Face, Meet Sidewalk

Archive for October 2011

Dave was over one Saturday afternoon helping Violet clean up the yard. Or rather, Dave was raking up leaves while Violet supervised from the comfort of an Adirondack chair on the deck with a mug of tea in her hand and a blanket on her lap. Dave had insisted; somehow he’d gotten it into his head that she was fragile, so he refused to let her help with the yard work. He told her it was fun (she didn’t believe him). She felt guilty, though, and considered it the least she could do to keep him company. And even though he was not doing it exactly as she would have, she was grateful for his help and proud of her self-restraint in not directing him too much.

It was a beautiful autumn day. The air was a little chillier than it had been the last few weeks, but the sun was brilliant and there was no wind. Dave leaned his rake against the fence and stuffed another orange garbage bag full of leaves before tying it up and hauling it over to join the dozen others at the side of the house.

He wiped his forehead with the back of his arm, ambled over to the deck where Violet sat, and cracked one of the beers she had brought out. He threw his work gloves on the table and dumped the contents of his jeans pockets next to them.  Three colourful bouncy balls rolled across the table and dropped to the deck, bouncing happily to the edge and disappearing into the grass.

“Why do you have a pocket full of little balls?” Violet asked, amused by the toys that seemed childishly out of place for the burly bartender.

Dave chuckled. “I joined a hockey team last week,” he said. “They decided to initiate me.”

He took another long swallow of his beer.

“Is that so?” Violet leaned forward in her chair. She didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t sound good.

He reached down and fished a ball out of the lawn. “Yeah. A couple of the guys got about four thousand of these and filled up my locker with them. When I opened it, balls went everywhere.”

Violet laughed at the image. “What a mess!” she declared.

“Yeah,” Dave agreed. “I keep finding them everywhere.”

Dave was smirking in a way that told Violet that she hadn’t heard the end of the story. “So what are you going to do to get them back?”

“Oh, Violet, you know me well,” Dave chuckled again, looking a little sheepish. “I already did.”

“Oh?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I waited until they were all in the shower after the game, then slipped out and turned off all the hot water at the tank. They all squealed like little girls.”

Violet chortled again. “And how did that go over?”

“Well,” Dave said, with a hangdog expression. “That wasn’t the end of it. I also flicked off the lights as I left. It was pitch dark in the locker room. Left a bunch of soapy, cold naked guys groping around for the taps. They were pretty mad.”

“You’d better watch your back, young man,” Violet advised, chuckling. “They’re going to want revenge.”

He nodded. “You should have seen them. They were running around in the dark, looking for light switches and slipping on bouncy balls, it was beautiful. I just wish I’d had a camera.”

They chatted for a few more minutes before Dave decided it was time to get back to work. He gathered a few more bags of leaves and lined them all up at the curb. Just watching him, Violet found herself laughing quietly every time she imagined the state of that locker room after Dave had exacted his vengeance.

Late that night, Violet woke to voices in the street out front of her house. She hauled herself out of bed and got to the window just in time to see three young men in hooded sweatshirts hooting and laughing as they ran down the street. Dave’s car was parked at the curb, as it usually was, but it looked strange in the unnatural orange light from the streetlight. Something about the texture just didn’t look right. But as far as she could tell, all four tires were still round, and the windows were intact. She shrugged and headed back to bed, seeing nothing worth calling the police over.

Early the next morning, Violet went out to get the newspaper, and looked over at Dave’s car again. It was still sitting in the same spot and still looked, somehow, odd. Risking a chat with Gus, she picked her way carefully down the steps and across the lawn to get a closer look.

It wasn’t until she was right next to it that she saw what the problem was. It was covered from stem to stern in what looked like Saran wrap. Under, over and all around, the car had been sealed shut with rolls and rolls of plastic (The little hoodlums had left the boxes lying on Gus’s lawn. He’d be thrilled about that, she thought, but left them there, figuring it might be fun to watch Gus go apoplectic when he saw them there.). She hurried back in the house to call Dave.

She hated to wake him so early but this was important. Dave loved that car. He was going to be devastated when he heard it had been vandalized. She dialed his number quickly, her heart fluttering anxiously in her chest. Dave answered on the second ring.

“Violet, is everything ok?” he asked, his voice anxious, but coarse with sleep. She always found it disconcerting when he knew she was calling. It made her think he had some special powers, even though she knew it was just Call Display.

“Yes,” she said. “Well, I’m fine. There’s something wrong with your car, though.”

“What?” Dave practically shouted, now quite awake. “What’s wrong?”

“Well, it’s all wrapped in plastic,” Violet replied, cringing a little in anticipation of the outburst.

There was silence on the other end of the line, then, tersely: “I’ll be right there.”

The line clicked and was silent. Nervously, Violet replaced the receiver and hurried to her bedroom to put on some decent clothes. By the time she was changed and back outside, Dave was standing beside his car, shaking his head in disbelief.

At first, she thought he was angry, then realized his shoulders were shaking with laughter.

“Those bastards!” he said, slapping his thigh.

“What?” Violet asked, confused.

Dave was laughing so hard, it took him a full minute before he gathered enough control to reply. “My hockey team,” he stuttered between chuckles. “I guess they got me back.”

When Violet realized why he was laughing so hard, she dissolved into a fit of giggles as well.

“Now that is what I call fun,” she guffawed. She settled onto her front stoop to keep Dave company and he started peeling the miles of plastic film off his car.

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Violet sat on her back deck and looked out over the creek. It was the warmest October day she could ever remember, over 85 if it was a degree. The geese puttered about in the water, chattering amongst themselves, and she wondered if they were confused by the temperature.

She enjoyed being outside. The four walls of her little house grated on her after a few months of winter, so any time she got to spend outside felt like a gift. Today, she was especially grateful. Last Thanksgiving, she had been shut in from an unexpected dump of snow. Today, it could have been July, although the sun was at the wrong angle.

She sat contentedly in the rocking chair on her back deck. The creek was tranquil, as if waiting for something. Across the way, she could see kids playing in the green space. It was so good to see them out there. There were three or four throwing a ball back and forth. She recognized them from the area. One had a grandmother that played bridge, and at least one of them was John and Lisa Graham’s son, Justin. It had been a long time since kids had played ball out there, and it brought Violet back to the days when the area was full of young families with little kids. That just wasn’t the case these days – although many of those families were still around, their kids certainly were not, and for the ones that did still have young ones, they spent all their time in organized sports or watching TV. No one ever just played baseball anymore. It made Violet despair for humanity sometimes.

Violet watched as a child approached the group timidly. He carried a baseball bat and a glove and crept cautiously along the path behind her house, heading toward the field where the others were playing catch. He was a small boy with a dirty face and scruffy clothes, from a large family around the corner. Although Violet had no particular fondness for children, she found herself hoping the other kids would invite him to play. She remembered being the lonely child, the new family on the street. It had been an awful summer for her, and she supposed it would only be worse for kids nowadays.

When he got there, he stood over to the side watching the friends. Eventually, one of the other kids took notice of the boy. She saw him, and then deliberately turned back to her friends. Violet couldn’t quite hear what they said, but there was suddenly a burst of nervous laughter from the group. The boy’s head and shoulders slumped as he turned away and started walking back toward home. Even from several houses away, Violet could see the hurt on the boy’s face. Her heart wrenched for him, and a surge of anger at the others rolled through her. She stood as he approached.

“Hey! she hollered, unsure if she was hollering at him or his rejecters. “Did you want to play?”

The boy looked both alarmed and confused, startled by the presence of an old woman he hadn’t previously noticed. He seemed worried, like he thought Violet was asking if he wanted to play with her. Anger at the little bullies across the way eclipsed any potential humour in the situation for Violet.

He shrugged. “Not really,” he replied. She could tell he was lying. He kept walking.

Violet didn’t know what to say. She had little experience with children, beyond having been one herself, but she could see this one was hurting. What to do? She wondered. She considered going to give the little brats a piece of her mind, but dismissed the idea almost immediately as inadvisable.

Feeling completely at a loss, Violet struggled with what to say to the boy until it was too late and he was past her house, heading for home. The moment was gone.

But his image, taunted and teased by the others, dragging his bat home behind him haunted Violet. Through supper and into the evening, she thought about that poor child and worried for him. She felt compelled to do something. But what?

After supper, Violet went for a walk. Darkness was falling fairly early these days, so she headed out immediately after the dishes were done.  It was a peaceful time of day. Geese honked across the sky in perfect vees. The air was still remarkably warm, warm enough that she didn’t even need a sweater, and the faint smoke from forest fires made the sunset a spectacular splash of pinks and oranges in the west. She saw several people walking their dogs, including Trudy. An idea came to Violet.

Trudy was probably the most influential person in the neighborhood. She was a chatter, which normally drove Violet crazy. The woman had some kind of witchy gift that made people talk to her. She was a retired schoolteacher who often babysat for people in the area. She was beloved by all, perhaps because she had either taught or looked after every child for miles around at one time or another. This was perfect.

Violet hailed her. “Hello!” she called across the road.

“Hi, Violet!” Trudy hollered back. She allowed her distasteful little dog to pull her across the street to Violet’s side.

“How are you?” she asked Violet. “I heard you had some time in the hospital.”

“Yes,” Violet said. “Everything’s fine now.”

“Glad to hear it,” Trudy replied.

Trudy made a motion to move away. Violet could hardly blame her; she had spent many hours actively discouraging Trudy from chatting. But this time, Violet needed Trudy’s help.

“Have you met the new folks around the corner?” she asked quickly, before Trudy could leave.

“The Johnsons?” Trudy asked.

“They have a houseful of kids?” Violet confirmed, nodding.

“Yes, we’ve met. Seem like a nice enough family. Eight kids, though!”

“Eight! Is that so?” Violet asked rhetorically. “I knew there were lots, but not that many!”

“Yes, and all of them under ten years old!” Trudy gushed. “Someone oughta tell those two where they’re all coming from!” She guffawed in a rather irritating manner.

All under ten. That told Violet that the poor little boy who had been laughed off the playground was younger than his tormentors by a year or two at least. Her anger flashed again.

“I saw one of them today,” Violet said. “He wanted to play ball with the kids over at the playground, but they wouldn’t let him.”

True to form, Trudy’s ears perked up. Never one to miss a teachable moment, she looked at Violet, suddenly deeply interested.

“Oh?” she asked. “Who was it?”

Violet flapped a hand dismissively. “Oh, I’m not sure. Justin Graham, I think, and a couple of others. I don’t remember.”

Violet pretended to gaze off down the street but out of the corner of her eye, she could see Trudy react. The Grahams were Trudy’s next door neighbours, and she knew a comment about one of them misbehaving would get her attention. Trudy told everyone they were like grandchildren to her. She had looked after the kids more than any others in the neighbourhood. She was obviously very fond of them, and it was a good thing, too. None were exactly delinquents, but any discipline the Graham kids had ever received was meted out by Trudy. She prided herself on those kids and the manners she had single-handedly instilled in them. Trudy would be mortified to learn one of her adopted grandchildren had been unkind.

“Well, we’ll just have to have a chat about that,” Trudy said. Violet cheered silently.

They made small talk for a few more minutes until Violet was able to extract herself. She had accomplished her task for the evening, and now it was time to go home. She escaped quicker than usual, hoping that Trudy was now anxious to detour past the Graham’s and speak to them about the incident with the Johnson boy.

Her conscience eased and her mind at rest knowing that forces were at work to rectify that poor little boy’s humiliation, Violet slept well that night and awoke the next morning with anticipation that felt disproportionate to the situation.

All day she waited, delighted that the weather was again providing record-breaking heat. She sat on her deck again most of the afternoon, soaking up the warmth while trying to read her book. At four o’clock, just past the time schools were dismissed, she was gratified to see several kids come up the creek path and stop at the playground. They all dropped their backpacks and someone produced a baseball.

Violet’s heart fell when she saw the scruffy little Johnson boy was not there. Whatever she had expected from her orchestrated conversation with Trudy had not materialized. She nearly had to blink back tears as she imagined the poor boy sitting at home, tossing a ball into his glove, as sad and alone as he had been the day before. No child deserved that, she thought. She considered baking cookies to take over as a gesture of apology for the solution she had not been able to negotiate.

Just as she was about to head into the house, she saw him running up the path toward the gang. She stopped and watched, anxiety tripping through her stomach.

“Hey, guys!” she heard the little boy yell.

“Hey!” Justin called back. “Where have you been?”

“Just got out of school!” he replied. Violet realized he must still be in elementary school.

The girl from yesterday said something to the boy that made his smile falter. Damn, Violet thought. She readied herself to head over and give the girl a stern talking-to. But then she saw the Graham boy stand up a little straighter. “No,” he said. “Joey can stay. If you don’t like it, go home.”

Oh, my, thought Violet. What a brave thing to do, standing up to a friend. Justin Graham, and Trudy, rose a few notches in Violet’s estimation. Good for him.

The Johnson boy stood straighter too, and within a few minutes, was playing ball with the rest of them. The girl pouted a while, but stopped when she realized no one was paying attention, and was soon having fun too. Seeing the group playing ball in the green space was so much like old times that Violet suddenly felt about thirty years younger. Knowing she had helped make it happen was even better.

She watched them play baseball until the light faded and their parents started calling them in one by one for dinner. Eventually, Justin Graham and Joey Johnson were the only ones left. They walked slowly along the path that went behind Violet’s house. She watched them from the shadows.

“Hey sorry about yesterday,” Graham said. “Julie can be such a bitch sometimes.”

Joey shrugged, a familiar gesture. Shock at Justin’s language showed briefly on his face, but he said nothing. Violet could see his posture was different than it had been yesterday, taller.

“Anyway, come on over whenever. Bring some of your brothers, too.”

Violet smiled a satisfied smile. Success. There may be hope for humanity yet, she thought with profound relief.

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I have entered a Post a Day blogging challenge. The idea is to write something for posting every day. I am going to split my postings between the two blogs. Today’s is fiction, inspired by a weird news story about a guy who was rescued 6 days after driving his car into a ravine. It was also written for a little contest on writing.com, which I have recently joined for inspiration, anonymous support and peer reviews. It had to be no more than 300 words and contain the words spin, fountain and bumblebee. Enjoy.

I’m driving too fast. Jane glares at me from the passenger seat. I beat her to the “we-need-some-time-apart” speech. It was a long time coming, but it’s the right thing. She wanted out as badly as I did, I’m sure of it.

I know I’m pushing it hard when the wheels slip going round a curve. In an instant, I lose control and the rock face looms on the left, nicking the fender. We spin across the empty road and hit the guardrail. It folds back like tin foil. Before I can blink, we are over and airborne. I am thrown around violently as car bounces across the bottom of the ravine, a bumblebee in a field of wildflowers. Jane’s scream competes with the squeal of rending metal and breaking glass. The car rolls lazily a few times, and rocks to a stop on its wheels.

My head throbs but the silence is louder. Blood streams down my face. I look over but Jane’s not there.

Everything hurts and my body doesn’t work right, but I smell smoke, so I force myself out through the smashed window and fall to the ground. I see a fountain of gas running under the car. I look for Jane. She’s on the ground near the car, not moving. Her beautiful face is bloody. The ringing in my ears fades and I hear the crackle of fire. I drag her as far away as I can, metres.

This is not how it was supposed to end. We were going to have some time apart, but it was just temporary. We were meant to be together. I hold her, terrified of her stillness. I am paralyzed with regrets.

I feel the heat a split-second before the explosion, and it’s too late. Everything goes black.


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