A Backward GlanceChapter 16
Saturday, Frank and I fixed our own breakfast, and were outside working before Ruby even got out of bed. At least I didn't see her.
Frank musta had some big over-all plan for his huge yard, but I never understood what it was. I just dug where he told me to dig, and put in, or took out, what he told me to put in or take out.
I went in to get a soda once, and Ruby was in the kitchen holding her little glass of vodka. "Come over here, honey," she said, and wiggled her finger at me.
"I just came in for a drink. I'm going right back out."
"You have time for a kiss. And maybe a little something else."
She raised her eyebrows. "No?"
"Frank's waiting for me. I gotta go." And I left.
I was pretty sure I'd pay for that later…….
At noon, Frank said for me to go in the house and rest, he had something he had to go do, and when he got back, we'd talk about the rest of the weekend. I was in the bathroom, washing up, when Ruby swung the door open and stood in the doorway.
"Are you getting bored with me, Wendell?"
That was a dangerous question, and I knew it. That thing about saying I'd raped her, she said she'd do that if I left, but I knew she could do that anytime. Anytime I made her mad, anytime I told her No, anytime she didn't get what she wanted. Anytime.
So I didn't answer her.
"You're not nearly as much fun as you used to be, you know that?"
"Yeah? Why's that?"
"I don't know." She walked over to the sink and picked up the washcloth. "Maybe it's the thrill of the chase that's gone." She rubbed my chest with it, around in circles, and then concentrated on my stomach above my belt, on my navel.
"I wasn't chasing you."
"No. You weren't, were you?" She undid my belt, and stuck the washcloth inside my pants.
"That's kinda cold," I said and pulled her hand out.
She sighed. I think she was aggravated with me, but she didn't say so. What she said was, "Everything's cold, Wendell; the world's cold." She kissed me.
"Stop it. I don't wanna do this right now."
"You still don't understand, do you? It doesn't matter what you want." She unbuttoned a coupla my trouser buttons, before I grabbed her hand and made her stop.
"What's the matter with you?" she said.
"Frank's gonna be back in a few minutes."
"No, he's not. He went downtown." She put her arms around me and nibbled on my bottom lip. "You're not enamored of me, anymore." She bit me hard, and then soothed the spot with her tongue. "And, truthfully, you're not so interesting to me anymore, either. Even though energetic young men are interesting in a certain way by their very natures…..I think I'm beginning to tire of you."
She smiled. "I said 'beginning to'. In a couple of days, I'm sure I won't give a tinker's damn about you or your lovely young body…..but right now……". . . .
I don't remember leaving the bathroom, but we ended up in my bed. Ruby wasn't in a hurry this time, there were a couple things she wanted to do, and she took her time. She liked to be on top, and that's where she was at the end, wiggling a little and making satisfied noises. She rested her head on the bed next to mine while she caught her breath…..her hair was in my face….I pulled my hand outta hers, pushed her hair to the side……opened my eyes…….
Ruby went perfectly still. She raised her head enough to see him standing there watching us. When she looked back at me, I knew what she was thinking. She was trying to think of a way to blame it on me, and not having a lot a' luck. If it weren't for the look on Frank's face, I mighta enjoyed the look on Ruby's.
I don't think I can tell you what he looked like. You can probably imagine. He was the kinda guy that expected everybody to do the right thing, you know? He was always surprised when it worked out the other way. Not like me.
He would never have hurt Ruby or me for any reason, and he didn't know what to do when it was him getting hurt. If it'd been anybody else, they probably woulda started swinging, maybe throwing stuff, maybe breaking things, yelling real loud for sure.
When I was fifteen, that's what I expected Frank to do, too. I figured it was just a matter of time, take a few minutes for him to get over the shock, and then there'd be hell to pay. Even though I knew he was a little different from the guys I was used to, I thought that's what anybody'd do, everybody. I pushed Ruby to make her get off me, and sat up. I didn't wanna be laying under a woman if he came after me. Or her.
Ruby said, "Frank, darling, let me explain-"
"Don't talk to me." I almost couldn't hear him. "Go down to the bedroom." His hand clenched, and I got up off the bed, and was in between them before he reached for her. He tried to reach around me, and I pushed him back a couple steps.
We stared at each other, it seemed like a long time. "What are you doing?" he said. "Are you saving her from me?" He laughed, one of those laughs that aren't really laughs, and shook his head.
He took a big puff of air, and let it out. "Go find your clothes and put them on." We all figured he was talking to Ruby, and I guess she figured it'd be better not to argue with him, 'cause she went out the door without saying anything else. He looked at me and said, "I'm not going to kill her, Wendell, I'm just going to talk. OK?" He took the few steps out into the hall before he turned his head and looked back at me, standing there buck naked. "I want you out of my house." He stuck his hands in his pockets and walked down the hall.
There were fishing poles laying out in the hall just outside my door.
I sat down for a minute. Or two. Longer than that. Maybe I was in shock, too.
Fine, I thought. Good. This makes it easy. Frank wanted me to get out, I'd get out. I didn't wanna stay in this pansy joint, anyway. With a goddamn geek like Frank. It'd be good to get back to the part of town where I belonged. Where people knew me. Some of 'em, anyway.
I suppose he thought this would upset me. I suppose he thought this would get me back. But he was doing me a favor. Who the hell'd wanna live in a place like this to begin with?. . . .
Me. I would.
I didn't get dressed for a while. I could hear Ruby and Frank down the hall, talking first, then yelling and screaming at each other. I didn't pay much attention to what they were saying until it was just Ruby that was doing all the yelling and screaming. She was saying a lotta things I bet Frank didn't wanna hear, about him, about me, about other people. He didn't say anything back. After I heard some of the things she said about me, I didn't wanna hear any more of it either. I shut my door and put on my pants.
Got my bag outta the closet. It was too small for everything Frank bought me. I could wear a couple of the shirts, or maybe three, but otherwise I'd have to leave behind what wouldn't fit inside. I had close to five bucks in my pocket, and I laid it on the desk.
I heard his shoes on the wood floor, coming down the hall. He didn't knock. He pushed the door open and stood in the doorway. Watched me get my stuff outta the drawers, sort it out, put what I could in the canvas bag.
"If you need another bag, Wendell, I might have one downstairs." Real quiet. Not what I expected him to say. 'Course he didn't very often do or say what I expected.
I shook my head. "Can't carry that much."
"This pole here is yours……….." He motioned with his foot toward the poles still laying out in the hall.
"What would I do with it? Anyway, somebody'd just steal it."
He looked down at the floor. "Right." I could hear Ruby down the hall, crying real loud. Every so often she'd yell something, curse Frank or me or whoever, even though there was nobody there to listen to her. "Where will you go?"
I didn't bother to answer that.
"Right." He just stood there for a minute. "Look…..from what Ruby said……I think….." He stopped and didn't seem to know what to say. "She's my wife…….so I can't just---"
"I don't have enough money to pay you for the clothes I'm taking, but there's some." I pointed toward the cash on the desk. "I figured you wouldn't care if I took 'em with me, what're you gonna do with 'em, you know?"
"I don't want your money, Wendell, the clothes are yours."
"I don't wanna feel like I'm stealing 'em."
I was fastening up my bag when he said, "Why didn't you say something to me?"
He looked like he was gonna cry.
"Something like, 'your wife's putting her hand in my pants, help me?"
He turned away.
"Yeah, sure, I'm gonna say that. And if she told you I was lying, then what?"
"I don't know. I don't know who I would have believed. But you didn't even give me a chance to believe you."
I thought about that for a minute. "I guess not. I guess I just screwed up all the way around."
I hoisted my bag up on my shoulder. It was lots heavier than when I got here; it was gonna be work to carry it around with me. I passed him in the doorway, and headed for the stairs.
I stopped and turned around.
"Maybe we could…… I know I told you to leave, but…… I don't know, maybe there's a way we could come up with something………"
Down the hall, Ruby was winding down. I shook my head. "I don't think that would work out."
At the bottom of the stairs, I turned around again. Frank was looking over the banister. "I gotta ask you a favor," I said. I didn't wanna, but when Ruby got over being hysterical, she might decide to get back at me. Even though it wasn't my fault.
It was a hard thing to say. I had to take a coupla deep breaths before I could get it out. "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't tell the cops or the social workers I raped Ruby."
Silence for a minute. "Why would I say that? You didn't, did you?"
I shook my head.
"Don't worry, then. I wouldn't say that.""
Yeah, but……..I'm thinking Ruby might."
Lots of silence. He started down the stairs toward me. "Why would she?"
"Did she say that to you?"
I couldn't tell if he was mad at me or what. He looked kinda funny.
"Wendell. Did she say she'd tell the police you raped her? Did she threaten you with that?"
"The thing is, I'll go to prison for a long time if they think I did that."
"My God. I see it all now."
Another time I didn't realize what he was gonna do until he did it. He came all the way down the stairs and put his arms around me, kinda like he did in the jail, and hugged me real hard.
"I won't let her say that. I promise." He ran his hand under his nose after he let me go. "I'm so sorry. I let you down."
"You didn't do anything."
"I promised you everything would work out. I promised you'd be safe here. And I couldn't deliver."
Damn, he was gonna cry, and he was making me sniffle a little, too. I had to get outta here.
"It's OK. I didn't believe you." I headed for the door.
"Wendell……don't leave….. at the very least I can help---"
"Nah, look, I gotta get going."
He stood at the door while I walked down the sidewalk. "If you ever need anything….."
"Sure." Yeah, right, like I'd come and ask him for anything. "See ya," I said.
But I didn't. I didn't ever see him again.