“Well, this is the last of it. Got any hangers? I’ll help you put everything away.”
Violet stared at Victor as he dropped the last of the luggage onto the bed and opened the biggest one revealing her new dresses.
“I wasn’t kidding, Victor,” she said. “I don’t have room for all this.”
“Then we just need to cull the closet of stuff you no longer wear,” he said going toward the closet. “According to my mother, every woman has tons of clothes she no longer wears, so...she used to do it every year or so and gave loads of stuff to the Salvation Army or Good Will. Made her feel good.”
“I don’t want to get rid of anything,” she said, standing in front of the closet, arms outstretched, preventing him from getting anywhere near it.
He smiled. “Um…hiding a boyfriend in there, are you? I promise I won’t hurt him too much…just enough so he won’t try to take my girl again. Come on, let me in there.”
“I don’t need your help. I…I’ll hang the dresses up in …uh…Kenny’s old room. There’s nothing in his closet,” she said.
Victor stared at her curiously. “Let me see for myself.”
“No! I mean, I…” she said, not looking him in the eyes.
In fact, her eyes darted about the room as if in search of an excuse. Victor saw it clearly as the case.
“Surely, you have some clothes which you’ll never wear again, some perhaps outdated or they don’t fit you anymore.”
“I already gave all my old clothes to the church for their annual open closet…in July when you were away.”
“I see,” he said backing away from her. He grabbed a bag and smiled. “Lead the way, then. Don’t think I ever saw Kenny’s room.”
“Well, why would you? No reason for anyone to be in there,” she said, going down the hall to the door across the hall from Sophie’s room.
Victor placed the suitcase on the twin bed then said, “I’ll get the rest. Be right back.”
Once in Violet’s room again, he went straight to her closet and opened it. Indeed, he found it full, but not so full that space couldn’t be found for a few more dresses. One quick glance to the left side, however, explained why Violet didn't want him in here.
Richard’s clothes-- jeans and sweaters, sweat pants and sweatshirts, khakis and polos, and one lone, dark blue suit which didn’t look as if it had been touched years before the man actually died-- all still hung there, as if awaiting his return from a long vacation.
“What are you doing?” Violet shouted.
“You have plenty of room here for all your new clothes and a vast deal more if you got rid of these,” he said calmly, pointing to Richard’s side of the closet. “I dare say none of these fit you and not at all your style of dress. Don’t you think it about time to be rid of them?”
“No, I do not!” she snapped, shoving him out of the way and slamming the closet door shut. She leaned on the door, barring it again, chest heaving. “You can leave now and you can take all that stuff with you. I don't want any of it!”
“I’m going nowhere until you tell me why you’re still clinging to Richard’s things.”
“I’m not clinging!”
“Aren’t you?” he said going to the bed and sitting down. He patted the space beside him and said, “Come sit.”
“You know, I’m getting pretty tired of you ordering me around like a…like a puppy.”
He cocked his head to the side and smirked. “Would you be more willing to comply if I offered you a treat or a rub on the tummy?” he retorted.
“You think you're so funny. I told you to get out,” she angrily hissed.
“Not until you talk to me.”
“Are you actually refusing to leave my house when I asked you to?” she said.
“I suppose I am. Horrible of me, isn’t it?”
“I should say so. You leave me no choice but to call the sheriff,” she said, going to her night stand and grabbing the phone.
“I wouldn’t bother Alfred if I were you,” Victor said, going to the closet and opening it again. “For one thing, it’s Monday so he’s at his book club meeting which he looks forward to like nothing else in this world. You interrupt him during that and he’ll hate you forever. For another, it’s at the library and if his cell goes off there, it’ll really annoy Mrs. Wells. I don’t have to tell you how tough she is, especially on people who ruin her quiet with what she calls excessive technology. She may threaten to kick poor Alfred out of the book club for such an offense and then you really will be on his…shall we say, hit-list.”
She gaped at him and not because he was looking through Richard’s clothes as if he were shopping at the mall. “How the heck do you know…”
“I’ve been living here for more than a decade now, Violet. Don’t you think I got to know during that time a few of Catalpa Valley’s more colorful characters?”
She glowered at him. “Fine, if you’ve got the sheriff in your back pocket. I’ll call Freddy instead.”
“Hmm, you could, but he’ll be on my side,” he said, sliding the flannel shirts toward a few dress shirts. “I’m betting he’s told you to do this for months now, probably offered to help.”
“Don’t touch that!” she said, slamming down the phone and ripping the suit out of his hands. She hugged it to her chest, tears welling in her eyes.
“Just go dammit!”
“Honey, Richard’s gone and isn’t coming back. Clinging to his things isn’t going to bring him back.”
“And getting rid of them isn’t going to make me miss him any less!” she shouted.
He sighed and looked at the clothes again. He could tell which were Richard’s favorites to wear—a threadbare elbow here , a torn knee and a faded polo shirt there-- and which he didn’t like so much and perhaps hated and were barely worn, if at all.
“You’re right,” he said quietly.
“I said, you're right. Losing these things, giving them away never to see them again won’t do anything but empty the closet and make room for more stuff. I should know. I thought I’d feel better if I removed all evidence of my mother, her clothes, her shoes, purses, everything she loved,” he said thoughtfully. “But it didn’t help, not really. I still missed her terribly. All it did was… well at least some needy people got really nice things to wear which would otherwise go to waste in the attic. I’m sure each item here has a good memory for you.”
“Not so good,” she mumbled to herself.
Violet perched on the bed, sighed and looked at the suit in her hands. Victor sat beside her and waited. He didn’t have to wait long.
“Richard was so mad at me the last time he wore this,” she whispered.
“Why?” Victor asked. “Looks nice enough. Wedding or something?”
Violet shook her head. “Kenny’s graduation. I told him everyone else would be dressed up for their kid’s graduation from high school, so he couldn’t go looking like a bum. So, he wore it—grumbling all the way. When he saw that hardly anyone dressed up and that most of the parents were in jeans and some in shorts cuz it was really warm that year and they were holding it outside at the football field in the sun…well, I thought he’d kill me.”
"He hated wearing this, Victor. You have no idea."
"It’s just for a few hours,” Victor said. "Surely, he..."
"He hated wearing this, Victor. You have no idea."
"It’s just for a few hours,” Victor said. "Surely, he..."
She shook her head again. “He said, “I’m built for speed and comfort. I’m not here to impress anyone. If you want some fancy-pants, you married the wrong guy!” He hated dressing up.” She bit her lip and shut her eyes. “He was just like you.”
“What are you talking about? I wear a suit practically every day and I never complain about it. This is one of the rare days I’m not.”
She shook her head again. “I mean you both tell me to stop caring what others think.”
“Oh, that…well, brilliant minds think alike,” he said. “So, he hated this, you say?”
“Passionately,” she said. “I thought he’d divorce me over it.”
Victor scoffed. “Now you’re just being silly.”
“He swore he’d never wear it again, not even to Sophie’s…and he never did.” She bit her lip again, but this time couldn’t keep it from trembling.
Victor put his arm around her. “I’m sure he was there in spirit,” he said, though knowing full well how lame it sounded. “Safe to say this needs a new home.”
“You just said he hated the suit. Why would you want to keep anything he hated to wear?”
“Oh…uh…right…okay,” she said, allowing him to take the suit out of her hands. He then placed in on the bed, hoping to add to this pile of give-aways.
“Tell me about these,” he said going to the closet and pulling out a well-worn pair of jeans with holes everywhere.
Violet rolled her eyes. “I hate those. I've wanted to toss those out for years and he wouldn’t let me. I kept telling him one more run through the washing machine would do them in, but he didn’t care. He loved them,” she grumbled.
Victor laughed. “Well, a keeper if ever I saw one,” he said sticking them back in their place.
“No,” she said standing up and taking them back out. “Richard’s not here to stop me anymore, so now they’re outta here!”
“You sure? These are all the rage with teenagers.”
“I wouldn’t give them to a terrorist, or maybe I would and I’d stick a bomb in the only pocket without a hole.”
“You little rebel, you!” Victor laughed and shifted through some shirts. “Okay, how about…”
“Maybe…” she said then stopped and frowned.
“What?” he asked.
She went to stand in the closet running her hands over the clothes—lingering longer over some and passing others quickly.
“I think Joaquin might like some of these clothes. He’s very close to Richard’s size—thinner perhaps, but kids like their clothes to hang loose. Better than having them collect dust here, no good to anyone, huh?”
He caressed her cheek. “We can bring him over so he can pick what he likes,” he said. "The rest can go to the church."
“Will you help me take all these to Kenny’s room for now?”
“Your wish is my command,” he replied. He grabbed an armful of Richard’s clothes, smiled at her and left.
Once alone, Violet took a blue flannel shirt down and held it to her face. She recalled perfectly how blue Richard’s eyes appeared while wearing this shirt, how well it fit him and how good he looked in it. She even imagined she could still smell him. She took it off the hanger, folded it carefully and placed it lovingly into the bottom drawer of her dresser.
Victor returned and saw her kneeling there. “You okay?”
She nodded and followed him to the closet where he took more clothes and turned to go. Violet stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“What? Want me to leave these?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Just …you were right, Victor. Freddy and Joceyln and…others have been bugging me to do this since the day he died. They started right away though. Didn’t even wait for… for the idea to truly sink in…that he was gone for good and it really angered me.”
“Understandable. I’m sure they meant well, but they just don't get it,” he said.
She nodded again. “I’m sorry I jumped on you. I just…”
“No worries, Honey, really. I didn’t mean to push you if you’re not ready.”
“I just assumed I still wasn’t ready, but…Thank you, Victor. You made me realize I was…am finally…kind of…sort of… ready…I think,” she said giving him a grimace pretending to be a smile. “Eventually, I guess, I'll be entirely over it...maybe. Don’t give up on me, okay?”
He caressed her cheek again and kissed her lightly on the lips. “Never.”
She nodded and let him go. She stared at the near empty space in her closet and a stray tear slipped down her cheek. “Don’t be mad at me, Richard, please.”
“Never,” Richard replied, wrapping his arms about her.
Violet smiled and brushed the tear away.