Ruby dreams of her man, her phone nested under her cheek. An empty pizza box lies on the floor, along with a half-empty 2-liter bottle of cola. Next to her on the bed is her open diary:
Saturday, Feb. 16.
Today is make or break me. I gave Blackie the ultimatum seven days ago. It broke my heart but I had to do it. Sometimes you gotta be a strong woman for your man. I know he’s been busy, but I know he won’t forget. I’m not gonna call and remind him.
I know he loves me.
I know he’ll call.
By midnight tonight.
He’ll pop the question.
Ruby’s phone buzzes, and she snaps awake. She looks at the display. B. Moore. 6:42. Sunday morning.
“You remembered. I knew you’d call.”
“You remembered what I said last week. About us. Our relationship.”
“Uh . . ”
“Are you drunk?”
“No. Just a little shook up. I hit a deer on the road.”
“Oh, no! Blackie, I’m sorry. Are you alright?”
“Yeah, it’s just that I hit the guardrail to miss the deer. Bent it.”
“Did you hit the deer or miss it?”
“Ah . . missed it. Barely. But the rail is all banged up. If the cops find out I did it, they’ll send me back to jail.”
“For hittin’ a guardrail?”
“For drivin’ on a suspended license. Just like I’m doin’ now.” Blackie chuckles. “I’m finally leavin’ this shit town. Leavin’ this whole shit state! I’m on my way to Califor-ni-a.”
“So you’re tellin’ me . . what? Good-bye? After four years you can’t even say good-bye to my face?”
“No. I’m callin’ to ask you to come with me. I didn’t call you right away ‘cause I didn’t wanna wake you. And I had to leave my house because I know the cops will be lookin’ for me. But I can swing by and pick you up. We can drive to Cali, even all the way up to Oregon, like you said you wanted. Get a place, a couple dogs, just like you want. Even make it official, or whatever.”
“You mean get married?”
“Whatever. I just need you to help me out.”
“You know I’ll do anything for you. I love you.”
“Can’t pick you up at your place- too near Dunkin Donuts. Cops’ll see me. But I can circle ‘round and get you. Just wait for me at the side of the road next to the Passaic. That’s where I hit the deer. You’ll see the bent rail. Wait there.”
“So you hit the deer?”
“Yeah. I mean no. I don’t remember, I was too damn drunk! But it wasn’t my fault. The guy just jumped outta nowhere!”
“Blackie . . ”
“Look, if you wanna come with me, just wait at the rail. If you don’t wanna come, fine. But you gotta help me out, Rue. Think about this- I’m doin’ this for you. For us. Gotta go. I’ll pick you up ASAP.”
Ruby slowly paces along the guardrails of the Passaic. Now and then she leans forward against the bent rail and peers through the trees and down into the river. Her swollen belly rests on top of the rail, and her jeans wipe dark residue from the front. After a few hours, the sun is hot, and she slips off her jacket. The light filters through the trees and illuminates the river bank. She squints at a white and brown shape laying half out of the water. A fly lands on her nose, and she waves it away. A couple more flies buzz her ears, and she looks back down at the bank. A buzz again, this time in the distance. Tiny black dots dance in the air above the water. After an hour, a cloud of black dots buzz and hum. Trembling, she pulls her diary out of her purse. Tears stream down her face. She vomits and faints, toppling over the rail.
Ruby dreams. She walks hand-in-hand with her man down a long corridor leading to an altar. Facing him, she brushes his hair from his eyes. “The Passaic floods every year,” Blackie whispers. “Maybe this year it’ll flood early.”
Ruby pats her belly. “Are we married now?” she whispers.
He kisses her. “Wait for the flood, Rue.”
Ruby’s water breaks. She wakes.
“What’s your name?”
“Your driver’s license says ‘Ruby Teller.’ ”
“ ‘Teller’s my maiden name. My married name’s ‘Moore.’ ”
The officer pulls a sheet from his folder and puts it on the table in front of Ruby.
“Do you know what this is?”
She silently reads:
Sunday, Feb. 17.
The cops’ll see me.
Along the side of the road next to the Passaic River.
I don’t remember.
I was too damn drunk.
But it wasn’t my fault.
The guy just jumped outta nowhere.
“It’s in my handwriting,” Ruby says. “Looks like a photocopy of a page in my diary.”
“So you wrote that?”
“I guess. I don’t remember.”
“Where were you between four and six a.m. on Saturday, February 17?”
“I was dreaming.”
“Did you fall asleep at the wheel?”
Blackie Jr. cries, and Ruby runs her hand over his peach fuzz hair. “I was waitin’ for a call. When the phone rang, I got distracted. But I thought it was a deer. Honest, officer.”