Friday, January 14, 2011

Chapter 4: Reaching Violet

Violet, still in bed well past her usual time to be up and dressed, lay wide awake, miserable and listless. She felt half dead and maybe she was. Richard had been her other half and he was gone. But he wasn’t, not really. She could almost feel him right beside her as he always had been spooning her to him, snuggled close, his arms holding her tight, his breath on her neck.

She could.... almost...except for the cold. She had never felt cold when Richard held her. This cold, however, was strange indeed. It never dissipated not even a bit no matter how many blankets and quilts she piled on, no matter how many sweaters she wore. It seemed more penetrating than any cold she’d ever felt, more dense if that were possible. It put to mind the dementors from the Harry Potter  books. It invaded her very core, every cell, every particle, just like J.K. Rowling described it. And there seemed no way of getting rid of it, Violet thought. She, after all, didn’t have a magic wand to repel her “dementor”. Richard would not return. Her warmth had gone with him.

Her lips trembled but she had no more tears to shed. Who knew there was a finite number of tears in a body? Violet had finally spent all of hers and then some. Good thing that. She had no more tissues in the entire house. If she cared enough she might go to the store and grab some but she didn’t have the gumption. She cared for nothing, least of all herself. Nobody needed her anymore after all.

“That’s not true, Violet,” Richard whispered in her ear, holding her close, or at least attempting to. He couldn’t feel her at all but he willed her to feel his presence as he lay beside her.

“It is,” she mumbled. “Kenny’s married. Sophie’s at school. They’re so far away.”

“But they still need you, Violet. You’re their mother,” he said in the softest of voices. “You should call them, especially Sophie.”

Just then a golden, furry, fluff ball leapt onto the bed and silently asked for a bit of much needed attention. “Just a scratch behind the ears would suffice,” she seemed to say as she thrust her head under Violet’s limp hand.

“See? Ginger-fluff needs you,” Richard told her in a whisper.

“Ginger-fluff,” Violet mumbled a tiny hint of a smile threatening to show itself. “Do you remember Richard calling you that, Calendula? He said there was no way he was talking Latin to a stupid cat. I tried to convince him Calendula wasn’t Latin but... he knew me too well, didn’t he? I remember you, doubly insulted, would ignore him the rest of the day. Not sure that wasn’t his plan. You always made him sneeze,” Violet said actually giggling for the first time in so long.

Much to her surprise it dispelled a bit of the enveloping cold. A weight she didn’t know had been sitting on her heart seemed to lessen the slightest amount as she petted Calendula and listened to her purr like a diesel engine. Maybe remembering a little of Richard did it.

 “Come on, Sweetie. Time to get dressed and start the day. It’s actually sunny today. Ginger-fluff might even consent to a romp outside,” Richard’s voice spoke in her head.

At least she thought it was in her head. It would only make sense that she would hear him in her thoughts even after his death. She had lived with Richard since she was sixteen. She could almost say she remembered everything he had ever spoken to her. Of course he would still tell her what to do, just like old times. As she had never denied him anything in life she wasn’t about to now, in death. She did as bid throwing the covers off and lifting herself and the fluffy cat, too.

“Hmm, bet you’re hungry. Did I feed you yesterday? I don’t remember,” Violet said, grabbing her robe and heading down the hall, down the  stairs and into the kitchen.

“Of course, Dory won’t remember,” Richard whispered with a chuckle.

“Dory,” Violet repeated, again with a giggle, putting down the cat and reaching for the empty bowl on the floor. She thought of the very forgetful fish from the kid’s movie Finding Nemo. “Richard used to call me Dory every time I forgot something....meaning all the time. Do I know you? I would say and he would laugh. Funny I should remember that now.”

She took the bowl to the sink and washed it in hot, soapy water with a slight frown creasing her forehead.  “That used to annoy him though, me forgetting so much.”

“No!”Richard said louder than he should have. “I loved you. Everything about you. Even forgetting. I thought it was cute.”

Still frowning, that hideous cold feeling creeping back into her bones, she proceeded to the cat food cabinet and found only one can left. She sighed, grabbed the solitary can and lifted the lid. She bent down and held it for Calendula’s approval. The cat sniffed it, then deciding it would do quite nicely licked it clean.

“Can’t believe you still do that,” Richard mumbled with an affectionate laugh. “You spoil her just as bad as you spoiled the rest of us.”

“It’s not spoiling. It’s love,” she replied.

“You did love us, didn’t you? You gave all of you to us, me, Sophie and Kenny, even Ginger-fluff. That’s why we love you so much, Violet. Always will. Remember that, okay?” Richard whispered.

Not realizing tears cascaded down her cheeks once more, she scooped the food out of the can and placed the bowl onto the mat she had made especially for the “cat station” as Richard had called it. Violet preferred to refer to it as Calendula’s dining area.

“The way she chows down cannot be called dining, Violet,” Richard reminded her, reading her thoughts and  making her laugh.

“No, I guess not but still... it lends a bit of elegance to it,” she argued, brushing away the wetness from her cheeks.

He snorted. “Elegance for a cat that leaves you mole guts and the field mice heads on the back steps? Oh, yeah, Babe, you got one elegant feline there,” he replied laughing some more.

She laughed too and it did feel so good to do that again. This remembering Richard, those funny, seemingly insignificant things about him, really was good for her.

“Let’s get ready to go out,” Richard said.

“Out? What for?” she asked, feeling that encompassing cold coming back. But there was something else there too, apprehension.

“You want Ginger-fluff to starve? Ain’t no more food for her here and all the moles, the smart ones anyway, will be hibernating in this cold weather. We gotta go shopping. Just like we used to. You and me together. You remember that, don’t you?” he whispered in her ear.

“Of course but we’re not together anymore,” she said sadly. “It’ll be just me out there, alone and... and what if...”

“I’ll be there with you. I will. I’ll never leave you. I go where you go.”

Irresolute she stood looking absently down at Calendula 
who sat after devouring her food  licking her paws to wash her face. Violet bit her bottom lip but stopped, reproaching herself.  She realized she hadn’t done that since marrying Richard. But then she had never needed to then. How safe he had made her feel! But now, with him gone... her silly, childish fears were coming back full force.

“Violet, listen to me, I may be dead but our love endures. I’m in you just as much as you’re in me. We will always be together. We can do this, Babe. Together,” he coaxed. He placed a hand on her shoulder but as with Laurie he felt nothing but air.

Violet, on the other hand, felt a warmth start in her soul like a raindrop into a pond sending ripples to the edge and back. She did feel safe again. She wondered why that was as she went back to her bedroom and got ready, Richard right beside her the whole time.

He got into the passenger side and felt strange. He had never allowed her to drive when he was around. He shook his head reminding himself that he wasn’t actually around anymore. He watched her turn the key and grimaced at the weird sound the old car made. It was clearly on its last legs– or wheels as the case may be. 

“You need a new car, Violet,”he said as she pulled out of the driveway.

“It’s just cold out, is all. It’s always sluggish in the winter,” Violet countered with a defensive note in her voice. “It’ll be fine once spring comes.”

“Spring’s not for a long time, Babe. Car’s getting up there in miles, might not make it til then,” he said sternly and too loud for her to hear. He had trouble keeping to a whisper all the time. He found it annoying. “You gotta get it checked at least.”

She made no response except to turn on the radio. She made a disgusted face at the insipid song playing.  “Oh, please. Anyone but that Mayer guy. You’d think he was the next coming of Bob Dylan the way they fawn on him,”she muttered irritably as she pushed the button for another station. She let it scan through several songs before settling for an old Elvis ballad.   .

She smiled and sang along, “Wise men say...only fools rush in... but I can’t help falling in love with you....”

“I like your singing, Violet. It’s so pretty,” Richard whispered.

“ I always sang... for you,”she said now sounding wistful.

Instead of singing she should have been paying closer attention to the hilly, curvy road which unknown to her had patches of black ice. She happened to hit a particularly large one as she went around a curve, going faster than she should have.

 “Oh, no!” she shrieked, her heart thudding madly in her chest. She tried to correct the direction of the skid hoping to stay on her side of the road but the car had other ideas. It sailed across the double yellow lines slipping, sliding and thump! She plowed right  into a huge drift of snow. She put the car in reverse but it was going nowhere. That car was stuck but good.

“What the f—,”Richard mumbled.

“Don’t curse. You know I don’t like it,”she snapped pursing her lips in disapproval.

“And I don’t like you crashing the car!” he shouted. “You could’ve killed yourself! What if there had been a car coming in the other direction. Dammit, Violet! You would be dead right now just like me!”

Luckily she didn’t hear any of that. She pulled out her cell and called Freddy.

“Yello! Fred Norton,” he answered, cheery as ever.

“Freddy, I need your help,” Violet said in a relatively calm voice.

“Vi? What’s wrong? What happened?” Freddy answered talking fast and near panic.

“Nothing bad...not really. I’m stuck in a snow bank. Can you get me out?”

“Violet! What the f—,”

“Don’t curse! Just come get me out,” she whined. “Please?”

“Are you okay?”

“Course I am. I’m just stuck is all. Can you come? I’m right before Johnnycake Bridge.”

“Be right there. Good thing you caught me when you did. Was about to hit the highway and I can’t get cell service there, you know.”

“Nobody can,” she retorted.

Ten minutes later he shows up grumbling at her much like Richard had been doing ever since the accident.

Pacing like a prowling tiger and fuming mad Richard continued yelling at the top of his voice so no one could hear. “How many times have I told you to slow down on this curve especially in winter?” Richard yelled just as Freddy pushed the car out with Violet behind the wheel.

“Well, snows good that way, soft. No visible damage done but Vi you really should consider getting a new car. One with four wheel drive. This one’s racking up the miles, too,” Freddy told her frowning.

“My car’s fine. I just wasn’t paying attention,”she said coming out of the car and looking with Freddy for damage. Miraculously there was not a dent.

He glared at her. “Why not?”

“I... I ...” Knowing if she admitted to talking to her dead husband Freddy might give himself permission to have her committed she said, “I was just thinking.... of stuff.”

“Stuff? Like what to wear at your funeral? You could have gotten really hurt, you know,” he said just as a frightening thought got in his head. He looked around and saw Johnnycake bridge which went over Cramer Creek was mere feet away. She could have gone right through that miserable excuse for a railing and over right into the freezing water. The river might only be a few feet deep but the drop could’ve killed her.  He grabbed her by the shoulders and stared into her large hazel eyes.

“What are you doing, Freddy?” she shrieked looking at him as if he’d lost his mind.

“Vi, you weren’t trying to hurt yourself, were you?” he asked anxiously. “You weren’t trying to.....”

Her eyes flew open and her jaw dropped. She pushed him off and glared, indignant. “I would never do that! How dare you say that! After... after Mom and... I would never!”

“I’m sorry. I just.... Richard was my best friend, Vi. Don’t want to lose my sister, too. Okay?”  He hugging her tightly. “Please, be careful,” he said his voice gruff with emotion.

She allowed him this embrace until her anger slipped away.  “I will,” she said finally, pushing away.

“Come to dinner tonight, please? The kids miss you. Laurie could use your help,” he said in his usual coaxing way, even attempting a smile for her.

“Help? With what?”

 He grimaced but then laughed, “She surprised us this morning with your famous blueberry muffins.”

She made a face. “Oh, no. Burnt to a crisp?”

“No, in that respect they were perfect. She forgot the sugar.”

She gaped. “But it’s the first ingredient. How could she...?”

“And how does anyone but Laurie make baked ziti with taco sauce?”

Violet laughed. “True.”

“So, you’ll come?” he said hopefully.

Violet made to get back into her car opening the door. “No, I can’t, Freddy. I have loads to do and... stuff,” she said looking away from him and wishing she were a better liar.

“Stuff, huh? Don’t suppose you can tell me what this stuff is?” he said knowing evasion when he saw it.

“Errands and things,” she replied with a dismissive wave of her gloved hand. “You know, bank, post office, dollar store. Have to go into Meridale...”

“Did you hear? They’re putting in a dollar store by the supermarket,” Freddy interrupted her.

“They’ve been saying that for three years and it never comes to fruition,” she answered rolling her eyes to the brilliant blue sky.

“This time construction is scheduled and everything. I heard it from Wally himself.”

“Really? Well, that would be good. How long til...?”

“Never mind that. You’re not getting off the subject, kid.”

“What subject?”

“All these errands would take a couple of hours at best. Plenty of time for you to come over and...”

Richard stepped up then and whispered in her ear, “Tell him you’re meeting up with Jocelyn. You haven’t seen her in so long, you know.”

“I have to see Jocelyn, Freddy. Haven’t seen her in a long time,”Violet said this time with confidence. She actually could stop by and say hello so it wasn’t a lie.

“Now that’s a great idea. She could use your help, too,” Freddy remarked with a quick grin.

Violet blinked at him. “Jocelyn? What could she possibly need my help for?”

“She’s having a rough time right now. I don’t know what it’s about but she wasn’t herself last time I talked to her. She wouldn’t say though, not to me. Vi, she’s struggling. Trust me. She needs you,” Freddy said looking too serious for her to disbelieve.

“Oh, Freddy, what could it be?”she said now looking scared. What could possibly be wrong with Jocelyn? She’s the toughest person she’d ever known. Nothing ever got to her.

“See for yourself. I just passed the center. There was a line out the door.”

“But it’s a Saturday. What in the world...?”

He shrugged. “Maybe there’s a new baby boom going on in Catalpa Valley. She’ll tell you. You’re her best friend, aren’t you? I gotta get going, Vi. Please, come over soon. I miss my big sister. We all do,” he said kissing her cheek and closing her door for her. “Go slow,” was his parting admonition as she rolled away and down the road.

In her rearview mirror she saw him hop into his car and head in the opposite direction. She frowned thinking of Jocelyn. She couldn’t imagine what kind of trouble she would be in. Trouble knew better than to mess with that formidable ebony queen.

“Only one way to find out,” Richard reminded her.

“Hmm. I could always give Calendula a can of tuna tomorrow,” she mumbled.

“Yeah, Ginger-fluff will be real disappointed with that,” Richard said making Violet laugh again. Man-oh-man but it was good to hear her laugh again.

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