Meanwhile back to Violet:
“Now, where were we? Ah yes, how we came to know dear Richie,” Mrs. Beckel said. “He was practically our son...really he was, even if he did have his own parents. Of course, they did pass, God rest their souls, all too young and rather tragically, too...poor dears. We, in a way, took their place. He used to come by nearly every day just to say hello and ask if we needed anything done around the house. He liked to help my Henry with the yard work. He learned quite a bit from Henry. Oh, that started about... Richie was, oh, I'd say six or seven years old.”
“Really? He never told me,” Violet said, glancing for the third time at her watch. It was getting late, but she didn't see any polite way of getting out of this quaint little cottage. Mrs. Beckel—bless her heart-- was quite the talker and it didn't help that she was deaf as a doorknob. She seemed to be trying to get her life story out before it ran out-- a sure sign of the isolation often seen with senior citizens.
“Can't be too isolated. She still has her husband,” Violet muttered under her breath. By this time she knew the old woman wouldn't hear her unless she actually shouted, so she was in no fear of being heard. Violet suddenly frowned and looked around her as Mrs. Beckel continued with her monologue. Where was Mr. Beckel anyway? Didn't he know they had company?
“Dear Richie was such a little scamp. He broke our big picture window, don't you know? That one right there. Oh, not on purpose, mind you. He was playing stick ball with his little friends and... well, he came right to the door and told us it was he who did it. You know, back in the day, when a child did wrong, even if it was an accident, it was the child's responsibility to pay restitution,” Mrs. Beckel said earnestly. “Not like nowadays when the parents just hand out the cash and the child learns nothing about personal responsibility nor the value of money and hard work. Oh, no! Richie came nearly every day to pay for a replacement window with blood, sweat and tears...well, not so much tears. He was such a sweet boy. He never complained, not at all! As a matter of fact, he was a pure delight to have around. How he made us laugh!”
Violet smiled. “He had that effect on people,” she said forgetting she couldn't be heard. “When was the last time you saw him?”
“Richie always cut the lawn exactly as Henry liked it done and the shrubs and hedges...straight as an arrow!” Mrs. Beckel said fondly, shaking her head at the memories. “My gardens were picture perfect because of that boy, and without him...well, they certainly are not. I'll always be grateful to that darling boy for that. He actually knew a dandelion from a black-eyed Susan, don't you know?”
This was news to Violet. She always spotted Richard trying to yank out her coreopsis insisting it looked like a weed. The nerve! Violet took a deep breath and repeated her question in increasing volume until she at long last shouted loud enough to get a reaction from the woman.
“How's that?” Mrs. Beckel asked, leaning forward and cupping her ear. “Last time? Oh, Richie helped Henry with the roof...or I should say, he did the roof for him. Rich needed the money and Henry...well, he wasn't up to doing much of that anymore... poor dear.”
Needed the money? What for? Violet didn't know they had been in need of an extra bit of income, but then she saw tears well in the old lady's eyes and such thoughts flew from her head. Instinctively she took the woman's frail hand and gave it a tiny squeeze. “Mrs. Beckel!” Violet nearly screamed. “Where is Mr. Beckel now?”
The quavering smile told her before the words were spoken.
“My Henry left me ...to meet his maker...exactly two months ago today,” she said with a gentle sigh.
“Oh, Mrs. Beckel, I'm so sorry. I had no idea,” Violet said.
“It's all right. I'll be seeing him soon, don't you know? I mustn't fret so. It's for the best. I just wish I could make sure someone nice would take my cottage. I'd hate for it to be... oh ...torn down and the gardens trampled to make room for a mini-mansion. It would break my heart even worse than it already is. The cottage may be small, but it is sound, well built, and has character, don't you think so? And my gardens... they are full to bursting with many unique and costly plants, don't you know? Some specimens are quite rare.”
Violet nodded, her own throat too tight for speech. She knew all too well the feeling of losing your true love, your soul mate and now also your precious home and garden.
Mrs. Beckel stared at Violet. “You wouldn't by chance want or need a new home, would you, Dear?”
Violet licked her dry lips trying not to think of the lovely house and garden of her own—a garden perhaps not full of rare and expensive plants, but pretty just the same, and more importantly, all her own. But she had decided it was best to give the house to her son who now needed it for his growing family. She sighed and forced herself to nod even though her heart felt like it was being ripped out of her.
“I did see the For Sale sign outside,” Violet said in a hoarse voice which the old lady would never have heard.
“It's not like you'll never see the old farmhouse again,” Richard whispered to her. “Kenny and Janice will have you to the house every week for Sunday dinner. You'll have a new and wonderful tradition that you'll all love, especially after the baby is born.”
Violet nodded again. “I...I might be interested... if I can afford it. How much do you want for this cottage?” she asked in a raised voice.
“Oh...no, I don't want any money. Money is of no use to me where I'm going, don't you know,” Mrs. Beckel said patting Violet's hand then she leaned over and reached toward the worn, scratched and pitted surface of the coffee table, knocking over a small, empty pill bottle. She then picked up a large age-tinted envelop stuffed with papers which had printed in bold strokes in black marker DEED.
“You are exactly what I prayed for, my dear. Richie told me everything about you, how loving and kind you are and he wasn't exaggerating as I can see for myself. He also told me how much you love flowers and plants of all kinds. I couldn't dream of a better person to inherit my beloved garden.”
Violet was afraid to touch the envelop. She shook her head. “I couldn't. You can't just give away a house. That's crazy!”
Mrs. Beckel laughed. “Perhaps it is, but we mustn't question God's ways,” she said, placing the deed in Violet's hand. “It's yours, my Dear.”
“No, I can't. Surely, you have someone special...a son or daughter.... family...a close friend?” Violet said.
Mrs. Beckel smiled sadly, shaking her head. “We were not blessed with children, but it never bothered us much. Henry and I were a...sort of a self contained world onto ourselves. We needed nobody else....just each other.” She got a faraway look in her eyes and smiled. “Actually, didn't I just say that Richie was practically our son? Well, then, that would make you...yes, that would make you our would-be daughter-in-law. How lovely! You are officially my next of kin.”
Violet stared in wide-eyed wonder. Was this woman batty or had Violet fallen into an alternate universe?
Before she could respond any way, the old woman stood up and went to a book shelf next to which were several boxes already filled with books. She took what looked like a photo album down and returned to sit beside Violet, the sagging couch dipping a bit more with the added weight.
“Now, I'm sure I have plenty of pictures here of Henry with Richie...yes, right here,” Mrs. Beckel said, pointing a crooked finger, tapping it on the yellowed plastic covering.
Mesmerized, Violet stared at the photos, none of which she'd ever seen previously. They were of Richard as a little kid, no more than six or seven, his hair a mess, torn knee in his jeans and a front tooth missing, pushing a lawn mower, pulling weeds, digging up a patch of earth for a vegetable garden and eating cookies and lemonade with Mr. Beckel. As the photos progressed, so did Richard in age and also the projects they worked on. In the photos, simple garden tasks were replaced with projects using some of Richard's favorite power tools like the hydraulic hammer to enclose a carport with sheets of plywood, the massive chain saw he loved for felling dead trees, fixing a roof using that fancy ladder which shifts and clicks into several different positions, and rolling under a jacked-up car using a padded dolly.
Mrs. Beckel kept a constant narrative as Violet slowly turned the pages, drinking in the image of Richard at a time when she had barely known him.
“You knew me,” Richard whispered to her. “You were in kindergarten when we first met, remember?”
“Not really,” she mumbled. “You were Freddy's friend, not mine. I didn't really get to know you until...you know.”
“Never mind that now,” Richard said. “Ask her about the other books. Ask her where she's going. Look around, Violet. There's a reason you're here...an important one.”
What possible reason could there be? And an important one? What??? The For Sale sign on the Cottage was the only thing that interested her at the time, plus the curious lack of Christmas decorations, and didn't the old lady just give the cottage away to her? What more could there be to this?
Mrs. Beckle was now paging through another photo album, humming to herself. “Well, there are other photos of Richie I'm sure, but you'll have to look through all of these at your leisure to find them. I'll leave them on the shelf with my garden journals which may come in handy for you since you have to take care of the plants yourself.”
“And the books in boxes? Those are going with you, right?” Violet asked.
“No, Dear. Most are going to the local library for their weekly book sale and the rest of my things are going to Good Will and the Salvation Army. They will be coming with a truck after Christmas day,” she said, closing over the book on her lap and handing it to Violet.
“Now, I think it is time you left for home. You can take possession of the cottage day after tomorrow.”
“No, you can't go yet!” Richard said. “Violet, this woman needs you to stay with her. Keep her talking.”
“Mrs. Beckle, why don't you take these with you? There are photos of you and Henry here, plus all your wonderful flowers. You surely have room at least for photos and personal things at...uh...will you be staying at Brookwood nursing home just outside of town, but I don't see why you would need to go there. You look perfectly healthy. Or are you going to Wyleland assisted living? I hear it's really nice there,” Violet said. “Much better for the active older person, like you obviously are.”
“No, I won't be going there,” she replied staring at Violet with an unreadable expression. “It was so nice of you to stop by. You've given me peace of mind which I didn't think I would get before leaving this world. I thank you most sincerely for that.”
“What do you mean... before you leave this world?” Violet asked, trepidation crawling up her spine.
“Look at the coffee table, just behind the potted plant. You must see it!” Richard yelled.
That was when Violet spotted it...rather odd and chilling that she missed it up until now. She had seen the empty prescription bottle--on which she could just make out the name Henry Beckel and Morphine sulfate-- but she had not seen the dozen or so pills heaped into a pile.
Violet stared at this a moment, realization striking her with the force of a lightning bolt. She then raised her eyes to Mrs. Beckel's and she knew she had to stay.
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