Ruby saves the world with her knitting and homemade pie.
approximately 1500 words
A Day at the Park
Ruby Beesley rolled her eyes as the televangelist warned that recent UFO sightings were a portent of the end times. She shook her head and turned off the TV in her kitchen. How silly! The Lord might work in mysterious ways, but Ruby was pretty sure He hadn't sent little green men--not that she could see their tint, at least not since her Digoxin had made her color blind.
The timer dinged. She snatched up hot pads and pulled two pies from her oven: one peach and one apple. Heady aromas of cinnamon, pastry, and fruit filled the room. A smile tugged at her lips in anticipation of dinner tonight with her grandchildren, Toby and Tiffany. The day would be complete if their father Evan managed to call home from Afghanistan. She headed to the veranda to soak up some sun and knit on Evan's almost-finished sweater.
Across the street, an American flag flapped in the brisk springtime breeze. She used to joke that it was the good old gray, white and blue due to her defective vision, but that was before Evan went overseas. Ruby sighed. She hadn't felt much like joking since then. She slumped in her chair, knitting untouched.
A robin chirped from her magnolia tree. The sun warmed her cheeks. Hyacinths filled her yard and their scent wafted her way.
She sat up straight. Here she was feeling sorry for herself, when the good Lord had given her this lovely morning. She should celebrate with a picnic instead of moping. With a firm step, she returned to her kitchen. She bustled about, fixing an extra chicken salad sandwich or six and stashed the peach pie in a carrier. You never knew who you might meet at the park. She loaded her picnic basket, not forgetting her knitting.
She strolled through the park before settling at her favorite table, nestled in a glade overlooking a lily pond. She counted stitches and imagined Evan in his new sweater. He was always so grateful, even if he said the things she made were too nice to wear. Such a good son.
A shadow darkened the park as an oblong aircraft swooshed by overhead.
It didn't look anything like Evan's F16. No wings, not even the flutter of helicopter blades. What would those clever Air Force people think of next? The craft slowed and landed in the woods that separated Ruby from Maple Street.
She wished she'd taken a picture with her phone. Toby and Tiffany would have loved seeing a snapshot of the airplane. She'd have to settle for telling them about it.
A siren blared and tires squealed from outside the park. A sudden crump of metal and screaming voices shattered the quiet.
Ruby flinched and concentrated on her knitting and the wildwood. A squirrel chittered at her from a nearby tree. Sunlight and shadow shimmered across the pond's surface. Her needles went clack-clack against each other. She'd finish the sweater today for sure.
The siren wailed into the distance and the voices faded away. The trees rustled as the morning breeze sighed through the park. Out of the corner of her eye, Ruby caught movement and smiled. She just knew someone would happen by to keep her company.
The men who approached jogged in tight formation, in rigid quickstep. They all dressed the same, with baggy pants, shiny boots, and tight undershirts. The one in the lead wore a sideways baseball cap and glared at her with reptilian eyes.
Her heart fluttered and worry clenched her stomach. Whatever could they be up to? Yarn flew through her knitting needles. Clack, clack clack.
The men ran right up to her picnic table and halted, quivering to stiff attention. The one with the crooked hat saluted her and snapped, "Good morning, ma'am. Would you mind if we spoke to you?"
Relief flooded through Ruby and her tummy relaxed. Of course! These boys must be in the Air Force, out for a run from their plane. She beamed at them. "That would be a pleasure, young man. My name's Ruby." She offered her hand.
His mouth twitched. He bent low and kissed her wrist!
Tingles shot up Ruby's arm. No one had kissed her hand since Mr. Beesley had passed. She tipped her head and examined the young faces arrayed before her. They must be far from home, and lonely too. She did wish the military didn't favor such extreme haircuts. Those Mohawks looked like the frill on a lizard. The young men would be cute but for their hair and odd uniforms.
Enough of that. "Won't you all sit down?" She opened her picnic basket. "I bet you'd like some good home cooking. Come share with me."
The man with the crooked cap pursed his lips and whistled. The young men scattered like puppies and settled on the grass at her feet.
She doled out sandwiches and pie, plastic forks and paper plates. "There's plenty for everyone if we share, just like the good Lord taught us." She let them start their meals and even savored a tangy bite of her chicken salad. "Now, you boys must tell me about your families."
Their chatter reminded Ruby of Evan's Air Force friends who hailed from distant parts. One spoke of a baby daughter he'd never seen, and another sang a little folk song about the Harmony Hills of Home. Others remembered wives and lovers, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers.
Ruby smiled, nodded, and patted heads. Such good boys!
One of the young men sat at her feet and stared at her with doe-like eyes, so like Evan when he was that age. "What's your name, hon?"
"Brod." He glanced at his leader and then back at Ruby. "You remind me of my grandmother. May I call you Nanna Ruby?"
She blinked back a tear. "Aren't you precious? Why don't you tell me about your family, dear?"
His voice turned soft as warm butter. "Our pond is in a forest, just like here. My grandma lives with us, and she weaves things for us." Tentative fingers stroked Evan's now-finished sweater. "Things like this. It's so beautiful. Who's it for?
"My son, Evan. He's in the Air Force, too."
Brod leaned forward and nuzzled the fabric. "It's so soft. It smells like flowers." His eyes glistened. "It smells like you."
One of the men pulled what she thought was a hankie from his pocket. He unfolded it and held it to his cheek, where it glowed and murmured in his ear.
What a strange phone! Ruby wondered if he was calling home. She turned back to Brod, who continued stroking her knitting, gossamer tears glimmering in his eyes. She whispered, "Sweetheart, would you like the sweater? Evan has lots of them. He won't mind."
His face exploded with joy. "Really, Nanna Ruby? I'd cherish it forever."
"It's just a sweater, dear."
Brod draped the garment over his muscular shoulders and gripped Ruby's hand. "You've asked us about our families. What about yours?"
She didn't say anything about his scaly palm but instead scooped her favorite snapshots out of her knitting bag. "This one's Tiffany on her tricycle. That one's Toby's little league team."
Brod examined each photo like a sacred icon. "They're beautiful, Nanna Ruby." He reached inside his baggy pants. "I have pictures of my family, too."
Ruby smiled at Brod's photos of tykes cavorting in a pool and then narrowed her eyes. Were those flippers instead of feet? The poor things! "They're beautiful. You must love them deeply."
A lonely tear streaked down his cheek. "I do. I miss them." He clutched Ruby's snapshots to his chest. "I'll see them soon. We should trade pictures, so we can both remember this day."
Ruby blinked. "Well, bless your heart. Isn't that...sweet?"
He beseeched her with a plaintive, "Please?"
He was so eager and so young. She ruffled his bristly hair. "I'd love to trade my family's pictures for yours." After all, she had hundreds more.
The leader whistled and the men scrambled to their feet. He turned to Ruby. "Thank you for your kindness, ma'am. We had despaired about our mission, but you've given us hope for this poor world."
"You should never give up hope, young man, and always rely on the kindness of strangers." While they marched away, Ruby hoped Evan would find kindness in faraway Afghanistan.
That night the children ate apple pie while watching a television news program where angry people sat around a table and yelled at each other--something about a grandmother who stopped an alien attack. Who would they find to shout about next? She silenced the strident voices. "Children, I must tell you about my day."
Toby rolled his eyes and whined, "Grandma, we were watching that."
Tiffany punched him and then simpered, "Tell us, Grandma."
Ruby related her tale and ended by pulling out Brod's snapshots. "The nice young man gave me photos of his family. Aren't they beautiful?"
Tiffany took one look and shrieked.
Toby sneered, "Grandma, they've got green skin, like frogs! They're monsters! "
Ruby tsked. "Now, now Toby." Green? Brown, red, white, and yellow she knew. But green? It didn't matter. "We're all God's children."
This story is based on a classic science fiction tale from 1952, "Minister Without Portfolio," by the Oklahoma author Mildred Clingerman. See
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