You know my sister, Ruby? Well, she fell and broke her hip, I don’t know how. Six o’clock this morning, she’s already up—and down, apparently—and taken by ambulance over to St. Vincent’s. They called before I finished my first cup of coffee. My skin practically jumped off my bones when the phone rang at that hour.
See, I’m her emergency contact, now that Ralph has passed. So I throw on some clothes, don’t bother with any make-up or what-not because who cares at my age anyway, and I head down to Portland. Naturally, I hit the southbound traffic in time for the morning cattle call. Stop and go, everybody drinking coffee out of those no-handles mugs they have now. Some people half asleep, the rest all hunched forward, faces like they swallowed a handful of bullets, ready to lay on their horns. I never would’ve believed the traffic on the I–5 bridge could get worse. You get old, you get innocent.
Still, I make it down to the hospital in record time. But when I get there, they tell me they’ve already taken her to surgery, I can have a seat in the lounge area—she’ll be out of recovery in three, maybe four hours. They don’t get it that they had me drive down there like it’s some kind of Formula 1 race, just so’s I can wait for four hours. Cry-ma-netly!
Anyway, I decide I should make good use of the time, I’ll just go over to Ruby’s place and get what-all she’ll need. This is where I go wrong, I guess. If I’d’ve just sat in their blankety-blank lounge like they said, I’d be … Well, I wouldn’t have to be asking for any advice, put it that way.
But not to get ahead of myself here, I’ll take it a step at a time. Thinking it over, I suppose it all started with Re-Pete the parakeet.
See, when the first Pete died, Ralph and Ruby bought another one—green like the one before. And Ralph named it Re-Pete. This tells you a lot about Ralph. So later on, when Re-Pete dies too, Ruby decides it’d be a lot easier to just get him stuffed. No more chaff to sweep. No more gunky water. No more cuttlefish. Zero maintenance. Silent. Plus, they still get to use the bamboo cage that looks like a pagoda. But it turns out it cost a lot more than they expected.
“For a hundred-fifty bucks, we could’ve got something more exotic-like, plus a five-year warranty,” Ralph said at the time.
“But it wouldn’t’ve been our Re-Pete,” Ruby said.
So, when their dog, Shasta, died, I had to wonder. I checked online and found out that a taxidermist would charge around six hundred dollars for a small mammal, plus mounting base or pedestal. Cheaper than another toy poodle if you take into account the shots and all.
But this time, Ruby solved the problem herself by making her own replica. Designed it herself with stuff she got at the Craft Mart: poodle-fur cloth, little black eye buttons, little brown silicone nose, a bag of polyester fiberfill. That stuff is pretty cheap. She made a form for it—a skeleton, like—out of old clothes hangers, and she fastened the fiberfill in place by wrapping old pantyhose around the form. It turned out really good. She outdid herself. Surprised herself too, I think. When it was done, she still had some of that energy left, so she made three little puppies to set beside it on the bed. Never mind that Shasta was a boy dog.
Now that was a couple of years ago, before Ralph’s cancer and all. So there really wasn’t any way for me to be prepared for what I found when I let myself into Ruby’s place. I went in the side door, that’s where they come and go. And it’s quiet, naturally. Nobody home. But when I come around the corner into the living room, I tell you I jumped back so fast I actually hit my head on the door jamb because there sits Ralph in his big old white leather recliner—Moby Chair he used to call it.
It takes me maybe a minute, but eventually I see that it isn’t Ralph at all but a life-size replica with a painted cloth face that must be glued to some kind of a mold under there. Maybe Craft Mart sells it as a kit, I don’t know. The thing is wearing Ralph’s shirt and wrist watch, his shoes and socks, his Sears polyester sans-a-belt trousers. He’s holding the remote control. I get my nerve up, and I step in closer to get a good look.
Tonsure, uni-brow, bifocals, ear hair, nose bump, chins, lip scar, pot belly, lady hips, porker butt, sausage fingers, bunions: Ralph.
I sit down. I listen to the pat-a-pan my heart is making, and I remember to get my breathing under control. Okay, I tell myself. You don’t have to touch it. You can just walk away. Pretend you saw nothing. Let it go. No comment. Acceptance.
But then I remember what I’m there for, and I go into Ruby’s room to get her nightgown and all, and I see that she’s moved a sewing machine in there. There’s piles of crafty stuff all over the dresser. On the bed, a pair of chubby legs is stretched out, with a pair of Ruby’s house slippers where the feet would go. The tuckus is sewn into a pair of Jockey briefs that I gave her for her birthday—purple digital floral—with stuffing hanging out the top. And on the sewing machine, with the presser foot pinning it down by the thumb, is a hand—a cloth left hand, with stuffing and a metal rod sticking out the wrist. And on the ring finger of that hand is Ruby’s diamond twin set.
Now, I ask you. Is this normal?