• Lisa Alex Gray

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


There’s nothing wrong with the shows I watch. Like she’s any judge with her Wheel of Fortune or Family Feud.


I sink in the tub as my mother's words bounce around in my head.


A cold drop of water hits my forehead and I look up at the nylons hanging above and glare, what are you working for my mother?


I shove my hands under the warm bubbles, searching for my washcloth, and place it over my eyes. The warmth begins to melt the tension in my face and I feel my shoulders relax.


Sinking deeper into the water I rest my head on the back of the tub, annoyingly wondering if there’s any truth to what my mother said.


I just don’t see how liking shows on the BBC Network makes me unattractive to men. After all, their shows are historical and educational. I’m always learning new, interesting things.


Well, Downton Abbey may be more soap opera meets history, but I’ve learned some things, like where the servants' rooms are located, and just how dressed up you have to get for dinner.


It’s better than guessing letters to the sentence “April Showers Bring May Flowers” or listing the Top 10 things a man keeps in his dresser.


She’s so unreasonable.


She’s just trying to get under my skin because I wouldn’t watch Wheel of Fortune with her ONE NIGHT. Like one night of not sitting next to her on the couch was going to kill her.


Besides, I’ve never had the chance to see the BBC’s version of Jane Eyre, and I’ve been excited to watch it all week.


I don’t even feel like watching it now; she ruined it for me.


How can I possibly enjoy myself knowing the retaliation I’ll get from her over the next few days?


I just need to toe the line and do what she wants, find my seat on the couch, and be quiet.

Not like my role is unclear, I’ve been my mother’s cook, cleaner, driver, roommate, and companion for as long as I can remember.


I work the job she says suits my “limited skills” - grocery clerk, and wear the clothes she suggests make the most of my “ruddy complexion” and “shapeless figure” - drab and loose-fitting. All done in the hope of pleasing her...and possibly producing one of her elusive smiles - fat chance.


I pull the cold washcloth from my eyes, and sit up in the tub, as a small bubble rises from the water and floats up. I watch it move upward, feeling suddenly irritated at its grasp for freedom, so I lift my finger and touch it, and “poof” it's gone.


Quickly, I search for another bubble rising from the water, feeling bad for ending its journey too soon. Swirling my hands in the water, I try to stir up suds, then lift my hand out in an attempt to encourage another bubble upward.


But nothing happens.


So I ease back down in the water, this time taking a deep breath and dropping my head under the surface, bracing my hands on the sides of the tub, to prevent my body from floating up.


Opening my eyes underwater I look up at the distorted nylon shape above and grimace, still angry at its presence. Then I close my eyes and suddenly -  silence - just my heartbeat playing out its familiar song; thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump. I follow the rhythm as I fight for a few more seconds of breath, until the beating grows louder, turning into a pounding, and causing me to sit up.


I’m out of breath and instantly startled by the sound of banging. Suddenly my mother's voice interrupts, joining in on the banging on the bathroom door, “Ruby, what the heck are you doing in there?” My heart jumps in response and I brace myself to stand. “You know, other people have needs, this isn’t a spa your living in.” I feel my cheeks flush, as she continues, “Why don’t you think of someone else for a change?”


Quickly, I anchor my hands on each side of the tub and pull myself up with force as ripples of water run from my body and splash the tub walls angrily. I take a brief moment to steady myself, then maneuver from the tub, shouting back guiltily, “I’m coming. I’ll be right out”, then add, “I’m sorry”, in repent.


Clearly her anger over the Wheel of Fortune thing was still going strong.


I reach for my robe, scrambling for the armholes, then yank the terrycloth sides around my body trying to out-pace her next outburst. Then open the door, and step out of the small pool of water forming at my feet, and into the hall as drips of water create paths down my legs.


My mother is standing in the hallway with an intense glare like she always has in these moments. One that conveys both years of disappointment and the anticipation of more to come.


I hang my head in response, and slump my shoulders inward, in an attempt to disappear into the aged wood floor beneath me.


Nothing from her.


I decide to make my move and step forward, then edge past her, flinching at her heated energy, and move quickly toward my bedroom.


Still no response.


“Mother, let me get changed and I’ll meet you downstairs for Wheel of Fortune” I offer in my kindest voice. “Don’t bother” she snaps back. “I’m not interested,” she adds as she storms past me to her bedroom and slams the door.


Silence.


Softly, I ease my bedroom door handle clockwise and slip into my room, shutting the door behind me.


Then stand still in darkness, waiting for the creak of floorboards, to tell me if she’s returning for more.


She didn’t even use the bathroom?!?


Then, her voice unexpectedly bellows causing me to jump, “You know you got water all over the floor. Are you planning to pay for the floor to be refinished?” I hear her footsteps grow louder as she makes her way past my bedroom door toward the bathroom.


Crap, she’s back.


Then the sound of the floorboards squeaking beneath her, back and forth, tells me she’s drying the floor.


I debate going out to help, then hesitate when the hall becomes quiet again, punctuated by the slamming of her bedroom door in the distance.


Wrath over.


I edge my way across the room in darkness, until I reach my bed, and lay down curling up on one side, then bring my pillow into a hug at my chest.


Well, this evening sure sucked.


To think how excited I was to come home from work, make some popcorn, and sit down to a night of Jane Eyre.


I close my eyes and listen for my heartbeat, a feeble attempt at recreating the peace I felt earlier.


Yeah, that moments gone.


I start drifting off to sleep when a shiver runs down my body. I debate the possibility of falling asleep in my damp robe and close my eyes, pulling my knees into my chest, and…nope, not happening.


I’m freezing - I need to get up.


Darn it.

I sit up in bed staring into my darkened room waiting for my eyes to adjust, then make my way to the closet for an extra blanket and my nightgown.


Once there, I get on my tiptoes and reach into the shelf, searching for the blanket, I know is there somewhere. A sliver of light streams in from outside offering enough brightness to make out shapes.


I extend my arm further back and grasp a blanket-like object as I teeter on my toes.


Pulling the blanket toward me, my legs begin to shake from strain, and I start to lose my balance. I grab for anything solid to hang on to, raking my hand past various objects as I fall backward into the door and down to the floor, followed by a shower of things.


Holding my breath, I freeze in silence as I listen for my mother, praying the sound didn't wake her. The furnace kicks in and the fan begins to blow creating perfectly timed background noise.


Thank you furnace. I owe you one.


I wait a moment longer, then crawl across my bedroom floor to my lamp and pull the string to assess the damage. A pile of random stuff is laying at the foot of my closet door. Frustrated, I head over and start randomly grabbing items and shoving them back on the shelf, when I notice a shoebox. I pick it up to add it to the rest, then stop, realizing I have no idea where this shoebox is from.


Intrigued and now fully awake, I carry the box over to my bed, sit down, and remove the top. The box is filled with a pile of old papers. Digging through, I make out an elementary school report card, some macrame bracelets made from twine, and a drawing of a house with an orange sun, rainbow, and trees; not bad, Ruby.


Then I notice a neatly folded piece of paper, with a heart drawn on the front, that’s been taped shut. I carefully pull at the yellow tape and unfold the paper.


The heading at the top of the paper reads, Ruby’s Goals. The papers date makes me ten years old when I wrote it. I scan the items on the list, impressed with its length, there are 30 in all.


As I read each item, I smile, what a silly kid I was. Then something begins to dawn on me, causing my smile to fade. I haven’t completed anything on this list.


Knowing that couldn't be possible, I read the list again, this time more slowly until I reach the bottom.


Nothing.


What the? This can’t be? What the heck have I been doing for the last 24 years? I feel tears begin to build in my eyes and blink them back, staring at the list in disbelief.


Then slowly I place the list back in the box, replace the lid, and shove the box under my bed. I reach for the cord on my lamp and pull hard causing it to swing back in forth hitting the lampshade over and over again.


Then, I curl up in bed and pull the damp covers up high, not caring about an extra blanket anymore. Staring at the wall next to my window, I watch shapes dance from the light streaming through, wondering what happened to the girl who drew rainbows and wrote long lists of goals?


Where the hell did I go?


Click here to go to Chapter Two

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©2020 by Lisa Alex Gray