Face, Meet Sidewalk

Posts Tagged ‘Violet

Smith Street Food Mart
280 Smith St.

Attention: Adam Smith, Manager

January 10, 2012

Dear Mr. Smith:

I write to you with reference to a theft that occurred in your store yesterday, January 9, 2012.

I’m sure by now, the police will have completed their investigation, although I am surprised they have not come to interview me about the incident. Perhaps you will direct them to me before the case goes cold. Confession, as they say, is good for the soul, and my soul can use all the help it can get.

First, let me relay the incidents that led up to the crime.

As you may remember, the weather yesterday was unseasonably warm. When I entered your store at approximately 11:00 am yesterday, I noted that the floor was quite slippery from melting snow. Being ever vigilant to circumstances which may cause injury, I carefully skirted the danger, and proceeded with my wheeled cart (which I had brought from home) toward the produce section. Unfortunately, as I edged around the hazardous puddle, the strap from my handbag caught on an inconveniently located display of tinned tomatoes.

While I’m sure that at one point, the tomato pyramid was solid and sturdily built, injudicious selection of cans from the bottom of the pyramid by some of the less considerate patrons of your store resulted in a rather precarious situation. Alas, in my heavy coat I did not feel the purse catch, and before I knew it, the table tipped, and tins were rolling everywhere.

Before you get ahead of me, I am aware that this is not a crime, however I was somewhat discomfited, especially when your stock boy, Ned, I believe is his name (by the way, is he your son? He’s a very handsome lad! Or was, before the black eye) came hurrying over to ensure my safety. Please commend Ned on his quick action. Obviously, there was no way to deny it was I who had caused the tomato avalanche, so I tried my best to help him clean up the mess.

You should know that the lad was extremely kind, especially after I dropped the third tin, thankfully missing his foot this time, and it burst open on the floor. He simply encouraged me to continue my shopping. Such excellent customer service!

(If I might suggest a change to your store employees’ dress code, perhaps shoes with good traction should be encouraged. I’m a big believer in practical footwear.) Unfortunately, when Ned went off to get a mop to clean up the mess, those shiny black uniform shoes of his failed him, and he slipped on a squashed tomato.

Being much younger and spryer than I, he did manage to catch himself on the large bin of canteloupes before hitting the deck, so to speak. If you would indulge another little observation, I would never have noticed how similar the words canteloupe and catapult are, if it wasn’t for the formation of flying fruit that was launched when he grabbed the edge of that bin!

In any case, I simply marvelled at how fortunate it was that the boy was not hurt as canteloupes rained down around us. I’m sure he would have been fine, too, if it weren’t for the one errant melon that landed directly on his, well, melon. It was a nasty thump. Good thing it seems he can spare the brain cells. I am sure the shiner will fade in a few days.

By this point, you will understand how flustered I was. My shopping list had completely fled my mind, and I suddenly felt the overwhelming need to take my leave, lest I succumb to a fate too similar to Ned’s. I carefully picked my way around what, under other circumstances might be a delightful summer salad (tomatoes and cantaloupes go together as well as peanut butter and bologna, wouldn’t you agree?), and went home to rest and recover from the dramatic events. It was here that I discovered my crime.

In the bottom of my little shopping cart, I found a canteloupe. I have no idea how it managed to escape the fruit storm unscathed, but it was nestled safely in the bottom of my basket. You must understand how embarassing it was to discover this melon felony, inadvertent though I assure you it was!

All day I worried, and all night, I lay awake, wracked with guilt, waiting for the police to knock on my door. I even considered eating the evidence of my transgression. However, I am certain that illicit fruit would only be bitter and indigestible (oh, if only Eve had realized that in the Garden of Eden!) and the rind would linger in my compost bin easily long enough to provide the police with ample evidence. So I did not.

I assure you, Mr. Smith, in all my years, I have never stolen anything. The guilt is eating me alive!  I would like to rectify the situation by returning the contraband canteloupe. Please accept it as enclosed, perhaps slightly worse for wear, but at last back in its rightful place.

As we have had occasion to speak over the years, Mr. Smith, I am sure you are aware that I have been a loyal customer of your store since long before you were born. For this reason, I hope you will accept this as my most sincere apology, and will allow me to continue to shop at the Food Mart.

I await your word on whether I am welcome back at your store, in spite of my delinquency.

Sincerely and with heartfelt apologies,
Violet McLean

vm/enc

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Dave adored women. He liked their company far better than he liked the company of men. He reflected on this often, noting with interest each time he checked in on his motivations that his interest in women was not (always) sexual or even romantic. More so it was pure preference. He liked how they talked, moved, thought. Smelled. Young or old, it didn’t matter. He just loved women.

It was part of the reason he got along well with Violet. She had gender going for her, along with an interesting, feisty streak that kept him laughing. For whatever reason they had been brought together, he enjoyed every minute.

Much of his free time was spent with Violet these days, but when she was occupied with her not inconsiderable social life, Dave divided the vast majority of his time between work and the gym. He freely acknowledged that the majority of his motivation for maintaining his impressive level of fitness was to score points with the ladies, but it had its benefits in other ways too. It was nice to be able to escort a drunk and boisterous asshole out of the bar without breaking a sweat, or to move Violet’s piano for her so she could vacuum underneath it.

But mostly, his buff physique set the stage for many a friendship, short-lived though they tended to be with women. Although he rarely turned down the side benefits, sex was never his main motivation, and any woman that only wanted to enjoy his spectacular body never remained interested for long, especially when she realized he was not just interested in her, but in any woman. Most had trouble getting past that.

And his love of women was not limited to human women either. Cars and boats held significant appeal, and he always had a soft spot for the hot aliens on Star Trek. But as far as humans were concerned, he could count on one hand the number of women he had not found attractive in some way or other.

The only place, besides the bar where he worked and the gym, where Dave spent any significant time was the Humane Society. He had been doing it since he was fourteen, when his mother caught him smoking behind the school with his buddies one weekend. She declared then and there, right in front of his friends, that he would be busy the rest of the summer. She marched him down to an old folks’ home and signed him up to call Bingo. She dropped him there every Saturday afternoon for months, and once he got over the embarrassment of being caught out in front of his friends, he had a whale of a time entertaining the old ladies with extravagant compliments and amateur magic tricks. One day, a Humane Society volunteer brought a boisterous puppy to visit the nursing home. When he saw how much pleasure it brought the residents, he went down there and volunteered. While they wouldn’t let a fourteen-year-old take a dog out to a nursing home, they did let him clean out kennels and pet cats. He loved it, even more than his time at the nursing home. Even back then, it was always the female animals he gravitated toward. He got along with them the best. Dogs were his favourite.

Even now, in his mid-twenties, Dave still made time to go once a week. He worked it into his exercise routine, choosing the dogs with the highest energy and taking them for long runs around the city. They all came back happily exhausted. The Humane Society ladies loved him, because his dogs were always too sated to misbehave. They rarely stayed at the shelter long. Dave had the touch – his girls were always adopted quickly. The ladies’ theory was that he had some kind of come-to-Jesus talk and put the fear of God into the dogs when they were out on their runs. Dave just figured it was about time that some human showed these animals how it could be, if they chose the right home.

He’d made many friends at the Humane Society, none of which crossed over with his bar-and-gym crowd. In fact, he took some pains to keep his volunteering quiet at work, not entirely sure what kind of razzing he’d be forced to endure if the boys ever got wind of his soft spot for an entirely different kind of bitch (which was also why he kept his preference for romantic comedies a secret – the flawed-yet-desirable heroine got him every time. Reason number 347 that it was better to spend time with women than men. Women didn’t disparage one’s choice in pastimes or movies).

So it was with some discomfort that Dave recognized a particular car in the Humane Society’s parking lot one stunning afternoon in late fall as he returned  from a brisk five-miler with a beautiful German shepherd. The sun was shining through trees that were almost bare and there was a bite in the air, which had kept the magnificent dog, named Duchess by some unimaginative intake worker, from overheating as they ran.

The car had been in the parking lot of Dave’s bar on any number of Sunday mornings. It belonged to one of the regulars, a lazy slacker named Ivan. They’d gone to high school together, but that was where their similarities ended. Ivan was headed toward a permanent spot in the trailer park, his beer gut leading the way. He’d never had a job for more than a few months at a time, and he usually paid his bar tab with the change he scraped out of the console in his car. He had recently managed to get a girl pregnant and, to the boys’ suprise, agreed to move out of his mom’s place and in with her. Dave suspected that it would be short-lived, once she realized that a guy who wears the same threadbare underwear for a week at a time (he didn’t wear a belt either, which was how Dave had come to recognize the frayed Fruit of the Loom waistband) was not likely fatherhood material. Besides, he was almost sure that she was not the last girl Ivan had taken back to the room in his mom’s basement where he still spent many nights.

In any case, Dave preferred to keep the compartments of his life separate, so he took Duchess in the back way and gave her a long cool drink from the hose. By the time he’d settled her back in her kennel, still panting but wagging happily, and changed his shirt for a clean, dry one, he’d almost forgotten about Ivan.

He walked toward the front office to sign up for next week’s volunteer shift, and stopped short.

He heard Ivan’s voice as he approached the desk, and ducked behind a wall. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t want Ivan to see him, but the tone in Ivan’s voice was one that Dave was completely unprepared to acknowledge. The man sounded miserable, a fact which was being studiously ignored by Gail, the woman assigned to intake.

Gail was a middle-aged woman who looked like she’d seen hard times. She’d worked intake for years, and had just about heard it all. It was a crappy job, which by necessity quickly muted any sense of empathy that the staff might have. Some of the sob stories people came in with when they wanted to surrender an animal were pretty creative, if not patently false, and the resulting despair for humanity caused the staff to find ways to make it as difficult as possible. Anyone hoping for sympathy left sorely disappointed. The prevailing opinion among intake staff was that the people could fend for their own mental health. The only therapy Gail dispensed was for the animals.

Dave paused, sensing that intervention in this particular exchange would be unwelcome.

“It was my girlfriend’s,” Ivan was saying, then corrected himself. “Ex-girlfriend, I guess.”

Dave noted without satisfaction that he’d been right about Ivan as a baby daddy.

“Is there anything wrong with it?” Gail asked.

“No,” he replied. “I just can’t have it in my apartment. She told me she’d drown it in the creek if I didn’t take it.”

Since to Dave’s knowledge, Ivan had never had an apartment, he guessed that Ivan’s mom had refused to let the creature in the house. He wasn’t sure if Ivan was referring to his mother or the girlfriend, but would not be surprised to hear that either  had threatened to kill the cat; from what he remembered, both were pretty much a class-A bitches (two of the few women about whom Dave could find few redeeming features). But even if it was the girlfriend, Ivan’s apparent misery at the “ex” part of his description was a bit of a surprise. Or was it over the cat? It was hard to tell from the sound of his voice. Dave peeked around the corner as Gail finished up the paperwork and made Ivan sign over the cat.

He watched Ivan push himself away from the counter and walk toward the door, pausing a moment to say goodbye to the cat. Dave saw abject regret painted all over Ivan’s face as he crouched down and poked a finger into the cage to scratch the poor thing’s ears. With a jolt, Dave saw Ivan wipe a tear away as he hurried off without looking at anyone else.

It was a shock, to be sure. Dave had never seen the side of Ivan that would grieve over either a woman or a pet. Dave had done both, but had not seen it coming from Ivan, whom he’d always considered little more than a waste of space. He was truly taken aback.

As soon as Ivan’s car had left the parking lot, Dave went over to the cat. It was wary, with reason, but within a few seconds was rubbing its head against Dave’s outstretched fingers, and even purring a little. It was a pretty cat, black and white with nearly perfect symmetrical markings on its face and back.

“Hey, buddy,” he murmured. It was all he could say. Ivan’s stricken face kept coming to mind, and Dave was surprised to find himself choking up a little.
Gail appeared beside him, so he composed himself quickly.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with this one,” she said. Despite her cool demeanor with those surrendering animals (irrespective of their reasons, legitimate or otherwise), she was genuinely fond of the creatures that came in. Like Dave with women, there were few irredeemable animals, according to Gail.

It was the people who too often deserved a rougher fate, according to Gail. Dave tended to agree.

“What will happen to him?” Dave asked. He wasn’t sure if he was asking Gail about the cat, or a rhetorical question about Ivan.

“It’s a ‘she’, according to the guy who brought her in,” Gail said in her gravelly smoker’s voice. “She’ll get checked by the vet, and head for Adoptions if everything’s ok. She’s a little older, though, so it’ll be tough to place her. And he wouldn’t sign the form saying he’d take her back if she was slated to be euthanized.”

Dave let the thought linger a moment. The instant she’d mentioned the cat was a female, Dave felt a familiar connection, the one that led him to befriend nearly anyone with two X chromosomes. He heard himself speak before his mind fully processed the implications of his words.

“Can I take her?”

He wasn’t sure if it was the haunting look on Ivan’s face, or the fact that the poor thing could well end up in the dumpster out back of the Humane Society after a few miserable weeks in captivity, but suddenly Dave needed this cat.

Gail looked quickly at him. They’d always remarked on how unattached Dave was to the animals to whom he showed such affection. He’d never indicated wanting to keep one before. And truth be told, Dave had never even entertained the thought of taking one home. Especially not a cat.

“Really?” she asked.

Dave nodded quickly, realizing he was irrevocably committed now.

Gail shrugged. “Come back tomorrow. I’ll get her checked by the vet and we can do the paperwork in the morning.” Her face clearly said she never expected to see Dave again.

Dave nodded and said his goodbyes to Gail and the cat. He stopped on the way home and bought a litter box and all the fixings. He spent a disproportionate amount of time choosing the cat’s first homecoming meal. Who knew there were so many kinds of cat food? Finally, when he was nearly late for work, he settled on an expensive can of some sort of tuna-based cat gruel. It sounded horrible but a pretty girl shopping in the same aisle assured him that cats loved it.

He left with her phone number, too.

All evening, all through his shift at the bar, through a few hours of fitful sleep, he kept expecting to come to his senses. He considered who would look after her when he wanted to travel. He thought about the expensive furniture in his apartment that was currently free of claw marks. He even acknowledged the possibility that his roommate might not agree with his decision. He fully expected to wake in the morning with the clarity of a new day, understanding the ridiculousness of his offhand comment to Gail, and be forced to retract his offer. But his resolve was only stronger in the light of day. None of the reasonable objections to the idea seemed to hold any water when he thought of the sweet little furry face that was waiting for him in a cold steel cage.

He was back at the intake desk the minute it opened. Gail looked surprised to see him.

“You change your mind?” she asked, sounding almost resigned.

Dave shook his head. “Nope,” he said, plopping the shiny new cat carrier on the desk.

Gail raised her eyebrows, but said nothing, and retrieved a sheaf of papers from the drawer. Dave answered all the questions truthfully, except the one about whether his landlord allowed pets.

“Technically we’re supposed to call them and make sure,” Gail said.

Dave shook his head. He was pretty sure the old bastard would say no, but Dave had no intention of ever letting him know about the cat, and besides, he had a sense that if he passed up this cat, she would never see the inside of another house. Dave made a quick decision.

“Aw, come on, Gail, you don’t need to do that,” he said. “It’s cool.”

It was unfair, he knew, but years of loving women had taught him all the right moves to make when he wanted something. He rarely used his powers for personal gain, but this didn’t feel self-serving at all. It was for the cat, he told himself. It was her only chance.

He leaned forward and touched Gail’s hand, “accidentally”. She jumped visibly, obviously unused to being touched by a human, but when she didn’t pull away, Dave knew he’d won.

“Okay,” she said. And that was it. Dave signed the papers, handed over the carrier, and Gail brought it back in a few minutes with Dave’s new cat.

He gave Gail a silly grin, indescribably excited about his new adventure, despite the fact that it hadn’t been even an inkling twenty four hours previously. Gail laughed, realizing she’d been had, but knowing at least this cat was not one they’d see again.

“What are you going to call her?” she asked.

“Don’t know yet,” he said with a wink. “But she looks a little like a Gail to me.”

“Oh, go on,” she said, and Dave could see she was flattered. The cat had a name.

“See you next week,” he said cheerfully, and hauled his new friend out to his car.

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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.

Dear Alma,

Since my recent Brush With Death, I have become quite reminiscent. Some might call it maudlin, but I have been enjoying my trip down memory lane quite a lot. I’m sure you are feeling the same way right now.

I was remembering how much time you used to spend at my house. We would stay up half the night playing cards and drinking coke and listening to the radio. My memories of those nights are so fond. It has been a while since we played, but think I am still ahead in the running gin rummy total. I must look for that little ledger book, I think it’s still around here somewhere.

Do you recollect the time we went to the beach? It was one of those nights where you slept over at my house so your father wouldn’t know when you got in. I remember the day you first met George. What a glorious day it was. If I recall correctly, the sun was hot and the water was refreshing and there were plenty of young men admiring us. Well, truth be told, they were admiring you, in that very risqué bathing suit. I never had the nerve to go out like that, but you pulled it off every time. I was so jealous of your sense of adventure (and your bosoms!).

And the dance that night! I was exhausted by midnight. I think there were only about a dozen of us left. You went down to the beach in George’s car after they shut the dance hall down and I went home. I almost waited outside for you so we would only have to open the door once because I didn’t know what Mother would think if she heard you come in after I did. But when I got there, I could hear her snoring from the porch. I was in bed when you finally got home, but I don’t think we even slept that night. You were over the moon. I had a feeling you two were in it for the long haul. I was so sorry to hear about his passing.

One of the things I remember most from those days was The Rules of Appropriate and Inappropriate Behaviour. How many can you name? A Lady never drinks hard liquor. A Lady never scratches in public. A Lady must never show more than an inch of knee. A Lady never goes anywhere without a hat and gloves. Now that I think of it, all those rules were meant to keep us from anything that was fun. You were so good at walking that line, though. You always managed to have as much fun as possible without getting yourself a Reputation. I was too afraid. I guess that’s why you ended up with seven lovely children and I nearly ended up a spinster accountant! Anyway, it all worked out in the end. Frank was very good to me. Although I couldn’t have admitted it a year after he died, our time together, however short, was worth the wait.

I hope you don’t mind this nostalgic little diversion, Alma. I’m sure things are still very difficult for you. You should think about coming for a visit. It would be just like old times, only with canes and walkers and a lot more fibre. I’ll have a full deck of cards ready whenever you want.

Fondly,

Violet

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Violet’s walk took her past the playground. Since her recent near-death experience, she tried to get in a walk at least every other day. She figured this new habit would not last much into winter, but if it could buy her some time right now, she was up for it. Besides, it was another glorious morning, the sun far too hot for the autumnal angle of the shadows it cast, and the walking felt good.

The children were finally back at school. There seemed to be fewer hooligans tearing around the neighbourhood, anyway.  She noted with some relief that she would likely not need the mirror mounted on her walking stick (she refused to call it a cane) to warn her of hoodlums coming up from the rear on skateboards.

The playground was about halfway through the route she took, and she stopped for a moment at a clean wooden bench near the swing set. She eased herself onto the unyielding surface and took in her surroundings.

The sky was curiously blue and utterly cloudless. It was warm, but pleasant in the shade of the huge elm that hung over the park bench. Children too young for school ran and played on the slides and bridges and rope ladders of the modern jungle gym, hollering joyfully as only children do. Every once in a while, a cry of indignation or pain would split the air, a child suffering hurt feelings or a skinned knee. They were invariable attended promptly and dutifully by a parent.

As she settled onto the bench and marveled at the summery weather, she noticed something odd (or was it interesting?) about the families at the park. There were no mothers. All the adults were men, fathers with one, two, even three preschoolers, down and digging in the dirt or capably hoisting kids in and out of the black rubber baby swings, all the while holding paper cups of takeout coffee and chatting companionably with each other.

It was an entirely novel concept to Violet. Men of Violet’s generation would never have been caught dead at a playground with their children. Parenting was for women. In fact, there was no such thing as parenting. There was mothering and wait-till-your-father-gets-home. Violet racked her brain to remember a time she ever saw a man on his own with children. The idea was simply foreign.

She watched with fascination as these men, dads, she supposed, interacted with the children. One pulled a tissue from his pocket and wiped the grimy nose of a very reluctant toddler before placing him expertly back in the sandbox. Another actually changed a diaper on the bench across from Violet’s. Still a third called out, “Joshua and Emily, five minutes!” The responding grumble that came from to identically towheaded children in matching rain boots gave Violet the distinct impression that they had heard that line before.

Violet knew that men were more involved in their children’s’ lives than ever before, but she had never witnessed it first hand like this. It was riveting.

A handsome man in a button-down shirt and jeans bent down to examine something slimy held by a child of about three. The man bore none of the soft, harried and haggard look of many young mothers Violet had ever seen. He appeared fit and well-rested. He exclaimed with evident delight in the same tone she could imagine him using to describe a priceless French painting or a vintage wine, only somehow this sounded genuine. The child looked pleased with his father’s approval and moved to tuck the slimy thing into his pocket.

“No, Tylen,” he said kindly. “No more worms. They plug up the washing machine.”

They do laundry, too? Violet wondered. When do these men work? She made a note to ask Dave if he had friends who stayed at home with the children while their wives worked. Of course, their wives probably had to work to help the family keep up with the mortgage payments. Maybe that’s why these dads were so interested in their children. Living wasn’t cheap these days.

It occurred to Violet that since it was Saturday, perhaps these fathers were on duty so that their wives could sleep in. As pleasant as the idea was, she had a sense that this was more than giving mom a break. These fathers were too knowledgeable about their children, too comfortable in their roles as parents to be pinch-hitting.

She thought about Frank and what kind of father he would have been. Detached, she expected. A breadwinner, although Violet had always assumed she would find a way to continue working if they had been blessed enough to have had a child. Perhaps he would have been forced to be involved, she thought.  Maybe he’d even have been good at it. For every time she heard him decry the child pitching a fit in the grocery store (“Spare the rod, spoil the child,” he’d say under his breath), she could remember the delight he took in handing out Halloween candy or seeing the Christmas play at church.

What a wonderful way to be raised, Violet thought. To have a relationship with a father that was not based on fear, or the power of absence. And what a gift for these fathers, to know and delight in their children in ways that previous generations never did. She had always thought she’d have made an adequate mother. Seeing these men interact so comfortably with their kids and knowing that with Frank she would have done fine,  a long-buried stirring awoke in Violet that made her pine for the babies she never had.

Violet’s reverie was broken when the father of Emily and Joshua called out again. “Emily, Joshua, time to go!” Five minutes had gone quickly.

“No!” the little girl squealed falling limp to the grass like a war protester. The little boy headed to a stroller over by the tree and began to climb in. Emily’s father deftly scooped her up under his arm and headed to another stroller, ignoring the piercing shrieks and tiny fists pummeling his kidneys.

“No, Joshua, that’s Isabelle’s stroller. Ours is over here.” One arm was still cradling the screaming, floppy Emily even as the other hand flipped open an enormous chariot with two seats. He wrestled the outraged child into the front seat and fastened her seatbelt. She was nearly purple with the effort of resisting him. The father, however, had not broken a sweat. He picked Joshua up under the arms and plopped him behind her, then reached into the basket underneath the seats and pulled out two small cups with spouts and a Ziploc bag. He handed each child a cup and some crackers from the bag. Emily, evidently understanding that further protests would fall on deaf ears, snuffled her way to silence and sucked on her cup.

“Nap time!” the father called cheerfully to a couple of other dads. They all nodded sympathetically and waved as the three left the park.

“Ok, kids, let’s go see if Mommy’s up yet!” he said, confirming Violet’s theory, to her immense satisfaction.

As she watched them go, Violet noticed that the child’s inhuman howling had actually made her ears ring. The mild melancholy that begun to emanate from her barren womb lifted at the realization that there were many good things about childlessness. Yes, there were reasons she and Frank had not been given any. She smiled to herself, got up, and headed in the opposite direction.

Violet’s heart gave a painful thump as she heard a loud, mechanical snap from the other side of the thin curtain, and the solid electronic squeal was replaced by a steady beep. She took it to mean that whatever crisis had been happening over there had resolved, at least temporarily. The cacophony of voices became slightly less frantic. Violet tried to focus on something else.

The air was chilly, especially for a thin old lady who was allowed to wear nothing more than a flimsy piece of over-washed cotton. Truth be told, she had rags in better shape than this gown. She smelled disinfectant and unwashed bodies, and wondered how long some of the patients had been there. Through a crack between the curtains, she saw people rushing about. Eventually, she saw someone on a stretcher being moved away and heard something about ICU. The noise level dropped considerably.

Violet felt miserable. She was cold and she had to pee. It felt like forever that she lay on the stretcher with the curtains mostly drawn. No one came by. For someone who was apparently sick enough to bypass the waiting room, it seemed strange that no one even checked on her. The elephant continued to roll around on her chest.

Slowly, though, she began to notice that the pain in her chest was not getting worse, and the abject terror she had been experiencing before began to fade. With each passing minute, she found herself becoming less afraid and more angry. With the anger, a tiny butterfly of hope wafted in to land on the boulder that was crushing her chest. Somehow, it eased the discomfort a bit.

With nothing to do but wait, she listened to the activity around her. Hospitals, she noticed, operated with a strangely ordered chaos. There were people running everywhere, but everyone seemed to be doing their job with purpose. It would be nice, she thought, if they would come and do their job with her, so she could get the hell out and go home.

The longer she waited, the more insistent her bladder became. Soon she realized that without a bathroom in the very near future, she would likely suffer an indignity worse than the time Margaret’s wig flew off at bridge. With a force of will, she pushed aside the lump of granite on her chest and sat up. A wave of dizziness nearly overtook her, but irritation at her infirmity and the absurd situation made her wait a minute before swinging her legs over the side of the stretcher. Her head cleared, and she was just about to step down to the floor when the curtain whipped aside and a sour-faced nurse in a brown uniform entered. She had a basket of equipment and a permanent frown, likely, Violet thought, from dealing with hypochondriacs day in and day out.

“Where are you going?” she demanded.

“I need the bathroom,” Violet said, feeling defiant as her anger flared. Hope and frustration pushed her to be a little louder than she otherwise might.

“Are you having any chest pain?” the nurse asked.

“No,” Violet lied. It was bearable, and she knew that she’d be on a bedpan in a second if she admitted it.

“Fine,” the nurse replied. With surprising gentleness, she assisted Violet down from the stretcher and helped her put her shoes on. They exited the cubicle and she showed Violet where the bathroom was. They walked together, the nurse never far away. Violet would have realized how strangely comforting that presence was, if she hadn’t been concentrating so hard on not urinating down her own leg.

“Just pull the string when you’re done and I’ll help you back,” the nurse said. Violet decided she was probably just more jaded than miserable.

After she’d finished and the nurse had helped her back to bed, Violet was again subjected to all the same questions she had answered at triage. The nurse took her blood pressure and temperature and placed oxygen tubing under her nose.

“We are going to hook you up to a cardiac monitor now,” she said. She helped Violet undo the gown, frowned at her bra, and helped her remove it. Violet felt even more exposed than before, but noted that the nurse had at least closed the curtain firmly. She stuck a series of foam circles to Violet’s chest, abdomen and legs, attached them to wires, and flicked on a computer screen at Violet’s head. Violet heard a steady, quiet beep and twisted around enough to see a series of numbers and squiggly lines floating across the screen. The nurse covered Violet with her gown and a warm blanket. For the first time since Bert and Elsie had dragged her in, she actually felt comfortable. Now that something was happening, she at least felt like someone knew she was there.

“I need to start an IV on you,” the nurse said, almost apologetically. Violet’s heart gave another lurch and she heard the monitor begin to beep more quickly. The nurse glanced at it.

“I’m very good,” she said conspiratorially, and actually smiled at Violet for the first time. Violet returned the smile weakly, and the nurse disappeared.

It wasn’t long before she was back with a basket of supplies. Violet closed her eyes. The nurse chattered away through the painful stick into a spidery vein on the back of Violet’s hand. As she half-listened, she decided her first impression of the woman had been incorrect, and perhaps she was human after all.

In a few minutes, Violet was tethered to the stretcher by a thin tube dripping a clear liquid into her hand. It felt cool going in, and Violet was glad for the lovely blanket, even though its initial heat had long since faded. The nurse left again, this time leaving the curtains open, and Violet was alone in a room full of noisy activity.

In spite of her predicament – tied down in the eye of a hurricane with an elephant sitting on her chest – Violet was sure things would turn out well. A comforting thought came to mind: if this was it for her, at least she’d be with people who would make sure she didn’t suffer. Even after Frank had died, she had steadfastly refused to consider the likely circumstances of her own death, and was now surprised to find that the thought of today being her last on earth was not particularly distressing. In fact, she almost relished the idea that she might see Frank again soon – she’d love to ask him where he’d been all this time – Ethel made it to visit every night, she planned to say, why the heck couldn’t he?

Violet dozed on her stretcher. Her hand ached where the IV was stuck and the tube in her nose was irritating, but the beeping of her monitor was steady and constant, and rather than irritating, it lulled her by giving her something to focus on. Every once in a while, someone would come by and ask if she had pain. Since she really didn’t (her hope continued to chip away at the massive weight on her heart, relieving it a tiny piece at a time), it was truthful when she told them she did not. She had no idea how long she lay there, what time it was, or even if it was day or night. The activity level in the Emergency Department never varied, despite what she might have expected.

As she lay there, rising only once to go back to the bathroom (a massive undertaking that required two other people to help wheel her IV pole to ensure she did not fall and break a hip), Violet began to notice her gut churning and gurgling. She wondered how long it had been since she’d eaten. The heaviness was still in her chest, but she realized it seemed to be moving lower and lower. Violet began to suspect that her own original diagnosis had actually been correct. As the minutes passed, the roiling and seething of her digestive system out-competed the chest pain for her attention.

And suddenly, Violet determined her own problem, just minutes before the doctor came in to see her.  It was with utter certainty that she shifted one cheek off the stretcher and squeaked out a small diagnostic test. It was as quiet as possible; despite her age and the rights and privileges inherent, Violet preferred to behave in a ladylike manner as much as possible. Anxiously, she glanced around wondering if anyone had heard the backdoor breeze. But no one appeared to be in the least concerned about the little old lady breaking wind in the third stretcher. The test was successful, and as the pressure eased a noticeable fraction, she abandoned all pretense and let them roll, figuring there was no time like the present to empty the tank. Thankfully, she had never had to deal with the curse of odiferous wind, and felt quite certain she was exacting her cure unnoticed by anyone. With each expulsion, the crushing weight lifted and her breathing eased.

Finally, the thunder subsided and Violet felt like new. The chest pain was gone and her breath came and went easily. She made an attempt to sit up, so she could find someone to help her dress and leave. As she shifted on her bed, she noticed a young man– younger even than her own doctor, who barely looked as if he was old enough to be out of high school himself– in a white coat standing a step or two behind. He had an incredulous look on his face, giving Violet the impression she might not have been as quiet as she had thought. She considered pretending the Sound and the Fury hadn’t come from her.

“Better out than in,” she shrugged, blinking innocently.

“Yes, indeed,” he responded drily. “Well, Mrs. Maclean, I came to tell you that your EKG and blood tests are fine. You are not having a heart attack. We think it was angina.”

Angina brought on by gas, she thought. Thanks, son. Violet was indeed relieved, but completely unsurprised to hear the news. “Then I can go?” she asked.

“Well, we’d like to run a few more tests…” he began, but Violet stopped him with a hand.

“I’m fine, young man,” she said. “Help me get dressed, please.” She said it in such a way that the poor thing was unable to do anything but help. He pulled out the IV and taped a cotton ball over the spot. Violet herself yanked off the oxygen tube and disconnected the wires attached to her chest.

As soon as she was dressed, she walked purposefully toward the doors they had brought her through all those hours ago She waved at the gum-snapping triage nurse on her way out.

“Good bye!” she said cheerfully.

She could see out the front doors that it was near dark. The presence of that same miserable nurse at the desk gave her hope that it was evening and not morning. Walking straight through the waiting room – still crowded – she saw Bert and Elsie sitting there, where she had left them all those hours ago. It irritated her beyond reason that that nice Eduardo had failed to send them away, but aware that she had no ride home, she marched briskly up to them. Covering her embarrassment at the whole situation – her weakness in front of the bridge club, her “escort” to the hospital, stripping and enduring the indignity of performing all those bodily functions in front of strangers, the utter certainty that she was about to die – she announced, “I’m fine.”

Realizing from the looks on their faces exactly how imminent they, too, had considered her demise, she added, “Thank you for waiting for me. I’m sorry to have caused you any trouble”

Elsie spoke first. “Violet, we’re so glad you’re all right!”

“Thank you, Elsie,” Violet said, truly, if reluctantly grateful for her friends. Bert looked like he wanted to hug her. She pretended not to notice. Hopeful for their sakes that she was, indeed, cured of her affliction, she herded them toward the exit. To prevent rumours from flying through the bridge club, she decided to cut (ahem) her losses and tell them what happened.

“As I suspected,” she said. “It was just a little gas,” She held the door and let Elsie and Bert lead her through the doors and into a lovely, fresh evening.


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