Some people called Ruby a bad dog,
and it was kind of true.
I turned eleven, my brothers, sister, and I found Ruby on our porch. She was
sitting there like a fluffy, black-and-white, tail-wagging package left by the
UPS man. A really smelly package.
spot, five-year-old Janie named the dog Rubella Polio (words she’d learned from
pamphlets in the pediatrician’s waiting room, being too advanced a reader for Highlights magazine). When I suggested
we call the dog Ruby for short, the big fur ball jumped up and gave me a
welcome,” I said, wiping the doggy drool off my cheek with the hem of my
Doug, my three-year-old twin brothers, let the dog into the house before Mama
could object. Not that Mama would have. Mama didn’t do much objecting back
then. She didn’t do much other than stare silently at the kitchen wall. If
Daddy had come back from the Afghanistan war instead of going to heaven, things
would have been different. Before,
Mama laughed and sang half the day away. Before,
Mama spent hours cooking exotic dinners with unpronounceable names. With Daddy
gone, it seemed to take all her strength to boil potatoes.
boys and I gave Ruby a good scrubbing in the downstairs shower. Afterwards, she
smelled like coconuts and wet dog, and she was ours.
day, Ruby started bringing stuff home. Not stuff you might expect a dog to drag
home, like cheeseburger wrappers, dirty diapers, or other dogs’ chew toys. No,
Ruby brought home gifts.
thing Ruby brought was a bag of barbecue potato chips. (We hadn’t told Ruby they
were Mama’s favorite, or that it was Mama’s birthday.) We tied a bow around the
chips, sang “Happy Birthday,” and made a party out of it. Mama smiled for three
later, Ruby brought home a pair of Janie-sized, pink, polka dot socks. Janie
wore them on her first day of kindergarten, and swore they were the reason she
made three new friends before lunch.
Ruby brought home two boxes of my favorite macaroni, several damp comic books
for Ben and Doug, a one-armed doll for Janie to nurse, a coupon for free
doughnuts, and a yellow scarf. Ruby’s tail slapped the porch with doggy joy
whenever she presented us with her findings, so we didn’t have the heart to
tell her stealing was a sin.
Grandma came to visit in October, she called Ruby “a giant, germy, mongrel
pest,” and said she’d take her to the SPCA first thing Monday morning. But Ruby
ran off and didn’t come back until Tuesday--after Grandma’s Cadillac left the
that fall, I’d catch Mama petting Ruby’s soft head or scratching under her
chin. I thought it was a sign Mama was getting a little better. And even a little better was a big deal to me.
Thanksgiving rolled around, Ruby brought us a voucher for a free turkey from
George’s Market. She also brought home the head from the Flynn family’s plastic
pilgrim lawn decoration. We buried the head in the garden while Mama stuffed
the turkey. Next, Mama got out her fattest cookbook and made sweet potato
casserole and green beans with fancy
sauce. After dinner, Mama said she was thankful for us kids and Ruby, and she
only cried a little.
beginning of December, Ruby brought home a snow shovel with a bent handle, and
Christmas Eve, Rubella Polio did something very, very bad. That dog brought
home the baby Jesus statue from the Oak Avenue Presbyterian Church’s front
Doug loved that baby Jesus all morning. They wrapped him in towels and sang him
“Away in a Manger” over and over. They tucked him into their old stroller and
gave him a wild ride through the entire first floor, laughing so loudly that
they woke up Mama from her Saturday morning sleep-in.
saw baby Jesus, she knew right away where he’d come from. Her face went whiter
than milk and then redder than ketchup. She scolded Ruby and sent her slinking
out the door and onto the snow-covered porch. And then Mama went and put on the
dress I’d ironed hoping she would take us to the Christmas Eve service.
brothers and sister,” she told me as she buttoned her green wool coat and clutched
baby Jesus to her chest.
came back an hour later, Mama looked different somehow.
afternoon, we strung popcorn and cranberries, and Mama got the musty plastic
Christmas tree down from the attic. The twins sang “Deck the Halls” and messed up
the words so badly that Mama couldn’t stop laughing.
my bed that night, I heard Mama open the front door, followed by the click of
Ruby’s toenails on the wood floors. Not long after, I smelled the heavenly
scent of Mama’s Christmas-only, orange-cinnamon rolls baking—the ones she was
too sad to bake last year.
morning, bits of wrapping paper flew as we tore into our clumsily wrapped gifts.
We kids had given each other things Ruby had “helped” us get, things we’d kept
hidden until then: a rubber ball, a pencil case, an eyeless teddy bear, a miniature
book of Shakespeare’s sonnets (slightly warped), a satin pouch of Canadian
nickels. Mama had wrapped special gifts for each of us, too--although none of
hers came from Ruby. She gave Ben and Doug each a tiny glass elephant from her
collection. Janie got one of Mama’s flowered teacups, and Mama gave me a book
of French recipes.
came next, with a lively discussion on how reindeer flew. We were licking the
orange icing from our fingers when we heard Ruby barking on the porch.
the door. Holding a red leather leash with Ruby attached was Reverend Craig
from Oak Avenue Presbyterian. He was smiling like he’d won a million bucks.
Christmas,” the pastor said. “I think I found your dog.” He wasn’t looking at
me when he spoke. He was looking at Mama. I’d never noticed how handsome
Reverend Craig was before, or that he looked about the same age as Mama.
and blushed. “Would you care for a cinnamon roll?” she asked.
Craig stayed all Christmas day. He came back three times that week, and four
times the next.
he usually brought gifts: a box of candy, a board game, a DVD for us to watch
huddled together on our long sofa, a bucket of fried chicken.
thing was Ruby never brought anything else home once Reverend Craig took over.
Maybe she knew we finally had everything we needed.
All story rights reserved by Carrie Anne Noble.
Carrie Anne Noble is the author of The Mermaid's Sister, winner of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Young Adult Fiction. This story was inspired by her family dog--a naughty German Shepherd mix that brings home many truly icky things she should not.