Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Violet In A Red Kimono"

The print above is "June Roses 11" by Dahhui Nai.
I wrote this story ages ago; you could say it was inspired by the old lady I mentioned in my last posting. I met her as I sat with my husband beside the harbour in St Ives, Cornwall. She was very beautiful and she wore her wedding dress.

The lady in my story is also elderly, also a beauty. However, SHE wore a red kimono instead of a wedding dress and her name was Violet. But both women had magic about them...
The story is called ( you guessed) :" Violet in a red kimono"

" I was born peculiar; my mother said so. Apart from my inverted nipples, I am nothing like her. She wanted a beauty; she got me, with my widow’s peak. She wanted an academic, but I think you have the picture.
When I was ten, my mother told her friend Betty Liversage that I was so peculiar that I couldn’t cry.
“Oh yes!” confided my mother who was sticking corn plasters on her rather large toes at the time, “She can shout herself hoarse once in a while, but she never sheds a single tear! Hasn’t since she was thirteen months old. And that was the day her dad left...”
Betty Liversage, invited for tea and still wearing her hat, crumbled a buttery scone in her fingers and cooed like a nervous pigeon.
“Such a strange little creature!” she fluttered, “But June, she has wonderfully pretty feet!”
Mortified, my mother stuffed the corn plasters under the tablecloth and wielding the teapot, poured scorn from its curly brown spout.

As usual, I hid under the table, listening to grownup talk beneath the tablecloth, sucking Maltesers extremely slowly. Today I imagined I was imprisoned in the Trojan horse. Soon I’d emerge like a Grecian soldier and cause havoc in the living room. Of course I wouldn’t really, because I never did anything outrageous. And anyhow, it was more interesting eavesdropping.

I wasn’t entirely sure how my mother really felt about my tearless childhood. But I knew my feelings! How I envied girls who bawled in the playground, tears spurting in all directions, their loyal friends hugging them, passing clean hankies to blot tears, take home, keep. And then there were the boys who, kicked balls and fought, who stopped in their tracks and gawped…
MY tears were silent ones. They prickled behind my eyes, they trickled inwards, little icicles dropping down towards my heart. Something inside me was always determined to keep the tears. I really had no choice in the matter.
But when I grew up, I met Violet Axworthy.

I met Violet on a bench by the sea; I was half asleep, I was miserable.
In the space of six months, tearless ones of course, I had given birth, moved to Cornwall, quarrelled with my husband and become a deserted wife. And to crown all those disasters, my hair (my crowning, one and only glory) was falling out..

But then I met Violet. She was at least seventy, possibly approaching eighty, but I had never seen such style. She wore a crimson red kimono and her silver hair was piled up on her head. She sat, erect, smiling at the sea, a tiny beaded bag clutched in long bony fingers.
I saw bare feet, nut-brown toes, and a swirl of silk. I saw hoop earrings, catching the sunlight. Violet had high cheekbones, and when she turned to speak, I saw her eyes were clear as glass. And her voice was firm, her words startling.
“You’ll see mermaids dancing if you look closely at the sea” She said “ And at night, sometimes in the darkness, you can hear them singing love songs.”
Violet smiled, turned away, watched the sea. And I was enchanted. Lately, huddled in my misery, I had felt like the child under the table again, listening to the boring talk of adults from a Trojan horse. But this adult spoke of magic.
Betty Liversage (sipping tea with my mother and still in her hat) would have blinked in astonishment.

And so, all afternoon we talked by the sea, as strangers sometimes do.
And how I babbled. I babbled about my hair, about my husband Jack, about my baby, and my marriage.
I told Violet how after Alice was born, I found gold threads of my hair embroidered on the carpet. I told her how whorls of it clung to my fingers, made swirly patterns in the washbasin. I told her how, as my hair fell out, Alice’s soft baby hair grew, delighting her father, enthralling my mother. Then my hair grew back, pale and coarse, as though Alice, my wonderful baby, had plundered my goldness for herself. I was devastated, yet still I never cried.
“And in the end”, I whispered, “Jack left”.
Violet sat, peaceful, listening.
“He didn’t want a screaming bald harpy, he wanted a loving wife who could cry, then come to her senses! When I met Jack, I could take on the world. Suddenly I was lucky if I got to the shops to buy sausages...”
Violet passed me a photograph from her beaded bag.
“Look, this my daughter. You have a look of her; a lovely face, pretty eyes. You should be proud; be like the mermaids, enjoy yourself. Meet Jack again in moonshine, sing yourselves some love songs”.
She chuckled, pulled the red kimono around her.
“Come and have tea tomorrow. Bring Alice. I live in the white cottage on the hill. We can chat about mermaids.”

Jack rang later, wanting to see Alice. I told him about Violet. He said he could tell I was smiling, said he was glad. He laughed, said maybe it wasn’t too late for us to sing lovesongs after all. He was glad I seemed happier. He even said he’d like to meet me in moonshine, if I was smiling, because he hadn’t seen me smiling for a long time.
I put down the phone. Tears prickled behind my eyes. And little icicles dripped into my heart because Jack had said he liked me smiling and Jack had said he liked moonshine. I slept very well.

Violet’s cottage was plain, sparsely furnished; I called next day and her door was open. There were pinecones and shells on the windowsill and flecks of dust fluttered in streaks of sunlight. There was a jug of cream roses on the mantlepiece. And I was a spider caught in a web.
On a table were photographs, cracked and faded; there was a soldier in uniform, plump babies, a lovely woman in a cloche hat. I called up the stairs. A radio played, so I went up.

Violet’s red kimono was tossed over a chair, loose, swirling, its redness a contrast to the pale simplicity of the room. Then I saw her. Beside her bed were more cream roses. Some petals were clutched in her hand.

I cried. And I wiped my tears with the red kimono and watched them spread over it like wine stains. I stood by the window and saw darkness settle over the sea and when I remembered the mermaids, Violet's mermaids, I cried again. I really cried.

My mother would be so proud of me.
And so for certain, would Jack."


Blogger Anne S said...

What a wonderful story, I am quite moved by it. It reminded me a bit of some of Jane Gardam's stories. It has that same whimsicality and quirkiness that permeates her novels.

10:53 am  
Blogger Catherine said...

Your story is beautifully written, and I also enjoyed the post below on wedding dresses (I still have mine tucked away somewhere, but there's no way I'd still fit into it!)

8:13 pm  
Blogger Minx said...

This is so cool. St Ives has a population sprinkled with Violets.
If you are down this way again, give me shout!

10:16 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

That's a great short story. you should submit it!

I love the thread of the hair woven through it. I can identify with how important it is to a her.

10:45 am  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

My 2 cents:

Somehow, Jan, that baby must get in the richness and profusion of the story! I keep wondering what the narrator is doing with the baby. It reminds me that I took a baby to my grandmother's funeral, and it felt so exactly right that he should be there--it deepened everything, without anybody saying a word.

4:51 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Anne S:
Some compliment, Anne. Thankyou. I am glad you enjoyed it.

I have my " going-away" dress still in the wardrobe, even though my actual wedding dress, as I've said, is long gone. I am vaguely (?!) the same weight, I suppose, but everything's in different places!!

For 10 yrs, we visited St Ives 3 X yearly.
I spent holidays there as a teenager with my family and friends in a house overlooking Porthmeor Beach. It was called Santa Lucia.
I like St Ives best of all "out of season"...winter , early summer. One year, we had a great few days at the September Festival. Saw Helen Dunmore, which was great as I love her " Zennor in darkness" and also the village itself ( not forgetting the " Tinners Arms" )
Had a wonderful New Years Eve in St Ives 3 or 4 yrs ago...watching the entire population in fancy dress. I'll never forget a guy dressed as The Queen Mother, in pink " duster" coat, flowery hat, corgi ( live one ) on a lead. He minced down Fore St at 2oclock in the morning and looked totally at home..
Fascinated by all the Violets..

It must have been hard for you. I hope you are very well now

You have eyes like a hawk which is great and very helpful. You are absolutely right. Thankyou!
And yes, I understand completely about taking the babe to a funeral. There were 2 at a friend's mother's;it was lovely watching them...although they were too little to comprehend, they took everything in..and the rest of the family must have been soothed,appreciated them being there.

5:34 pm  
Blogger Carole said...

This is a beautiful piece of writing. I love the juxtaposition of humour and pathos.

4:08 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Good to see you here, Carole.
I think life often turns into a jazzy mix of humour and pathos. All the more fascinating, I suppose..

10:13 am  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

I have come back to read the story again as i felt the first time I read it I rushed it. This time I've got the time to savour what it tells me about acceptance and letting go - of grief and the gift some people have to release and heal another's grief. I love the characters of the mother and her friend contrasted with the woman in the red kimono. The ending is both sad and a release. Delightful.

1:08 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

CB: I wrote this story a while ago so it's good to discover it again and know it's been enjoyed.
It was broadcast on BBC local radio ( Merseyside)
It seemed particularly relevant to the previous posting re K's wedding dress.

7:36 am  

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