Ruthie Grey sat on the steps playing with the top button on her blue blouse. She was lost in thought, oh no, not the "doing of it." But the possible undoing. She really didn't understand how the machine Charlie had made worked. He saw to that. He was always telling her he had the brains in the family, so it made no difference what or how she thought. He was so sure she'd never understand what he was doing, he even asked her help occasionally.
She'd been sitting on these very steps further up where he couldn't see her the first time the frightened, shivering rabbit disappeared. Then reappeared. Disappeared. Reappeared. Five times altogether. First for one minute. Then three. Then an hour. It was the hour that tumbled her to what Charlie was up to. When he talked about his work, at all, he called it his "History Maker."
Her mom had tried to warn her. She sat remembering every detail of that awful conversation. Her mom had been wearing her favorite orange, baggy pants and sloppy top with the large peeling off ironed-on butterflies. To complete her outfit she had her florescent pink slippers flopping about as she walked. Her long hair with its permanent "unkempt look" further added to the picture. She’d brandished a wooden spoon with spaghetti sauce dripping off it as she expounded: "Ruthie Mae, geniuses are mighty tough to live with. And you either have to call that man a genuwine genius or plumb crazy. She always pronounced it gen-u-wine, somehow getting a little whine in her voice. I think he’s got the smarts to do whatever he chooses. To repeat myself, geniuses are tough to live with and I oughta know. They forget you live and breathe and need care. They just bury their minds in their invention wanderings and never know you're alive. He's grief, Ruthie." After today, she'd probably say, “I always suspected the crazies had his mind. Didn’t want to say so, though, and hurt your feelings. Ya done a good job. However you did it. Proud of you, girl. Didn't know you had it in you."
Our kids? It'd be O.K. with them. Probably be some months before they even knew. Didn't come around much. Apparently she was the only one without enough sense to clear out. Oh, he'd never laid a hand to her. No bruises on her skin, no broken bones. Matter of fact, he'd not laid a hand her, period, since Johnny'd been about four. It was the words. A lot she didn't understand, too many she did. He hurt with words. "Y'know," he'd say, "your string bean hair and body coordinate with your lean personality." "One thing about you, Ruthie Mae," he'd say, "I can depend on you being here. Can't go anywhere else. Takes intelligence to work." "What am I working on, Little Girl?" he'd say, "Don't you worry your little gray matter." And too many times to count: "I'll do the thinking in this family. I'm the only one fully equipped to do so."
His family? Hadn't seen them in years. She'd send them a card afterward. His dad would shake his head sagely and repeat the same old line: "That boy always was a strange one. Never could figure him. Probably one of his experiments finally went wrong."
Most of his research had been less than successful. He'd blown up the lab, but only twice. He’d set it on fire four times, and we won’t even talk about the odd smells that drifted from his experiments throughout the house. That's why he worked in the basement now. His reputation as a scientist had been, shall we say, “blown away” with the 2nd explosion at the research lab. "We'll go together, Ruthie. You need me to think for you anyway."
That last one with the better mousetrap had been a bad one. It'd taken four visits by the exterminators to get rid of all the test mice. Other ideas, though, had been good. That's why he could spend all his time down here, enough profits rolling in from his cut of the sales. Life was comfortable, even though this latest effort was eating up everything over basic costs. "Stick with me, Little Girl, we're going places you can't imagine."
But she could. That's what set her thinking. He was wrong on one thing. She didn't need to stick with him to go places. He was going alone. Surely it would work. Just a few details to figure. She'd watched him set the controls often enough. So, the doing was actually easy to do.
Lately she'd been doing a lot of doing. While he was in Las Vegas for that inventors’ thing, she'd gone to the beauty parlor and had them work on that too straight hair. It was fluffy and pretty now. "Something different about you, Ruthie? Naw, you don't change any more than a rock in the desert." His vision was narrow just like his soul. She'd read that phrase in a book once and thought someone else surely knew Charlie.
He'd been right about one thing. Work.What could she do to bring enough money in for herself? But now he was wrong again. It'd take awhile for the royalties to come to her. She could do something beside make a home for him. It was all those lonely hours whiled away that gave her independence. "Ruthie Mae, don't talk to me now," he'd say. "I've got important things on my mind and you're interrupting. Just go on and do your little projects." Well, one of her "little projects" had brought in $1,000 at the Arts & Crafts show last week. “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou beneath the bough.” She'd sold that scene on the embroidered piano bench cover for two thousand. Last month alone, she sold over $3,500 worth of her "little projects." The publisher said her book would bring in a tidy sum and build buyers for the second book on embroidery through the ages that she was now writing.
If she acted quickly enough, she could get the doing done before he'd know enough to possibly undo it on this side. She had no idea how much control he'd have on the other end. She fretted just a little more, then the doing became completely clear. She knew now how to arrange it all to make sure there would be no undoing.
Ruthie Mae rose humming "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and set to work. First the making of a delicious dinner. She’d made special individual meatloaves, one for herself and a special one for him. a pretty, summery dress, a little perfume. It was a special occasion, might as well pretty up.
During dinner, she told Charlie she smelled something burning in the basement. "Maybe something electrical?" she said with her voice rising quizzically at the end. That set him running. He only made it as far as the bottom step. Too bad about the bruise he'd have when he woke up. Nasty one. Just over his left eye. She dragged him the rest of the way and threw him onto the platform. She shoved the special meatloaf and a suitcase of clothes in after him. Maybe they'd be out of place where he was going, but she'd take care of him this one last time.
He'd said he'd intended to check it out. He was going to use her, she was sure. But now he'd have a first and lasting experience. She pulled a slip of paper from her apron pocket. She carefully followed the instructions she'd figured out watching from the basement steps. She hit the last button and stepped back. The machine hummed (a merry tune she was sure) and tossed Charlie into the 24th century. So much for the doing. Now for the undoing.
She took out the hammer she'd picked up on the way down the stairs. With a look of satisfaction, she hit the panel of the machine until only junk remained. Now, there was no way for any undoing. Happily singing the "glory, glory hallelujah" part of the song, she went back upstairs to clean the kitchen and inform the police of her husband's mysterious disappearance. No money gone. About a suitcase full of clothes was missing though. Car still in the garage. Strange.
Too bad they'd never find him. But then, everyone knows time travel’s an impossible dream.