The gem that is Ruby

Submitted into Contest #104 in response to: Write about an introvert and an extrovert who are best friends.... view prompt

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Contemporary Friendship Funny

Since my marriage to Fred, money has not been in short supply. Even now, with Fred and I living apart, he is still giving me a good allowance and paying all the utility bills, which gives me enough to play with. One thing that I had intended to do for a long while, is to visit an old school friend that I had corresponded with, but hadn't seen for almost 10 years. The feeling became more urgent when I  realised that Mabel, the mature lady friend that had encroached into my misery and bought me back to life,  had lots of friends that she was still in touch with, while I would not necessarily recognise my old school chums if I passed them in the street.

    On the day I received the letter from Ruby, oh how it gave me pleasure, reading the handwritten lines I could almost hear the dulcet tones that I remembered so well.

    Ruby had been my old primary school best friend. As trainee tear-a-ways we had first met at the water fountain when Ruby had been pushed by a much older boy and started crying. I poked him in the leg with my knitting needles before leading Ruby off to the school nurses office. In those days, health and safety in the playground hadn’t gone mad, and we could still arrive at school with conkers, marbles, skipping ropes and plastic knitting needles which I used to great effect. They could be the means of holding a cat’s cradle while we were in class, the outer lines on a marble run, and of course a deterrent to the school bullies. We remained friends until the time Ruby found a different interest in boys, while I still wanted to climb trees and fire my lovingly sculpted catapult at the juicy apples in the farmer’s orchard. Though we never completely lost touch, we only met in the gaps between her many relationships and it wasn't until Ruby was single again that we managed to completely resurrect the friendship.  

She wrote: Dear Lucy,

    How are you? It has been a while since my last letter but so much has happened. I am now divorced and looking forward to starting a new life. Maybe you can come and bunk with me for a short break and I will fill you in on all the sordid details. I will meet you from the train at Wells Next the Sea. It is a lovely part of Norfolk though the locals are a mite queer.

    It all sounded very exciting and I felt the need to hide away in the broads of Norfolk to lick my still sore wounds. Though putting distance between the love of my life and my need to be around, in case he should call, was a tough choice to make. I took into account that my friend Ruby needed a shoulder to cry on, and the fact that Fred left me. So after careful consideration and well into the afternoon, I wrote back, accepting her offer. Little did I know that what lay ahead was going to be more than an eye opener.

    It didn't take me long to regret my hasty trip to Norfolk. Ruby was nowhere to be seen when I alighted from the train so I headed for the boats. My first shock came as I entered what I thought was going to be an exclusive marina with tall-mast yachts and lovely cruisers. As I walked along the quayside, taking in all the carefully maintained sailing boats bobbing lazily on the rippled water, I got to the end and didn't find The Bottlecelli.

    ‘Excuse me, this is private property’' boomed a naval dressed gentleman who rested his forearms on the shiny Taff rail of a very impressive launch, ‘Can I help you?’

     ‘I'm looking for my friend. She said she would be tied up here today’'

     ‘Really, how exciting.’

   He grinned expensively, as he jumped up onto the walkway baring dentures that matched in colour to the hull of his boat.

    ‘What's your friend's name, maybe we can look for her together? ‘He flashed another smile and raised his eyebrows.

     ‘Ruby,’ I offered. ‘'She owns the Bottlecelli.’

    ‘Oh! That monster? It's so ugly that it doesn't come out until after dark for fear of frightening the locals and the boat is nearly as bad.’ He started guffawing at the insult.

    I didn't think twice about wiping that smile from his gold rimmed face. Off-guard, he was easy to push and I didn't even look back as he splashed around.

    The man in the Harbour office was more helpful.

    ‘She is resting on Abraham's Bosom which is a way inland. If you walk down passed Pine Woods and turn left at Beach Café, your friend will be on the end of a bag of fish scraps.’

    I followed his instruction and found Ruby crashed out on the deck of a rusty barge. I climbed up the gang plank, found a cabin, covered Ruby with a blanket and went to bed.

    I already knew that Ruby was a sheep in sloth's clothing. She had a heart made of silver gilt, fickle but loyal and a brain that resembled a wind up clock. On the first morning after breakfast and a tot of home-made brandy she was the tightly wound coil ready to spring into action. But as the day progressed and the bottle emptied, she wound down until all that remained was a pair of hands stuck in the half past six position and a body at a quarter to three, and instead of melodious Westminster chimes, Ruby had her own snoring version of a bell with a crack in it.

    It wasn't till day three of the seven days I had expected to stay that Ruby suddenly came to life. It could be that the alcohol had run out, but I like to think it was because Ruby realised I was still on board. We finally had our heart to heart and I found out that her behaviour was a reflection on her latest failed marriage. I listened while she blurted out the whole truth and then gave her my own brand of frank advice over a cup of my special recipe herbal tea.

    ‘Get over it.' I told her.’

    She did.

    Ruby's boat was no ordinary vessel. It had been used to spy on a farmer that had been painting brown blobs on his herd in order to sell them as Pedigree Friesians. The barge spent many weeks floating along Mow creek collecting evidence. When he was finally caught and had his herd washed clean, the barge was decommissioned and put in dry dock for almost half a century. Then came the great flood. The boat drifted from its dock at Holkham and came to a halt in a landlocked lake called Abraham's Bosom. The owner didn't want to pay to have it lifted back to the Boatyard so Ruby offered him a modest amount and sealed the deal. 

    Now Ruby's days consisted of hanging from a swinging rope while painting the hull or on all fours tending the chickens that lived in the bulkhead. The vessel made an ideal home for all manner of wildlife and even Ruby herself was an attraction with tourists.  It did cross my mind that maybe that was the reason why she still needed the brandy.

    On day four I awoke to find Ruby sitting with her legs dangling off the starboard end with a fishing rod and a bag of bread crumbs.

    ‘What are you doing?’

   ‘'Getting us something to eat.’

    ‘Oh, is it going to take long?’

    Before I had time to finish my sentence, Ruby flicked the line into the air and landed our breakfast.

    ‘Nope.’

    There was a slight drizzle and a low mist laying over the water, but that didn't seem to deter Ruby from packing an inflatable dinghy onto the home-made trailer on the back of her push bike. Although I call it a trailer it was nearer to being an old style pram with the two front wheels missing.

    She beckoned, ‘Come on Lucy, time to show you the attractions.’

    Why was I so surprised when Ruby lowered the boat that was not much bigger than a canoe into the canal leading off of Blakeney point? The narrow river had a name that described the smell it gave off. 

    Cabbage Creek was a shallow waterway and though I didn't want to spoil the surprise I declined the offer to climb aboard, instead I offered to walk the bike along the adjoining tow-path. In hindsight maybe it would have been less traumatic to have ridden with Ruby in her less than sea worthy vessel. The bike, and I use the label with more than a little flippancy, must have been a prototype of the original bone-shaker. It could have lain in the sand for fifty years before it was spotted by Ruby and pulled out of the river. Now as I suffered the suspension less squeak and clank, Ruby kept up an interesting commentary, occasionally pointing out places of interest in the Holkham National Nature reserve. It was well into the afternoon before we finally arrived back via East Fleet canal and Ruby disembarked and packed up the dinghy next to the French Fish shop.

    ‘Come on, don't dally’ I was ordered, as I crept slowly up the steps into the smell of heaven. We had a lovely chip supper before heading back to the Bottlecelli. When we were again on board we shared a bottle of wine sitting up top and were enjoying the evening when a barrage of cans started to rain down on us. Ruby jumped up and calmly reached for a golf bag. Taking out a cricket bat she returned the empties as they arrived, to the shore. With a few Ouch's and a couple of words I didn't know, Ruby had cleared the deck of debris.

    ‘How's that’ she said.

    ‘What was that all about?’ I asked.

    ‘Saturday Night, nothing unusual, just the neighbours giving me some batting practice.’

   ‘'Practice for what?’ I wanted to know. This was getting weird.

    ‘Tomorrow's cricket match, I'm their secret weapon.’

    So far I had not even opened the bag containing my pretty dress and sandals. But I could now see an occasion that was worthy of dressing up. I imagined sitting in a deckchair drinking tea and eating the regulation cucumber sandwiches, and I even contemplated wearing my straw hat.

    My first indication that all was not ideal was when Ruby emerged from her cabin wearing a tin hat and camouflage.

    ‘Do you want to change?’ she asked while eyeing up my floral print full skirted ensemble. ‘It can get mighty awkward out there and attired like that, you’re a sitting target.’

I declined as this could be my one and only proper outing.

    The match went normally, with Ruby's team winning the toss and electing to field. The opposition were all out before tea and everyone stopped for refreshments. This only left a couple of hours of daylight and I wondered if there was enough time to win before failing light closed play. The opposing team's star bowler was a young man who looked like he could have come from one of the public schools. His father just happened to be the gentleman that I had met at the Marina, and as Ruby expected, he shot poison dart looks at me all through the first innings.

    When play started again, their bowler took out most of Ruby's batsmen confidently, like a true professional, which bore out what Ruby had told me about him being a ringer. Now it was Ruby's turn and she showed who was in control. She hit multiple sixes and numerous fours until she was only two runs away from catching up the other team. This infuriated the old sea dog and he called his son over for a good talking to. He didn't mince his words and I pulled my hat down over my ears to block out the abusive language. The umpire strode towards the rowing pair and said that if they didn't resume play then they would forfeit the match. While this was going on, Ruby just leant on her bat, chewing slowly and looking every bit unconcerned. The team again took up their positions. It was getting dark which made Ruby almost invisible in her combats. Now I understood the reason for the strange clothing.

    In the last over, one run was achieved, in the first three balls. Now all Ruby had to do was get two runs to secure the win. With the next ball a loud 'Howzat' rang out as the bowler thought he had achieved an LBW. The umpire waved it away, though it was difficult to see. Frustrated, the next ball bounced so high it was deemed a no ball and the next was wide. Now the teams were level. I could see out of the corner of my eye Mr Angry jumping up and down, his silver hair flapping over his eyes like a Shiatsu' badly kept fringe.

    It was the last ball. The air became electrified and as if someone had turned off the sound, the green went silent. The bowler lowered his head, his nostrils flared and he pawed the ground like a bull about to charge. Taking a few twinkle toe steps, he ran then released the ball. It bounced once and jumped, grazing the stump. Mr Angry began to twitch then showed signs of having a nervous breakdown as he waited for the bails to fall. They didn't and in the dim light the wicket keeper missed the ball allowing Ruby to saunter to victory.

    Mr Angry cried like a baby.

    Ruby returned to the far end to remove the stumps and run for the pavilion.

    Grabbing my arm she said, ‘Come on let's get out of here.’

    We left her team celebrating their win and headed back to the barge, and when we were sitting with a glass of wine, enjoying the evening air, I felt I had to congratulate Ruby on her prowess as a cricketer and to say how lucky it was that the last ball didn't hit the right spot.

Ruby grunted. ‘It wasn't luck.’ taking a long deep swig of her drink. ‘I shouldn't really celebrate when the luck was all down to Wriggly.’

‘Who is Wriggly?’ I enquired.

She felt in her pocket and threw a packet of chewing gum at me.

No other explanation was necessary.  We spent a lovely relaxing evening enjoying the dulcet buzz of marsh vampire midges.

July 26, 2021 12:17

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