Ruby has stepped foot in a church exactly one time before today. She remembers the scratch of lace at her ankles and her wrists. She remembers her grandmother’s weathered face, solemn and intent on her prayer. She remembers the judgmental eyes of statues cold on the back of her neck when she bowed her head. That year hadn’t felt like Christmas, she recalled.
Today, she feels much the same. The door is a gaping mouth, opening wide to swallow her whole, and she steps in willingly. Ruby isn’t seven anymore, and she fears more than anything that this Monster will spit her out, but the first stone step may be the solidest thing she’s felt in years. The monster exhales a gust of air before it swallows Ruby Peters, and she finds that it’s warmer than the arms of her Someone Back Home. She finds herself relying on the Monster’s breath to fill her lungs all through the service; Ruby seems to have lost her own to the revelation that Georgia’s arms have become so cold. It takes hours of warmth and solidity for her to regain her breath, and only then does she stand up from the pew at the back of the chapel.
Leaning against the flank of the monster, Ruby pulls out her cell phone and dials an distantly familiar number.
“Hey, Mom?” the Monster applies an equal and opposite pressure on her shoulder blades, “I need to come home.”
The silence on the other end of the line is petrifying only momentarily, and then Mrs. Peters’ voice crackles back.
“Okay, baby. I’ll set up the couch and make you some tea. We’ll talk.”
“Yeah,” Ruby echoes, “let’s talk.”
Ruby’s car seems to autopilot to Georgia’s house, and her mouth still speaks the Monster’s words when she breaks the news.
“I can’t do this anymore. I’m suffocating here, Georgia.” Ruby waves off a tearful interruption with an abstract goodbye: “I need to be where I can breathe.”
The torn brown box is overflowing with her things, with bras, and a toothbrush, and a hairdryer, when she rescues it and drop it into the safety of the backseat.
Any doubts that she feels are quickly dispelled by an unexpected breeze at the back of Ruby’s neck. She’ll never forget how the sound of her tires on asphalt today emulate the screams, breaking glass, the hollow apologies that have little by little replaced Georgia. In fact, every sound registers differently today; the world sounds softer in the wake of the Monster.
Ruby’s mom has lived here forever, and Ruby knows just how to step so that she doesn’t step on the sidewalk cracks heading inside. As promised, Ruby sips tea, and she talks to her mother.
The feeling that here’s far more than familiarity to this comfort keeps her sane until she feels the Monster’s breath again one week later.
There’s no lace on her dress this time, because it’s borrowed, and the statues’ eyes feel so warm this time, but when Ruby glances sideways during prayer, her mother’s face has adopted so many of the lines and wrinkles that left with Grandmother. Ruby breathes in another breath of the Monster, and this time, she doesn’t let it out.