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The Pictures On The Mantle
Violet sat on the window seat, looking out at the falling snow. She watched the kids laugh as they built snowmen, sled down hills and hurl snowballs at one another. She had been like that once, careless and happy to have a day off from school, a day meant solely for playing.
Violet didn’t want to go. She closed the curtains and looked around the living room. Their old grandfather clock was rocking its pendulum back and forth, and their Persian cat, Mimi, was resting on the red, suede couch. Her chest was rising and falling with each rock of the pendulum.
It was too quiet. When it was too quiet, Violet thought too much. She thought about when she was little and spilled blue raspberry slushy on the cream carpet. She tried to spot the stain.
She thought about how she used to stare at the clock, moving her head at the same time it moved, humming that song they sang in music class- the one about the man with the clock that stopped working the minute he died.
She looked at the pictures on the mantle, those of a younger Violet, a sparkle in her eye. There was one where she had her arm around her brother, Dale, who had already left for college. Violet was eight in that picture, Dale was eleven. It was taken at the pumpkin farm.
There was one of just her, holding a red bucket and shovel, smiling at the camera from under her mother’s beach hat, much too big for little Violet’s head.
Violet got progressively older in the pictures, her and Dale on the day he graduated, her confirmation into the Catholic church, her winning the 200 meter dash in the track meet last year- the action shot, her black hair blowing in the wind, her chest puffed out, some random girl right on her tail.
She wondered who that girl was, and what she was doing right now. Violet smiled, that girl didn’t know she was on the mantle of another girl’s house, looking so unattractive with red cheeks and her mouth in a perfect O.
It was weird looking at pictures, thinking back to that time and what was happening. What you didn’t know would happen.
Like the picture of Violet and her father on their hiking trip when she was thirteen. She was little enough and he was strong enough to carry her on his back, a Spring water bottle dangling out of her hand, her eyes closed and her mouth smiling, her tongue hanging out. Her hair was long and sweaty on his shoulders. He was sticking his tongue out for the camera, his own silly expression on his face. He didn’t know then the next day he’d lose his job.
And then there was Dale and Violet the night of Violet’s first homecoming dance and Dale’s third. She was dressed in a lacy, pale blue dress. He was in a white shirt with a red tie, bending down to hug her, both of them beaming.
She didn’t know she’d had it in there then, though that’s when it probably started to form. Her eyes were bright and alive then, portraying anticipation and excitement.
She wasn’t fourteen anymore. She was seventeen, and it was back. This time, it was back to stay. There would be no chemo, no radiation. It was too late for anything.
The clock rang out, twelve times. Ding, ding, ding…her life was on the clock now. This December would be her last. This Christmas-if she got to Christmas-would be her last.
She opened the curtain again, pulling her black sweater over her wrists. Maybe this snow day would be her last. She didn’t know. She didn’t understand why God only gave her life for seventeen years and then decided to take it away.
She wasn’t going to tell anyone. Not the kids outside, the kids that loved her, the kids that hugged her legs when she came to babysit. She wasn’t going to tell their mothers, or her friends.
Her departure would be a surprise to all.