Probably Ruby by Lisa Bird-Wilson - Excerpt

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Probably Ruby

a novel by Lisa Bird-Wilson


BEING WITH GWEN FELT LIKE playing your favourite game. And Ruby loved games. Like the un-birthdays.

Ruby bought stamps and sent formal paper invitations in the mail to Gwen and each of the boys inviting them to an un-birthday party. Even though Ruby could’ve just given the invitations in-person, she mailed them instead so the invitations could be received like a surprise.

For the party, Ruby baked a cake. On the day of the un-birthday, the boys ran around finding leftover party decorations. They made a special chair for Junior, who was the designated un-birthday person. The chair was covered in ribbons, streamers, balloons, and scraps of wrapping paper cut into fringe—whatever they could find to make it look festive. Whose un-birthday it was had no particular scheme, Ruby just tried to random-rotate so everyone got equal turns.

Every person attending the un-birthday party was to bring something they already owned, wrapped in fancy paper or newspaper, decorated with ribbons and stickers—a gift for the special person. Cards were made from cereal box cardboard, glued, coloured, and glittered with great concentration. The cake would have as many candles on it as they could find in the drawer. Sometimes an inferno, sometimes improvised with a single dusty taper candle taken from the candleholder in the living room. There was a stir of excitement in the house as they prepared.

“Go get the un-birthday hat,” Ruby told Aaron and he ran off to the bathroom to retrieve the crocheted toilet paper cover made with sparkly yarn. For one night the cover would be repurposed to the most coveted hat in the house.

Gwen showed up with a bottle of chilled champagne for her and Ruby and sparkling apple juice for the boys.

“We need to do a toast,” Gwen insisted, popping the champagne cork and filling Ruby’s wine glass until it overflowed. Ruby popped the apple juice cork, much to the boys’ delight.

“Cheers,” Gwen hoisted her glass in the air, encouraging the boys and Ruby to do the same. “As my dear old dad used to say, I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” Ruby laughed and they clinked their glasses together.

Ruby got instantly happy-drunk on the champagne, which was sweet and too easy to drink. She lost track of the pot of curry on the stove and burned it. And so, instead of the supper Ruby had planned, they did “the civilized thing,” as Gwen put it, and ordered pizza. Then they turned off the lights for the spectacle of the candles and sang Happy Un-birthday to You!

To see Junior made so happy by the cake, the candles, and the repurposed gifts made Ruby want to cry. Junior beamed in the glow of the attention. The purpose of un-birthdays was to make the un-birthday person, on their day, feel special for no reason at all.

The party was a raging success, but later Ruby and Gwen fought, again.

It happened much like Ruby imagined it might. They were both pretty drunk and Gwen got mad at Ruby for saying Gwen liked to have things her own way.

“What do you mean by that?” Gwen challenged, on the defensive. Gwen wasn’t always a happy drunk. Ruby knew this.

“You know. You seem like you’re really easy going, but deep down you’re a control-freak. You say so yourself,’ Ruby made the comment in a drunk, I’m-teasing-you kind of way, but Gwen was primed for fury.

“Control freak?” Gwen’s voice rose and Ruby smiled, maybe at what Gwen said or how she said it, maybe not. Ruby couldn’t even remember the reason she smiled just then, but the smile sent Gwen into a fit.

“Are you laughing at me?”

Ruby didn’t think she was, but unfortunately, she kept smiling.

Ruby knew Gwen was especially sensitive to being mocked or laughed at, but she wasn’t in a position to take it seriously.

Gwen’s violent reaction happened so fast that later Ruby couldn’t remember exactly the sequence of events, but she did recall being pushed up against the wall and her windpipe crushed under Gwen’s forearm. Gwen was so close that Ruby could smell her unwashed hair. Ruby’s smile faltered a bit but didn’t disappear entirely. Gwen’s eyes were full of rage as she pressed her forearm harder across Ruby’s throat.

“Stop,” Gwen hissed, getting closer. “Stop fucking smiling.”

Ruby’s breath rasped against her windpipe, but otherwise she didn’t protest. It was the level. The level of Gwen’s anger that surprised her. And still she couldn’t buy into it, it all seemed sort of funny to her, in the moment. Perversely enjoyable. Later, she would chalk it up to the effect of the champagne. Ruby couldn’t take anything seriously after drinking that much champagne.

A little thrill shot through Ruby as she saw Gwen prepare to hit her. As Gwen drew her arm back, hand open, ready to strike, Ruby half closed her eyes and turned her face slightly away in anticipation.

“Don’t touch my hair,” she whispered. She tensed for the blow.



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