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Every second of every day, Violet understood the world around her. Walking out of the weather-beaten home she shared with her sister, Violet accepted and sympathized with the neighbors. A family of eleven, the blue house next door had always looked dirty compared to the rest of the neighborhood. The Bellamy’s suffered, and Violet understood.
The path toward her car was lined with little flowers. Pink, gold and white buds shot up from the ground, overtaking the cobblestones ahead. With each step, Violet saw the flowers and appreciated them. They entered her life and meant something to her, which is more than most people could say. A beautiful spring morning surrounded Violet, a refreshing breeze shook the forest of trees behind her. The sound of the creek running through the backyards set the mood perfectly. It was not the ideal day to have to go into work, but duty called.
Reaching for the handle on the outside of the car door, Violet noticed one of the Bellamy’s children alone in their rarely-mowed lawn. The baby, Clara, was barely of walking age, yet she seemed to have been left on her own in the yard. A wasp buzzed around her head threateningly, challenging the fourteen-month-old. Clara, still in diapers, giggled at the insect circling her, following its flight with her eyes. The wasp flew in closer and Violet ran toward the baby.
“Clara! What are you doing here by yourself?” Violet called as she scooped the little girl into her arms. Clara smiled, seeing her sometimes-playmate coming to the rescue. The baby’s wet fingers dug into Violet’s face, probing and wiping as Clara tried to discover whether her freckles were real.
The greeting Violet received at the door wasn’t quite as friendly.
“Violet,” Mrs. Adele Bellamy breathed, a suspicious look sneaking on to her aging face. “Why are you strangling my child?”
Sighing, Violet handed Clara to her mother. She was used to this reaction by now. “Mrs. Bellamy, I found her alone again. Shouldn’t someone be watching her?” It was all too common for Violet to come upon one of the nine children in the yard, utterly unsupervised.
“Is it really your business how I raise my children, Violet? I am a good mother, a doting mother, and for a little girl like you to come to my door and accuse me of otherwise is completely inappropriate.” Mrs. Bellamy set Clara down behind her. A smell of cats issued from the house, and only increased when the old woman stepped outside to face her enemy.
Violet closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She struggled to understand why Mrs. Bellamy acted this way, but succeeded when she remembered the rumors. An assortment of dirty talk had followed the family for years and was only added to with the addition of each new child. No one in the tight-knit town seemed to have a thread of sympathy for the Bellamys, no one, that is, except Violet.
“Mrs. Bellamy,” she began again, choosing her words carefully in advance, “I did not come here to blame you for anything.” Violet’s dark hair framed her face in the sunlight, projecting a picture of innocence that should have swayed Mrs. Bellamy’s opinion. That trick, however, failed to do its job.
“There is nothing I hate more in this place than someone filled with fake sympathy toward us. We don’t need your pity, Violet, and we certainly don’t want it. Whatever you’ve heard, just go on believing it. You people don’t know anything, but you think you know everything.” One last scowl at Violet and Mrs. Bellamy snapped open her front door. “We’re fine, so just leave us be.”
And the door slammed shut.
Violet ran a slim hand over her face, pulling her bangs off her damp forehead. Mrs. Bellamy wasn’t easy to deal with, even on the days that her younger-than-five-year-olds weren’t left outside unattended.
Walking slowly toward her waiting car, Violet noticed a toy giraffe on the sidewalk in front of the Bellamy house. Standing upright, the small animal’s neck extended farther than seemed natural. Most of its brown printed spots were worn away from constant handling and excursions in kiddie pools. Violet had seen Thomas, the three-year-old, clutching the toy tightly for the past week. She couldn’t help but think that the giraffe was standing there for a reason. He looked as though he was watching over the ragged building, surveying the surroundings for danger. Violet didn’t touch the plastic animal. She left the giraffe where he could see whatever was going on, hoping naively that he might do some good.
The drive to work was anything but glamorous. Violet’s car was a real beater. The drivers’ side door refused to open, the back seat was virtually not there, and the hood was a different color than the rest of the body. On the highways, old men and their blonde trophy wives in convertibles gave Violet’s car looks of disdainful contempt. Her only form of transportation was a laughingstock to them, but Violet didn’t mind. She was proud of her car, appropriately christened Bertha due to its lackluster appearance. It had taken Violet months to save enough for that car, so the objections of others were brushed off as easily as were the cobwebs in the passengers’ seat.
Violet worked in a small store in the center of town. The shop sold stationary and didn’t get much business. Most people in the community had little need to write letters; they hardly traveled and entire extended families lived within only minutes of each other. Violet ran the cash registers and kept track of the shipments each week. It was a tedious job, and new supplies were rarely ordered very often. Violet put in eight hours a day at the stationary store instead of going to school, a sacrifice she and her sister made in order to support themselves. When her final shift ended, Violet thanked her replacement, an older woman named Edna, and left the shop for the day.
She reached her neighborhood in the late afternoon, just as the warm temperatures of the morning began to plummet for nightfall. Violet pulled into her driveway and noticed that her sister’s car was pulled into the garage. Delia usually picked up extra shifts before dinnertime and wasn’t around when Violet returned from work. Her arrival was a pleasant surprise; the sisters spent far too little time together, Violet thought.
The little giraffe in front of the Bellamy’s house wasn’t standing tall anymore. He lay on his side in the grass, almost as if he had been kicked carelessly to the side. The neglected lawn and overgrown weeds in the front yard covered the giraffe in shade, hiding his failure from the rest of the world. Violet was saddened by this sight, put him upright again, and went to find Delia.
She found her sister sitting on their living room couch, a garbage find that the girls had discovered one afternoon last summer as they drove through the more upscale neighborhoods in town. It was a delicate pink paisley pattern with clawed feet and a scalloped back. Violet loved their sofa. It reminded her of their parents.
“Hey Delia-girl,” Violet sang, sitting next to her sister on their beloved piece of furniture. “What are you doing home? Why aren’t you at the restaurant?”
Delia turned and stared directly into her sister’s eyes.
“I got a call,” she began, “from Mrs. Bellamy. Earlier this morning.”
Violet rolled her eyes. “Did she say I threatened her? That poor woman. You know she overreacts, Delia. I’m sorry about this, you should call work and see if you can still come in for a few more hours.”
Delia shook her head. “It’s not that, Vi. It’s Thomas. He wandered into the woods this morning. He was outside on his own and—well, I guess—he fell into the creek, Violet. Thomas— he drowned this morning. He’s dead.”
Her eyes began to flood and her voice cracked drastically. “Mrs. Bellamy, she was hysterical, she was calling to apologize to you—or something. But, Thomas died this morning, Violet, he—he died, my God…” Delia put her head in her hands and cried weeping tears for the loss of a three-year-old neighbor boy she had hardly known.
Violet’s emotions were in shock. She tried to understand Mrs. Bellamy’s stubbornness. She wanted more than anything to relate to the old woman and sympathize with her refusal to take Violet’s simple advice earlier that day. But she couldn’t. She felt only anger, and for once she could not understand. She could only see Mrs. Bellamy’s scowling face and realize that now the struggling family of eleven would never be the same. Violet sobbed, and hated the plastic giraffe for disappointing her today, the only day she wished it hadn’t.