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Thread: Roses for Ruby

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    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Jun 2018
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    Roses for Ruby

    While undressing for her bath, Ruby Wilson, a ninety-three-year-old woman, fainted and hit her head on the tub, knocking herself out cold. Harry, her ninety-five-year-old husband, found her sprawled on the floor, unresponsive, and he called 911. A subsequent CT scan revealed a tumor deep within her brain. For the past month, Ruby’s headaches had confined her to the bedroom, unable to navigate without help. All the while, Harry attended to her every need.

    After putting Ruby to bed, Harry stared vacantly through the soiled bedroom window and gritted his teeth. He slammed his clenched fist against the window frame, rattling the pane of glass. Tears welled up, and he wiped them with the back of his sleeve. His mind whirled.

    Ruby’s recent visit to her physician had been somber, painting a bleak picture of her condition, worse than anticipated. Medication had so stupefied her, Ruby didn’t understand the report, but Harry did. He understood every word. Inoperable. A matter of weeks, maybe days. The words kept running through Harry’s mind. Ruby was gonna die, and nothing could prevent it. They had been together seventy years, and the thought of going on without her was terrifying.

    Through his tears, Harry noted the disgraceful condition of the backyard. The flowerbeds, Ruby’s pride and joy, sprouted weeds, choking the perennials that had flourished under her watchful eye. An oversize maple tree shaded most of the yard, killing the grass and giving dandelions a foothold to carpet the backyard. Harry hung his head and closed his eyes, not caring to see the rack and ruin that ran parallel with his life.

    Ruby awakened in the bed nearby. “Ha... Harry.”

    “Yes, Ruby,” he said, turning toward her. “What can I get you?”

    “Oh, nothing,” she said, rubbing her temples. “My head. It hurts, that’s all.”

    The doctor said her pain would increase toward the end, he thought. Is this it?

    Harry never felt so helpless while Ruby’s vitality slipped away unstoppable as the receding tide. He cleared his throat and tried to think of something to say, but he had never verbalized his feelings and couldn’t find the words to express them now.

    Harry glanced outside again, eyeing the contours of the big tree. “Ruby, Dear. Remember when we planted that maple tree? Jimmy was born that year.”

    Ruby twisted toward Harry’s voice. Her body curled into a fetal position. “Uh-hm.”

    “Jimmy fell off the rope swing and broke his arm. Just five, as I recall. You were pregnant with Mary at the time. We planted that rose bush to celebrate her birth. Do you remember? You always loved the smell of fresh-cut roses.”

    Dried rose petals piled on the dresser near the bed, dust-covered. The vase’s water evaporated; the rose’s stem and hip shriveled.

    A fresh rosebud from the bush--Ruby would like its fragrance, he thought. But Harry procrastinated.

    Ruby whimpered and uncurled. “Jim... Jimmy. Where’s Jimmy?”

    “Remember, Dear? Jimmy perished in the war.”

    “Ma... Mary.”

    “Mary’s arriving Tuesday.”

    Ruby complained. “Ooooh, pain... Like my head’s in a vise. Oh, my God, it hurts.”

    Harry retrieved the new prescription from the medicine cabinet. “The doctor ordered some stronger pills. They should help you feel better,” he called to her.

    “Please hurry!”

    Harry fumbled with the medication container.

    “Damn! Who can open these?” He cursed and threw the container against the bathroom wall. It ricocheted and struck the floor, remaining undamaged. Harry stomped on it hard--too hard--and the plastic shattered, scattering tablets everywhere.

    “Crap!” Harry located two pills, washed a dirty glass, and hurried to Ruby’s side. “Take these, Ruby. You’ll feel better.”

    “Can’t. Mouth’s too dry.”

    Harry pressed the glass to her lips. “A little sip first.”

    Afterward, he positioned two tablets on her tongue and tilted the glass to her lips. Ruby swallowed the pills with water. Harry lowered her head to the perspiration-stained pillow. He ran his fingers through Ruby’s hair: once turbulent, corkscrew red now tangled and matted gray. Age and disease had robbed Ruby’s beauty, but to Harry, her beauty never left.

    Harry returned to the bathroom to scoop up all the pills he could find. After flicking off the dust, he put them in a clean glass and set the glass in the medicine cabinet.

    The doctor had said, ‘There’s nothing stronger.’ Harry searched the floor for the label. He found a crushed plastic section and crumpled label: Take 1-2 tablets orally every 4-6 hours for pain relief. Caution: No more than 8 pills per day.

    He held the label in his hand. Harry wondered how much longer Ruby had to suffer--and how much more he could endure. He looked at the glass of pills.

    Could I do it? he thought. Would Ruby want me to do it?

    Harry poured several pills into his hand and held them to the light. They had always joked about ending it all if either was faced with an incurable disease. ‘Just strap me to a motorcycle and point me toward a tree,’ Harry would say and break out in thunderous laughter. ‘Strap me behind you,’ Ruby would say.

    Neither Harry nor Ruby was laughing today.


    Harry put the pills back in the glass and rushed to Ruby’s side. “Yes, Dear. How’s the pain?”

    “Better, but I feel groggy.”

    Harry pulled his chair closer to the bed and held Ruby’s hand. “It’s the medication’s side effect. It takes away the pain but leaves you woozy.”

    “The rose is dead,” said Ruby.


    “The rose in the vase is dead. I always liked fresh roses, thorns and all.”

    I should have taken the time to get a fresh rose, he thought.

    Harry never knew when Ruby’s lucidity would surface. He damned himself for not being prepared.

    “What did the doctor say?” asked Ruby.

    “Huh?” asked Harry, avoiding eye contact.

    “Harry, don’t avoid me. What did the doctor say? Am I going to die?”

    “We’re all going to die,” he said, nonchalantly.

    “Damn it, Harry. I love you dearly, but you can infuriate me when you try to candy-coat everything to spare my feelings. You’ve been doing it for seventy years, and sometimes it pisses me off. So tell me what the doctor said.”

    “Brain cancer. Inoperable. No hope for recovery,” said Harry as if he were reading to her from the newspaper headlines.

    “You could’ve put a little candy-coating on it.”

    “That’s what she said. It’s the plain and simple truth.”

    “Well, that explains the headaches. How long do I have? How long do we have?”

    “She didn’t know, but not long, I guess.”

    “No treatment?”


    “Oooooh,” cried Ruby, tightly squeezing Harry’s hand.

    “What’s the matter?”

    “Feels like my head’s being crushed,” she said, rocking her head side to side on the pillow.

    “It’s only been two hours since the last dose. We’ll have to wait for more.”

    “Why?” asked Ruby. Her eyes focused on Harry’s.

    “The instructions said, ‘1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours,’” said Harry, looking away from her intense gaze.

    “Why?” she asked, squeezing his hand once more.

    “They’re strong medication and could harm you if you took too many,” he said, looking at her with concern.

    “Harm me? More than my cancer?” asked Ruby with a small chuckle. “I doubt it.”

    “That’s what it says.”

    “Listen to me, Harry. I’m the one in pain. I’m the one with no hope of recovery. Give me the pill.”

    Harry was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was going. It had crossed his mind that he could quickly end Ruby’s suffering, but he couldn’t do it. Now, Ruby was going where Harry couldn’t go--wasn’t ready to go.

    “Let’s not talk about it,” he said.

    “Harry, you always buried your head in the sand when it came to the big decisions, and you left them up to me. Well, I’d like to talk about it, but my headache is pounding. Please give me another pill.”

    Harry went to the bathroom, took the glass of pills from the medicine cabinet, and filled another glass of water. Harry placed the medications on the nightstand and removed one.

    “Here’s one more, but that’s all.”

    “Harry, you’re so sweet,” said Ruby, smiling.

    Harry lifted Ruby to a sitting position, put the pill on her tongue, pressed the glass of water to her lips, and tilted it back so she could swallow. He lowered her to the bed, fluffed the pillow around her head, and kissed her on her forehead.

    Once she’s asleep, he thought, I’ll slip out and cut a couple of roses for the vase. Ruby will like that.

    Ruby’s breathing became rhythmic, and Harry was sure she was asleep. He took the bud vase to the bathroom and soaked it in the sink. With a damp washcloth in hand, he returned to the dresser, scooped the dried petals into the trashcan, and wiped the dust away. Harry glanced at Ruby and, satisfied that she was still sleeping, headed to the kitchen for a paring knife.

    Harry chose a rose in full bloom and a bud that would bloom in a few days. Careful to cut the stems long enough for the vase, he hurried back inside. Ruby was still sleeping.

    Harry took the vase to the bathroom. “How did Ruby say to arrange them? Open bloom lower with bud above, or was it the other way around?” He dried the vase, filled it with water, and then proudly put his floral arrangement on the dresser.

    I wish I’d done this every day, he thought. So little effort, but it says so much.

    Then Harry slumped into the chair next to the bed. Before long, he fell asleep.

    He was awakened by Ruby’s choking and gasping for air. Harry sat straight in the chair. “Ruby!” In horror, he watched as Ruby retched. Harry scooped up her thrashing body and held her. “Ruby, what’s wrong?”

    But Ruby couldn’t answer. Soon the vomiting passed, and her body relaxed. Her arms hung limp, breathing shallow.

    “Ruby, speak to me!” Harry clutched Ruby tighter. “Oh, my God, what’s happening?” In the tangled sheets, Harry spotted the empty glass. He glanced at the nightstand; the pills were gone.

    Harry rocked Ruby back and forth, weeping. “Ruby, Ruby. Why’d you do it? Why?” In his confusion, self-loathing, and anguish, he fought the urge to keep her alive for one minute more.

    His spirit cried out, Let her go!

    A final heaving racked her frail body, and she gasped. Her arms fell limp, and Ruby’s agony ended. She lay silent and peaceful. Harry released her, laid her on the pillow, kissed her bile-tainted lips, and whispered, “I love you, Ruby. Sleep now.”
    Last edited by DRayVan; 03-12-2021 at 01:30 PM. Reason: Updated Post

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