Face, Meet Sidewalk

Violet’s Neighbours

Posted on: June 1, 2011

Violet heard the next-door neighbour’s front door slam so she hovered, still, behind her own closed front door until she heard his car start. As soon as the sound started to recede, she opened her door to fetch the newspaper. She timed it so she could wave, all friendly-like, as he drove off to work, but just late enough that she wouldn’t have to actually talk to him. It worked best that way. Violet was a firm believer in the old adage that good fences made good neighbours.

She stood in the glorious sunshine and took a deep breath. The first of June. Violet considered it the first real day of summer, and today finally felt like it. Even at seven thirty, the sun held warmth that promised true heat in time. The sun was well up, rising high in the east. She loved that colour of blue, the colour of a prairie summer sky. She gazed up and drank it in, wondering if it would take another eight decades of life to be able to say she’d had enough of looking at it. Even pocked by those picturesque, fluffy clouds that looked like a kindergartner’s painting, it was endless.

Once the neighbour’s car had turned the corner, the only sound on the street was the chirping of those little brown birds that were everywhere. A woman she did not know approached from the left, walking a nondescript brown dog on one of those retractable leashes that she knew made a soft zipping sound every time the dog ran back to its person’s side. Violet waved, but busied herself rooting through the mailbox for the newspaper so she wouldn’t have to exchange pleasantries. It was a pretty safe guess that the woman would say “Good morning!” or comment on the lovely weather, but Violet had not put her hearing aid in yet, and wasn’t about to fake her way through a conversation.

The faint breeze carried a whiff of the perfume from the spectacular lilac windrow that lined the west side of her driveway. White and purple alternating, they reminded her, just for a day or two each year, of the farm. Her gaze fell to the flower garden. The irises were finally looking like they might do something, but she could see a disturbance in the soil at their base. She bent closer, and swore quietly. That cursed cat!

Violet stirred up the soil with the tip of her cane. Sure enough, two fat cigar-like cat turds appeared from beneath the dirt. Furiously, she glared around the neighbourhood. Where was it? One of these days, she’d find a way to kill that beast, sure as anything. With the number of calls she’d made to the City to complain about it, you’d think someone would have done something by now, but it was looking more and more like it would be up to Violet.

There it was, content as anything, lounging in the sun on the front step of its home across the street and down one house. Figured. Anyone who could paint their house Pepto pink would be the kind that let their cat roam the neighbourhood, fouling other people’s gardens.

The cat groomed itself lazily. She shot it a withering stare and wished for it a gigantic hairball. Violet turned to go back inside, her enjoyment of the lovely quiet morning ruined by that damned cat. When did the City open for business again? Today seemed a good day for another pointed phone call.

A fluttery movement in the grass caught Violet’s eye just as her hand touched the latch. A dry leaf or something twitched on the lawn, just past the edge of the garden. Irritated  by the cat anyway, Violet decided she might as well tidy things up before all the kids started their migration to school. If she was quick, she’d be back in her sunny kitchen with the crossword and her morning tea before she had to watch them tromp down the street, hauling those awful oversized backpacks that made them all into noisy little Quasimodos. She dropped her paper on the stoop and carefully picked her way across the nearly immaculate grass. Stopping once or twice to pull a weed or stray blade of grass, she made a mental note to catch that boy who cut her grass and remind him to weed-whack all the edges next time.

As she got a little closer to the fluttery leaf, she realized it was not a leaf at all, but a small brown bird. It shook its little head and fluffed its feathers pathetically. It must have hit the big picture window, she thought. Well, at least it wasn’t dead, although it looked like it was… what did they say these days? circling the drain? Yes, this one was probably not long for this world. She glanced up at the window. Indeed, there was a small feather stuck almost dead center.

Violet had never been a big fan of birds. They were flighty, and they tended to dot one’s belongings with poop. Her instinct was to let it expire naturally in the grass, and leave it for the lawn boy to deal with later.

But she was momentarily distracted by another movement just at the edge of her peripheral vision. She turned and saw that horrid cat slinking greasily across the grass, positively salivating at the sight of a helpless little appetizer twitching almost within paw’s reach. Not on my watch, you scavenger, Violet thought, suddenly filled with purpose.

Swallowing her discomfort, Violet picked the little bird up in her hand. She could tell it was frightened by her contact, its little heart almost bursting out of its softly feathered breast. She struggled to her feet, one hand on her cane, and stepped carefully across the garden until she could steady herself against the house. She reached up to the sill below the picture window and gently placed the tiny bird on the ledge. She smiled a little, imagining a bewildered look on the cat’s face when it realized that breakfast was now going to require a little work. The bird was safe, for now.

On the way back up the walk to the front step, Violet picked a few stones from the garden. She glanced at the cat, now crouching under a parked car as if plotting its revenge.

She hurried, as fast as Violet ever moved, into the house. Inside, she quickly made her tea and gathered a folding chair, bringing both out onto the front step. She opened the chair, placed it in reach of the small pile of stones, and sat down. Might as well enjoy the sunshine, she thought, hefting a stone in one hand and her teacup in the other.

She stayed there for an hour or two. It was a beautiful day, the perfect temperature. Most of the neighbours went off to school or work, and she wasn’t bothered by anyone. Only once, the cat got brave and crept across Violet’s lawn. Violet had only to heft one surprisingly accurate stone in its direction before it yowled angrily and sprinted back to its own yard. Although she was not lucky enough to have a car go by at that moment, she was quite certain the cat would not be messing in her garden any time soon.

Eventually, to Violet’s surprise, the little bird flew off, chirping as if to thank Violet for her assistance. Violet picked up her cold tea, unfinished crossword, and folding chair, and headed in, her mood restored and feeling like she had done her good deed for the day.

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