• Lisa Alex Gray

The Serendipitous Life of Ruby Slippers (Chapter Three - Romantic Comedy Novel)

It’s the morning of the big sale at the Yarn Barn, and my mother is rushing me down the stairs, poking me in the back as we go.

“Hurry up, if I don't get there before ten, all of the good yarn will be gone,” she yells from behind me.

The big annual sale at the Yarn Barn has been my mother’s preferred topic of conversation for the last two weeks.

I've listened to hours of details regarding, what she’s going to buy, in what colors, and what varieties of yarn - over and over again.

This has been followed by a break down of her favorite yarn types; cotton and mohair, and least favorite; wool. Plus, which patterns are the best to use, the colors she hates, and what colors look good against her skin.

So, it only makes sense she’s ramped up to a fever pitch this morning, but at eight am, there’s little chance we’ll be late. The Yarn Barn is five minutes down the road, and doesn't open until nine - we can walk there and still get there early.

"Mother, the store doesn't open for another hour," I say, already exhausted from the weight of the day.

My mother scowls responding, "If we don't get there early, I won't get a good place in line.”

“You understand there's going to be a line...don't you, Ruby?”

“Sometimes you just don't get it,” my mother continues, “It's like you landed here from another planet.".

Boy, she nailed that one. I actually do feel like I’m from another planet, sometimes.

We reach the bottom of the stairs and my mother pushes past me, rushing through the living room, into the kitchen, then heads for the back door.

I enter the kitchen behind her, just as our toast pops up from the toaster. I grab it and open the refrigerator for butter and jam, then turn to see my mother glaring at me, pointing to her watch.

“Mother you told me to make you toast. You said you were starving.” I reply.

“Well, that was hours ago. I gave up on you feeding me anything.” She responds in a huff.

I pull a knife out of the drawer and quickly smear butter and jam on the toast, “Here it’s ready now. Take a couple of bites.”

My mother rolls her eyes, then lets go of the door, to reach for the toast. “I’m guessing there’s nothing to drink?” She asks.

“Your orange juice is on the table, mother,” I reply with a sigh.

I turn to the remaining piece of toast and smear some butter and jam on it, then return the butter and jam to the frig, turning back just in time to see my mother exiting the back door.

On the table are her empty glass and a few bread crumbs.

I hurriedly grab my toast and head for the door trying to get ahead of her next outburst. When I get outside, I see my mother standing next to the passenger side of the car looking impatient.

"If you think you're getting in my car with that, you've got another thing coming. Just what I need is buttery fingers and toast crumbs all over my nice upholstery.”

I quickly cram the toast in my mouth, chewing briefly, then swallowing hard. I wipe my hands on my napkin and toss it in the trash near the garage door, then hold up my hands for my mother's approval. She glares back at me, then sneers, “Would you open the door already, Ruby?”

I’ve been driving my mother around for about five years, primarily because her vision was deteriorating, and she refused to be judged by the department of motor vehicles, and their discriminatory ageism.

Of course, when I say, I’m driving, I mean this in the least possible sense of the word. The only way my mother could be closer to doing the driving herself is if she were sitting on my lap.

Her co-pilot navigation is always peppered through any driving I do with her, including our drive today to the Yarn Barn.

Today’s directions are being fired at me like a machine gun, “Watch that car, Ruby. What are you doing? Slow down. Are you trying to kill me?” followed by, “The light is going to turn red, hurry up. Why are you driving so slow?"

I do my best to rock between adjusting my driving, based on her commands, and tuning her out, to maintain my own sanity.

Five years of practice have turned this exchange into an almost poetic dance. I know just when to insert a yes, mother, and I see it, thank you, into our driving encounters. After all, there’s no sense in fighting compliance. It would only cause an escalation from, I don't know how to drive, to a discussion about other areas of my life I’ve fallen short.

Soon we arrive at the Yarn Barn where three other eager beavers stand in line waiting.

As our car comes to a rest, my mother, seeing the micro line, pops her car door, and jumps out, racing in the direction of the line, with the stealth of an athlete.

Hmm, Looks like her arthritis has gone into spontaneous remission. Two nights ago, it was all she could do to make it up the stairs. I thought I might have to carry her piggyback style.

Knowing there is no sense in avoiding the inevitable I turn off the car, place the keys in my purse, and head out to join my mother.

As I walk over, I notice her glaring at me, motioning me to hurry up with her hands, as if she needs me to help shore up her place in line.

I'd like to see someone try to step in front of her when there’s a good sale at stake - it’d be like stepping in front of a rabid dog.

After what feels like an eternity waiting in line, listening to my mother announce what sales banners she sees through the glass, I finally hear the key turn in the lock, snapping me out of my upright slumber. This is followed by my mother grabbing my jacket and pulling me forward.

As I inch toward the door, I look back behind me and notice the line has blossomed into a small crowd of 10 or so people, anxiously waiting to get their hands on yarn.

I catch the eyes of one man, who appears to be in line with his wife, and he rolls his eyes at me in desperation. I smile back embarrassed by his attention then avert my eyes.

Finally, I step through the doorway of the store, and I am instantly hit with a combination of harsh fluorescent lighting and a musty attic smell.

My mother grabs my arm and pulls me along as she briskly moves in the direction of the 70% off bin near the front of the store.

An hour later, my arms are overflowing with yarn of every color and weave.

"I need to make one more pass through the store, just in case I missed something," mother shouts at me as she heads off in the other direction.

I stay standing where I am, knowing it's futile to try and keep up with her harried pace through the aisles. Besides, I’ve been having fun people-watching and my current position has proven to be the best for viewing.

Two women pass by me deep in conversation, piquing my interest. I decide their mother and daughter, based on both having upturned noses and red curly hair.

The mother seems to be annoyed with the daughter about something - typical.

Curious, I strain to hear what she’s saying.

"I told you to bring your own money. It's time you become more independent. This is the very reason why I said you needed to start looking for your own apartment, so you can begin to stand on your own two feet.”

My mother steps in front of my field of vision, just as the daughter begins to reply.


"I said let's get in line before the queue gets any longer,” mother says, then adds, “What's wrong with you, Ruby? Do we need to have Dr. Norstrom check your hearing again?"

Ignoring my mother, I cock my head to the right trying to see the red-headed mother and daughter, but they’ve moved on.

A quick scan of the store leaves me unable to find them anywhere.

My mother begins to tug at my arm and I stumble forward, tripping over my feet causing three balls of yarn to roll from my grasp, and land onto the floor.

"Oh come on Ruby, now you got my yarn all dirty" mother barks at me before she heads in the direction of the checkout.

I bend down and grab the balls of yarn, careful not to displace any more from my grasp, then head over to join my mother in line.

The queue moves at a modest pass, although not quick enough for the woman behind us, who keeps mumbling annoyances under her breath.

One comment, a little louder than the rest, makes its way to the frazzled store clerk, who looks up from her register and in our direction. I flush in response as though I was the one who said it.

“I think the clerk is new" my mother turns and says to the woman behind us.

The woman frowns back at her, then proceeds to tell my mother about a clerk, Nancy, who used to work there, but was always outside taking smoke breaks, and she thinks she was fired.

The rest of my time in line is spent listening to pieces of my mother’s conversation with her new friend until it’s our turn to check out.

As my mother finishes paying, I grab her bags and head for the door, happy to finally have this part of my day over.

I reach the car and put the bags in the trunk as my mother walks out, still chatting with her new friend.

They smile at each other then part ways, and mother makes her way over to me, hurriedly jumping into the passenger side.

"You will not believe it," she says with excitement, "Florence has asked me to go to lunch with her."

"What? Who?" I respond half listening.

"Florence, Ruby, pay attention, my friend from the Yarn Barn." mother responds losing her patience, as though I should know who Florence is.

"Wait, the women you were talking to in line?" I ask.

"Yes, we realized just how much we have in common and she asked me to lunch." mother beams, then adds, "Did you see the vest she’s wearing, she made that herself? I mean she doesn't have my skills, but I can show her a thing or two"

Our drive home includes a full recount of our day at the Yarn Barn, from the line outside, that now includes 40 people, to what her new friend Florence told her about the clerk Nancy, who was fired for smoking in front of customers and smelling up the yarn with her cigarettes.

I pull into the driveway just in time for a headache to emerge. So, I make my way inside and toward the stairs, before my mother has a chance to notice me missing.

I can hear her in the kitchen, as I climb the stairs, going through her bags and reciting all of her yarn purchases; each color, and style, and how much money she saved.

I head into my bedroom and shut the door behind me, then drop on the bed. I lay there looking up at the ceiling, and the old frosted glass light fixture, as I hear my mother’s footsteps on the staircase, then down the hall, bags rustling at her side, as she hums a little sing-song.

A thought begins to form in my mind as I lay there in bed..my mother has made a friend.

If my mother can make a friend, something must really be wrong with me.

I mean, Eveey is my friend, and I feel lucky to have her, but the truth is, our friendship wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Eveey pursuing me. I could never have approached her on my own.

My mind returns to the Yarn Barn and something I saw during my people-watching.

It was two women in their twenties, picking out yarn to make scarves for their boyfriend's.

They had it all - friendship and boyfriends!

There was such ease in how they talked to each other, they seemed so close, and I couldn’t help but wonder how that happened.

I sit up in bed and reach for my stuffed bear from inside my nightstand drawer.

Hello, my name is Ruby, isn’t there some lovely yarn here today? I say to my bear as his plastic eyes stare back at me.

Does your boyfriend where mittens too? Okay, that's a stupid question.

Does your boyfriend like scarves? Is he cold often? Do you want to go to lunch with me and be my friend?

Argh, I smash my bear into my face, embarrassed at my awkward attempt at conversation, then hug him close, trying to soothe the gnawing, empty feeling inside.

Click here to go to Chapter Four