The Painted Ruby

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Jack Calloway was pacing the concrete floor of his storage unit studying the only thing there—a life-size painting of his little sister Ruby. The portrait suggested movement and life and all the qualities that go with it. Even the frame, hand carved by the artist, modulated as it leaned against the static grey of the tin wall. And Ruby… “Oh, Ruby,” Jack whispered, “Thank God you are here.” She was as lovely as ever, her green eyes beckoning, her olive skin breathing. He spoke to her portrait asking her, “Where is my stuff, Ruby? Where did it go?”. Step, turn…step. He kneeled down face-to-face with the portrait dusting off her hands with his shirt tail. Sweetly now he asked her, “Where did you go?”. With that Jack started to cry.

How long had it been since she had disappeared? Jack was eleven; Ruby was six. Seventeen years had passed since the painting was delivered with a note to his parents’ doorstep. Ruby had been playing in the garden. Mama called but left her alone when she did not answer and peeled open the note without her:

Your Ruby. My life’s work. —Matthaios Zografos.

Dr. Zografos was to be the artist in residence at the university where Jack’s father taught physics. Before that semester began, Jack’s parents hosted a faculty party. Father set up tents and tables in the parlor garden. Jack pruned the scarlet-runner beans that climbed the arbor. Mama cut dill and tea roses for bouquets. And Ruby busied herself drawing spirals with her black patent shoe in the pea gravel and oyster shell garden path as Dr. Zografos entered the yard and stepped under a tent where he saw Mama placing a vase on a serving cart. He introduced himself. “I’ve heard wonderful things about you,” said Mama. Dr. Zografos responded likewise—the ultimate gentleman. And though an octogenarian, his face was strikingly angular, his hair thick silver. “Come,” Mama said, “I’d like you to meet our children.”

First he met Jack by the arbor. “Now we’ll have to go over there to find my Ruby,” Mama said pointing passed the lavender to the far side of the garden at a teepee of sorts which Ruby called her sunflower house. She had furnished the ground beneath the tall stalks of sunflowers with old sofa cushions. Inside were baby dolls, a pine straw crib, and plastic doll bottles filled with something that looked like milk and that, when turned on end, seemed to empty. “Ruby,” Mama spoke through the sunflower stalks, “Our first guest has arrived. He is an artist who would very much like to meet you.”

Ruby squeezed out of a gap of the teepee to find the artist’s kind, squinting eyes studying her. “Mesmerizing, your Ruby,” he said to Mama. And to Ruby… “You are as pretty as a picture.” She grinned. Ruby liked him and the way he spoke. “If you are an artist, won’t you paint me?” “Oh! Ruby!” Mama laughed. But Dr. Zografos was charmed. He held her chin with one hand and tilted her face left, then right and down. “I shall,” he said, “For you appear the source, par excellence, of my study of dynamic symmetry.” And so it was. Mama and the artist set a date.

The loud, clanging roll of a bay door shook Jack to his feet, and he wiped his eyes. He stepped out of his unit into the corridor in time to see the exit door shutting behind someone. He did not want to panic over his near-empty unit, but he felt odd…dizzy. He slid his back down the corrugated door of the unit across from his and sat. Jack was a physicists of a different sort than his father; he studied symmetries in quantum mechanics, and his years of research were supposed to be there in Unit 1618. One. Six. One. Eight. Jack fixed his eyes on the large, green numbers over the door in front of him, and a rush of images from that party years ago flooded his consciousness. Jack remembered with a sudden clarity how Dr. Zografos had enchanted the guests that evening with his talk of the Egyptian secret, that peculiar series of numbers that, divided one into the other, always came to 1.618. Dr. Zografos had winked at Jack when he boasted that only two peoples, the Egyptians and the Greeks, had ever possessed knowledge of the dynamic symmetry found in the spiral of a shell or the curve-cross patterns of sunflower heads or the human skeleton. With a stick he had drawn spirals and rectangles in the pea gravel. Dr. Zografos had said that dynamic symmetry could help them reach the highest aspirations of their age.

The art chair chimed in once about the planned schemes of Coptic and Byzantine art at which Dr. Zografos scoffed, “Merely lines. Dead areas! Only Greeks understood that measurable area themes possess life… Life, friends. Life!”. Those three words resonated as Jack stared across at Ruby’s portrait. Jack thought about life as it was, as it would have been and as it might be. He thought about his research—measurable area themes on a subatomic scale,about inducing in atomic matter the dynamic symmetry that follows the blueprints of the life-possessing ratio taken from…Life.

Ruby seemed to exhale. Jack stood up. He took a deep breath as he walked back into Unit 1618. Stepping up to the painting, Jack tripped on his untied shoe string and fell headlong toward Ruby. He landed with his left knee under his chest, his wrists hurting from catching himself. He got to his feet and dusted off his hands. Pea gravel. In front of him, he saw his boxes of research; behind him, small footsteps crunched oyster shells. The smell of lavender punctuated the sweetness of that once lost voice that said, “I missed you, Jack.”

About the Author: 
I am from Mississippi. I have been a soccer referee, a waitress, a school teacher, and a toy inventor. Right now I am exploring the idea of being an author. On 11-22, I will turn 33. Maybe this is the year I will find my way.