A tender novel about a tragic pregnancy

'Ruby’s Tuesday' is about a mother intent on creating an identity for her child

Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 01:00


Book Title:
Ruby's Tuesday


Gillian Binchy

Ward River Press

Guideline Price:

She would never say where she came from/ And yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone/ And while the sun is bright / Or in the darkest night no one knows/ She comes and goes/ Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday/ Who could hang a name on you?/ When you change with every new day/ Still I’m gonna miss you

Ruby is Afric’s daughter, and this is Afric’s story. She didn’t know her baby was a girl until the Friday she had the scan, 23 weeks into her pregnancy. She and Luke didn’t want to know. They’d agreed to wait for the surprise, and not even discuss names until then. But sometimes Afric talked to her inner companion, addressing her bump as “baby”.

Luke was away on business that Friday. Mary, the sonographer conducting the scan, was taking a long time at it. She tried again and again to find the back of baby’s brain on the screen. Finally she told Afric it just wasn’t there. The medical term is absent cerebellum, Mary said.

She wrote it on notepaper for Afric, and urged her to go home, rest, and come back to see the specialist consultant that afternoon.

Driving home Afric turned on the radio. Mick Jagger was singing, a song she knew but couldn’t name. She switched off to talk to baby about the scan.

“Mary is a silly, silly woman . . . do you know, baby, Mary needs to go to Specsavers – I’d say she needs glasses.” For a while Afric distracted herself composing a script for the ad.

The specialist consultant was straightforward. Mary’s diagnosis was correct. The baby was a girl, he told Afric, a girl with a strong heartbeat, and a foetal abnormality that was fatal.

A test would be required of course, amniocentesis. But he had no doubts. There was a ritual expression for this girl’s condition: “incompatible with life, Afric.”

The bump was never “baby” again. Afric often called her “angel”, but that was an endearment, and later perhaps a hope and wish, but not a name.

It wasn’t until after she’d heard the song again – the radio station was celebrating the Rolling Stones that weekend – that Afric knew she had a name she could hang on her baby: Ruby, who had come and would go.

“Irish package”
She made the decision and began the journey, overwhelming grief with love, imagination, fantasy, and sometimes a desperate touch of humour. When she rang the hospital in Liverpool on Saturday and was assured there was an “Irish package” available, Afric wondered if she’d phoned the wrong number and got through to a plastic-surgery clinic.

She’d seen those ads in the English papers urging Irish women to come over and “get a whole new you”.

She had one last chore to do before she packed. Ruby needed an outfit. She searched the shop to find the smallest babygro and baby hat.

Tales of younger days
On Sunday Afric decided to drive around Dublin before the flight, to point out favourite places and tell Ruby tales of her younger days, of escapades on holidays, stories about Luke and herself, how they’d met, how they loved swimming, why he worked so hard. Luke was a bit insecure, Afric said.