March 8
by Fred Shaw

1989
An excerpt from “Two Dogs on a Couch”.
A memoir by Fred Shaw

I’m driving my little maroon Honda Civic out of the Oxford Valley Mall in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. My five year old granddaughter, Kelly, is in the passenger’s seat—there are no airbags. My dog, Ruby, who has been with me for less than a month, is in the back seat. I come to a stop sign and look up and down the street and then at my granddaughter. Trance-like she gazes through the windshield; she can only see the sky. It’s the same ethereal look she had on the Flemington to Ringoes steam-train ride earlier this year.

We are on the return trip of this tourist ride, five miles each way. Kelly and I talk on the way to Ringoes and at the station there. For the return trip we are silent. The window is lowered from the top and the breeze brings the trees, houses, roads and fields we are rushing by into our coach. Kelly stares out of the window. I don’t dare interrupt her reverie with a mundane, “What are you thinking about?” Instead I watch her closely and imagine what fantasies fill her head.

The traffic is clear and I start from the stop sign. “Grand pop, do you believe in imaginary friends?”

“Do you mean friends that aren’t real people?”

“Yes!”

The look in her eyes gives me the correct answer, “Of course I do. Do you have an imaginary friend?”

“Yes, I do!”

I suspect I am about to become her privileged confidant so I ask, “Can you tell me who it is?”

“It’s Superman.”

I smile to myself, nod my approval and say, “He’s very strong, a good friend to have.”

“He helps me a lot of times—more then some of my other friends but not more than my mother.”

I point through the windshield. “Look up in the sky; it’s a bird; it’s a plane; no it’s Superman.”

Kelly doesn’t seem to care for my frivolity with her dreams so I change my demeanor and ask, “How long has he been your imaginary friend?”

She shifts the direction of the conversation. “Grand pop, why did you name your dog, Ruby? It doesn’t make sense to me. Rubies are red and Ruby is black.”

I must be careful with this one. A friend of mine found Ruby in the Trenton ghetto. My friend has two Greyhounds who are five times bigger than little Ruby—she weighs fifteen pounds. He asked me if I would take her. “My dogs like her but it’s a tough fit. They want to play but might accidentally hurt her.”

My Yorky, Timmy, had died a year before this. The pain of his loss was excruciating. “No more dogs”, I said and my wife agreed. But when she saw this pathetic, skinny little black dog she changed her mind and so did I. A black dog from a black ghetto! I thought of the name Ruby Begonia from the Amos and Andy radio show. So we named her Ruby. But I can’t tell my granddaughter that racist tale. So I lie.

“Her name isn’t Ruby, Kelly. Her full name is Ruby, My Dear. You know how much I like jazz music. Well a jazz pianist named Thelonious Monk wrote a song called, “Ruby, My Dear”, so I named her after the song. I’ll play it for you when we get home.”

Kelly repeats, “Ruby, My Dear, Ruby, My Dear. I love her name, Grand pop.”

“I call her Ruby for short. Do you know, just between you and me, you could be Kelly, My Dear—Kelly for short.” I look at Kelly and she gives me a look I haven’t seen before. I’m a Superman Grandfather at this moment.

Ruby, her back feet on the rear seat and her front paws on the armrest of our seats, throws her head across my chest. Kelly laughs, reaches across the seat and puts her hand on my knee. “I think you have two girlfriends in this car.”

When we get home I ask her if she wants to hear the song “Ruby, My Dear” but she is busy with something else. For me, the lie must become a fact because I have six grandchildren and they will talk to each other. From that day on “Ruby” becomes “Ruby, My Dear.”

Read about Fred on the Writer’s Bios Page

email: fshaw@bigcanoewriters.org