This Issue

Sep/Oct 2014

Ruze

Lisa Piazza

If you want to find Ruze, don't look here. 

Don't look in Gran's yellow kitchen or the downstairs den. Don't look on the stiff flowered couch that sits a little too far from the TV. Don't look in the mega-tub upstairs. No Ruze asleep in a mound of bubbles this time. I checked.

Don't look in the room Gran says is mine, with its sometimes lamplight glow at night, its sunrise morning view. Its twin bed and wooden dresser and the closet still half-full of Gran's Christmas boxes -- plastic wreaths and wooden angels. 

If you want to find Ruze, you can't stay here.

*** 

When we were kids, Ruze would pop letters in the mail to me. Real ones with stamps she took from our mom's desk. I knew one of her letters had arrived by the way she carried the mail. Short typed nothing-notes, sometimes with quotes or songs she liked or things she heard people say. Good day! When things got bad and she fell under, the letters came every day: Sorry. Sorry, they'd say.

Today in the car after school, Gran pulls into the garage, puts the car in park, clicks off her seatbelt, then pulls her cheeks in and says, "Jarrett, you have a letter from Ruth. Or shouldn't I tell you?" I shrug. The last note was blank 'cept for

Dear J,




Love,

Ruze

Maybe my sister figured I could fill in the blanks, but the missive felt empty to me. Missive. That woulda been a three-star word with Ms. K, but English teachers at the Hold don't expect as much. Still, missive is a word that works. Letters like missiles Ruze aims my way. Meaningless hollows of space she wants me to cram with what I know. Thing is, I left off knowing Ruze a long time ago. 

All things need space, 

she would say. 


Imagine all the stars at night

one on top of the other

lumped like burning eyes 

vying for a view. 

*** 

Whatever.

*** 

This note -- which Gran has propped on the dresser in my room -- says:

I didn't write this note.

I am not waiting for you.

It is written on a ragged yellow Post-it, dirty around the edge; not typed, but handwritten in the crisp lines of my sister's best script. 

I read it three times. I say it out loud. Then I put it back in its envelope and stick it on the bottom of the stack I keep in the pocket of my backpack. I got a big thick rubber band around them, but still one falls out. It says:


hand over your heart.

I remember reading this one in front of her. 

It's a joke, silly, she said. Lighten up. 

And here she put her hand over her heart and laughed till I joined in. I knew she was better when she joked.

The last time I saw Ruze, it was at the park three blocks over. She had on a long skirt and clinky bracelets around her ankles and wrists. Her hair was clean, brushed flat. She spoke like someone else had lined up the words and marched them out in old-school order:

Stranger, if you passing meet me … 

"What?"

Why should I not speak to you?

"Ruze?"

"Whitman."

"Huh?"

Stranger, if you passing meet me … and desire to speak …

"Hey!" I tried to interrupt, but she continued her sparkless recitation.

Silent. Gazing.

"Ruze!"

Pondering. Night. Sleep.

"Come on!"

The stars …

I left her at the park. My sister laid flat. Trapped. Strapped to the tracks. Walking in circles around an empty center. Nothing to pull her in. No one to pull her out. I shoulda stayed -- no telling if I'll find her there today. And if I do, will she be awake or asleep? My sister to give or my sister to keep? 

I have to try. 

If I don't, she'll find out about my switch to the Hold from Lizard, not me. Tall-ass Lizard, who knew Ruze the year she was supposed to graduate. He was a scrunch then. They probably had Art 1 together, or Intro to Algebra, the year Ruze was retaking everything. Now he's at the Hold, stopping me like a cop.

"Your sister know you're here now?" he asked me today.

"Yeah," I lied. Then, curious: "Why -- you seen her?"

" 'Course."

"Oh." And he could be all truth or lies or dare or nothing. I don't even know the kid. Don't know how he knows me.

*** 

I put Ruze's note away and go downstairs. Gran is ironing in front of the TV. No big surprise. She keeps the TV on all day, sometimes at night, too. She likes the sound of voices in the house. She turns it up for the local news. Louder still for her game shows. She puts a lot into rooting for the guy who's behind. 

She keeps the ironing board out in front of the set. I've learned she irons when she's worried. If it's not Ruze and her random half-state drop-ins, it's me -- the half-assed dropout. No one here wears work shirts anymore, so she has the sheets out and the pillowcases, too.

The letters from Ruze get her all unnerved. She could ask me about the note, but she doesn't and I don't say. 

Instead she looks up from her sheets, to the TV, then over at me.

"Everything OK?"

"Yeah," I say, but I duck out the back door when she goes upstairs.

*** 

With Gran it's like a big pretend. I wear the costume of a kid on the mend. 

Ruze, if she shows here at all, enters like air, staring at nothing. It makes Gran mad. Gran tells her to get some rest, but Ruze never listens. If we say, Go upstairs, lay your head on any old pillow, Ruze'll just disappear out the front door till the next time. 

Gran says we can only watch her go. What else can we do? I mean, who can stand to see only outlines, without any light shining through? 

Blank shapes    unfilled  

form without shadow    or shade 

Ruze at the table

waiting for someone else 

to color her in.

*** 

The sun keeps to his clock. Rises and sets, sets and rises. True as true. What's not always true is the lamp outside my window: Will it buzz on or stay dark? 

First few months at Gran's it didn't matter -- on or off -- I barely cared. But I have started to peg my days on the nights before. Lamp goes on, everything will roll smooth, calm as windless water on a too-hot day. Lamp stays dark, the next 24 are up for grabs: down the drain, watch your back, jump the cracks. See a ladder, nothing sadder.  

*** 

No light last night.

*** 

The evening air buzzes with missions. Kids on bikes breeze by. Cars whiz home. Kitchen lights flick on. The energy carries me down to the empty park. There is only one kid left. A toddler, really, climbing up a small ladder, then back down again. His dad stands close behind so the kid doesn't fall. The dad keeps going, "You got it, you got it," and the little guy is concentrating like it's the hardest task in the world to pull his legs to the next level.

I'm watching without watching. 

I don't stare too long. 

I climb up the slide and look down at the swings and then out toward the pond, past the crooked oaks and a few newer trees the city thought to plant. 

That's when I see the sweater. It could only belong to Ruze because it's the ugliest green sweater in the universe, and I know exactly where she got it -- Gran's friend from church. She made me one, too, only in blue. Ruze used to wear it all the time. She kept giving it chances, believing her hatred for the sweater would actually become love if she tried hard enough. 

I stare at the sweater hanging in the old oak tree and shout her name. 

I listen for a rustle; a kind of sound; her snorting laughter; her annoying regurgitation of childhood songs.

Six little blackbirds, singing in a tree 

Teasing Mr. Alley Cat: can't catch me! 

But there is nothing here. A mass of thick branches hides the darkening sky -- and the green sweater hangs like moss from the tree.

"Ruze!" I shout again, tossing her name up like it's a ball bound to come back down. 

I run over to the base of the tree. I want to be the one to tell her about getting kicked out of school. If Lizard gets to her first she won't understand. Besides, I won't be at the Hold too long. I am only a few credits down -- nothing like Ruze when she crossed the stage. They gave her a diploma only after the fact, end of August after a full load of summer school. She was gonna take that piece of paper and run. Show them something strong. Show them all -- I don't know what. 

At the base of the tree, one branch is low enough to swing from. I climb up and keep going. She should be easy to spot. A spider of a sister spinning with quick limbs. One time she put bright red streaks at the ends of her hair. It looked like she was on fire. But up in the tree I find only her pad of Post-its and the sparkly purple pencil case she has used since elementary school.

I write found you on one of the sheets and stick it to her sweater. But it doesn't stay, and by the time I climb down, the Post-it is floating behind me like a tagalong leaf.

*** 

If you want to find Ruze, don't look here.

*** 

It is almost all the way dark now. I head over to the pond on the other side of the park. Nothing but reeds and turtle-rocks and the lap, lap, slap of the water. A duck or two. But no Ruze.

My sister the squirrel, my sister the slug. 

My sister living in a tree or a hole that she dug. 

*** 

Where are you?

*** 

I'm looking up, thinking it over -- watching the sky shift in chunks of clouds. 

I'm looking up

thinking whatever 

give up -- 

when the light sifts and a puff of white 

swirls

into an effortless J, 

another twists into an A.

It's my name, I see. 

Ruze shaping sounds, calling out to me. 

The dad and the baby from the park are over by the pond now. I wonder if they see it. The dad's looking around, not up. Maybe he wouldn't see anything anyway. What's in it for him? Only sky. Not a mirror, not a sign, not my name. No starry guide, no lucky cloud. His baby might notice. Babies are always looking up -- pointing out the stream of a jet or the flap of a faraway bird. Babies reckon the distance between the small of a hand and the silent, staring moon.   

I head toward them -- but the dad pops his baby in the stroller and wheels off in the opposite direction. I turn to leave and run straight into Uncle Nobody, the statue at the park, some conservationist that Ruze and I think we ought to know. He has on a wide hat and carries a carved walking stick. The guy saved some part of this park or some animal in it. The plaque is too worn to read, so I take Ruze's word he would make a good relative. I am apt to claim him now.

Uncle Nobody.  

Where ya been, old friend?

I throw my arm around his stiff shoulders and look him in the unmoving eye. It is a reunion of one. That's when I catch a small bud of yellow, a scrunched-up Post-it, stuck under his stony armpit.

Stay, it says. 

Stay. 

So she is here somewhere. Ruze is here.

And if I wait long enough, she'll waltz out on tiptoes, sneak up behind me, cover my eyes, and say, "Guess who?" She'll laugh her coyote howl, her scavenger's scream. She'll twirl and jump -- thrilled to be seen. My sister will steel her eyes into mine and smile like nothing's wrong. 

And maybe nothing is.  

Lisa Piazza teaches English and creative writing to young people in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in YARN, Cleaver Magazine, and Sparkle + Blink. "Ruze" is excerpted from a longer work in progress, a novel in prose and verse. Learn more about Lisa at facebook.com/WordplayWorkshop

© 2014 by Lisa Piazza