Violet’s finger pinged off the alarm and flopped back on the pillow. She didn’t have to open her eyes; she was a snooze-button ninja. For ten minutes she floated in a narcotic state; half in, half out of sleep. When the chime sounded a second time, she knew she had to get up.
She threw back the curtains to be treated to a near perfect sunrise peeping over the trees. Three years she’d had this view and it still made her smile. To anyone else it was just a back garden. A strip of grass with a water feature and a deck. The difference was, it was her back garden.
Violet. She never liked the name, but didn’t have the nerve to do anything about it. She’d grown up in a family where little was expected of her, and in fairness, she did little to dissuade them from the idea. It was easy to hid in the shadow of her siblings’ ambitions, but she never counted on being there forever. Every day she bowed under the yoke of her name, the more imbedded in her skin it became.
The ghosts of her past made her shiver. She threw them off, along with her night-wear, and headed for the shower. She dressed quickly; added just a touch of makeup, then tied her hair in a ponytail. She looked at herself in the mirror and wondered for the millionth time – who is that girl? She could easily pass for nineteen, not her actual twenty-nine. Her eyes were a touch to big, making her look innocent or startled. Her face was slim; her cheeks held a thimble-full of shadow, without appearing gaunt. Nothing on her face stood out, making her…ok.
She flicked a stray hair out of her face and wondered what Jim saw in her? Ok, was never an adjective to be used on him. He was tall, towering a full foot over her. He could talk to anyone; and that smile? That man was a knee melter. But he wasn’t perfect. Oh no! He was a little full of himself; cock-sure her mother would say. He could act like a spoilt teenager when he didn’t get his way. Mind you, she didn’t mind letting others take the limelight, never had.
The only time she ever put her foot down was over this house. Jim had wanted to invest in a studio apartment in the city centre; all shiny surfaces and exposed brick, but it was as big as a shoe-box.
“It will double our money in no time,” he’d said. To her, and his, surprise, she flat out refused to consider it. If they were putting money into anything, it was going to be a house. She never let Jim in on her reasoning, but she refused to budge. Every time he tried to talk her around, she just looked at him with her eyes wide open, and her lips clamped shut. Eventually he gave in, and they started looking at three bed semis in the suburbs.
The driving force behind this defiance was simple. All her life she had to share a room. First with her older sister, then the younger. Even when she moved to the city she had to share. That claustrophobia was what pushed her into working two jobs, and Jim’s arms.
It was a seedy place, all dark corners and loud music, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. The owners were just about staying on the right side of the law by offering a never-used food menu on the alcohol-soaked counter. She knew they must have been paying off someone or else they’d never get away with running a nightclub on a restaurant licence. The very first night she bumped into Jim; literally.
She was rushing around a corner with a crate of Heineken when she crashed into him. It was like running into a wall. She bounced off him and landed on her ass while he seemed to barely feel the impact. He rushed forward and scooped her from the ground, his forehead lined by concern.
“I’m so sorry! Are you alright?” he asked, as he deposited her back on her feet. She was covered in dust and before she could say anything, he was swiping away the smudges. It was clear he wasn’t thinking about what he was doing, because the fingers sliding over her legs felt just like her mother’s. Then it clicked with him and his face went red. He jumped back a step, the hand he’d been using on her, held up in surrender.
“I wasn’t…” he said, and then his words faltered. Whether he was, or wasn’t, didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to make a fuss about it. Not on her first night.
“I know,” she said and smiled. She picked up the crate, checked she’d broken none of them, then said, “Got to go,” and scooted past. As she rounded the corner she glanced over her shoulder and saw he was staring after her, his hand still held up; which was sweet. Despite his black security jacket, she thought he looked like a college kid, only XXL size.
After that, he always seemed to be around, calling over for a chat, keeping an extra eye out when the punters worse for wear. Violet thought he was like that with everyone, she never for a minute thought he was interested in her, not her. Some of the other girls started teasing her about her, Bodyguard, but she only said, “Get away, would you,” and blushed intensely. When he did ask her out, he had to do it four times because she kept saying, “You’re messing,” and walking away.
They had a date, then another, and then they slept together. It was still dark when he left her that morning. She sat for ages in her bed with a growing sense of doom.
“He’s got what he wanted now. That’s the last I’ll see of him,” she said, burying her head under a pillow. She didn’t hear from him all day. Not even a text. The walk to the club that night was the longest she ever had to make, and her heart sank when she didn’t see him standing at the door. She’d been right, he’d legged it. She nearly turned around and went home but she needed the money.
Inside, the music was already deafening but the crowd was sparse. She searched for him, but he wasn’t there. Probably out with some other girl, or laughing about her with his mates. She took her coat off and handed it in at the cloakroom. The girl behind the counter smiled and gave her a naughty wink.
Jesus, she knows! Oh God, I’m such an idiot! she thought, and hurried away. Money or no money, she wasn’t sure she could bare the humiliation of the whole place laughing at her. She ducked under the bar hatch and was stopped dead in her tracks. Beside her till was a huge bouquet of flowers, and even from here she could see the lettering on the card. “Love Jim.” Her heart nearly burst.
That had been five years ago, and they were five good years. They’d had rough patches, every couple did, but Jim was always there for her, looking out for her, protecting her, loving her, and she felt so damn lucky.
The front door opened and she heard keys clatter into the bowl. She looked out and watched him lean against the wall as he kicked off his shoes. His shirt had two buttons open and his clip-on tie was hanging from the pocket of his jacket. “You’re late,” she said, and he looked up.
“Yea,” he said, tiredly. “Another lock in! I’m getting sick of it.” His shoes are off but his jacket is still on. He looks tired, but not the grey kind. There was colour in his cheeks to counter the bags under his eyes.
“Why didn’t you leave them at it and come home?”
“I couldn’t, could I? What if it kicked off? And it’s not like we don’t need the money,” he said, rubbing his hands through his hair as he passed her.
She felt the sting of that last comment. Jim always maintained the house was too expensive and that she spent too much doing it up. He might be right about that, but…she couldn’t explain what it meant to her, even though she had tried a few times.
“Why don’t I take on some shifts again,” she said, sipping her coffee and reaching out a hand to touch his shoulder.
“No,” he said, moving out of her reach as he took another step toward the stairs.
“Why, no? The bills are my responsibility as well.”
He stopped and turned toward her, his face stern and set. “I told you before, I’ll take care of it. You do enough already. People will say I’m sponging off yea if they see you working two jobs.”
“I don’t care what people say.”
“But I do. Look – I’m tired. I’m going to shower and sleep,” he said. The words were sharp enough to sting but not shock. She reverted back to a habit of a lifetime and clamped her mouth shut and looked at him with Bamby eyes. “Don’t do that,” he said, partly annoyed at himself, partly at her. She looked down into the mug and sipped again. His stocking feet thread softly up the stairs and after a few minutes the shower started. She sipped her cooling drink and stared into space.
She could go upstairs and look through his pockets but what was the point in that. She’d seen the smudge of foundation on his collar and a hint of Opium in the air that swirled around him. Always Opium. She hated that God-Damn perfume. Searching pockets would give her nothing because she already knew everything, everything except a name. In reality, she didn’t need another name to hate, her own was enough.
She never told anyone Jim was cheating because she knew what they would say. They’d make reassuring noises and say, stay strong. They'd ask aloud how Jim could do such a thing, while inside they would wonder why it took so long. Violet didn’t need to hear any of that, she didn’t need false reassurances or pity, because above all things she was a realist. She knew that Jim believed he was saving her from the heartache of watching him leave. Truth is, he’d been gone a long time, only his body stayed behind.
He might stay a month, he might stay a year, but he already has one foot out the door. And that was ok. The thing was, Jim never really understood her, neither did her mother, her father…the world. She might look innocent and crushable, she might be the picture of a shrinking violet, but she wasn’t. She was much tougher than that. They should have called her Edel, like the Edelwiss. That survived in the harshest environments, put up with being trampled and crushed, spent nine months droning in snow and still it bloomed. That was the flower for her.
She flipped off the light switch, stroking the wall lovingly before leaving for another day at the grindstone.