Ride Along with Ruby

“Damn it!” I just lost the bottom of my house shoe and I feel my skin scraping the jagged concrete as the blood begins to ooze from my freshly pedicured toe. I don’t have time to check the status of my injury because it’s 8:45am, eighty-three degrees and I have thirty-five cupcakes in the passenger seat of my not-new-enough-mini-van, which need to be delivered in seven minutes across town. Sweat is pooling at the base of my neck creating a river of perspiration down my spine. Courtesy of the stiff humidity, today’s freshly painted face begins to melt off, as I limp through another neighbor’s yard all the while having my French manicure destroyed by the remnants of last night’s downpour. “I can still do this. Someone has to be home,” I breathlessly pant to myself.
My first attempt at salvation was next door at the two-story home of the Mysterious Millers. My family dubbed our neighbors this because we never see them. They have fenced in yard that must be twelve feet tall and an attached garage that only opens to allow their dark-tinted Cadillacs to pull in and out of. I’m not even sure who all lives there. Nevertheless, I rapped on their door first out of sure convenience.
Unable to know if my efforts were in vain, I went to leave and saw a shadow move in the window. As I see the curtains move I frustratingly spit out, “I knew it!”, so I went back to the door for a louder more significant knock. And again, stillness. The Mysterious Millers, or whoever was in there, proved to be completely useless to me today.
Begrudgingly, I make my way across the street with my hair sticking to my neck and the bottom of my pants soaked with Lord-knows-what, ever mindful of the clock. Here I go with door number two.
My current location is a large ranch style home with manicured landscape that would make HGTV jealous. I peer into the picture window only to have a rather large black cat slowly turn her head my way, because I am blocking the light for her morning sun bath. This Home & Garden cover-ready
home belongs to the Jones’, literally the family everyone tries to keep up with resides on my street. Kitty, mother to Joshua and Jonathan, and wife to Nicholas appears to have already left for school, on time no doubt and will miss out on this opportunity to judge me. “Ugh!”
I scurry across the yard to arrive directly across from my “lived-in” house with last year’s mulch, empty flower pots and too-tall-grass with our sweet but neurotic poodle, Bambi, yelping from the upstairs window. “Argh! Argh! Argh!” This triggers my heart to race faster and the sweat to move down my back into the crevasses of my body which do not get much sunlight. Bambi’s alert is my siren reminder that I am so late – so very late and I still need to get back into the house, to get my purse, put her up, hopefully grab my coffee and certainly get my freaking keys which started this entire nightmare to begin with!
Usually, I have either my keys or my credit card. I try to avoid keeping them in the same location for this specific reason. If I forget my keys, my credit card is the next best thing, it is master key to pop the locks on the doors to my semi-secure home. We do not lock the doors. It’s not a great practice, but with four children, two of which are teenagers who come and go at extremely odd hours, the doors are not shut all that often. We luckily have never had anything stolen, because I’m not even sure you could call it a break-in if the door is unlocked. It’s almost like an invitation for thieves, at least that is what my mother continues to tell me. However, on this very special morning, I achieved the bonus round of crazy town and I left all my tools LOCKED inside my now secure home.
I am down to the last resort. Door number three. Third time’s the charm. If I have any chance in hell of getting this day together, now is the time. I knock on the front door of my 82-year-old neighbor across the street, who many times is on her simple but charming front porch sipping tea giving a wave with an appeased smile on her face. I often wonder if her smile is caused by the front row ticket to the shit-show my family calls life and she waves to encourage the show to continue. Whatever the cause,
today I need her to answer the door and give me a credit card. I don’t think it is too much to ask for the amount of entertainment we have provided her over the years.
I feverishly rap at the door and hope she is awake and moving at this hour. Widowed and living alone, Mrs. Malano has no one to answer to and no schedule to keep. Some nights I see her lights on when I go to bed and other nights the house is dark before we get home from practice. In this moment, I am slightly jealous of her free-range life. Slowly the front door opens and Mrs. Malano barely peers her head out with a guarded look on her face. “Can I help you, Ma’am?” She asks cautiously.
Struck with surprise that the door was open, I feel the pressure of time on my shoulders kick me into overdrive letting go of the need for neighborly small talk, “oh hey Ericka, I need to borrow your credit card real quick. I will run it right back over to you.” I pause for a breath and again the weight of the clock twists my anxiety as the words pop out of me. “Actually, on second thought, if you are going to be home all day, it would be great if you would let me run your card back to you later this afternoon when I get the kids. I am so late and I need to break into my house.” Without invitation, I take a step toward the door. “So can I run in and grab it real quick? I really appreciate you for this.” I am now sharing the responsibility of holding open the storm door with Ericka just waiting for a sign of approval to enter her home.
Mrs. Malano looks me up and down as if I am a complete stranger and speaking a foreign language. For a second, I wonder if she’s had a stroke, hit her head or has an actual diagnosis of dementia. In her lingering, southern fashion, Mrs. Malano’s concealed thoughts materialize, “Ruby? Is that you, honey? What on earth have you done to yourself?”
My head tilts to the side inadvertently as I absorb her question. I take a breath. I don’t speak. I glance down to my feet with my broken house shoe and exposed toe covered with fresh cut grass and
what I hope is mud. I scan my way up to my outfit choice today which entails an oversized orange jumpsuit with DOC #8080 in black, block letters on my left thigh as well as the right side of my chest. I grab my right shoulder to feel the frayed edge only to be reminded I cut off the sleeves last night. Which then trips my memory to recall the tattoos I created with my black eyeliner pencil listing the names of my children on my right forearm, left bicep and the base of my throat. Finally, I meet my eyes in the reflection of the glass door and raise my hand to my face where I have marked a temporary tattoo of a teardrop to complete my costume for the class parties I volunteered for on this 31st day of October. I shake my head at myself and another ride along with Ruby #killinit.

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