Ruby Jewel Red (Story by R.C. Peris)

In 1955 I had one friend. She lived in town, in a Queen Anne style house, with her parents and two dogs and three cats. Her name was Lorie and she had just graduated from high school. Her high school sweetheart had joined the Army and was sent to Korea. Her plan was to stay at home, find a job, save money, and then marry Lewis when he returned though it wasn’t at all certain he would return as the war was sizzling thousands of miles away. Lorie got a job at Woolworth as a cashier and I was working as a waitress at the small cafe in the department store. On her lunch break, she would order a root beer. I served it in a frosty mug.

“Brawley is boring. Don’t you think this town is boring? Like you want to pull your hair out boring?” she asked me one Monday.

I nodded. “There’s the cinema. Also, the Protestant church has dances on Saturday’s. You don’t have to be Protestant to go.”

Lorie sipped her drink and the coldness of the mug made her lips slightly blue-tinged. “Are you Protestant?” she asked.

“No, Catholic.” I wiped the counter.

“I’m nothing. My Mom was raised Baptist. Dad fishes. He says that’s his religion.” She drank more. “I don’t remember you from high school.”

I blushed. It was my shame. “I never attended high school. After junior high, I helped my Dad at the gas station and on the farm.”

“Oh.” She didn’t seem snobby about it. She finished the root beer and then went back to work. She chatted every day for weeks and then started going to the cinema. Then we made plans for the dance at the church. On the Saturday of the dance I went to her house. We set our hair in curlers and then she painted my nails Ruby Jewel Red.

“Isn’t it a divine color?” she asked. “Woolworth just got it in yesterday.”

I felt so pretty walking into the dance with my hair set, a cotton dress I had sewn from fabric designed by Vogue, and my red nails. I danced with many men and even made a date to get ice cream with one. I went home with a glow. My Ma was sitting in her rocking chair reading the Bible and Pa was cleaning his gun. My Ma looked up and snarled. Ferocious.

“Jesus. What are you wearing? What’s on your nails?” she exclaimed. Pa didn’t look up.

“Ruby Jewel Red,” I said. “Do you like it?” I asked in a small voice.

“Harlot. You’re nothing but a harlot.” Ma got a bucket, bleach, and a wire brush. She stood over me as I scrubbed the nail polish off. My fingers bled and my Ma kept yelling.

I had one friend in 1955. And then I had none. I stopped talking to Lorie and ignored her questions about my scabby fingers and raw fingernails. All I know is that Ruby Jewel Red made my life miserable. They should put a warning on those bottles. CAUTION THIS COLOR IS ONLY FOR HARLOTS.

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