie hung around Ruby’s room awkwardly, waiting for her to get back. The nurses said that she would be done her therapy in a few minutes. Charlie sat down on the bed, looking around the room.

  Ruby came back in using a walker and supported by her young occupational therapist. Ruby looked worn out. Dickenson helped her onto the bed and settled. He looked at Charlie.

  “She needs her rest. Now’s not a good time for visitors.”

  Ruby put her hand on Dickenson’s arm.

  “N-n-no. H-he s-s-stays.”

  “Don’t wear yourself out,” he warned.

  “N-no s-s-sir.”

  Dickenson grinned.

  “See you tomorrow, Ruby.”

  He left them alone. Charlie looked at Ruby and shrugged.

  “So how are you, sunshine?”

  “F-fine.” Ruby said, a little embarrassed. “G-get-t-ting b-b-bet-t-ter.”

  “Sorry I didn’t come sooner. I uh, don’t like hospitals…”

  “M-m-me n-n-nei-neither.” Ruby motioned for him to come closer. Charlie sat down on the edge of the bed, and took Ruby’s hand. “L-l-lonely.”

  “Not a great place to be for a person who doesn’t like to sleep alone, hey, baby?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I couldn’t believe it when the center told me what happened. I was just there—you were okay after the fight. I thought only old people had strokes.”

  “M-m-me t-too.”

  “You look okay, though. I was afraid half your face would be frozen and you’d be drooling or something.”

  Ruby faked a slack-jawed, cross-eyed, drooling face. Charlie laughed and relaxed a bit. He was ill at ease seeing her like that. Jails and rehab, he was familiar with, and they didn’t bother him. But hospitals were different. He was thoroughly uncomfortable there. He shifted and looked around.

  “You need some flowers or something, huh? This place looks like... like a hospital room.”

  Ruby nodded. She squeezed his hand.

  “P-p-pee-peet-t-ah.”

  Charlie looked at her, perplexed.

  “What?”

  Ruby concentrated, looking straight into his eyes, as if she could make him read her thoughts.

  “P-p-pizz-ah.”

  “Pizza?” he brightened suddenly. “Hey, you want me to order a pizza? Tired of the hospital food?”

  Ruby nodded, grinning.

  “Is it allowed?”

  She shrugged.

  “Can I call from here? Will this phone dial out?”

  Ruby shook her head and motioned to the hallway.

  “Okay. I’ll go find one, since I’m supposed to have my cell phone turned off. What kind do you want me to order?”

  Ruby gulped. What kind? She wasn’t even going to attempt “pepperoni” or “Hawaiian”. She shrugged. Any kind would be better than more instant potatoes.

  “Doesn’t matter? Okay. I’ll be right back.”

  Ruby closed her eyes and relaxed. She must have fallen asleep, because the next thing she knew, Charlie was shaking her gently.

  “Hey, sweetie. Supper’s here.”

  The pizza smelled heavenly. Ruby breathed it in deeply, stretching her tired limbs. She rubbed her eyes.

  “S-sorry.”

  “For falling asleep? That’s okay. I guess my scintillating conversation just isn’t quite enough to keep you interested today.”

  “N-no,” Ruby protested.

  Charlie wheeled the table over to Ruby’s bed so that she could eat over it. He put a couple of slices down on it, and Ruby painstakingly picked one up. She raised it to her mouth very slowly, trying not to make a mess. The first couple of bites were successful. Then she raised it too quickly and it collided with her chin and cheek.

  “Whoa, hang on,” Charlie grabbed one of the napkins and wiped the worst of the mess off of Ruby’s face. Ruby felt herself flushing.

 
“I’m-m m-m-mes-s-ssy.”

  “No problem,” Charlie raised his pizza as if to take a bite, and smeared tomato sauce on his nose. “So am I.”

  Ruby giggled, and picked up a napkin in her fist and aimed for his nose. She got some of the sauce, and laughed again. They both continued to eat their dinner, Charlie occasionally smearing pizza on his face, and once or twice intentionally getting extra sauce on Ruby’s face. A nurse came in with Ruby’s regular dinner, and looked at them. Ruby held her hand up to cover her mouth, and Charlie dove for a napkin to wipe his face.

  “Uh—we’ve eaten,” he advised, smothering a smile.

  “Have you ever! I certainly hope there is going to be a little left over for the nurses.”

  Ruby nodded, still hiding her face.

  “Of course,” Charlie agreed cheerfully. “Why, if there wasn’t, I’d have to order another one in, wouldn’t I?”

  “That’s the rule,” she said sternly, and she left again with the dinner tray. Charlie and Ruby looked at each other and laughed. Charlie finished the rest of his piece, looking at his watch.

  “Do you want more?”

  Ruby had also finished her last piece. She shook her head. Charlie packed up what was left, and took it out to the nurses. He stopped in at the small bathroom to check his face, and came out with a wet washcloth to take care of Ruby’s.

  “Let’s get the rest of this off,” he murmured, and he gently wiped away the encrusted sauce. Ruby smiled her thanks.

  “I’ll come by again in a few days,” he promised.

  “S-s-see’ya.”

  He gave her a quick kiss, and departed. Ruby laid in bed thinking about him.

  Ruby watched Stella while Marty went down to the cafeteria to have something to eat. Stella was sitting on the bed with her, facing Ruby, with a couple of toys between them. Ruby watched Stella’s movements and fiddled with the toys that Stella wasn’t playing with. It seemed like hardly any time had passed when Marty returned.

  “Hey, you guys look happy.”

  Ruby looked up.

  “H-hi.”

  Stella looked up at Marty and babbled to her. Ruby giggled.

  “S-s-sound l-like m-m-me.”

  Marty smiled.

  “Yeah, you guys are a lot alike these days.”

  Ruby concentrated on winding up the music box, and handed it to Stella while it played. Their movements were both uncertain and a little jerky. Marty sat down, watching them.

  “Brian is going to come see you sometime soon.”

  “Y-yeah?”

  “Sure. He misses you. It’s been ages since either of us spent any time with you. It’s been strange not having you around.”

  “J-jam-m-mie t-too?”

  “If you want, I’ll give him a call for you.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “B-bored.”

  “It’s not much fun here, is it?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “Is Mrs. Winters coming by later?”

  “Um-m.”

  “She’s really been a good foster mom for you, hasn’t she?”

  Ruby shrugged, frowning.

  “D-dunn-no.”

  “She didn’t have to come down here when they called her. She just did that because she cares about you.”

  “Umm.”

  Stella took a toy away from Ruby and hit one of the other toys with it, enjoying the noise. Dickenson stepped into the room.

  “Hello, girls.”

  Marty looked at her watch.

  “It’s not time yet.”

  “I know. I was just in the area and thought I’d stop in to check up on Ruby.”

  “W-watch,” Ruby commanded. She picked up the music box and wound it up again.

  Dickenson clapped politely.

  “Very good. A grip and twist. I’m impressed.”

  Ruby smiled, and handed it to Stella.

  “You keep playing with that baby,” he encouraged, “it’s good therapy.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Umm,” she caught herself, “y-yessir.”

  “How about a ‘Yes, Mr. Dickenson’?”

  Ruby took a deep breath.

  “Y-yes, M-m-is-s-ster-r…” she took another breath and licked her lips, “D-d-dick-cken-n-n-s-s-son-n.”

  He gave her a thumbs up.

  “I’ll see you in an hour, and we’ll see if we can get you off of the walker today.”

  Ruby nodded. He nodded and left again. Marty looked at Ruby.

  “He thinks you’re doing really good, huh?”

  “Y-yes-s.”

  “You can say more than you could before, and you’re moving better.”

  Ruby nodded.

  “G-get-ting b-bet-ter.”

  “You’re sure working hard.”

  Ruby walked up and down the parallel bars twice without dragging her feet at all. Dickenson watched her like a hawk for any fault in her posture. Ruby looked at him expectantly for his grade.

  “Good,” Dickenson proclaimed. “Do you want to give the sticks a try?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “It’s hard,” Dickenson warned, “are you sure you’re ready for it?”

  “I-I’mm t-tough-gh,” Ruby said.

  He smiled.

  “Okay. Stand there while I get them.”

  Ruby waited for him. He returned a couple of minutes later with the crutches. He took one of Ruby’s hands and inserted it through the cuff, showing her how to hold on.

  “Steady on that one?”

  She nodded.

  He helped her to put the other crutch over her other wrist. Ruby leaned on the two crutches, feeling them.

  “N-now w-what?”

  Dickenson showed her what order to move in. Ruby concentrated on the steps. Suddenly she felt like she was floating, and her vision blurred.

  She came to on the exercise mat, the crutches still clutched in her hands. Dickenson was bending over her, two firm fingers resting lightly on the pulse point on her neck. He seemed calm.

  “Hi. Are you okay?”

  Ruby swallowed, her heart speeding up and her breath coming in gasps.

  “S-s-stroke?”

  “No, it’s okay. You had a seizure, but I don’t think it was a stroke. Your doctor will be here in a few minutes to check you over. But you just relax, everything will be okay.”

  Ruby lay still, looking up into his eyes, searching for the truth. His eyes were steady. He took the crutches out of her hands, and held her hand while they waited. It was a couple of minutes before Ruby’s doctor came in. He smiled reassuringly.

  “Just take it easy, honey. You’ll be fine.” He pulled up her shirt to place the stethoscope on her chest. “Your heart’s going like a little train engine. It’s going to be okay. Try to calm down.”

  He continued to check her over.

  “How’re you feeling? Dizzy or lightheaded?”

  “N-no.”

  “Confused? Any visual disturbances?”

  “N-no.”

  “Do you think you can stand up?”

  “Y-yessir.”

  Dickenson motioned the doctor back to help Ruby to her feet following the steps they were used to. Ruby felt pretty steady.

  “Th-thirsss-sty,” Ruby said.

  “We’ll get you a drink back in your room. How do you feel? Are we going to need a stretcher?”

  Ruby shook her head.

  “I-I’m o-ok-kay.”

  “Good for you. Let’s get you up to your room. We’ll schedule you for some tests this afternoon to make sure this was just your run-of-the-mill seizure and not another stroke.”

  “W-why?”

  “Why would you have a seizure?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “Y-yessir.”

  “It’s not unusual. A stroke changes the way your brain functions. It can change chemistry, electrical impulses, all kinds of things. It sort of takes a while for your brain to “settle in” completely.”

  Ruby frowned, nodding. She held onto the
walker and headed back to her room with her two escorts.

  Ruby slept very restlessly, worrying even though the doctor had told her that the tests showed she hadn’t had another stroke. She woke up in the dark, panicking, disoriented. Ruby sat up, and fumbled on the bedside table for the call button. She knocked things on the floor, and jumped every time anything hit the floor, her mind going back to the day that Mike was shot, to Mike knocking stuff off of his bedside table looking for his gun. If he’d found his gun... how would things be different now? She found the button and pressed it. One of the night nurses bustled in after a few minutes.

  “Hi, Ruby. You okay?”

  “Ss-scared.”

  “Did you have a bad dream, honey?”

  Ruby held the nurse’s hand, holding on and closing her eyes, trying to calm herself down. The nurse tousled her hair.

  “It’s okay. Should I turn on the light?”

  “Y-yes.”

  The small fluorescent light above the bed was switched on. Ruby looked around the room, looking at the familiar shapes and taking deep breaths.

  “How about a drink?”

  Ruby nodded. The nurse went into the bathroom to fill up Ruby’s glass. She came back and gave it to Ruby. She sat on the edge of the bed.

  “Are you okay now?”

  Ruby nodded.

  “I’ll leave the light on. You can reach it if you decide you want it back out, right?”

  “Y-yes.”

  “Okay. I’ll check back on you in a little while.”

 
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