about the author

Gay Degani has published online and in print including four The Best of Every Day Fiction editions and her own collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is the founder-editor of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place where a list of her online and print fiction can be found. Her story, “Something about L.A.,” won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize.

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Gay Degani

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Ruby meanders through murky city streets in ragged jeans and too-small T-shirts, a fur-collared coat loading her down. She knows the fur is lynx, though she doesn’t remember why. She’s never seen a lynx, yet can conjure a field of snow with clumps of brown grass bent in the sunlight, something feral crouched beyond.

The collar used to be soft but now it’s stiff, like her hair gets when she falls on the curb or down stairs. Hard red snarls form and she’s forced to go to the shelter where the volunteers search her skull for cracks and lice, feed her Costco lasagna, and let her shower.

She takes a tumble this afternoon heading into the subway. Last step and she’s on the ground, commuters scurrying around her.

When Ruby comes out of the shower at the shelter, tightening her paper robe, Mrs. Lee is waiting. Ruby likes Mrs. Lee; still, she turns away, pretending the woman has chosen the hard metal bench in the locker room as a place to relax. Or maybe she just likes the smell of dispenser shampoo.

“How’s your head?” asks Mrs. Lee.

“Fine.” Ruby fiddles with the locker’s sliding mechanism. There’s no padlock, no lock of any kind. Someone could steal her clothes. It’s happened before.

“I have something for you.”

Ruby moves her head enough to see the torn slip of paper in Mrs. Lee’s hand. In her mind, she glimpses a different locker room, a high school locker room, maybe the one in Idaho, or was it Alberta? Someone gave her a note then too. Ruby presses fingers against her chest.

“Doesn’t this belong to you?” asks Mrs. Lee.

Ruby wipes her nose with the sleeve of the paper robe. “No.”

“It has your name on it.”

The paper is dry and fragile between Ruby’s fingers, its notebook blue lines barely visible beneath the words. She hands it back, stares down at her borrowed shower shoes.

“Don’t you want to keep it?”

“That’s not me. It’s not mine.”

“Okay. It’s okay.”

After Mrs. Lee leaves, Ruby finds the paper on the metal bench. She studies the blotchy scrawl. “Please excuse Ruby Slater from classes today as she needs to...” The rest of the note is torn away.

She puts on the clean jeans and T-shirt Mrs. Lee has left for her. She strokes the matted fur of her coat. It was white once; she’s positive. As white as the lynx in the snow field. Not that she was ever there, not in Idaho, not in Alberta.

She stops at Mrs. Lee’s desk to return the scrap of notebook paper and says, “I don’t know what this other Ruby needs. I can’t help her none.”

“I’ll save it for you,” says Mrs. Lee. “Just in case.”

Ruby frowns. “In case of what?”

“In case you ever want to go looking for the other half.”

Ruby rubs her cheek against the collar of her coat and turning away, trudges into the night.

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