Face, Meet Sidewalk

Violet and the bullies

Posted on: October 8, 2011

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.


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