Face, Meet Sidewalk

Violet is interrupted

Posted on: August 6, 2011

It was Tuesday, so Violet headed out to drop off her library books, as usual, and pick a few new ones for the week to come. One never knew what might happen. It was always good to have some reading material on hand.

The last batch had not been very good. The first book Violet had tried was hardly worth her time; a whodunit that never left any question of whodunit. Violet felt strongly though, that once something had been started, it ought to be finished, and stuck it out despite its utter predictability, even when it was tough to drag herself through it. The second was marginally better, but she had not been able to finish it before it was due, since the first was so difficult. She would have to renew it today in order to get to the end of it. She hoped she’d have better luck with her choices this week.

As she stepped off the bus and began the trek across the parking lot, she heard someone call her name.

“Yoo-hoo! Violet!” came the singsong voice. On a mission, Violet briefly considered ignoring the voice. She generally timed her visits to the library to within a half hour of closing time. A slight rush meant she was more likely to judge a book by its cover, so to speak… with the luxury of time, she had a tendency to get bogged down by the choices available. But when the librarians (especially the one grumpy one) had one eye on the clock and one glaring witheringly at the malingering patrons, Violet felt compelled to choose something, almost anything. She’d had some stinkers that way, certainly, but more often than not, she found herself enjoying books she never would have picked otherwise.

In any case, she was already quite short of time today, there was not even half an hour before the library closed and the return bus arrived at her stop, so the thought of chatting with some old biddy (for Violet was sure the voice belonged to an old biddy) was not very appealing. Besides, she really needed to renew the interrupted second book, so she had only a few precious minutes to browse.

“Violet!” the voice called again, more persistently. It would be difficult now to pretend she hadn’t heard. Reluctantly, she turned. It was Anna.

Anna was a short, plump, white-haired woman. She was just getting out of her enormous, elderly Cadillac (the one she and her husband Bert had bought new when they moved to the city – Violet had heard the story more than once). Violet wasn’t entirely sure how Anna could see over the steering wheel, but somehow she’d managed to pilot it around town for decades without piling it up. Idly, Violet wondered if she sat on old phone books or had blocks tied to the pedals. In any case, Anna was the last person Violet wanted to see at that moment. Anna was a chatter.

“Hello, Anna,” Violet said in what she hoped was a friendly, but brief tone. She waved, and set off toward the library doors, hoping Anna would take the hint.

No such luck.

“How are you?” Anna asked. Violet sighed, and turned reluctantly back to her. Although it sounded like Anna really wanted to know the state of Violet’s health, experience told Violet that her concern was more likely to be a soap box from which to expound on her own difficulties. For the first time in her nearly nine decades, Violet actually wished for some kind of anomalous meteorological event, a plague of locusts, or a tempest or something. At least then they’d have to take shelter inside the library, under the strictly imposed shush of the librarians.

“I’m fine, Anna,” Violet replied. Despite her better judgment, Violet asked, “How are you?”

“Well, you know I haven’t been well,” Anna stated. Violet had heard, but was not terribly interested in the past or current state of Anna’s colon. She kicked herself for asking.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that!” She said, trying to sound sincere. Again, she turned toward the library, and again she was drawn back in. Silently, she wished that the illness was laryngitis, but had no doubt that she was about to hear exactly what it was.

As Anna launched into the story of her difficult diagnosis, Violet’s mind wandered. Tying not to glance at her watch, she planned and re-planned her route through the library, trying to guess down which row she might have the best luck. Fiction, or non-fiction? So many decisions.  She could still make it in, choose her books and renew the old one, as long as the crabby librarian was not there.

“And of course, you remember my boy Gerald?” Violet heard Anna ask. She nodded and murmured something neutral. Gerald was fifty-three and had just moved out of his mother’s basement. At Violet’s nod, she veered off into a detailed description of Gerald’s new boss, who was apparently a tyrant. Violet was certain that the story itself was excruciating, but was having trouble paying attention to Anna over the sound of a very large clock ticking in her head, one that sounded remarkably like that one from Sixty Minutes. That Mike Wallace, now that was one attractive man. Violet sighed, and began listening for opportunities to extract herself from the conversation.

At the first pause, Violet sighed. “Well, Anna, you have been having quite a time, then!” she said sympathetically, and hopefully with a hint of I-need-to-go-now. She was pleased with having remembered to leave off the usual, “haven’t you?” suffix, for fear that Anna would answer the rhetorical question. Unfortunately, Anna heard the unspoken query, and went off on another tangent.

Fine, thought Violet. I’ll just have to be more direct.

“Well,” she said at Anna’s next intake of breath. “It was nice to see you.” Violet began turning her body away from the little prattler and moving in the direction of the library. She had less than twenty minutes now.

“Oh, it was just lovely to see you too, Violet,” said Anna. “We simply must get together for tea soon. You know, it’s been just ages since I saw everyone, what with my stomach and Gerald’s move and everything.”

Before Violet could take another step toward her week’s reading material, Anna had begun reciting a long list of people she hadn’t seen in ages.

“You should come to bridge club,” Violet said insincerely during a brief pause in the tirade, knowing Anna would never do such a thing. Too much silence was required, and too much silence was likely to give people like Anna a coronary.  It only took so long to share all the intimate details of her life (which, for Anna, never took more than about fifteen minutes – everyone even knew about Bert’s erectile dysfunction) so she’d get a run for her money with any of several others at bridge club. The thought made Violet stifle a chuckle.

“Maybe I will. Where do you meet?” she asked, much to Violet’s dismay.

“At the school on…” She wasn’t even able to finish her sentence before Anna was on to the next idea.

If there was one thing that Violet could not abide, it was interrupters. They were bulldozers. They forced one to leave thoughts unfinished in an attempt to shoehorn their own agenda to the attention and adoration of their captive audience. It was simply disrespectful. Violet could see Anna planning her own next utterance even as Violet spoke, and a scornful flash of irritation at the entire episode cracked in Violet’s chest. A taste of her own medicine, Violet thought.

“Well we shall have to see what the fall brings…” Anna was saying. Violet was not sure quite what she was talking about. She’d not been listening, but neither had she interrupted Anna’s oration. Somehow, she felt entitled to do so now, a bit of retribution for what would now be an almost pointless trip to the library, so little time was left.

Angry and irritated, Violet stopped Anna. If hinting wouldn’t work, maybe a taste of her own medicine would. “Well, it was nice to see you, Anna,” Violet lied again. “But I need to get to the library before it closes.” She indicated the book bag in her hand. She turned away and began walking toward the safety of the front doors.

She heard Anna, still talking behind her, but kept walking. It felt quite rude, leaving the woman standing there in the parking lot. Without looking back, she raised a hand in a half wave and stepped across the cool threshold into the dusty, book-perfumed hush of the library. The librarian (the crabby one) was just making the announcement. “The library will be closing in ten minutes. Please make your selections and proceed to the checkout counter.

Still irritated, but strangely elated, Violet dropped her returns at the counter. In record time, she checked out two new books, quietly buzzing from her parking lot coup. It had been years since she’d interrupted someone! She shuddered to think of how many hours she had spent just listening to people babble on about things when she was too polite to stop them. Apparently, interrupting may actually get you what you want, she realized – in this case, an escape! She wondered if Anna was still in the parking lot, chattering away to herself – it was easy to think, during a conversation with the likes of Anna that perhaps her audience was not really necessary. A moment of guilt caused Violet to flush with shame, but then she shook her head. No, she would not feel badly about this, she decided. Anna had no compunction about shoving chitchat down one’s throat; this was simply playing by the same rules.

Violet was last in line. The librarian glared at her as she glanced at her watch. Violet checked out and headed toward the door. Anna and her car were gone, no doubt to talk the gas station attendant’s ear off.

Violet’s pleasant mood continued even as she watched from the lobby as the bus went straight past her stop. Oh, well, she thought as she exited the library. There was a Tim Horton’s just across. She could go get a cup of coffee and have a look at her new books while she waited for the next one.

Violet remembered the book she had meant to renew just as the librarian clicked the deadbolt shut behind her. It was sitting on the Returns counter with the other one. Violet sighed. An interruption had already saved her from one unpleasant experience that day. It looked like it was about to save her from finishing the second dreadful book this week. It seemed interruptions could be beneficial after all.

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