A Waltz Yes, a Heart No

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Following his divorce, Dr. Stanley Gilford, chief of cardiology at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital, restructured his life on the guiding principle of maximum gain, minimum pain. So what is the well-heeled doctor doing with Ruby, a high school dropout and waitress at the local greasy spoon, and what are his options visa vie the pallid, five year old boy whose damaged heart beats in three-four time?

A Waltz Yes, a Heart No

by

Barry Rachin

 

 

 

Dr. Stanley Gilford, chief cardiologist at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital, was not some mind-in-the-gutter degenerate. He never rented dirty movies - hadn’t bought a Playboy or Penthouse since his college days. More to the point, there were scads of desirable woman - nurses and technicians - who he saw daily at the hospital; he felt no compulsion to undress them with his eyes, to imagine lewd and lascivious trysts. And yet, here he was sitting at the counter of the Central Ave Diner in Pawtucket, Rhode Island indulging his sexual fantasies. In this latest installment, Ruby, the head waitress, was flitting about the restaurant dressed in black, see-through panties and tasseled pasties. The previous week she sported a dominatrix’s leather and chains. Since first coming to the Pawtucket diner six months earlier, he discovered that the erotic possibilities and permutations were endless. Still, it was not his fault. The waitress was a sorceress; she had put a hex on him.

“The usual?” Ruby eased Dr. Gilford’s mug across the counter, filling it with steaming, black coffee. Less than two feet away behind the counter, her hazel eyes never rose above his Adam’s apple, as though the physical effort to lift her head might provoke an hernia. Her pearly skin was flawless, the blond hair gathered at the nape with a hardwood comb. Midriff spilling over skintight jeans, the woman - she had to be at least thirty-five - exuded a flinty, hardscrabble loveliness undefiled by age.

“Yes, thank you.” Dr. Gilford had a triple bypass scheduled at 10 a.m. then a round of consultations. Afterwards, he would go back to the office to see private patients - a brutal and demanding regimen. For the next fifteen minutes though, he could thoroughly relax and enjoy his meal. What intrigued him most about the tight-lipped blond was the contrast between her perfunctory way with customers - they could collectively and without regard to race, creed or color, all go straight to Hell - and the great care she paid to the food.

Ring! The cook had a small bell which he tapped with the palm of his hand each time an order was ready. The breakfasts  - two ham and egg specials, a stack of blueberry pancakes and order of poached  - for the truckers crammed into the end booth were done. Snatching the first plate, she ran the rest up the inner curve of her left arm well past the elbow. Ring! Ring!

“Who’s got poached?” She set the plates on the table. As she turned back in the direction of the grill, a heavyset man with a walrus moustache grabbed her arm and muttered something under his breath.

“Only in your dreams, Romeo,” she replied. The heavyset man chuckled and released his grip.

At the cash register, Ruby made change and set a family of five up near the door. A toddler upended a glass of milk. She cleared the mess and went back to the counter where an elderly man with a face like a dried prune complained that his ‘eggs-over-easy’ were runny.  “Ain’t gonna eat this soggy crap!” The old man pressed his wrinkled lips tightly together and twisted his scrawny neck to one side.Ruby hustled the plate back to the cook, who cracked two more eggs and threw them on the grill.

Ring! At the end booth, the heavyset fellow tried to revive his tasteless repartee, and the family of five finished their meal, leaving a huge mess. Sneering at no one in particular, the elderly man wolfed down his eggs and hurried off without leaving a tip.

 

“More coffee?” Ruby asked.

“Yes, thank you.” She filled the cup. “I’m Stan.”

Ruby gazed over his head at the row of paper plates describing the luncheon specials tacked to the far wall. “Got a job?”

“I’m a doctor.”

“What type?”

“Cardiac.” She stared at him dully. “A heart surgeon,” Dr. Gilford clarified.

“Oh, yeah.” She went off to check the food on the grill.

 

The product of liberal-minded Episcopalians, Stanley Gilford grew up in a tony section of Connecticut, peopled by bankers, lawyers, computer executives and the like. Blue bloods - well connected and, except for a few Johnny-come-latelies - backed by ‘old’ money. After high school, Stan chose the Brown University medical program. He met his future wife, Bernice, while interning at Rhode Island Hospital. They were divorced five years now.

Bernice, the love of his life.  In later years, Bernice, the trial lawyer who let the courtroom invade their bedroom - who openly acknowledged the brain’s preeminence over the heart and all other, ephemeral organs. In the summer of 1991, a physician in the cardiac unit of Fatima Hospital, Dr. Nesbitt, was sued for malpractice by the widow of a former patient. An improbable twist of fate, Stan’s wife was spearheading the prosecution. “Perhaps you could remove yourself from the Nesbitt case?” Stan said. By this time their marriage was characterized by polite formalities.

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Dr. Nesbitt’s a colleague.”

“I’ve nothing against the man,” she said frigidly. “It’s strictly a legal thing.”

Something went awry in his brain - synapses misfiring, imploding and setting off multiple chain reactions. Neurological fission. Stan headed for the hall closet where they stored the 36-inch Pullman suitcase. “I’ll pack my bags and be gone in the morning. But don’t take it personal - it’s a doctor thing.”

During the trial, the prosecution created the appearance of wrongdoing and incompetence. Dr. Nesbitt‘s flawless record counted for nothing as did the fact that the deceased had been steadily losing ground to obstructive pulmonary disease long before coming under the physician’s care.

The appearance of wrongdoing.

Through legal artifice, smoke and mirrors, Bernice persuaded the jurors to see Dr. Nesbitt as a bumbling fool. The doctor’s physical appearance only bolstered the unflattering portrait. Tall and ungainly, his pilly, brown socks trailed around his ankles. The socks you noticed; the IQ of 130 and encyclopedic, medical mind were not so readily apparent. In the end, the jury found in favor of the widow. The heart doctor protested the decision and lost again on appeal.

Limbo: the abode of just and innocent souls on the border of hell.

When Stanley Gilford was a child, a pet spaniel got hit by a car. After the accident, the dog limped downstairs to the basement where it lay listlessly on a throw rug for the next six months. Its spirit and hind limbs sufficiently mended, the animal finally hobble outdoors. A year after the divorce and his friend’s trial, Stan Gilford - his six months having long since expired - was still cowering on a metaphorical throw rug in the basement of his mind. Drifting aimlessly in a hellish limbo, he stopped attending church, let his membership in the tennis club lapse, swore off women altogether.

 

 

Dr. Gilford was away at a medical convention the following week - a new laser treatment for cardiac stenosis. When he returned to the Central Ave Diner, another women, a chain-smoking redhead, was serving the food. “Where’s Ruby?”

“Sinus infection. Won’t be back until the end of the week.”

For the next three days, Dr. Gilford ate all his meals at the hospital cafeteria. The next time he visited the diner, Ruby was back behind the counter. Dr. Gilford took a seat next to a well-dressed man in his sixties reading the Providence Journal Bulletin. Like weeds on a bone-dry, August lawn, twin tufts of hair sprouted from the old man’s nostrils. “Water’s the thing, you know,” the older man said, turning to Dr. Gilford with an easy smile.

“How’s that?”

The man thumped the newspaper with a stubby index finger. “Politicians worry about air quality, global warming, holes in the ozone, hazardous waste. But talk to any self-respecting ecologist and they’ll bend your ear about the shortage of potable water in third-world countries. Am I right or what?”

Dr. Gilford didn’t have to consider the answer. “Yes, that’s true.” At the grill, the cook was mutilating an order of bacon. He always cooked the bacon too long, and it came away with the consistency of cardboard. The fact that they favored extra-thin strips didn’t help matters.

“Desalinization,” the old man said. “A great idea in theory, but those underdeveloped countries that need the technology most can least afford it.”

 Dr. Gilford agreed implicitly with his point of view. What future was there in desalination when people living in coastal areas of Africa and Asia were dying of endemic diseases such as cholera and typhus - both infectious organisms easily spread by contaminated drinking water?

The older man grinned broadly, wiped his mouth with a napkin and fumbled in his pants pocket for a wallet. “Money’s on the counter, Ruby.” With a half-dozen orders bubbling on the grill, the waitress didn’t bother to look up.  Grabbing a topcoat, the old man nodded pleasantly and headed out the door.

 

Twenty minutes passed. Except for a booth full of townies dawdling over tepid coffee, the Central Ave Diner was empty. “Planning  a vacation?” Ruby leaned over the counter with her pretty face no more than an inch from his ear.

Dr. Gilford looked up from the travel brochure he had spread on the formica surface. “Copper Canyon. It’s in the hill country of northern Mexico.” He handed the brochure to Ruby. On the cover was a picture of a steep canyon with a waterfall cascading over rocky ledges down to a boulder-strewn riverbed. “In September, I’m going on a 5-day backpacking trip with a friend from the hospital.”

“White water rafting and horseback rides into traditional, Tarahumara Indian country,” Ruby read in a gravelly monotone. She flipped the brochure over. There were pictures of dark-skinned Indians, a Catholic mission constructed in adobe style, and hikers trekking through a verdant valley. “Not taking the  wife?”

“I’m divorced.”

Ruby bent so far over the counter, her breasts were almost in his face. Dr. Gilford could smell her musky perfume - a pungent scent reminiscent of English Leather. She held her left hand up, splaying the unadorned fingers. “Welcome to the lonely hearts club.”

Dr. Gilford retrieved the pamphlet. “Not a very exclusive organization according to statistics. Would you like to go out some time?”

Ruby’s features went slack. “You mean a date?” He shook his head up and down. The waitress let out a loud belly laugh, a cross between a guffaw and a whooping, straight-from-the-gut howl. Several of the customers looked up in mild surprise.

Dr. Gilford turned the color of fried kielbasa. “A simple yes or no would have sufficed.”

Her face remained neutral. “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

He handed her his business card. “You can catch me at the office anytime after noon most days.”

She thrust the card into her jeans pocket without looking at it and plucked a pencil from behind her ear. “So, what’ll it be - besides a romantic interlude, that is?”

 

 

Had he totally lost his mind? Cruising down route 95 toward the hospital, Dr. Gilford felt his face flush hotly for a second time in less than an hour. He should have simply shown her the brochure of Copper Canyon and let it go at that. Not that there was any predicament, no reason for self-flagellation. The waitress’ erotic good looks taken aside, Dr. Gilford understood perfectly well his own, hidden agenda: Ruby’s appeal resided in the fact that, in virtually every respect - physical, emotional, intellectual and aesthetic - she was the exact opposite of his ex-wife.

He needed a strategy to recreate a semblance of order in his out of control, personal life. The Central Ave Diner was off-limits. A Newport Creamery two miles up the road served breakfast; if he didn’t want to eat at the hospital cafeteria, he could stop there. As an additional precaution, he would instruct his receptionist to run interference; when Ruby called and was rebuffed a half dozen times, she’d get the not-so-subtle message. The burning pressure, like acid reflux, began to seep out of his chest. He felt restored, more his disciplined, purposeful self.

 

Around 11p.m. as he was preparing for bed, the phone rang. It was Ruby. “How’d you get my home phone?”

“It was on the card underneath the office number,” Ruby replied. “Still want to go out with me?”

He did not even pause to consider the question. “I’d like that very much,” he replied meekly.

“Here are the ground rules: if you come back to the diner, don’t expect preferential treatment. I’ll serve your number two specials and refill your coffee mug once at no additional charge. When you’re finished eating, you pay the bill and go about your business.”

Dr. Gilford placed a hand over his eyes and squeezed hard. “OK.”

“I’ve had two cesarean sections and breast fed both my kids; with all the wear and tear, these knockers ain’t holding up so well. Just so there won’t be any illusions, I ain’t half as nice to look at in the buff as I am with clothes on.” “Not that my naked body should be of any interest to you,” she added quickly, “cause I don’t put out. Not on the first date, not on the twentieth.”

His head was spinning. He sat down on the edge of the bed. “You’re losing me.”

“You don’t get no sex without marrying me.”

Dr. Gilford considered the double negative and was almost tempted to tell her what the sentence actually meant. “I asked you for a date, not a commitment for life.”  He shifted the phone to the other ear. “What are you doing Friday night?”

When he hung up the phone, Dr. Gilford was ecstatic, euphoric - out of his mind with joyful expectation; which is to say, he was more confused than ever. He went to bed but couldn’t sleep. Ruby’s disembodied voice - as abrasive and bruising as 50-grit, garnet sandpaper - kept floating back to him. Dr. Gilford climbed out of bed and wandered into the kitchen. On the oak table was the brochure from Copper Canyon. Next to a picture of several Indians, their skin so dark it might have been rubbed with black earth from the rain forest, was the following:

 

“Tata Dios made us as we are. We have only been as you see us... there is no devil here. Only when people do bad things does He (God) get angry. We make much beer and dance much, in order that he may remain content; but when people talk much, and go around fighting, then He gets angry and does not give us rain.”

Tarahumara Shaman 1893

 

Dr. Gilford desperately needed to visit a place where the devil hadn’t made any appreciable inroads; where poverty, in the modern sense, was a relatively new phenomena; where people drank tesgüino, corn beer, and danced to appease the Gods so there would be sufficient rain for a plentiful harvest. An amorphous lump welled up in his throat and began to throb like a vestigial heart.

At forty-two, only now was he beginning - at the most crude and fundamental level - to understand certain  basic truths, truths which had eluded him for the better part of a lifetime. He went back to bed and, almost immediately, fell into a thoroughly restful sleep.

 

On Saturday night Dr. Gilford drove to the working class, Mount Pleasant section of Providence past rows of three-decker tenements. The homes were older, some in disrepair. Not a bad neighborhood; certainly not the best.

“Hey, this here’s a swell car!” Ruby noted as they drove toward the downtown district. She ran her hand over the  Lexus’ leather upholstery. “A heck of a lot nicer than my bag of bolts.”

They ate dinner at the Biltmore. Following the caesar salad, the waiter returned with two cut glass bowls of lemon sorbet. “To cleanse the palette,” the waiter explained in response to Ruby’s puzzled expression and hurried back to the kitchen.

Ruby tasted the tart ice and put her spoon down. She wore a tight-fitting green dress with heels that showed her supple legs to good advantage. On anyone else, the outfit might have seemed tawdry, but the absence of makeup or jewelry threw the focus on her haughty good looks. No pretense or posturing - just a woman on the front side of middle-age perfectly at ease in her lovely body. Stan sensed that, if  not a single waiter or guest were present in the dining room of the Providence Biltmore, Ruby would still cross the floor with the same blithe flair. By whatever name - duende, panache, esprit - she possessed it in ample supply.

After the meal, they went into the lounge for drinks. “You’re obviously not dating me for my brains,” Ruby said, her voice as dry as the wine she was sipping, “and the prospect of sex doesn’t loom large on the horizon. So what’s really happening here?”

 

Dr. Gilford thought a moment then gestured with his eyes at a youngish woman, a brunette talking energetically with a man of about the same age. The woman was impeccably dressed in a blue serge suit with pearl earrings and a matching pendent on a braided, silver chain. “That executive type sitting at the table in the corner - what do you make of her?”

“A classy dame with more than a few bucks in the bank.”

“Or an upwardly mobile, workaholic - opinionated, self-serving, opportunistic. A woman who won’t give you the right time of day unless she’s billing at 150 bucks an hour.”

Ruby leaned forward over the narrow table, kissed him on the ear and whispered, “You sure are a strange one!” As she pulled away, she let her lips brush the length of his cheek.

Dr. Gilford lifted his glass and stared at the transparent liquid without drinking. “I saw a five year-old boy this morning with a hole in his heart.”

 

 

The boy had come to the office with both parents. He was underweight and sat listlessly while Dr. Gilford applied the gray blood pressure cuff and squeezed the rubber ball. With a wheezing sound the influx of air swelled the cuff into a turgid mass, and he stalked the thready pulse as it surged at 160 and skittered into oblivion at 110. He touched the flat disc to the narrow chest and studied the percussive sounds. There was the systolic contraction followed by the less intense diastolic release. And now a third sound - whispery soft, ominous. The raspy backflow of oxygenated blood spraying in the wrong direction; the fractured music of nature gone haywire.

An operation to repair the faulty valve had been scheduled in March but abruptly cancelled. Blood chemistries showed evidence of possible kidney damage. “When your son’s condition stabilizes,” he counseled the anxious parents, “we’ll consider less invasive options.” Dr. Nesbitt’s bitter lesson was still fresh in his mind; too prudent to risk killing the child while repairing the damaged valve, Dr. Gilford finessed the pallid boy into a purgatory of chronic illness.

When his condition stabilizes ...

“A human heart is not suppose to beat in three-four time,” he confided, sipping his gin and tonic. “Wrong cadence! A waltz yes, a heart no.”

As they walked back to the parking garage, Dr. Gilford wrapped his hand around Ruby’s waist, and her hips drifted close to his body. When they reached her apartment he kissed her on the lips. She kept her mouth closed and moved away almost immediately. “The sorbet taken aside, I’d a swell time.”

She was already halfway up the stairs before he could think to ask, “Can I call you again?”

“Sure, I’d like that.” Ruby went straight into the building without looking back.

 

On Monday morning, Dr. Gilford told the receptionist, “Any calls from Ruby, put her through immediately; if I’m already on the phone, let me know she’s holding.”

“But I thought - ”

“Disregard,” Dr. Gilford blustered, waving his hand abruptly in the air, “any previous instruction to the contrary and put the woman through.”

The receptionist eyed him curiously. “Whatever you wish.”

Later that night he called Ruby at home. “What are you doing this weekend?” She said she was free. “This time you choose.”

“Dersu Usala,” shereplied almost before the last words left his mouth.

“How’s that?”

“It’s a Russian foreign film playing at the Avon. One week only. I’d like to see it.”

Dr. Gilford had expected something a bit more mundane, blue collar. “Yes, well that’s fine.”

“The film’s in subtitles so you might want to bring reading glasses.”

A waitress with a chastity belt and penchant for foreign flicks. The relationship was getting weirder by the minute. “I don’t wear reading glasses.” Dr. Gilford hung up the phone.

 

 

Friday afternoon, Dr. Gilford picked Ruby up around six. Arriving a half hour early, the line in front of the ticket window already snaked up the street to the end of the block. “It’s a cult film about a Mongolian hunter, who leads an expedition into the Siberian wilderness,” Ruby said. “They bring it back every so many years. The crowds keep growing. Mostly Brown students and the hoity-toity, East Side set.”

In front of them was a skinny girl with blue hair and a silver hoop in her nose. “You’ve seen the movie before?” Dr. Gilford asked.

“Three times.”

The light went on in the ticket window and the line surged forward. “With your ex-husband?”

Ruby shook her head violently. “His idea of a culturally uplifting experience is sipping boilermakers at the Willow Street Tap. She reached out, grabbed his hand and gave it a playful squeeze.  “My ex-husband is a Central Falls wise guy. The less said the better.”

A Central Falls wise guy. Dr. Gilford was familiar with the type. The mental cretins with five pounds of gold jewelry dangling from their necks and wrists; tough guys and tough guy wannabes who punctuated every sentence with a certain, ubiquitous four-letter word and gesticulated wildly when they talked - a barbaric, sign language for the morally impaired. As a rule, they didn’t spend much time on College Hill or frequent the Avon Cinema.

“After the divorce,” Ruby interrupted his reveries, “weekends were the hardest. A waitress took sick, I was thankful to pull an extra shift just not to be alone. One Memorial Day weekend, I came up here and was wandering the streets like some half-crazed bag lady, and what do you think was featured at the Avon Cinema?” She pointed at the marquee.

Throughout his sheltered, college years, Stan had been dismissive of ‘working class’, blue-collar types - the depth of their feelings, sincerity and conviction - as if human virtue were a function of culture rather than innate charater. Listening to Ruby’s frank confession left him feeling like an elitist snob. An emotional fraud. Again the line heaved and contracted as people ahead trickled into the theater. “Funny thing is,” Ruby added, “I don’t choose the movies. They choose me.”

The skinny girl with the hoop in her nose turned fully around. Her sneakers were so frayed they looked like they had been fed through a food processor. She wore no bra and her nipples caused the material of her tie-dyed T-shirt to pucker suggestively. “I don’t follow you,” Stan said.

“I only come up here when I’m lonely or depressed. Whatever’s featured, that’s what I get to see. French, Russian, Chinese, South American, German. I never even bother to read the reviews in advance.”

They reached the ticket booth and Dr. Gilford pushed the money through the window. Ruby was in a pleasant enough mood, but once the film began, she pushed his hand away, fixed her eyes on the screen and withdrew into an emotional shell. Near the end of the film, when the Mongolian hunter lost his eyesight and was forced to give up his exotic lifestyle, Dr. Gilford glanced over at Ruby. She was sitting in the dark with tears streaming down her face, a wad of Kleenex clutched in her hand.

“If you’re interested,” Ruby noted as they were making their way back to the car, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show is playing over at the Cable Car Cinema the week after next.”

“Another film I’m not familiar with.”

“It’s a spoof on horror films. This drag queen who...” Ruby pulled up abruptly. “There really isn’t much of a plot.”

 

Driving down Atwells Avenue in the direction of Mount Pleasant, Ruby asked Stanley if he was religious. “My parents are Episcopalians,” Dr. Gilford answered, “but, since my divorce and some unpleasantries leading up to it, I haven’t been too sure of much of anything in the spiritual realm.”

 Ruby pursed her bottom lip. “That’s too bad!”

Bernice never went to church, and only spoke of religion derisively. Dr. Gilford was of the opinion that his ex-wife would willingly consecrate her soul to a Wiccan priestess - a hermaphrodite, even! - but never a deity in the likeness of man. “Are you going to stop seeing me because I’m a failed Christian?”

“That’s your business.” Ruby glanced briefly at him and looked away. There was no arm-twisting or sense of urgency in her tone. “I’m Methodist. You can attend services with me some Sunday if you ever get the urge.”

Dr. Gilford downshifted as he approached the lights at the bottom of Mount Pleasant Avenue. When they pulled up in front of the apartment, Ruby kissed him discreetly, then pushed him away at arms length. “About that little boy with the heart condition, what are his odds surviving surgery?”

“Fifty-fifty. And that’s a generous assessment.”

“If he’s going to eventually become an invalid and die, wouldn’t it be better to operate?”

“Perhaps, but I’m not willing to take that risk.”

“You could let the parents decide.”

“Ultimately, it’s a medical decision.”

“If it were my child, I’d want a say.”

For such a normally sullen, close-lipped woman, Dr. Gilford marvelled at her persistence. “I’m opting for the lesser of two evils.”

Ruby laughed but it was not a particularly pleasant sound. “Lesser of two evils for who?” As Dr. Gilford turned the engine over and pulled away from the curb, his normally steady, surgeon’s hands were visibly shaking.

 

 

A month later Dr. Gilford took inventory and this is what he knew about the woman. Once a week on Saturdays, Ruby took a hot bath, lacing the water with Calgon bath beads. She read the latest issue of Woman’s World from cover to cover, while soaking in the blue suds. She owned an old-fashion, 3-speed bike with a straw basket fastened to the handlebars. During the spring and early fall, she strapped the bike to the trunk of her rusting, 2001 Camaro and drove to the East Bay bike path where she pedaled several miles along the ocean through Riverside all the way to Barrington before turning back. On the way out she stopped for raisin rum ice cream; on the return trip she ate New York style wieners with all the fixings. This is what made her happy.

In 1996, Ruby enrolled in night school and passed her GED. “The math  was agony! Away from the cash register, I ain’t much good with numbers.” She never spoke of her ex-husband and hardly reacted when Stan tried to draw her out. Like the dodo bird and saber tooth tiger, the man had long since ceased to exist.

Stan told her about Dr. Nesbitt’s trial. Ruby shrugged and said, “Rhode Island’s the smallest state in the union, but, more people sue each other here than in all the others but one.”

“A sobering statistic,” Dr. Gilford replied. “What’s the other state?”

“I don’t remember.”

Ruby joined a women’s support group but lost interest after only the third session. “A bunch of bitchy broads bellyaching about their sorry lives. I needed that like a second asshole.”

Dr. Gilford, who had no specialized training in proctology, shook his head in agreement. 

Regarding the prospects for sex, he was like a ship dead in the water with a blown engine and defective rudder. Ruby wasn’t frigid; she had no phobias or neurotic blocks. She just didn’t put out without a gold band on her finger. Yet, after fifteen years of being rubbed raw by Bernice’s double-entendres and acidic humor, a female who spoke in broken sentences and required minimal emotional maintenance was a refreshing change.

Only by a queer process of elimination, could Dr. Gilford comprehend the woman. Ruby was not a snob. She wasn’t particularly outgoing but, then, neither was she withdrawn. Innuendo and petty mind games were not a part of her emotional repertoire. She was neither profound nor flagrantly stupid. She was not particularly generous or kind-hearted, a quality which was balanced by a certain tough-minded fairness. Ruby could be crass and unapologetic. She was far from perfect. She had no fatal flaws.

 

Stan and Ruby were sitting in the Dunkin’ Donuts on Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a crumpled envelope and slid it across the table toward her. Inside was the brochure from Copper Canyon plus a round-trip ticket from Northwest Airlines. “Tuesday, Dr. Spiegelman’s mother fell down a flight of stairs and broke her hip. He’s canceling out. Gave me his ticket gratis and said to find someone else who could appreciate the subtleties of Mayan culture.”

“You can’t be serious?” The rough-cut edginess in her voice that he originally mistook for a character defect had emerged as one of Ruby’s most endearing virtues. By way of a reply, Dr. Gilford inched the packet across the table. “We’ve got nothing in common,” she continued fretfully. “Why are you doing this?”

“I feel good when we spend time together,” Stan said softly. “And when I haven’t seen you for a few days, I don’t feel so good anymore. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that.”

“You know the ground rules.”

Powdered sugar crusted on his fingertips as Stan reached into the envelope and retrieved a piece of paper stuck at the bottom - a brochure for a 4-star hotel in Chihuahua City. Dr. Gilford flattened the brochure on the table and indicated a column of print indented and flared in phosphorescent, gold ink:

 

‘Our honeymoon suite includes king size bed, Jacuzzi, complimentary bottle of champagne and bouquet of freshly cut flowers. Along with the customary amenities, on the day following their arrival the newlyweds will receive a full breakfast served in the rose garden where ...’

 

“Is this some sick joke?” Ruby muttered, never lifting her eyes from the printed matter.

Stan rose and helped her on with her jacket. “The plane leaves Saturday at noon. Let me know in a day or so what you decide. And for what it’s worth, I’m in love with you.”

They drove back to Providence in silence. When he pulled up at the curb, Stan said, “About the little boy with the heart trouble, I told the parents their options.”

“And?”

“He’s scheduled for surgery the first week in November.” Stan shook his head grimly. “Now I’ve got to find an anesthesiologist - questionable kidneys notwithstanding - willing to put him under.”

Ruby sat in the darkness, head lowered and tilted to one side. The acrid scent of marigolds floated into the car on a warm breeze. Five minutes passed without a word.  Finally she looked up. “Animals don’t scare me, at least, not the four-legged kind. Except for merry-go-rounds, I’ve never been on a horse.”

“A minor technicality. Does this mean - ”

“Don’t,” she hissed, “go reading anything more into it.” Her gruff tactlessness was tempered with more than a hint of bluster.

 Dr. Gilford waited until she was safely in the apartment before putting the car in gear.


Submitted: May 03, 2021

© Copyright 2021 barryj1. All rights reserved.

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