"Her Withering Environment"
Dead leaves crinkle under footsteps. The scratchy noise of faded orange and red leaves build up under each step. The October wind carries the leftovers to a new destination. A short journey, but a repetitive one. Ruby sat so still, observing the people that pass her by. No one spoke a greeting. No one offered a smile. A woman with a torn black coat, glove-less pale hands and dark shades didn’t warrant much attention. At the most, some might glance at her appearance and walk their tiny dogs a little faster and further away. Her head rested on the bench angled towards the mourning gray sky. The sun was well hidden behind clouds that look ready to pour rain at any moment. Another breeze slips by, pulling leaves further away from her bench.
Slowly, she stretches her legs only to pull them closer to her body. Ruby shoves her cold hands into her pocket. Another person walks their comically small dog by her. The tiny beast glances at her longer than its human caretaker. She looks through her tinted lens wondering if maybe the dog can sense it. Can the little beast sense her power that lay dormant for so many years? She casually crosses her leg, delighted the little dog pulls its caretaker away. Power is thrilling. Ruby pulls out a scrap of paper with tiny scrawls of faded ink. She looks over it, smiling slowly. “Spiteful woman” She reads to herself. A fitting insult for those less creative. The chuckle builds in her diaphragm and fully erupts into the air. Several onlookers seemed startled from their park routine and warily give her attention. She smiles apologetically and waves half heartily. Glancing at her phone, she notes the time. “Time to go,” She thinks. The park is less open than it appeared.
Standing up, she brushes the lingering leaf debris off her coat. She strides across the cobbled path. Her jacket opens at the tail. The black tail lingers with the breeze of the wind. Her gaze is unwavering from the exit of the park. The half-cocked smile is just one memento of a finished battle. A few dogs yip when she passes them by. “Relax little ones, I’ve got better things in mind than to bother you,” She thinks. As the dogs and variety of park people fade into distant noise, she feels more at ease. She walks through her once favorite neighborhood.
Pristine white house’s line the street on both sides. The stoned paths, dark shutters, and the petite front gardens all reminiscent of a peaceful suburban neighborhood. A few bird calls and twittering bickers surround a small birdhouse decorating one of her old friends’ house. The lights are off. Diana is on vacation. Ruby hesitates for a moment thinking of her friend. A rock rolls towards the front of her boot. Without thinking, she picks up the dark stone that fits her palm so well. “Why didn’t you believe me?” She muses to herself. She throws the rock letting it fly towards the front window. The harsh ping and thud only left a scratch on the outer windows. Finally, some imperfection to fit her old friends’ life. She continues walking on the sidewalk exiting the first half of the neighborhood.
Well-worn pavement shows a few broken pieces and destructive marks. Mementos from wild late night adventures that stained the pavement. Ruby glances around seeing no one to witness her petty vandalism. It was barely any damage, but it felt right in light of her friend's misguided choices. If the window had cracked, she would have laughed wickedly as she walked away. Her boots step over every crack in the pavement until she approaches the last house on the street. Her shattered home.
She picks her pocket, looking for her keys. After a firm pat down she realizes she left her keys in her bedroom. Thankfully, her spare was somewhere close by. Reaching down she pokes through her wilted flower pot. The clumps of dried dirt surround her hand. Her once purple nails catch spare dirt. For a moment, her fingers caress the dried mounds until it finds the metal key.
After unlocking the door and stepping into the dark hallway. Switching on her light, she steps into something, slippery and gooey. Looking down, she shines her phones flashlight over her shoe. Red goo is all over her yellow walls, the sticky mass exploded into the corner from the impact. The broken ketchup container that he had thrown at her was all that was left. She pulls out a tissue to wipe the putrid tomato paste stain from her boot. The slimy mess only makes the tissue feel worse in her hands. She never liked ketchup, she was more of a barbecue or hot sauce woman when it came to chicken tenders. The taste was so bland and often watered down. Chicken tenders needed a kick of spice to be a worthy meal. “Were those leftovers still in the fridge?” she pondered stepping past the clutter of broken vases and glass all over the floor.
The disarray of the kitchen indicated it would be better to order food than cook it. She looks at the shattered dishes and the empty bottle of whiskey. Shuffling through her drawers, she finds a Thai food menu. “Hidden Lily is this for pick-up or delivery” a young woman answers. The screaming chef in the background yells out something to the woman on the phone. “Delivery” Ruby answers. With the scratching sound of a pencil on paper, Ruby gives her address. “What would you like?” The woman asks.
For a moment, Ruby thinks to order her usual, Pad Woon Sen with Vegetable. Shitake mushrooms, sugar snap peas, napa cabbage, and the ginger soy sauce were her safe choice when it came to stir fried noodles. “Any specials?” Ruby asks, buying herself a little time. The woman lists off a few things and makes note of the appetizers. “The jungle curry fried rice with chicken is that spicy?” The woman lists out the ingredients noting the chili would give the rice vitality. “Yeah I’ll have that and steamed vegetable dumplings please.” Ruby orders. The woman scribbles her order down over the phone and gives her the total before hanging up.
Finally, something new. Ruby takes off her coat, settling herself down on her bar stools. A squeak and groan of old metal hoist her up to the island at the center of the kitchen. Waiting is the hard part. Belly aches and the time ticks by slower. The jungle curry was teasing her hunger pains. Thirty to forty-five minutes the lady said. Her house needed cleaning. The walls were stained with various concoctions, including the chocolate wine from her coworker. A pity the wine had more purpose as a wall stain. Chocolate and wine sounded like a nice idea when it was pitched, but Ruby found the taste oddly warm and bitter. Perhaps the two flavors need to remain separate.
Why had she thrown the wine? Was it to empty the bottle faster? No, she had thrown it hoping it would scare him out of her house. His awful voice screaming profanity and petty insults only quieted when the smashing objects flew to his head. Enough was enough. His angry tone always imitated a screaming weasel. So many months of his control and his games. The friends that she believed would vocalize her plight and rescue her dwindled as time passed by. He never let up. No one suspected Amir, her past lover, to use their association in a negative way. His smiles, his whispered promises, and his calculated stares were memorizing to behold. Charm bewitched her once, twice, and many more times from leaving his grasp. He liked her before, but she made sure he hated her now.
Amir Caine, thirty-two years of age and a handsome bastard, with his commanding brown eyes and dimpled chin. Never grew facial hair, but the shaving kit looked well used. She had bought it for him happy with the praise in choosing a good kit. He praised her like a beloved pet. A pat on the head, a quick hug, and night out for bland strips of chicken. Romantic, they said. “He always takes you out,” Alex and Diana remarked over a coffee brunch. “It’s nice that he saves you from cooking every night” her old friends complimented. He was far from being a nice man. Instead, he was a man with a complex sense of power. He never complimented her. Only praised her actions when she was valuable.
Amir and Ruby had dated for five years before it came to an end. In that time, her friends had abandoned her and she was left to fight for herself. The nights were the worst. Amir was a man with pride, no one knew that their relationship lacked intimacy on a physical level. Disaster slept next to her every night, holding her close. His arms claimed her in his sleep. He never could claim her completely, though. Ruby’s desires had almost dwindled down when she was with him. She remembered when she had brought up an alternative to their relationship, but the argument ended with her tears and feelings of self-loathing. He said, “No other man would have what was his” so angrily and only patted her head before he left for work. The tissue boxes were frequently emptied that week.
The doorbell rings, startling Ruby to self-awareness. Crunching over bits and pieces on the floor she walks to the door and pays her delivery man. The man looked shocked when he peeked into her hallway seeing the mess she had left behind. Ruby smiles, to dismiss the mess. She tips well, leaving the man a fifteen-dollar tip. He graciously thanks her, the worry replaced by achievement over the tip. The brown bag is heavy with food, and the scents are tantalizing. Her mouth waters at the chance to eat her jungle curry. Something wild, and fierce for her stomach was well earned.
Breaking the chopsticks, she picks out a string bean to put in her mouth. The crisp vegetable is saturated with basil and curry sauce. “Delicious” she hums happily. “Why avoid flavor?” She asks herself tasting the cruel kick from chili peppers. Amir never liked spicy foods, only bland mildly seasoned things to satiate his appetites. He never asked what she wanted. Only ordered what was pleasing to him. A weary smile with a spicy dinner is a good way to end the night. Tomorrow would be a new day.
After the meal Ruby gazes around her kitchen looking at the mess, finally taking in the damage to all of her belongings. No. Not hers, the things he bought is what she shattered. The only thing she had truly owned was the house. A gift from her mother’s sister. He had only moved in because it was convenient for him to go to work from her place. Where would Amir Caine live now that she fought back? On the streets, she hoped. In the park? No, he probably would stay with one of her friends. The sympathizers loved him. They would jump through hoops for him, but flee if she asked for anything. Why was it so easy for him to drive them away? Ruby shook her head stopping the train of thought. Looking for her the right number, she clicked through her contacts. The therapists number she deletes. Looking through she called the one number she had recently added. Dialing, she sat swirling on her stool impatiently. Leaving a voicemail, she spoke the words she didn’t think she would.
“This is Ruby Lexus, and I would like to begin a case. I’m ready to fight him and cease contact.”
She clicked the flashing red phone symbol ending the call. A smile of satisfaction crossed her face. She stood up and grabbed a broom and dustpan. Slowly she begins to sweep up pieces of a relationship she had ended so violently. The showers of glass and screaming, the police that had visited to take him away. She recalled his eyes that glared fiercely at her from the squad car and his cocky smile that it wasn’t over.
Everything was quiet after the sparkling glass show to end his grip on her life. Amir was so surprised that she spoke against him. He was prepared to take control again but when he began talking to her, she threw the first glass. His lack of emotional awareness hindered him from understanding she was serious and he laughed at her. He stopped laughing when she threw more things at him. He argued his way downstairs avoiding all the objects aimed at him. Called her crazy. Called her pathetic. She was useless without him he said.
“I’m through with your shit Amir,” Ruby whispers to herself. She turned on her radio letting the mellow sounds of Heather Headley calm her. Her music is uplifting. The broom crushed the shards into the pan. Her hips swayed under the mellow beat. Alone her voice sang along blending well with her playlist. Jazz and old blues songs moved her. The mess danced with her. “No more” a mantra she chanted to herself. No more…
The music fades and Ruby sinks to the neatly swept floor. Holding her head in her hands she shakes, her breath comes out in sporadic spurts. “No more” She repeats to herself. Her eyes sting and she covers her mouth to hold herself together. Amir is gone. She is alone. No one is here for her. No one can see her. What she had was a house. Faded yellow walls, creaking wood flooring, and broken walls. Most of the picture frames fell, and the mirrors were covered. The furniture was torn and over mended. Everything needed work. Pushing her hair back into a small bun, she breathes in deeply. A fresh start.
Ruby Lexus stood up. She grabs her broom and walks upstairs. The crooked paintings and cracked glass over couple pictures greeted her ascent to her bedroom. The red walls looked darker. The shards from the first glass ornament she had thrown still sat in the corner. She walks to the window and pulls the curtains open to crack open the locked window. The light of a new dawn creeps into her bedroom and the red walls look a little lighter. The nicks and stains fade under the light of the rising sun. Breathing in the chill of a new morning she braces herself against the wall and looks around. A new day began. Power is hers again, and the first step was to reclaim her home and herself.