Tuesday 1 March 2011

Little Red Ruby’s Hood

Little Red Ruby’s Hood
by Nick Gisburne

Part 1 - The Hood

It all began when Ruby said,
“I want a hood. It must be red.”
It was the colour she most craved,
And so her darling mother saved
To buy her little girl a hood,
Reward for being sweet and good.
And came the day, though times were tough,
When finally she’d saved enough.

The moment had arrived at last.
To Ruby’s hands the gift was passed.
She tore the wrapping open wide,
But, lifting up the  thing inside,
She frowned at it, and slowly said,
“It isn’t right. It isn’t red.
I wanted red, but this is white.
It really, truly, isn’t right.”

Her mother smiled and kissed her cheek,
And said perhaps she shouldn’t speak
So soon until she’d tried it on.
The hoods in red, all sold, were gone,
But this would keep her warm and dry.
“Now you be brave and don’t you cry.”
And though no tears did Ruby shed,
Her thoughts were cold, and dark, and red.

When Ruby wore the hood to school,
The notion it was far from cool
Boiled up within her tortured mind,
And after lessons she would find
A smaller child on which to take
Revenge for mother’s big mistake.
And this alone was cause for woe,
But Ruby’s wrath had far to go.

The trees and gardens on her street
Were always kept so trim and neat
That any point at which you stood
Revealed a pleasant neighbourhood.
Until, one Sunday, morning came,
And with it views not quite the same.
And all who saw grew faint and cold.
Or all but one, if truth be told.

The trees were burned to smoking stumps;
Each lawn was scarred with pits and lumps;
The picket fences, once so white,
Sprayed with graffiti overnight;
The cars had all their windows smashed,
And each and every tyre slashed;
While on each door, each house, each shed,
A word, in painted letters: ‘RED’.

If Ruby’s mother had her doubts
About her daughter’s whereabouts,
And worse, her twisted mental health,
She kept such notions to herself.
She really couldn’t quite be sure;
Her daughter seemed so prim, so pure.
The only link: the colour red,
But even this thought left her head.

For peace came back to Ruby’s street.
The little girl was more discrete.
She wore it still, that snow-white hood,
And while she did, she did no good,
But settled for much lesser crimes:
Put salt in teacher’s tea sometimes,
And wasps into the changing rooms,
Or filled the class with noxious fumes.

The school play: every child fell sick
From Ruby’s latest little trick.
With poison ivy in their pants,
They couldn’t act, they couldn’t dance.
The children wept, their mothers cried,
And Ruby’s black heart filled with pride,
For every child sent home to bed
Paid for the hood which wasn’t red.

Part 2 - Mother

Of course, the mother paid far more.
She’d made the purchase at the store.
She’d bought the hood, unwanted, white,
So little Ruby thought it right
To make her suffer for that choice,
For in her head a little voice
Convinced her that it would be fair
To drive her mother to despair.

The first step: ditch the boyfriend, Dave,
The man to whom her mother gave
Much love and trust and deep respect.
And Ruby’s goal, to see this wrecked,
Began with pushing spicy meats
In all the gaps between the seats
Of Dave’s beloved SUV,
And filling up the tank with pee.

But that just got him in a mood,
So Ruby organised a feud
Between her mother and the man,
In what was her most heinous plan.
With Internet and hacking skillz,
She ordered Dave some dodgy pills;
And people from a dating site
Began to ring him late at night.

And that was bad enough, but then
It turned out they were chubby men,
Who liked to dress in monkey suits,
With little skirts and painted boots.
When mother found Dave’s costume too,
There wasn’t much that he could do
To turn this sorry mess about.
He had to go - she kicked him out.

And in this tricky mental state,
Young Ruby could accelerate
The onslaught on her mother, which
Was why, without a single hitch,
The shower squirted chicken soup,
The ceilings dripped with slimy goop,
And coffee, mixed with purple ink,
Took Ruby’s mother to the brink.

The mix-up with the shower gel
And oven cleaner turned out well.
Her mother’s skin was clean alright,
But, sore and scarlet, giving fright
To all the friends she used to meet,
Who now ignored her in the street.
While sympathising, Ruby said,
“It is a splendid shade of red.”

When snails blocked up the toilet bowl,
And somehow there appeared a hole
In all the walls around the house,
Suggestions it could be a mouse
Were met with looks of deep despair,
And asking Ruby if she’d swear
That she was not the one to blame,
This only served to fan the flame.

From toenails in her lemon drink
To giant toads found in the sink,
Dead beetles on the pillow case,
The mother’s ever-aging face
Grew lined and grey and serious,
And, verging on delirious,
She spat a worm-filled piece of cake
And howled, “I really need a break!”

Considering which leg she meant,
And in no hurry to relent,
Young Ruby’s fury burned again,
And on a scale of one to ten
An under-stated seventeen
Was optimistic, not extreme.
Her fractured psyche burst apart
And turned to ash her tiny heart.

She hardly heard her mother say,
“You’ll go to Grandma’s house to stay.
I’ll visit in a little while,
But now I need a place where I’ll
Have total care and total rest.
The clinic is the very best.
So hurry, pack some things to wear.
I’ll call a cab to take you there.”

Arrangements, made in double time,
Meant into taxis both did climb.
Instructions, in a note for Gran,
Were carried by the taxi man.
And Ruby now was headed east,
Her rage and bitterness increased,
For mother drove the other way.
Revenge could wait, but she would pay.

Part 3 - The House

A thought occurred, a scheme, a plan,
And saying to the taxi man,
“To what address have I been sent?”
She reached and stretched and tipped and bent
To snatch the letter from his fist,
And take hold of the wheel and twist.
A smashing, crashing, splash of red.
And blood-stained, broken, dying. Dead.

She’d bruises, but no breakage, none
(She always kept her seatbelt on),
So tightened up the hated hood
And caught her breath outside and stood
Where just beyond the taxi door
The man’s ID lay on the floor.
‘Taxi Driver, Woodrow Cutter’.
Ruby sighed, “That’s one less nutter.”

But having killed the taxi man,
One tiny wrinkle in the plan:
The mangled debris of the car
Would not take Ruby very far.
And so she sat beside the wreck,
Until a driver stopped to check,
To give assistance, save the day.
She broke his neck and drove away.

But little girls have little legs,
And here a pressing question begs:
Just how did Ruby’s reach the floor?
And though a problem, Ruby swore
To be as tall as Woodrow was,
And this was possible because
His severed legs, strapped to her knees,
Could push the pedals down with ease.

The in-car navigation meant
She journeyed without incident,
Or would have if she hadn’t thought
It was her duty and she ought
To swerve into the local bum,
Which helped to break the tedium.
“Will work for food” his sign had said.
His last job: paint the gutters red.

At last the house came into view,
A place which Ruby hitherto
Had never stepped inside nor seen,
And by extension that would mean
She’d never even met her Gran.
And as the winding road began
To take her up a lonely hill,
Young Ruby felt a sudden chill.

It squatted on a barren crag,
And though imposing seemed to sag,
As if the weight of time and all
Its troubles pressed on every wall.
And on its twisted porch there sat
A blinking, watching, waiting cat.
Disturbed, it paced, with even stride,
And slowly, softly, stepped inside.

Detaching Woodrow’s grisly limbs
She caught sight of the crooked rims
Of tiny rounded spectacles,
And though a little sceptical
Of finding welcome in this place,
The glasses and the kindly face
Behind them led her to ignore
The garlic tied around the door.

With haste the blood on Ruby’s legs
Was wiped away and any dregs
Were covered with the spotless skirt
Within her bag. It didn’t hurt
To be as crafty as a fox,
So Ruby pulled on cleaner socks
And strained her lips to force a smile,
A skill not used for quite a while.

When finally the young girl stood,
With socks and skirt and little hood,
She looked a picture of delight,
And though her rage could still ignite,
She put aside her evil schemes,
And, just for once, the wild extremes.
A psycho killer? Who could tell?
Now at the door, she rang the bell.

Part 4 - Grandma

“I’m out!” an old voice squawked within,
“I don’t want shaving from my sin!
No wife insurance for the roof,
No gutter-things made weatherproof,
No bubble glazing, if you please,
No free-range bread or manky cheese!
I’ve got the plague and camel cough!
You can’t come in, so bugger off!”

Astonished, Ruby almost laughed.
This woman, senile, slow and daft,
Would never guess her purpose here
Was finding out where mother dear
Had gone to rest her tortured mind,
And Ruby felt almost inclined
To leave her Grandma trouble-free.
“But no,” she thought, “that isn’t me.”

She knocked this time, ignored the bell,
And now an ancient, acrid smell
Seeped slowly through the letterbox,
With hints of Tutankhamen’s socks,
So old the smell appeared to be,
And bending over she could see
Two eyes, one green, the other blue.
“It’s me, Grandmother. Is that you?”

At once the door flew open wide.
“My darling Robbie! Come inside!
How was the journey? Oh, so late!
It’s almost... ten past twenty-eight.
Now did you bring the circus tent?
Oh bogies, that’s not what I meant.”
She beckoned with a wrinkled hand,
And Ruby entered Grandma land.

Inside, when you were used to it,
The smell was like a tiny bit
Of all the things that ever grew,
Boiled up with sweat and served as stew.
From everywhere it seemed to ooze,
And Ruby felt her little shoes
Were sticking to the grimy floor.
Behind her, Grandma closed the door.

The shadows in the darkened hall
Meant she could hardly see at all.
Reluctantly she held the arm
Of Grandma, and with some alarm
She found it muscle-bound and strong.
Uncommon, yes, but hardly wrong.
Yet as she followed Grandma’s tread,
Her thoughts were filled with mounting dread.

They stepped into another room,
And in the nauseating gloom,
While Ruby waited with her bag,
Still trying not to breathe or gag,
The woman rummaged in a drawer,
Soon found what she was looking for,
And lit a match, which lit a lamp,
Which lit the room, and so... a ramp.

The gradient was steep at first,
But after that she saw the worst
Soon levelled off to some degree,
And through the shadows she could see
A path which led deep underground.
And far below, was that the sound
Of water running through a cave?
Now Ruby told herself, “Be brave.”

“Oh, don’t be frightened, Ronnie dear.
I know this seems a little queer,
But many, many years ago
They built this house, and don’t you know
They used the caves for hiding rum.
They smuggled it, and men would come
And store the barrels out of sight.
Or was it kippers? Yes, that’s right!”

All thoughts of mother fully gone,
The child, reluctant to go on,
Had nonetheless no other choice,
But whispered in a timid voice,
“I’m very sleepy. Where’s my room?”
But Gran was gone, into the gloom.
“Keep up, Rubella, follow me!
There’s liver-cake and jam for tea!”

So Ruby pulled her hood on tight,
No longer caring it was white,
And followed where her Grandma stepped,
While wishing that she could have slept
Back home inside her little bed;
Her sheets, her pillows, all in red.
It seemed forever to the child,
Till Grandma stopped, and turned, and smiled.

What Ruby hadn’t seen before
Were details, features. Little more
Than glimpses of her Grandma’s face
Were all the child could use to trace
A mental photograph of Gran,
But now the little girl began
To worry. She was trapped beneath.
And Grandma had gigantic teeth.

So long and white, they’d strip the meat
From anything they cared to eat,
And Ruby let this notion slip.
“Why Grandma, I’ll bet you could grip
A zebra in those teeth of yours.
They really are tremendous jaws.”
And Grandma grinned and simply said,
“Perhaps I’ll eat a child instead.”

Her eyes adjusting to the light,
The girl saw that her hunch was right:
Big eyes, big nose, enormous ears,
Were all confirming Ruby’s fears.
“You’re not my Grandma, not at all!
I need a phone, I need to call
The armed police! The infantry!
Eat something else! Just don’t eat me!”

And closer came the leering face,
Till Ruby’s heart began to race
So fast she thought her chest would pop.
But on it came and would not stop
Until her awful fate was sealed.
And Ruby gripped her hood and squealed.
A crooked hand reached through the night.
It touched the wall... and there was light.

Part 5 - Wolf

The glare was blinding, but her eyes
Could see the fangs and huge incis-
ors. Teeth, an inch from Ruby’s nose,
Drooled thick saliva down her clothes.
On tiny shoulders, mighty paws
Dug into skin with lethal claws.
Her soul grew cold, an empty space...
Its tongue began to lick her face.

“That’s naughty, Wolfie, put her down!
Great barking bunions, don’t you drown
Her! Silly thing! So sorry dear,
We don’t get many strangers here.
I’ve told him that he shouldn’t beg.
Oh, what’s he doing to your leg?”
The beast withdrew, and Ruby found
Not Gran, but an enormous hound.

Her eyes had tricked poor Ruby’s mind.
The house, the dark, had misaligned
Her senses to expect the worst.
And now she whispered, no, she cursed.
For mother was to blame for this,
And next time Ruby wouldn’t miss
The chance to take her pound of flesh.
Avenging thoughts returned afresh.

“Roberta, sweetie, here we are!
Feel free to raid the cookie jar.
But just one teensy little rule:
Don’t you-know-whatsy in the pool.”
No longer facing Grandma’s pet,
Young Ruby’s startled eyes were met
With wonders you might only see
In dazzling homes on MTV.

The balcony on which they stood
Gave Ruby such a view she could
See statues, paintings, marble floors,
And walls with gem-encrusted doors,
A swimming pool and water slide.
Said Gran, “I live down here and hide.
When people see the old house, they
Just take one look and run away.”

While Wolfie galloped down the stairs,
They took the elevator. “There’s
A thing your mother doesn’t know.
I won a fortune, years ago.
My numbers came up, yes all six,
But by that time your mother’s tricks
And schemes to have me put in care
Broke us apart, beyond repair.”

“This place is huge!” young Ruby drooled,
“And no-one knows - they’ve all been fooled!”
“Oh yes,” said Gran, “just you and me.
And not forgetting Mr C.”
She didn’t ask Gran who that was,
And this was probably because
Her brain had figured something out.
Excited, she began to shout.

“Oh Grandma! Grandma, pretty please!
I’ll beg and crawl on both my knees.
I’ll skip and dance and run and sing
If you will do one tiny thing.
Oh will you, Grandma? I’ll be good,
If only you’ll buy me a hood.
A hood like this one - see my head?
But not in white. It must be red.”

Her Grandma peered through wrinkled eyes,
And though she seemed to be surprised,
She thought a while, and then she said,
“We’ll buy a dozen hoods, all red!”
And Ruby danced, and Ruby skipped,
And Ruby’s evil thoughts were tipped
Into the pool for evermore.
She’d be a good girl now, she swore.

So, tired and happy, Ruby fell
Into a chair and all was well.
She’d had a busy day all told,
And Grandma delicately rolled
Her up in blankets, smiling still.
“I’m quite sure that my husband will
Adore you. But where can he be?
Go find him, Wolf, find Mr C!”

Part 6 - Red

When Ruby woke, she lay in bed,
With candles all around her head.
Her Grandma sat nearby and sighed,
And whispered, with no hint of pride,
Just bitterness, and never smiled:
“My granddaughter, my lovely child.
You’re what I thought I’d not survive
To see, but yes, I’m still alive.”

“And Mr C, he’d like you, yes.
We’d both adore the way you dress.
The little skirt, the little hood,
The little shoes... the little blood.
The little blood, yes that was weird,
But Wolfie sniffed it, it was smeared
Around your shoes. He knows his scents.
My, what a problem that presents.”

When Ruby tried to sit upright,
She couldn’t move, the sheets too tight.
“I thought that something must be wrong.
He’s never taken very long
To park the car and come inside,
Though now and then he’d stay, and I’d
Find him cleaning. Can’t stand clutter.
Never could, not Woodrow Cutter.”

“I didn’t do it! Grandma, please!”
But Gran said, “Cut off at the knees.
An old man’s legs, and you did that.
I found a bit of him the cat
Had brought inside. No, not his fault.
That’s instinct, see? But humans halt
A lot of things they think are bad.
But you, oh, look what fun you’ve had.”

“Please Grandma, no! Please, no! I beg!”
But Gran picked up a severed leg.
“We used to dance. Not very well.
Is this leg left or right? Can’t tell.
For dancing that’s a problem too.
Don’t think that matters now, do you?”
She hurled it down upon the bed.
“You met him once, and now he’s dead.”

“No, no! We crashed! Let me explain!”
And Grandma said, “There was no pain.
It’s on the news, they’re sure of it,
Not like the homeless man you hit.
They say he’ll live but never walk.
And if the other one could talk -
You know, the one whose neck you broke -
He’d say that dying is no joke.”

She went on, “Wolfie found the leg.
That really took me down a peg.
He looked so pleased. He’s always shown
Me things he finds. Just like a bone,
But with a bit more meat and skin.
My faithful Wolfie brought it in.
But I don’t think my mind can stretch
Enough to play with him at fetch.”

Now sobbing, Ruby couldn’t speak.
Her struggles, feeble, futile, weak,
Could not release her from the bed,
And now the girl began to dread
What Grandma planned to do with her.
“You’re quite the little saboteur,”
Said Grandma, “so your mother wrote.
“She told me what you’d done - the note.”

“She knows I’m here! She’ll call the cops!”
“I told you, Mum, she never stops,”
A voice said in the darkened room,
And gliding forward from the gloom
Came Ruby’s mother, cold and grim.
“My father, child. You murdered him.
Though never close, he was my Dad.
And you, well you’ve been very bad.”

“She lied to you! She’s really rich!”
“And you’re a vicious scheming bitch,”
Her mother cried, and Gran agreed.
“A very naughty girl indeed.
And all this for a little hood.
Perhaps you’re just misunderstood,
But understand, girl, this is why
It’s time to pay. It’s time to die.”

And now from Ruby not a sound,
For Grandma quickly, tightly bound
Across her mouth a piece of rag,
A makeshift but effective gag.
And Ruby, helpless on the bed,
Her eyeballs bulging from her head,
Heard Grandma, as she tied the knot,
Say, “Ruby, what big eyes you’ve got.”

Her mother murmured, “Here’s the hood.”
She held it up, and something could
Be seen inside it, something brown,
For something heavy weighed it down.
“Mmm, peppered steak,” her Grandma said,
And tied the hood to Ruby’s head.
“It’s Wolfie’s choicest tasty treat.
He likes the blood. He loves the meat.”

Outside, the scrape of mighty paws,
Excited scratching, lethal claws.
No nightmare this, no childish dream.
In Ruby’s lungs a silent scream,
As chilling as a midnight fog.
She saw the door. She saw the dog.
She saw two women take their leave.
And knew there would be no reprieve.

She’d never asked for very much,
And Ruby really wasn’t such
A naughty girl before she said
She hated white and must have red.
But vengeance now was duly served,
And Ruby got what she deserved.
Discarded lay the little hood,
Now ruby red, with Ruby’s blood.