Free as a Bird (10 page)

Three sleeps ago, Dr. Lennox came to Ward 33. He sat with me an Millie at the long table in the meetin room. He told us the doctors said it was okay for me to move oudda Woodlands on a try basis — that's if I behaved. I think he was sayin if I dint hurt myself or others I wouldn't have to come back. Millie told him he was makin a mistake.

“We have patients much more capable than Ruby Jean.” I guess Millie said that on account of me not bein so smart. “Besides, Ruby Jean is much too unpredictable.”

“Well, it was you who chose Ruby Jean for the independent living program,” Dr. Lennox said. “Were you just trying to sabotage it?”

“Of course not. I just didn't think they were actually going to put one of my kids out there.”

“It sounds like you not only underestimated the goals of the program, but you underestimated Ruby Jean,” Dr. Lennox said.

Millie dint answer the doctor, but her face got red as tomadoes.

After Dr. Lennox left, Mrs. Gentry came to see me. She told me I would be livin with Mr. an Mrs. Williams. She said they had kids, but the kids were all growed up. They was a gramma an grampa too. I liked that — never had a grampa before.

“This is going to be a wonderful new life for you, Ruby Jean. But I want you to know it's not going to be easy. There's a lot for you to learn, things that will seem strange and scary to you. And people — well, not all of them will accept you. Some will be afraid, others will just be plain old mean. That's because they don't know any better, dear. But we're going to change that, right?”

After I got up that mornin Bernice put a small box on my bed. I opened the top an looked inside an saw some folded clothes. “Those things should do you until you get more.” I was happy cause the pink-flowered shirt was in the box. Then Bernice unlocked the small drawer inside the closet with my name on it. “You'll want to take these things too.”

I smiled so big when she brought out Barbra. I nearly forgot bout my best old doll. Her head was nearly bald an her priddy dress ripped cause of all em days an nights I held her tight. After I got bigger I guess I stopped needin her so much. But jus cause she was bald an dirddy dint mean I'd stopped lovin her. I hugged Barbra tight an then put her into the box carefully.

There was other things in that drawer I dint member I had — a wallet with no money, a cup that said ruby jean, an liddle pine cones I got from the park where Willy Bennett got buried. All em things I put into the box nex to Barbra. The nex thing Bernice pulled oudda the drawer made me clap my hands — it was the golden locket Gramma gave me jus fore she went to heaven in the amblance. I opened the liddle door an inside was a picture of me an her in our back garden. I was eight the last time I saw my locket — that's cause we dint wear jewellery at Woodlands. Bernice put the locket in my box with Barbra. Finally, Bernice took some pictures out. Fore she put em in my box she let me look at em.

I smiled at the one of me an Gramma sittin by the Christmas tree. I membered that time real good. Then I looked at the other pictures — there was Mom an me sittin on the couch at Harold's office … one of me standin side of Mom an Harold on their weddin day — they was holdin hands an smiling, but I had tears in my eyes … an the last one was of Mom an baby Harold.

I took the picture of Gramma an put it in my box. The other ones I put back inside the drawer an closed it.

“We're ready!” someone shouted from down the hall.

“All right, time for breakfast, Ruby Jean. Come on, Shirley, you too.”

I followed Bernice down to the cafeteria and wondered if I'd be eatin cold porridge an warm milk at my new home too. When we walked in to the room people shouted, “Surprise!” Yup, that's what they said — “Surprise!” All of em Ward 33 kids were smilin an wavin. Susan was there an some uniforms too, like Tom an Roy an Bernice an Dr. Martin — Mrs. Gentry too. They all looked happy. I looked round the room but couldn't see Millie nowhere — she was day shift an supposed to be there.

All round the cafeteria was balloons an a big sign. Bernice told me it said
. I could tell the part that said Ruby Jean.

“We wish you all the best and hope you'll remember your friends back here at Woodlands,” Tom said when the kids got quiet. “We have a little going-away present for you.”

He put a box on my lap. It had a pink bow on top an the paper was shiny. I loved my present an held it tight. I used ta get presents from Gramma — but that was a long time ago.

“C'mon, open it, Ruby Jean,” Tom said.

I dint want to open my present cause it looked so priddy jus like it was. But the people was all sayin, “Open the present, open the present.” So I decided if I was real careful I could take the paper off without tearing it.

Then Morris came over an said, “My toenails grow faster than this. Here, let me help you.” Then he tore my present open an threw my shiny paper on the floor.

I dint bite no more, that's cause I hardly ever got mad. But when Morris tore my paper an throwed it on the floor I sure hadda feelin I wanted to bite him. But I dint — nope, jus had a big feelin bout it.

The box on my lap had a picture of shoes. I thought it was sure nice to have new shoes. But then I opened the box an there was no shoes inside — nope, no shoes a'tall. Instead there was other things — like a mirror, a hairbrush, a toothbrush, an a new tube of toothpaste all for me, an a liddle bag to hold all those things. There was some coloured paper an pens too an a box of candy.

At the bottom was two more small presents wrapped in priddy paper. I took the paper off the first one quick an put it on my lap so's Morris couldn't rip it. Inside was lots an lots of things for my hair, like clips, an ribbons, an hair bands — a pink one, a blue one with bows, an two white ones. None as priddy as the one Grace gave me, but I was happy cause they was mine for keeps.

I opened the second present. It was a picture of all us Ward 33 kids — yup, it had me an Susan an Norval an the others too. I membered that day — the day we were all smilin for the camera. It was summer an there was a big celebration. We all got to eat hamburgers an cake an wish Canada a happy birthday. I membered that day, cause we was happy.

I never had a party jus for me before — a party with presents an laughin. My face felt awful warm, jus like my insides. I only wished Grace an Gramma could've been there to see me so happy — an I dunno why, but I wished Millie was there too.

Priddy soon it was time to hug my friends goodbye. Shirley wasn't happy that I was goin. She said, “Poor Ruby Jean. She's going away, going away like Paulina.” But then she got happy when I gave her one of my white hair bands.

At last I said goodbye to Susan. I looked in her eyes an could tell she looked happy for me. I hoped she would get oudda Woodlands one day too … maybe come live with me and the Williamses. I opened my shoebox an handed her my pink hair band — that's cause it was the priddiest. She laughed when Bernice put it on her head.

“Well, it's time to go, luv,” said Mrs. Gentry.

As we walked long that hall with the polished green floor an matching walls, Mrs. Gentry held my hand. It was a good thing too cause I was feelin nervous an a liddle wobbly on my feet. Some of em kids patted me as I walked away. I had a last look inside the rooms with the barred windows and meddal beds. Funny thing bout that … I could see myself in em rooms an I was eight again.

I turned an waved to everyone down at the day room. Just when I was bout to go through that locked meddal door for the last time I saw Millie. I waved, but she dint wave back — nope, just watched me leave.

As we walked down the echo stairs I membered the first time I came up em. I was holdin Mom's hand — she scolded me for makin so much noise an said, “Stop it, Ruby Jean. Just stop it.” Now, after a long long time, there I was all growed up, holdin hands with my friend, Mrs. Gentry, and goin back down em for the last time.

As we drove down the road I had a strange feelin inside of me. Somehow the place dint look so bad from the inside of a car — a car that was leavin. When we drove passed the big stone-an-meddal gate I looked back an watched as everythin got smaller an smaller. It weren't till Mrs. Gentry handed me a tissue that I found out I had tears runnin down my face. Dint knowed why — cause I sure was awful happy.

Drivin in a car was like bein a balloon — I felt all light an bouncy as I watched all em trucks an cars an buses an bikes goin this way an that. An passin by so many buildins too — there was some big an some small, an some was department stores with people goin in an out, an some was jus liddle places with only one or two inside. When we drove cross a bridge I saw the river below — there was a tiny liddle boat draggin a big box filled to the top — wondered how somethin so small could be so strong. Soon we was passin lotsa houses an grassy places where liddle kids ran an played. Even if everythin looked new an different, I knowed I'd seen it all before.

“Here we are, Ruby Jean. This is the Williamses' place and your new home.” Mrs. Gentry drove her car up in front of a white-an-green house an stopped. I dunno why but all of a sudden I had the jitters an started twistin an scratchin my hands.

“Now, Ruby Jean, we've talked about this. You don't need to be afraid. These people are wonderful and they're looking forward to meeting you. Please don't scratch yourself. Everything will be okay — you'll see.” Mrs. Gentry was awful good to me an I knowed I could trust her. So I tried real hard not to scratch my hands. “Okay, ready? Let's go meet your new friends.”

We went up to the front door an Mrs. Gentry let me push the button. I was surprised to hear a bing-bong sound comin from inside the house. When the door opened I saw my new friends for the first time. I can't esplain it on account of me not bein so smart, but the second I looked at em I knowed everythin was gunna be okay.

Mr. an Mrs. Williams said I should call em Nan an Pops. I dint call em that cause I dint talk, but I wanted to. Then Nan told me to follow her down the hall.

“Here's your bedroom, Ruby Jean,” Nan said. “We did our best to make it beautiful. Do you like it?”

I dint member seein walls that weren't green, or windows without meddal bars. In that room — the room Nan said was mine — the walls were yellow with tiny flowers an the window had fluffy white curtains. An the bed — instead of brown meddal an a mattress covered in plastic with green sheets — it was white an big an soft an had a frilly skirt that looked like it was sposed to be for a princess. There was a big pink chair with pillows, drawers with shiny handles, an pictures on the walls of horses an flowers. Suddenly, I was one of those happy ladies on
The Price Is Right
that won the big prize an I felt full of bubbles an Jell-O. There was a rumble inside me an I laughed — yup, I laughed out loud. Nearly scared myself. That's cause I dint knowed I could laugh like that.

Other books

The Hex Witch of Seldom by Nancy Springer
02 - Taint of Evil by Neil McIntosh - (ebook by Undead)
Santa Hunk by Mortensen, Kirsten
The Warlock's Companion by Christopher Stasheff
One Broke Girl by Rhonda Helms
Demon Hunters by JKMelby74 Copyright 2016 - 2022