The town was full of people who liked to put on a show for others to come and watch, many said the great performers of time passed have all passed through this town at some point , and they all gave a little show here, back when it was only four streets and a tavern. Some say Rita Hayworth touched her first bourbon here, and others say they remember a bus once broke down here with a band of white men and a negro woman, who caused quiet the raucous at the tavern as their vehicle was tended to, the following day the tavern saw her in the papers, frontline at Carnegie Hall...Lady singing the blues. Many have tales as to why this unassuming little tow has such a proclivity for show choirs, pageantry and performances, but one thing they all appreciated was the united spirit of the township, so they all continued to perform everywhere they could. They was always a show to attend at this town, every weekend the locals put on a play or dance, sometimes professionals would pass through, sometimes even big time stars, the town was a lot bigger now of course but musicals and performance still abound.
One would’ve thought interest in the arts may have died down out of routine but something kept the townsfolk going back to watch their shows, whether a Friday production at the local theatre, a talent show at one of the educational institutes or a musical at the opera house, they was always a constant stream of people pacing the streets and alleys to attend, like ants dutifully serving the nest they always returned. These streams of people throughout the week were a regular sight throughout the neighbourhoods, the town never felt busy though oddly, and still retained its sleepy quiet qualities, nobody was sure why.
Viola enjoyed watching people pace back and forth outside from her kitchen window, she liked to imagine their lives and where each one was headed as she did the dishes and cleaned. She liked to imagine why a man smiled to himself from inside his car as he parked across the road, she often like to sit and watch her neighbours conduct their daily affairs from her capacious window which overlooked a large part of the cul-de sac .She imagine the houses here all had a sentience which humans couldn’t sense, and she imagined how they communicated with each other, these slumbering giants, sated and retiring in their mere existence, happy to provide shelter and warmth for their humans. Viola often found herself looking outside the window and letting her mind wander away a little longer than she should’ve, when the water would run for too long or run too hot and she’s almost burn herself, when the microwave would bleep its indignation at having it’s product unreleased for so long, Viola would still look, look and wander, too often the only thing that would snap her back into her own realm was the sound of heavy footsteps approaching.
The kitchen was a good size, lots of character with its yellow and cream walls, ornamentals, fridge magnets, wall flowers and even a cabinet with glasses arranged in style and quality. This was a kitchen that was attended to, a place that was loved, and Viola felt a little guilty today that she burnt the bottom of her father’s new frying pan, but she did feel proud that the scrambled egg she made tasted was delicious, especially as she only began to use the stove unsupervised a few months ago.
Today the sound of approaching footsteps once again reverberated through the house, and as they approached the kitchen, Viola found herself assessing the damage in front of her ; a pot full of pasta of which a considerable amount now lay plastered to the bottom of the pan, the sink was littered with the utensils she just used and the countertop was strewn with signs of Viola’s attempt to cook herself a meal. The footsteps reached the door and it was too late for Viola to do anything about the mess she just caused, the mess that was all her fault, all because she wasn’t good. The man she called father stood in the kitchen door and sighed, in dark green corduroys, a brown cardigan and a yellow shirt, his attire matched the rustic whimsical tone the kitchen’s decor emitted.
“What are you doing girl” he said, in a warm and welcoming tone he walked to Viola and smiled, his a face like her own he held his daughter’s shoulders as he looked around the kitchen, two pairs of deep brown eyes moved from the sink to the cooker and Viola coughed nervously as he wiped his hand over the countertop and inspected it.
“I was making pasta” Viola said to him...”I was making us food” ....
He turned to her and smiled, he was a fairly tall man and at twelve years old Viola reached his lower chest, she turned off the stove and lifted the pa into the sink.
“its alright girl, long as you didn’t hurt yourself” he patted her on her shoulder and beamed at her. Viola smiled back but felt her chest tighten and her stomach drop a little, he took several steps back and silently watched her try ad tidy up.
“Stop” he said, in a tone so neutral and controlled Viola thought she imagined it,
“get me a glass of water “
“put it on the table here”
Viola complied and placed a glass of water next to him on the table as he continued to stand, expressionless and stoic, Viola didn’t look him in the eyes. He stood in silence for a few seconds, Viola imagined her breathing to be amplified, as if the whole world could suddenly now hear her breaths and sense her increasing distress.
“look at me” the words slithered form his mouth and Viola lifted her head to look her father in the face, whilst maintaining eye contact he moved his hand towards the glass, but instead of picking it up to drink he pushed the drink off the table until it shattered to the floor in pieces.
Viola cried out in surprise and her father turned around and exited the kitchen without so much as a word, she began tidying up.
For as long as she could remember, Viola’s family composed of her and her father, the two of them in this quant, warm maisonette in this ostensible halcyon of a town, she didn’t remember a maternal figure , but clues and her own sensibility implied there must’ve once been a woman’s touch in this place. The antique cutlery set in one of the storage closets, the floral motif of some of the old bed sheets they had, the old vanity table in the spare room, the old eyeliner pencils she sometimes found in various places in the house, Viola knew that at some point a woman had loved this house, and most probably had loved her, but try as she may she couldn’t conjure up a memory of said woman, and as time passed she found herself less and less inclined to, her figurative mother had become an apparition, an eidolon.
People called her father Mr Mercy, when she accompanied him to the shows sometimes, her in her perfectly pressed dresses and shiny shoes and him in his evening suits, a lot of people would stop and greet him, it seemed to Viola that almost half the time went out of their way to greet her father. Mr Mercy always seemed to have people beaming at him every time they went out, but Viola often remarked how often it was just the two of them at home, she noticed her father spoke to just enough people to make him seem like a friendly man but never really had people round, she would never dream of asking him why he had no close friends though. Viola supposed she liked her life, her juvenile mind couldn’t really father a reality other than the one in which she inhabited, she sure enjoyed her day dreams but she knew they were just that, fantasies, she would never say she was unhappy. The Mercy’s were a pleasant due, this strong looking middle aged man and his wide eyed affable daughter, the neighbours could usually count on him walking her to school, sometimes she would walk alone though as the school was only three streets ahead, and besides everybody knew each other in this town, everybody felt safe.
Viola enjoyed it when people asked her how her father was, especially women, she felt proud that people seemed to really like her father, she wasn’t sure what he did exactly to make people like him but every time they would walk together in the shopping, mall, the cinema, the church functions, people would seem extra happy to get a smile or a pleasant little talk from Mr Mercy, it was something to be expected now. Viola liked when her past teacher Mrs Rosenthall kept asking her how her father was, she liked when on parents’ evening her eyes seem to flutter and her cheeks blushed as she explained Viola’s progress to him. She didn’t mind at all when Christine Aberswift from church kept inviting herself to their house and bringing baked goods and confectionary each visit, no Viola didn’t mind the attention at all. Women came and women went in this household, some stayed longer than others but Viola couldn’t really remember their names or faces after a while, she stopped getting attached to them a long time ago without even realising, so when one particular woman started staying longer than expected she didn’t see it as any cause for concern.
“Hey there Viola” Laila Chesterfield said to her one bright Sunday afternoon
“I got you these” , she produced four books from her bag and handed them to Laila, “I know you like reading” she told her, Viola thanked her for the gift and made sure she sounded as sincere as possible. Laila was congenial woman, a warm, personable quality to her and a face some would call classical beautiful, Viola could see her good intentions in her green eyes as she looked into them, this Sunday in particular Laila wore a red dress that highlighted the sanguine tones of her hair and skin, and as her father’s hands switched from holding Viola’s to eventually holding Laila’s she decided she didn’t mind at all- all this attention.
With Lailala around the house seemed so much cosier, she cooked when she came round, which was several times during the week, she brought Viola things, and soon the house and Viola’s closet was a cornucopia of gifts from Laila. Viola liked Laila, she told her stories about the town, stories from about her childhood and her friends, Viola listened to the stories Laila told her father when it was the three of them at the table eating, stories about the people at her office, he made her father laugh, Laila made Viola feel safe.
The weeks flew by until the season began to change and Laila was still making the household breathe easy with her radiant air and her riveting anecdotes, when people asked about her father now she often mentioned Laila as well to them, whether they asked about her or not. She spoke about Laila to Warren Clark, the son of the local greengrocers who Viola began talking to some time back at school; because of him she joined the school’s book club. She enjoyed spending time with Warren, he liked books like her, he didn’t have many friends either like her and from the first time they spoke it felt they had been friends since childhood, which wasn’t saying much since they were both twelve. They explored the parks and playgrounds together, they went to the library and each other’s houses and more than a few times they sneaked off to run around in the cinemas or theatre when by some stroke of serendipity they found both their parents’ wanted to attend the same event.
“Do you think swans really fall in love with each other?” Warren asked her one sunny afternoon after school, whilst they sat eating honeydew melons behind his father’s greengrocers.
“errmmm what do you mean” she replied
“I read it in science class today, about swans and things like that” , he described to her about how he read that swans stay with the same partner for life after courtship and mating, and that only when one dies that a swan finds another mate. “its like people getting married isn’t it Viola”
“Yes I guess it is Warren” , this comparison made her pause a little, she was still thinking about it when he said
“Kind of like your daddy isn’t it, he found somebody else after your mum...”, he stopped talking and looked at her apprehensively.
Laila looked at him and frowned, he never spoke about her apparent mother before nor had she wanted him to, she found it odd he was suddenly blabbering about her family.
“Well I’m just saying your dad is with that woman now and she isn’t your mum” , Viola felt a strong urge to shiver as she heard these words leave Warren’s mouth, she turned to him sand simply said
“Yeah they’re happy and yeah they’re in love, and it’s a good thing” . To show she didn’t want to continue the conversation anymore, Viola suddenly became enraptured in her melon and Warren looked at her a little, and then looked away.
One morning Laila found herself awoken in a startle and wasn’t sure why, she lay in bed trying to find her bearings and then she heard what must’ve woken her; screams and other loud noises coming from the kitchen downstairs. She heard the sound of a woman’s cries and heavy footsteps, she heard doors being slammed and an object thrown against a hard object and shattering. Viola jumped from her bed and fled the room; she reached the landing and screamed for her father, that’s when the noises stopped. She ran downstairs with her heart in her mouth and stopped at the kitchen entrance where she saw her father standing there in his night wear, and Laila in a white bathrobe, they both exchanged fleeting looks at her arrival to the scene. Laila was the first to embrace her, “Oh honey we woke you up” , Viola noticed Laila’s cheeks were clammy and hot, and her tone a little brittle. “It’s alright dear, your dad and I were just.....sorting something out”. She nodded to her Viola’s father and he grunted in agreement. “I heard noises, I was afraid” Viola told her, Laila hugged her tight and whispered that everything was fine and she needed to return to bed, on her way back to bed she noticed that the kettle was lying on the floor on the other side of the kitchen to where it originally should’ve been.
Laila and Viola found themselves talking about life one afternoon, her father wasn’t back home from work yet and her and she was helping Laila set up a new table in the living room, astonishingly enough for Viola she found them taking about Warren.
“Friends are good Viola, they keep you alive, I’m glad you have someone your age you can talk to, he’s a nice boy” , Laila had a way of calming one’s nerves with her syrupy saccharine voice, but Laila still felt a little uncomfortable. “As long as it’s just friend of course Viola...but of course it is at such a tender age as yours” Laila smiled at Viola “You’re a good child”.
“We speak about love sometimes” Viola said, she surprised herself as to why she felt the need to mention so; Laila stopped what she was doing and sighed deeply.
“oh Viola, what do you mean...love?”
“well we talk about what it might be like to be in love, it seems..Interesting” Viola’s sense seemed to have abandoned her at the moment and she stood in disbelief as her mouth kept going, “I believe love is a good thing you know, it looks like a lot of fun it-“
“Stop talking”, Laila took Viola’s hand and sat her on the sofa, her eyes were steely now and her line set in a harsh line as she looked Viola in the face and gave her these words.
“Listen to me very carefully Viola, I am only going to say this once, you are a little girl, you are twelve years old for goodness sakes, the type of love you speak of is not for you, it is for adults only and sometimes we don’t even want it , expel it from your conversations at once do you understand me? IT IS NOT FOR YOU”. Laila made sure Viola nodded her understanding, and paused for a moment before continuing. “There will come days when you can talk about things like this all you want, but believe you me love isn’t all its made out to me, sometimes it feels like a trap, it feels like your mind and heart are at war with each other constantly......sometimes it feels like you’ve signed yourself up for torture and you don’t really know why, it makes you want to give somebody your entire life and believe me Viola that can be very dangerous “. They sat in silence for a while after this mini soliloquy, Laila eventually smiled at Viola, hugged her and went to make them a snack.