Face, Meet Sidewalk

Meet Violet

Posted on: May 16, 2011

The chill air blew straight down Violet’s sweaty neck, making her skin clammy. She chopped at the ice in front of the back door, swearing she would not let it build up that high next winter. She hadn’t been able to open the door for months.

The days were getting perceptibly warmer now, and the air no longer had that bitter, violent edge that made her want to curl up and sleep for weeks. Even shuffling around to the back yard to attack the ice jam took less insulation and less mental effort than it had a month ago.

Around her, the air was quiet, muffled by snow. A bird called, another tiny light at the end of winter’s interminable tunnel. She stood on stiff, arthritic toes to peer over the snow bank into the neighbour’s yard. It had to have been a record snowfall this year. In her 89 years, Violet had never seen this much snow.

She kept her focus on the areas of the yard that were blanketed in perfect, smooth whiteness. Footprints disturbed her sense of order. When Frank was alive, she insisted he use the snow-blower to clear the walks. It made such lovely, precise edges and corners. You almost couldn’t tell where the snow had naturally fallen and what was thrown there by the machine. The boy she had hired to shovel for her this year, though, he refused to use it. She wouldn’t be hiring him again next year, that was certain. He made huge, messy piles that blocked her view and disturbed the symmetry of the yard.

Worse than footprints, Violet couldn’t abide when the neighbours from three houses down, the ones with all those unruly children, shoveled the creek behind their houses for skating. They made such a mess, flinging the snow all over, in unnatural hillocks and humps. It just wasn’t right. Even though the creek was probably frozen solid, she told herself she was worried about a child falling through the ice. She even caught herself wishing for it to happen, once or twice. Teach them a lesson, she thought. Even now she could see one of them, a boy too young for school, no doubt, sliding around the patch of bare ice, his jacket undone and his feet shoved haphazardly into boots three sizes too big. Where on earth was his mother? she wondered idly.

Violet had just picked up her shovel to continue pounding away at the ice when she heard a crack so loud, it made her jump and nearly lose her footing.

Catching her balance, prickles of fear and relief reminded her that the prospects of an octogenarian widow with a broken hip were slim at best, especially when lying in one’s own back yard under a late winter sky.

She raised the shovel again, but dropped it abruptly as she heard a thin yell. She made her way gingerly to the back fence and peered over. At first she saw nothing amiss, but as her eyes slowly adjusted to the brilliant reflection off the snow, she could make out a darker shadow on the creek, about where the neighbour boy had been playing. Of course, he was nowhere to be seen. Another panicked holler from the direction of the creek confirmed it – the boy had actually fallen through the ice.

What to do? She wasn’t exactly superhero material – a gnarled, bent woman whose weight in pounds about matched her age, wearing Frank’s old parka and galoshes over a worn cotton housedress. And these things never ended well. But shouldn’t she at least take a look? Maybe she’d be able to slide a subtle I-told-you-so toward the mother when the dust had settled. She shuffled carefully – the adrenaline still tingling from the near fall a second ago – out of the gate and toward the creek, using the shovel as a kind walking stick.

The snow was deep, but the boy’s family had shoveled a little path from their gate to the skating rink. Violet made her way toward the path. Over the huff and puff of her breath, she thought she heard another cry, but when she stopped and looked around, no relief was coming. She carried on.

It took five long minutes to get to the edge of the frozen creek. Violet was exhausted, and those tiny twinges were fluttering in her chest again, the ones where she was supposed to take her nitro. Her nitro, which was back in the house, warm and safe, where she should be. She was about twenty feet away from what she could now tell was a gaping hole in the ice.

The boy’s father had flooded the creek, to make a skating surface as smooth as glass. Not a good situation for Violet’s fragile old bones. Her joints popped audibly as she used the shovel like a staff, easing herself down on painful knees. She crawled gingerly toward the hole.

At the edge, she peered down, expecting icy, rushing water. Instead, she saw a small, towheaded child standing in water up to his ankles. He was in an odd kind of ice cave whose perforated roof was inches out of reach of his mittened hands. He was shivering and crying, with snot running out of his nose (although she couldn’t tell if it was from the crying, because those children always looked snotty to Violet).

Inexplicable relief washed over Violet.

“What are you doing in there?” was all she could think of to say.

“I f-fell in,” he replied timidly between sniffles.

“Where’s your mother?” she asked.

“Inside, with the baby,” he said.

Fiddlesticks, Violet thought. Now what?

“Hold onto this,” she said, pushing the shovel, handle first, into the hole. His little mitten grabbed the handle. Violet held onto the other end. “I’m going to call for help.”

She sat up as straight as her protesting knees and hooked back would allow and started hollering. If there was one thing Violet could do, it was yell. It didn’t take long before someone walking a dog along the creek path heard her and came over to help. He reached down and hauled the boy out, then helped the two of them to a bench along the path. The man called 911 on his cell phone and ran off to get the boy’s mother, leaving Violet and the child alone for a moment.

She looked down at the boy, who was still holding fast to the shovel.

“Can I have my shovel back?” she asked. Wordlessly, he handed it over. Violet got up and marched as proudly as she could back to her own yard. She would rather be on the couch watching Coronation Street with a cup of tea than watch the hordes descend and trample what was left of her perfect snow.

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