Face, Meet Sidewalk

Archive for July 2011

Grandma used to say, birds of a feather flock together. The adage came unbidden to Violet’s mind one morning as she moved along the flowerbed on ancient knees, painstakingly pulling weeds. Once in her head, it spun and stuttered like a scratched LP.  Idly, she wondered what it meant.

It was a warm, beautiful day. The dew was just burning off the grass, and the street was quiet, except for the red winged blackbirds cavorting back and forth between their nest and whatever food source they found in the area. Violet loved the sound. It was one of the only reasons she put in her hearing aid some days.

She reached the end of the flowerbed and looked around for some way of getting back to her feet. Her arthritic knees were red and swollen from the pressure but the garden was neat and tidy once again. As if on cue, she heard a voice behind her.

“Need a hand?” the voice said.

Violet turned. Gus. Of course, it had to be Gus.

“Looks like it,” she replied, trying not to sound ungrateful.

Gus reached out his hand. Seeing no other option, Violet reluctantly took it and tried to rise as gracefully as possible against his leverage.

“Thank you,” she said, smoothing her skirt.

“You’re welcome,” Gus said.

An awkward silence hung over the afternoon. Violet could tell Gus had something to say. He shuffled uncomfortably from foot to foot, curling and uncurling the peak of his cap in one hand and rubbing his shiny bald head with the other. Violet had little patience for Gus at the best of times, but tolerated him because he was her neighbour, and because she always made a point of trying to get along with her neighbours, however irritating their habits might be. For the most part, Gus was only minimally irritating, but he did have a tendency to follow her around the yard like a lost puppy. More than once, Violet had been forced to fake a bathroom emergency and dashed inside, just to get rid of him.

She hoped whatever he was after today was not another of his hare-brained conspiracy theories like the time he came over at 9:00 at night with a volt meter to check Violet’s electrical service. She had just been rinsing out her cocoa cup and heading to bed when there was a tentative knock on the door. Envisioning one of those horrid home invasions, she peeked around the corner of the front hall to spy on whoever dared knock at that hour. Through the dappled glass, she knew it could only be Gus on the other side of the door; his gangly frame and ever-present suspenders would have been recognizable even without her glasses. She flicked the light on and opened the door a crack.

“Do you mind if I come in?” he asked after they had exchanged greetings.

She did mind, of course, but opened the door and stood aside to let him pass.

“I was wondering if I could test your electrical service,” he said, showing her a little box with dials and wires sticking out.

“Why?” Violet asked, unable to think of any more tactful response.

“Well, you see,” he said. “I noticed the lights at my place are dimmer than they used to be, so I checked the electrical service. Wouldn’t you know, I’m only getting 117 volts!”

Violet wondered if perhaps it wasn’t the lights that were getting dimmer, but chose to remain silent on the subject.

“What do you need to do?” she asked.

“Just put these wires into an outlet and see how many volts you are getting,” he replied. “I just wanted to know if it was only me or if there was a problem with the whole neighbourhood.”

“How many volts are we supposed to get?” Violet asked.

“120!” said Gus with genuine chagrin. Violet pretended to be shocked and appalled, and stifled a small giggle that threatened to erupt.

“Well, by all means,” she said with a sweeping gesture toward the outlet in the hall. “Test away.”

Gus bent over the outlet and fussed around with his wires. It took only a few seconds before he straightened up.

“Just as I thought!” he exclaimed. “You’re short too!”

“Oh, dear,” Violet said, still trying not to snicker at his obvious discomfit. “Whatever shall we do?”

Thankfully, Gus was sufficiently incensed that her sarcasm floated right on over his head. “Well, I’ll be calling Hydro first thing, you can bet on that!” he replied.

He left quickly, with hardly a goodbye. Violet chuckled herself to sleep not long after.

She hadn’t seen Gus for a few days after the late night visit, and when she next did spy his peaked green cap over the fence, she couldn’t resist. “Gus!” she called. “What did Hydro say about the electrical service?”

Gus’s face flushed red and he mumbled something about “seasonal variations” or “within the normal range”. Violet didn’t catch most of it, but decided not to torture the poor man, so obviously abashed as he was.

“So we have nothing to worry about, then?” she asked.

He grunted a response that Violet took to be affirmative and carried on with his yard work. Violet never heard another word about the electrical service.

Today, however, she had no such luck. It was obvious that there was something on the man’s mind that he was having excruciating trouble spitting out. The only sounds were the birds chattering at each other from the trees and the burble of the creek behind the house.

Finally, after he had kicked the same patch of grass a half-dozen times, Violet said, “Gus is there something I can do for you?”

He took a deep breath. “Well, Violet,” he began in a shaky voice. Suddenly Violet was very nervous about whatever was going to come out of his mouth next. She racked her brain for any occasion when she might have offended him or encroached on his yard in any way. Did her lawn boy forget to sweep the clippings off Gus’s driveway again?

He’d paused again, and Violet felt compelled to prompt him a little, if only to get him to spit out whatever was on his mind.

“Yes?” she encouraged.

“Well,” he started again. “You know there is a dance next weekend down at the Legion.”

He said it so matter-of-factly that Violet felt she should have known this, even though she had never heard such news in her life. And suddenly it hit her. Gus was asking her out on a date! Violet blushed furiously and felt her palms begin to sweat a little. What to do? This was out of left field! She would never have expected a confirmed bachelor like Gus to be interested in her (or anyone of her gender, truth be told).

“N-no,” she stammered, mortified by the prospect of being propositioned, and by Gus, no less! “I didn’t really know that, no.”

“Well there is,” he said. “I wondered if you would like to go with me.” The words tumbled from his mouth in a rush, as if they had been waiting years to be expelled. He breathed again, apparently relieved that the hard part was over.

Violet thought frantically for a way to let him down gently. No, she mused, I would not like to go. With you. Or anyone. Oh my heavens! What do I do now? Since Frank died, there was no situation in which she could imagine herself alone with another man, under any circumstances. And for heaven’s sake! Gus? A dance? He’d probably spend the evening grumbling about how the decorations weren’t straight, or the punch was too weak. He had to be kidding!

One look at his tomato-red face told her he was not, in fact, kidding.  She considered lying and saying she had another engagement, but rejected that alternative quickly, knowing that he would likely suggest some other event instead, and that she eventually she would run out of “other engagements”. Instead, she opted for a distraction.

“Well, now,” she said slowly, as if she was considering the offer, rather than urgently seeking an excuse that would not offend. She settled on, “I’m not really sure that I would be much fun.”

It was not untrue, she told herself. The idea of a dance was ridiculous, and Gus was irritating, but still, she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

In that moment, watching Gus process her rejection, Violet learned the true meaning of the word “crestfallen”. Even as gentle as she thought she’d been, he looked completely heartbroken. His shoulders slumped and he immediately turned toward his own house. Violet felt terrible, like she’d just kicked the little puppy that’d been following her around.

“Wait,” she said, desperately. He looked back, hopelessly.

Suddenly, a brilliant idea came to Violet. It was a perfect solution. Kill two birds with one stone!

“I have a friend,” she said. Mild interest, thinly disguised as indifference sparked on his wretched face.

“Oh?” he raised his eyebrows. She took this as a good sign.

“In fact, I think you know her,” Violet said, thinking fast. “Margaret? Margaret Klassen? From down the road? Yes, I’m sure you’ve met.”

She watched recognition dawn and knew she was home free. He had a better prospect. She was safe.

Slowly, she herded Gus toward his house. “She’s just in that lovely blue house around the corner. Always out in her yard. I’ll bet if you walk past there, she’ll be out and you can ask her. All you need to do is compliment her rose bushes, she’ll be in like Flynn!”

Gus nodded thoughtfully, thanked her, and beat the hastiest retreat to his own house since the electrical service incident. He even thanked Violet for the suggestion before he closed the door. Violet breathed a sigh of immense relief.

Violet spied Gus and Margaret out for a walk together just after dinner that night. Already, they looked like old friends. Both had the same tall, gaunt urgency that there was some injustice occurring in the world that must be reported. She grinned to herself; almost smug with the thrill of a near miss, and the hope that Gus and Margaret would live happily ever after, or at the very least, give each other something to do that did not, for a change, involve irritating Violet.

That must be what Grandma meant by birds of a feather, Violet thought, and firmly closed the curtains against the advancing twilight.

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There is a site I go to sometimes when I want to write but can’t think of anything to write about. It has a quick writing exercise for every day of the year. I went there tonight, but since I didn’t really like today’s challenge, I scrolled back through a few days and found the one that inspired this post. The directions were to take the same dialogue and apply in in three different scenes. So here we go!

In a cafe:

“It’s impossible, you don’t want that,” he said, taking her hand and guiding her toward the counter containing the less opulent desserts.
She stopped and pulled her hand from his. “Why not?” she asked indignantly.
“Can’t you see?” He looked pointedly up and down her body, settling his gaze on her flat stomach.
“Shut up,” she said sulkily. She knew he thought she could stand to lose a few pounds, but honestly, here? In public? What a jerk.
“Why should I?” he asked, louder than necessary, blinking with a false innocence that made her want to strike him.
“Shshsh,” she said, and when he opened his mouth to speak again, she stalked out of the café.

 

In an office:

“It’s impossible, you don’t want that,” she whispered, shocked and not a little titillated by his risqué suggestion.
“Why not?” He looked around the acres of cubicles at all the drones hunched over their computers. He would be willing to bet that none of them had had the nerve to ask Shelley for a quickie in the janitor’s closet.
“Can’t you see?” she said, pointing at her ring finger. A large diamond glinted there. He was sure it hadn’t been there yesterday.
“Shut up,” he said with exaggerated disbelief. His tone dared her to prove she was actually in love with Pedro, that dildo from across the hall.

“Why should I?” She straightened up, now offended and apparently ready to launch a verbal assault on his manhood.
“Shshsh,” he repeated, desperate now to head off an attack brought on by his own stupidity.

 

On a hiking trail:

“It’s impossible, you don’t want that,” she said her neck craned so that she could see the top of the rock. It was at least fifty metres high.

“Why not?” he asked, his eyes alight with the prospect of an impossible challenge.
“Can’t you see?” She gestured helplessly at the cliff’s face, worn almost smooth by generations of climbers.
Suddenly, he stopped, instantly alert, and looked over to their left. “Shut up,” he said severely, and held up his hand.
“Why should I?” she demanded, her face still turned to the rock, still oblivious to his alarm.
“Shshsh.” She turned, finally, at the unease in his voice and he pointed to the rattler a few feet away. Silently and quickly, they began to climb.

Violet first caught wind of the scandal at bridge one hot Thursday afternoon. Margaret mentioned in a fairly pointed way that she had seen Lorraine down at the Tim Horton’s with Albert on Monday. For a moment, the fans that lazily blew muggy air around the school gym obscured Margaret’s words, so that Violet had to turn up her hearing aid. Margaret must have taken the gesture as a request for more details, and launched into the story. Violet tried not to roll her eyes visibly. She instantly felt for poor old Lorraine. Since she’d had to put her husband in that nursing home, they hadn’t seen much of her at bridge.

“They were sitting close together,” Margaret leaned her ample bosom over the coffee urn and dropped her shrill voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Very familiar, if you ask me.”

No one had asked Margaret, but that never seemed to stop the gossipy old biddy. Everyone knew, in fact, that if you wanted to keep something a secret, Margaret was the last person you should tell. The woman would sell out her own sister for the sake of a juicy morsel to pass along. It was disgraceful, really, especially from a woman whose violently orange wig (worn on the pretense that it was truly her own hair) was, without her knowledge, the talk of the bridge club, and not flattering talk, either.

There was a silence (rare, when one was talking to Margaret), and Violet realized she was expected to respond to Margaret’s revelation with a mix of shock and disapproval. She mustered up a frown that she hoped matched Lorraine’s.

“Isn’t Albert’s wife in the Golden Door too?” Violet asked, wondering if she had found a neutral question that might pass for one as judgment-filled as Margaret’s statement had been. “Maybe they were commiserating on the trials and tribulations of being nursing home widows.”

“Well, they were a little too close for my comfort,” Margaret replied.

It was out of her mouth before she could stop it. “What does your comfort have to do with Lorraine or Albert?” Violet blurted. Honestly, the woman was ridiculous.

“Well,” Margaret blustered, indignantly tossing the unnaturally orange hair. “It was just unseemly, that’s all.”

Realizing she may have already planted seeds that would make her gossip’s next victim, Violet made what she hoped was an indecipherable noise and busied herself adding powdered creamer to her decaf. Apparently realizing Violet was not going to bite on this tasty tidbit of drama, Margaret wandered away, probably looking for a more receptive audience.

It always made Violet angry, the tendency of some people to attend to the intimate details of others’ lives as if they were soap operas. It was as if they didn’t have enough drama in their own lives, they had to manufacture more. The problem was that most of the time, victims like Lorraine were simply innocent bystanders, caught in the line of fire. It was terrible to have to worry about it, but the fact was, they were powerful people, who could as easily ruin your reputation as your day.

The way Violet saw it people had two choices in life if they wanted to survive amongst people like Margaret. You could tiptoe around and spend all your energy trying not to do things that would attract attention, or you could plow ahead and do what you wanted to do in life without worrying what others thought about it. There were times it was a tough call, but Violet preferred to plant  her feet firmly in the latter camp. She had long since stopped caring what people thought of her or her choices. At her age, one did things because one wanted to do things, not because one was expected to conform to some capricious code of conduct. After all, to wear purple (or indulge in any other silly whim) was one of the few advantages of advanced age.

To remain consistent in her conviction that people had no right to care what she did, Violet made it a point not to care about what others did. She had always had a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assumed for the most part that motives were generally pure, but age and extensive experience with the subtle bullying tactics of those like Margaret who found entertainment in the social discomforts of others had only solidified her opinions.

She did feel very sorry, however, for those, like Margaret, for whom image must be so important that they felt the need to denigrate anyone nearby to build themselves up. What energy it must take to always be concerned about what others think of you! The ladies who never left the house without full hair and makeup, the fool down the street with that horrible loud sports car that scared the dickens out of her every time he revved the engine… they were all somehow so… pathetic. Not nearly as interesting as they thought themselves. No one cares! Violet wanted to scream. Just relax and enjoy life for a change!

From the corner of her eye, Violet could see that Margaret had turned away, looking for someone else to take part in her tittle-tattle. The woman sure had nerve, thought Violet.

Suddenly, an odd movement caught her eye. It was one of those situations where she could see what was coming before it actually happened.

As if in slow motion, Violet watched as Margaret crossed the path of the one effective fan in the gymnasium. The breeze caught her at the perfect angle, and instantly, it seemed as if her whole scalp had lifted off her head. The gaudy wig tried valiantly to escape its Purgatory atop Margaret’s wispy grey dome and hovered for a split second at the edge of her reach.  Just in time, Margaret snatched it out of the air and slapped it back down in its rightful place. Well, almost rightful. It sat only the slightest bit askew atop Margaret’s head. Violet felt slightly gratified to see Margaret look wildly around to see if anyone had noticed the mishap. Instantly, she looked away, stifling an involuntary giggle, hoping Margaret would assume that no one had seen.

Thankfully, it was time to deal the cards. Everyone hurried to the tables. At least Margaret was not her first partner of the day. Every time Violet’s gaze happened to fall Margaret’s way, another fit of laughter threatened. By the end of the fifth hand, Violet was becoming concerned for the effectiveness of her bladder control protection. It didn’t help that Margaret had never straightened the wig completely.

For the rest of the afternoon, Violet noticed a distinct lack of chatter from the woman and when it was time to go home, Margaret was, uncharacteristically, the first one out the door. Well, thought Violet. Maybe she learned a lesson about misfortune today. A couple of quick exchanges behind hands and a half-dozen surreptitious snickers gave Violet the distinct impression that she was not the only one who had seen the incident. All the other patrons of bridge club were gracious enough not to mention it, even though most had been burned by Margaret’s whispers in the past. Violet was almost sorry that Margaret would never realize how many people simply wouldn’t even think to be unkind enough to repeat such an embarrassing, and essentially inconsequential story. Their discretion nearly restored Violet’s faith in mankind.

When she got home, Violet poured herself some lemonade and picked up the phone. It would be nice hear Lorraine’s voice. It had been such a long time since they’d really talked.

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Wednesday 6:45 pm

Manny! Wazzup?

Just getting ready 2 go out. You?

Nothing. Hey wanna come play some Call of Duty?

Got a date with Gail.

Ah. First one?

Yeah.

How did you guys meet anyway?

Really want to know?

Sure.

Promise not to tell anyone?

Whatever.

Met her on one of those dating websites.

Um, ok.

Yeah, she is cool.

U in love?

Dunno. Maybe.

Where u taking her?

Kenny Chesney concert.

Nice. For her at least 😛

Hope so. She says she likes country music.

What does she look like?

Blond. Hot.

Big ass?

I don’t know! Dick!

U haven’t even met her yet have U?

No. We talk all the time tho.

On the phone?

Yeah, and Skype.

So you know what she looks like though right?

Yes. Dick. I told u she was hot.

Just askin, man. Chill.

Where u meeting her?

Picking her up at her place around 7. Osborne area.

Cool.

Ok I gotta go pick her up.

K let me know how the date goes.

K.

7:37 pm

So?

Just got to her place. She’s getting ready.

So?

She’s great.

But?

She’s a little older than I thought.

How old?

She said she was 36.

But?

Nothing. She’s cute.

Cute?

In a 45-50 year old way.

Dude, naw!

No, really, it’s fine. Her kid’s great, too.

She has a kid?

Yep. I think my sister went to high school with him.

This just gets better and better!

What does she do for a living?

She’s a secretary, but she’s between jobs right now.

Of course she is.

Shut up, numb nuts. She’s actually awesome.

No doubt.

K ttyl. She’s ready.

8:23 pm

Dude, u get my pic?

Yeah. Was hoping for a pic of Gail, not the stupid opening band.

She wouldn’t let me.

So how’s it going?

Excellent. Singin, dancing n drinkin! \m/>_<\m/

Sounds like a party.

1st base already!

You touched her boob?

No, dumbass, that’s 2nd base. I kissed her.

Oh. Less exciting then. How’s the concert?

Good so far. We missed the opener finding parking.

Are you txting with her right there?

No, she’s in the can again. Chick can put the beer away.

So what does she look like?

Cute. Short skirt. Cowboy boots. Tank top.

Sounds like she has a big ass.

Screw you.

Ok so she has a big ass.

She’s sweet.

Sweet? Jesus. She’s my mom’s age.

So? Older women can be hot too.

Well they can be educational.

How many beers have you had to buy her?

What’s that supposed to mean?

How many?

Only a few. She bought some too.

And she seems into you?

Why is that so hard to believe? Shit, she’s back.

9:03 pm

2nd base!

Dude! How?

She leaned against me during a slow song.

Where is she now?

Toking up in the can I think.

WTF man?

I really like this chick, Dave. I think I’m in love.

Well you’re in something, anyway.

Jealous much? ,|,,(-_-),,|,

OK here’s my prediction. She’s either going to hit you up for money or dump your ass for someone else. Tonight.

You are an asshole.

9:52 pm

Hey how long do you think I should wait before I go ask some chick to check on her in the bathroom?

How long has she been gone?

A while.

She leave her purse?

Nope.

How long’s a while?

Half an hour.

You might want to head home.

No way. She is totally into me. I might even get laid tonight.

Dude, you are not getting laid tonight.

Fuck. Why? What did I do?

Well you did touch her boob.

I really like her! Thought we had a good thing going!

Sux, dude. Come by. We can play some CoD. blow some shit up.

Nah. Maybe I’ll drive by her place. See if she just got lost on the way back to the seat. She was kinda wasted.

Your call.

What if she’s sick or something?

You mean what if she’s OD’d?

Yeah, what if?

You walk fast in the other direction, Manny.

Fine. Fuck you. I’m coming over.

Bring beer, k?

U suck.


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