Anne Feliksik won second prize in our competition to write a pre-tribe story or a worldview article. Here is Anne’s story of Ruby before the virus.
Was her name Anna or Amy? Ruby couldn’t remember. She talked for a long time to the Harvard student, someone Ruby looked up to, but yet couldn’t remember her name… not that it really mattered anyway. Ruby was more interested in people remembering her name. Yes, Ruby Williams was determined to make it as a Harvard-graduated journalist as she was accepted yesterday. She would appear on TV and in newspapers with her stories, and her name above it for people to remember. If they did…
“Welcome to the six o’clock news, the weather is hot and the roads are busy…” What did he just say? Six o’clock already? Ruby looked on her watch while she was driving home. Yes, six o’clock already. “Dammit.” Now she would be late for dinner, mum hates that. She’d get all grumpy, especially now. But as soon as Ruby drove up their driveway and walked into the kitchen, she could feel that this wasn’t going to be like the other nights, when she came home later than expected. Everybody was sitting at the table with a full, untouched plate in front of them. Mum, with the big brown circles around her eyes as usual these days. Dad, with more gray hairs than usual, but probably because of his age. And Kate, her younger sister, who was about to burst out in tears, probably because she broke up with her boyfriend…
again! Rubys seat was empty, but with a full plate, as untouched as the others. Normally her mum would complain that she was late again, that she would have to change things around the house from now on for her sake. But not this time… So to break the ice, Ruby started talking about her day, the Harvard girl and as usual: her dreams. It wouldn’t take long for her dad to interrupt her, which wasn’t so usual for Ruby.
“Stop it!” Ruby sat down and put down her glass of water.
“Sorry then” Ruby mumbled deeply offended. Her father regretted his tone earlier already.
“I’m sorry, darling, I didn’t mean it like that… it’s just that…” At that moment Kate left the table crying. Ruby now figured it probably wasn’t her boyfriend but something dad was about to say…
“What? It’s just what, dad?” Her mother couldn’t look at anybody anymore and her dad had a hard time too.
“It’s not helping anymore.” It didn’t need a brain surgeon to figure out what Mr. Williams was talking about, if you knew the Williams family’s situation. Last year Mrs. Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not long after that they amputated the right breast. She also got radiation and chemotherapy. But after 11 months of suffering it had no use anymore, the cancer had spread out as far as her brain.
“The doctors did everything they could.” Ruby didn’t know what to say, and looked away from her parents. But her father continued. “Your mother has made one last wish…” Ruby opened her ears more and tried to hold back her tears until the time was right, until she was alone. “You know your mother has always wanted to open a saloon. And I’ve found the perfect property…” Ruby knew about her mothers’ ‘Wild Wild West’ obsession and fantasies, but also knew there wouldn’t be space for a saloon in their small town in Connecticut.
“So we’re moving? That’s cool. Where to… Cambridge, Boston?” Ruby tried to sound as casual as possible. Moving was fine by her, if that made her mum happy. She had her car so she could go to Harvard whenever she wanted.
“Not quite, honey.” For the first time that evening, her mother said something.
“Your father has found the perfect opportunity for a reasonable price in Auckland, New Zealand.” New Zealand…New Zealand… New Zealand… It repeated itself over and over again. Ruby saw her world falling apart in front of her eyes. Just like that.
Angry as she was she ran upstairs into her room, threw the insect repellant her sister left on her bed in the hallway and slammed the door. After two days her father came to Ruby to talk. He thought she had had enough time to ‘get used to the idea.’
“I’ll never get used to it, daddy. What am I gonna do? Can’t I stay here? My future is here, at Harvard!”
“We’ve arranged for you to go to Auckland University. It’s a fine university, darling…”
Ruby interrupted “I don’t wanna go to a fine university, I wanna go to the best, Harvard!”
Mr. Williams ignored her interruption and continued, “ And as for you staying here, that is no option of course. This is your mothers’ last wish and we respect that. We all go. We’re leaving next week.” Her dad left before she could open her mouth and respond…
There they were, on the airport ready to fulfill Mrs. Williams’ last wish on earth.
“You don’t need the bug spray, Kate. It’s winter where we’re going now.” Snapped Ruby at her younger sister, who didn’t pay attention. That’s all they ever did for the last week.
Rubys mother couldn’t enjoy the Saloon for long. When they arrived in New Zealand and had everything set up, her mother got some strange virus on top of her disease. Ruby didn’t pay attention to the doctors’ explanation, her mother was gone anyway. She knew it was gonna happen, but now that it actually happened she can’t believe it. What were they gonna do? Back to the States? Harvard started over 3 months ago, it would be too late anyway.
“I think it’s best if we stay here and run the Saloon for your mother.” Said Mr. Williams that night at the dinner table. Neither Kate nor Ruby responded. Mr. Williams coughed: “Now if you girls will excuse me…” and he walked away.
Weeks passed by, the Saloon was going okay and Ruby did alright at the university, she had a lot of free time on her hands lately, as a lot of her professors seemed to be sick. That was fine by her, she could help out more in the Saloon, now that her father didn’t seem to be in great shape. He slept a lot and still had this nasty cough. One morning Ruby decided it was enough.
“Dad, there’s someone here to see you.”
“Ruby, I told you, I don’t need a doctor. I’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
“You don’t look fine to me.” The local doctor was standing in the doorway. Ruby left them alone. She was afraid of what the doctor would find out. Was her dad gonna die? Like her mum? Did he miss her so much that it made him this sick? Ruby didn’t understand, her dad was always so strong.
The doctor found out what was wrong but yet couldn’t explain it very well to the two sisters. Before they knew it their dad was taken into hospital. Ruby tried to run the Saloon with Kate and visit their dad as often as possible. But on a Thursday morning, as they walked into the room with a smile on their faces as usual, that’s what their dad had taught them to always stay positive, they found an empty room. Kate started crying.
“Oh… hold on, they must have moved him. I’ll go and ask.” Ruby walked off and asked to hear something she wasn’t prepared for at all. As tears were rolling down her face she managed to get home with Kate. She didn’t have to explain anything to Kate. She got it immediately. From that evening, Ruby and Kate shared their parents’ bed. To stay close, cause they only had each other now.
Kate “What’s gonna happen now?”
“We’re gonna move on, keep this place running… for mum and dad.”
Ruby and Kate found out why their dad had actually died a few days after by watching the news. Something about a deadly virus and a new adult-less world…
Not long after that Kate came into the Saloon running.
“Ruby, Ruby! I’ve found a place to stay, a tribe!”
“Kate, I thought we went through this already, we agreed to stay here!”
“No, you agreed to stay here. I wanna live somewhere else. I met some really cool girls, the mozzies they call themselves and…”
“Hold on! Mozzies? As in ‘mosquito’s’? Kate, you hate bugs!” Kate pretended she didn’t hear her sisters comment.
“… They invited us to join them! Isn’t it great?”
Ruby “So you’re leaving me?”
“Are you deaf? They invited us…”
“I thought I made it clear I was gonna stay in the Saloon”
“What’s wrong with you? You hated this place, why stick around?!”
“It’s complicated, Kate…”
“Sure it is…” And that was the last of Kate. Ruby regretted she couldn’t pursue her sister to stay or that she just couldn’t have gone with her, after all Kate was right… she hated this place.
The New World had started and Ruby was on her own… which didn’t seem so bad, when a cute tall, dark haired guy on a motor came into town and walked straight to the saloon…