Repeatedly Yours

Cheyenne Bizon


            Thought has a way of enslaving a person when given too much freedom, and Ruth Dawes was thoroughly at its mercy as she contemplatively scraped at the chipping paint of the patio steps with her heel. Splinters of white spiraled from the aging wood, and though she watched them closely, she hardly noticed their existence.

            “Where are ya, Ruth?” Bill Harkin—Ruth’s hardware store-owning friend from down the street—scratched his enormous gray mustache that curtained his entire mouth. He tapped the amber neck of his beer bottle against hers. “Get ‘yer head outta the clouds, huh? Ol’ girl’s damn near lost it.”

            Gilligan Brass, a local farmer, chimed in from beside Ruth, punctuating his sentence with a well-distanced spit.

“Ain’t nothing wrong with a little bit of deep thought. There’s so damn much to think about, we don’t have the damn time to figure it all out. Damn.”

            “You should both shut up, if you know what’s good for ‘ya,”Ruth said with a smirk. She took a heavy gulp of her lager and placed the empty bottle on the step in front of her.

“Here I am, 58 years old, ‘gettin splinters in my ass and sharing a beer with you two geezers. I need some quiet time just to keep my damn head on straight.”

            Gill waved off the semi-endearing insult.

            “We’re all geezers now,” he mused thoughtfully as he stared upon the humble town into which he’d poured his life.

“All we have left to look forward to is…” he shrugged.

            “Ass splinters?” provided Bill.

            “Ass splinters. Yeah.”

            “Nah,” Ruth sighed, resting her elbows on her knees as thought once again dominated her mind in a nostalgic sweep.

“We got a little more than that, I hope.”

            “Shirley Temple’s got dreams, even after all this time,” Bill teased. His mustache-cloaked smile was only evident by the crinkling of his wise, sagging eyes.

            Ruth fingered one of the frizzy ringlets that bobbed beside her face, twisting the faded gold lock with an expression of doubt.

“Shirley Temple got grays now. She all grown up.”

            With a crack of her broad shoulders, Ruth released a sigh that she hoped would banish her nagging thoughts. The regret and emotional exhaustion that lingered there, though, defiantly refused to disperse.

            Defeated, Ruth pushed her aching body to a stand with a grunt.

“Alright, boys. I’m gonna close up the store and call it a night.”

            “Hang on—what’s that?” Gill squinted down the dirt road to the west, glaring against the sunset that had washed the world in a stain of orange.

            Bill followed suit, straining his aged eyes against the settling dimness. “It’s a calf,” he announced, satisfied with his conclusion. “Little thing must’a gotten loose while you were sittin’ on your ass over here.”

            “That ain’t no damn calf. It has two legs. Looks like a kid.”

            Gill’s words stung Ruth’s stomach with an abrupt wave of realization. The knot that tied there pulled tight, freezing her muscles in shock and a tendril of what she knew was naïve nervousness.

            “Nah, not a kid. Kids ain’t that husky. That’s a little man right there.”

            It couldn’t be, Ruth thought anxiously. She dedicated a pathetic effort to regulating her nervous breathing. I’m an old woman now. He couldn’t be back.

            “Ruth,” Bill coaxed, pointing down the twilight-drenched way. “Look.”

            The little silhouette was shaped just as she knew it would be: short and stout against the setting sun. He walked just as he always had—with an ideal balance of purpose and leisure. The dwarfed feet kicked up clouds of dust around him as he walked, head down, and Ruth’s chest swelled with an anxious jubilee that her body had waited years to feel again.

            “I’ll be goddamned,” Ruth breathed. “It’s him.”

            There was so much she wanted to say to him. Every vein in her body was pulsing to the beat of the words she’d played and replayed in her mind over and over for all those years. Now at last she was given the chance to say them. Now, at the golden dusk of her years, Ruth Dawes would sigh into the memory of who she once was and become that woman again—if only for a moment—to mend the rueful scar that had sickened her for so long. Although she yearned to end her decade-spanning lament, and seal the fissure that had fractured her relationship with this man, Ruth found herself in a useless state of shock, blind to anything but the approaching silhouette and deaf to all but the replaying memories of his voice.

            She was 15 again. The memory was so crisp and lilted through her mind so vividly, she was nearly unsure of whether or not it was real.

            The needle was poised for invasion, backed by an army of liquid relief that would deliver her from the reality of her rotted life she’d come to despise so passionately. The injection would free her from her father’s touches and the awful sensations he wreaked upon her at night. It would blind her to the images of her mother’s battered form, crumpled at the foot of the bed in tear-streaked fear. It would erase all remnants of Austin Blane, the boy who had deceived her with a clever ruse of dedication and affection. In the syringe, breaths away from insertion bubbled her salvation…and she was well aware of the excessive dosage with which it was loaded.

            There. It was done.

            The prick had hardly sent any sensation through her pale arm, and as she plunged the deadly fluid faster and faster into her bloodstream, her pain numbed faster and faster. Oblivion licked at Ruth’s subconscious, spreading its feathery embrace to her waking mind breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat. Soon, she recognized through her drug-induced haze, she would be dead.

            A man entered the grimy bathroom. “Maintenance,” he said.

            Although her eyes fluttered and rolled to reciprocate the motion of her fractured brain, Ruth managed to process the man’s size—or lack thereof. She was able to conclude, through her groggy confusion, that he was a dwarf who worked for the gas station.

            The steady stream of electric relief pinched off. Her consciousness elapsed in a puff of thought, and her body relaxed into a deep rest.

            When at last her soul had been unearthed from the recesses of the coma, Ruth awakened in the hospital with a voice waltzing through her head. Although her bloodshot eyes absorbed the hospital room around her, she saw only the fluorescent lights of the gas station bathroom, and the tanned, stout face that blocked their painful glare.

            Upon her bedside table lay a neatly folded note with her name scrawled across it.

            Ruth, it read, I am delighted to see that you’ve recovered. I am honored to have aided a lovely young woman like you, and I wish you all the best in life. Be safe. –Horus Day

            Once recovered, Ruth found comfort in the arms of her dealer, but their affair did not last long. The day he was taken away, she could swear she recalled a tiny, russet-skinned man escorting him into the police car.

            Ruth blinked, not minding the onset of tears that had begun to heat her eyes. The shadowed little person kept walking, coming closer and closer with each breathless moment, and each dusty step he strode reawakened remnants of her past that she had tried so hard to detach herself from.

            This time she was 20. Ruth sped down the country road, her headlights an illuminating cone guiding her through the midnight darkness. Suzie, her roommate, was going to be upset with her for coming home late on their movie night.

            Urgency nerving her and impatience intensifying, the hurried girl almost turned a blind eye to the shuddering furry thing that lay at the side of the road. The tuft of fur and tiny, stumpy legs caught her eye and immediately stung her bleeding heart. Although her goal was clear and important, she could not resist pulling over.  

            “Hey little guy,” Ruth murmured to the injured corgi as she knelt. “What happened to you?”

            The dog’s short legs were twitching with what Ruth assumed to be pain and shock at the blood-soaked gash that marked its shoulder. From its furry lips escaped a few desperate whimpers that swelled Ruth’s heart with sympathy. Her mind swarmed with frantic ideas of ways to help the suffering animal, but she knew there were no veterinary clinics near enough and had little knowledge on binding any wound of the dog’s degree. The guilty girl’s sadness only deepened when she noticed the collar around the poor thing’s neck. Resisting sympathetic tears, she turned the silver license around the dog’s neck. HORUS, it read.

            Her eardrums blazed with the metallic crash that sounded from behind her, a sudden explosion of sound that was accompanied by a spray of shattered glass and splintered metal raining upon her and the dog. Ruth’s pick-up truck and the vehicle that collided with it zoomed by the unsuspecting pair, mere feet short of them as the mess of metal soared off the road and into a deep ditch.

            Breathless with a sickening combination of shock and fright, Ruth observed the upturned vehicles in the ditch, adrenaline springing her to her feet and propelling her to the truck that had hit her own. Beneath it was her pick-up: a twisted scrap of its former self, with the driver’s side completely obliterated. In the other truck sat a body too gruesome for Ruth to soundly approach.

The sight of the bloody, battered man repelled her.  Sobbing with horror, she backed away and into the road, craving distance between herself and the morbid wreck. From the shoulder, the little dog sprung to its feet, breathing normally and moving as if completely unhindered by its wound. Ruth watched as the corgi stood, stared with a disturbing knowingness in her direction, and bounded off into the night.

The man, confirmed to have been heavily intoxicated, was declared dead at the scene.

“Jesus!”

Bill’s horrified exclamation retrieved Ruth from her nostalgic stupor.

Gill jumped to his feet. “The Rigleys’s barn is on fire!”

“It ain’t just their barn, it’s their house,” Bill gawked. “Ruth, come on! We gotta see if they’re ok.”

“The Rigleys is gotta be fine; we gotta help keep that thing from spreading—just lookit how the wind is catchin’ it!” Gill called over his shoulder as he ran towards the main square of town, merely fifty feet or so from Ruth’s corner store.

Bill took hold of Ruth’s wrist, who was too absorbed in memory to process the severity of the situation. “C’mon ol’ girl,” he huffed as he lead her into town at a brisk jog. Dazed, Ruth watched with desperate reluctance as the little man’s silhouette shrunk behind them, disappearing behind a line of unkempt shrubs when they took a turn to head towards the burning Rigley farm.

            The raging flames would have spurred her into immediate action, but Ruth’s muddled mind was racked by another memory, vivid and riveting as it had been when she experienced it.

            By now, Ruth understood that she was remembering the past, not re-experiencing it as she had initially suspected. Regardless, she still felt limber and filled with pride as she scaled the patio steps of her very own corner store—35 and feeling accomplished. She was working alone that night, but didn’t fear the so-called “drifters” that tended to pass through the little nowhere town at night—her husky build was usually enough to ensure her threats were taken to heart.

            At 12:30 a.m., half an hour until close, a little person strolled into the store carrying a weathered briefcase at his side.

            “Evening, madam,” he said with a gentlemanly tip of his hat, having to look up at a sharp angle to meet eyes with the tall woman at the counter.

            “Hey there,” she said, her brow furrowing with remembrance. “Do I…?”

            “Hm?” he popped open his briefcase and unfolded a collapsible ladder that he cranked to an impressive height, proceeding to scale the metal contraption as she gawked with confusion.

            “I know you,” she declared with certainty, so encapsulated in thought that she hardly paid mind to the fact that he slipped a wrench from his coat pocket and began tinkering with the large fluorescent light above the wooden counter. “You were there at the gas station.”

            “I’ve jumped around from job to job,” he said, not missing a beat. He leaned down with a small metallic object  pinched in his fingers. “Will you hold this?”

            Ruth accepted it, rolling the tiny screw around in her palm for a moment before her senses flooded back to her.

            “Wait a damn second, what the hell are you doing?”

            “I’m a repairman,” he said, briefly meeting her eyes as he worked. “This light won’t do you any good how it is now, believe me.”

            “Whatever you’re doing to it, stop. It’s fine the way it is.”

            “The way it was,” corrected the man, who Ruth knew to be Horus Day, as he replaced the wrench in his pocket. “Always so feisty, Miss Ruth.” The man descended his ladder and collapsed it. He placed it into his briefcase and buckled it securely, then adjusted his collar with accomplished finality.

            “How did you know where—“

            “Goodnight,” Horus interrupted. “Be safe.”

            Before Ruth could question him any further, Horus Day exited the store with a final tip of his brimmed hat. Although she ran out after him, he was nowhere to be found. She promptly began her closing ritual, uncaring that the store was supposed to remain open for another twenty minutes due to the mind-numbing puzzlement that confused her. Again and again, she repeated his name in her head, stretching it, compressing it, tying it in knots, letting it form a maze of mystery in her brain that, little did she know, she would wander for the rest of her life.

            “Horus Day,” she muttered to herself in contemplation. “Horus freaking Day.”

            The front door swung open, whistling through the air with force. Alarmed at the noise, Ruth stood from where she’d been stocking the cigarette shelf beneath the counter. There to greet her was the black cylindrical abyss of a .45 gun barrel, inches from her face. The wielder was a masked man, coated in black from head to toe.

            “Don’t fucking mess with me, lady,” he snarled stand-offishly, his posture suggesting he was more than ready to initiate violence. “Give me the money.”

            “Honey, Ruth Dawes don’t give up her hard-earned money because some little shit thinks he looks scary in black. Now you get the hell outta here before I—“

            The assailant lunged forward, his temper glaringly short and burningly offended at her defiance. His finger tensed on the trigger as he lunged, and, looking back, Ruth was positive the point-blank shot would have killed her had the light not come crashing down on the robber’s head.

            Heaving burning breaths of astonishment, Ruth stared over the unconscious intruder, crumpled beneath the fluorescent light. Reaching into her pocket, she retrieved the screw Horus Day had handed her, rolling it in her palm.

            Did he know? Ruth thought perplexedly, replaying the mental image of Horus Day adjusting the light above the counter. How could he have?

            She snapped herself out of her thoughtful stupor and immediately called the police.

            The roar of conquering flames slowly trickled into Ruth’s awareness. All at once, her mind clicked back into the present and the realization of the burning realm around her. The town was lost to a relentless army of flames, gobbling up the untouched serenity of Ruth’s little town before her eyes.

            Gill tugged at her wrist.

            “Ruth!” he called over the roaring conflagration about them. “Ruth, come one! We’re gettin’ outta here!”

            “No!” Ruth fiercely ripped away from her friend’s hold. “Horus is here, I have to find him. I saw him walking into town.”

            “What the hell are you talkin’ about, you crazy broad?!”

            “The gazebo!” Ruth bolted to the wooden gazebo around which the entire town revolved. The poetic structure still remained untouched by the inferno that barreled through the tiny town like a blazing stampede.

            She placed her palms on the wooden railing, trying to catch her breath as she frantically searched the surrounding area for his silhouette. Night had fallen, but she was enclosed in a dome of fiery light there in the square of the burning town.

            This is where he’d be, she reassured herself worriedly. I know this is where he would go.

            Her search yielding nothing, Ruth hunched over and squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as she could, forcing herself to confront the memory she knew awaited her revisit.

            Ding-dong.

            The doorbell sent a jolt through 40-year-old Ruth, who sat nervously in the living room with her knees to her chest. What if it’s him? What if it’s him?

            Cautiously, she crept to the front door, grabbing the bat she had next to it.

            “George, if that’s you, I don’t want you here. Go home or I’ll call the police.”

            “Delivery, madam,” a voice replied, one thankfully not belonging to George.

            Ruth’s brow furrowed, leaning backwards to observe the clock at the end of the hall, which showed 1 o’clock a.m. on its face.

            “A delivery?” she inquired warily, leaning closer to the door.

            “A package for Ruth Dawes,” the voice replied.

            Against her better judgment, Ruth cracked the door open, peering into the night with curiosity and cautiousness. She found her gaze trailing downwards to the tan-skinned dwarf before her, smiling affectionately and clutching a bulging envelope.

            “Horus!” Ruth flung the door open and fell to her knees in front of the little man, savoring the sensation of being eye-to-eye with him. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you. Since we last met, I swear, I know I know you. I just don’t know how or from where—“

            “Hush, sweetheart. I’m here. And I have something for you.”

            Ruth swallowed the tears that had begun to brim in her eyes, accepting the heavy envelope, but not caring about its mysterious contents.

            “Listen,” she scooted closer. “I’ve missed you.”

            “I’ve missed you too, Ruth.”

            “But I don’t know why. It drives me crazy wondering why you’re the person I think of when I’m afraid, or when I’m lonely, or when I need a chess partner,” she said. Her relentless weeps at last prevailed over her firm façade as Horus reached over to lift her chin with a melancholy smile. “I don’t even know you,” Ruth continued, sniffling. “But Horus, I’m so scared and I need you here with me.”

            “I know, but I can’t stay. Please meet me at the gazebo tomorrow night.”

            Horus began to back away, but Ruth begged him to stay: “Please, don’t leave. He’ll come after me.”

            Although his face conveyed a deep, gnawing pain and reluctance, Horus turned and disappeared into the night. The moment he was out of sight, Ruth scrambled back into her house and locked the door, clutching the envelope to her chest. She tore it open to reveal a small, loaded handgun.

            “Ruthie!” George’s manic cry pierced Ruth’s ears with painful volume and rendered her body rigid with fear. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, baby, open the door!”

            Ruth readied herself for the inevitable, cocking the gun and holding it at ready. Aiming at the door, she backed away slowly.

            “Everything with you was a mistake,” she growled. “Leave, now.”

            His voice dropped to a low, menacing hiss. “I told you not to command me, bitch.”

            A curved piece of metal shattered the glass of the door-window, and Ruth forced herself to take a deep breath as she watched her stalker’s arm reach in and unlock the door. When he entered, the crazed glaze in his eye and manic posture were more evident than ever, and in his large, roughened hand he wielded a hungry crowbar.

            “Hey, Ruthie.”

            He attacked.

            She shot.

            The following night, Ruth found the stunted figure at the gazebo at sunset, her mind humming with embarrassment over the pathetic and unsettling way she’d acted the night before. She approached him solemnly, sitting beside him on the gazebo’s bench.

            “I know you’re not one to beat around the bush, Ruth, so I’ll cut to the chase.” Horus looked into Ruth’s eyes the way she’d read about in books since was twelve—with sincerity that tickled the spine and affection that melted the heart. “I love you.”

            The man that she had only met once took her hand and confessed his love for her. And although they were strangers in every logical way, it was exactly what she had expected him to say.

            She pursed her lips.

            “I’ll cut to the chase too,” she muttered, dropping her eyes to her feet. “I don’t know you.”

            “You do. You said it yourself.”

            “No, I don’t. I became obsessed with the thought of you because I was young and stupid and curious, but I don’t know you and I don’t love you.”

            “I can help you remember.”

            “I can’t love you, Horus. We’re too…different.”

            “First it’s because you don’t know me, then it’s because of my height…what’s next, you can’t love men whose names start with the letter ‘H’?”

            “Dammit,” she grunted, standing and leaning against the railing with her back to Horus. “How can you be making jokes right now?”

            “I’m sorry,” he said from behind her, making no attempt to approach her. “But I think we both know you’re looking for an excuse to not love me.”

            “This is the first real conversation we’ve ever had,” Ruth said.

            “Is that what your heart’s saying?”

            Silence.

            “If you truly don’t want me, doll, I can leave. I’ll let you live the rest of your life in peace.” Horus allowed the quiet to speak for itself as Ruth sniffled away her imminent tears. “Do you love me?” he asked softly.

            “I shot a man I thought I once loved last night,” teary-eyed Ruth lamented. “I think my concept of it is too messed up to know what love really is.”

            Again, “Do you love me?”

            “No.”

            There was a pause before Horus spoke that Ruth would be haunted by for years to come.

            “Goodbye then, sweetheart.”

            58-year-old Ruth wept at the railing of the gazebo, not feeling the blaring heat of the nearing flames about her.

            “Hello, sweetheart.”

            Exhausted with regret and paralyzed with hopelessness, Ruth barely lifted her head.

            “Horus,” she sighed. “Have you come to save me from the fire?”

            “Not this time, love. This time I’m here to save you from something very different.”

            “What else is there?”

            “Loneliness.”

            She turned her head, taking in the sight of the small man that had lingered in her mind for so many years, who had saved her life time after time again. No sight in her life had ever brought her more joy.

            She remembered now.

            She smiled weakly. “I’m sorry I made you go.”

            “I’m here now,” he said sweetly. He took her hand and pressed his lips to her wrinkled skin. “And we have more time than you can imagine to say whatever we want to.”

            “To start, I’m sorry about that guy in Rome. I was mad and just wanted to make you jealous.”

            “That was lives ago, darling, no need to worry about it.”

            Hand in hand, the pair regarded the burning town with a warm acceptance, even as the planks of the gazebo began to ignite. Embers began to drift down upon their shoulders and the romantic structure slowly began to crumble.

            “Arrivederci, il mio amore,” Ruth whispered.

            “E ciao, il mio tesoro.”