Forty minutes. That’s how long that ego lasted. Forty minutes, not a second longer, and Violet the bullet dodger was gone.
So was my back door. GONE.
No wait, not gone. My back door was obliterated. While I was at school happily avoiding my education back home something violent was happening to my door. Nothing was left but a carpet of glass. I stood on it dumb while my confidence dried up faster than you can say ‘hey fat head, reality check’.
Margaret. Where was Margaret?
I called her name. I called it twice, my eyes blinded by the hole in our wall, before my brain let me see her. I’d been looking straight at her. There, a few yards in front of me, face down in the middle of our yard was my step-mother.
“Margaret?” I called again, not connecting the dots right away. It was like Margaret had decided to take a nap in the middle of the day in the middle of our lawn. But this was my Margaret, the most predictable person on the planet. Nothing surprising ever happens with her.
My mental gears started to move. This wasn’t normal, not for my mother. I leapt forward crushing glass into our carpet as I did and not pausing until I was at the door. There I knocked glass daggers out of my way, calling to her one more time.
“Margaret I’m here!” This time Margaret moved.
“Vi…” she pushed herself up, her loose hair shielding her face. “Vi wait…stay there…”
“I’m coming!” I twisted my body through the slider frame just as Margaret brushed her hair away. Her face was covered in blood.
I ran full bore to her side. “Margaret! Are you OK?”
Margaret just looked at me, nose blue, blood dripping from her chin. She didn’t say a word.
“Margaret, are you OK? Margaret? Say something. Can you hear me?!”
Through the rust colored fluid I saw Margaret frown.
“Oh Violet.” She sighed.
“What? What is it? What should I do?” I pleaded.
“Oh Violet.” She said again. “That blouse was very expensive.”
Margaret pointed. My sleeve was torn open and I was bleeding. There was a thin straight line carved across my upper arm. My wound was nothing compared to Margaret’s but still I was bleeding.
“You need to put a bandage on that.” Margaret blubbered, spitting blood as she did. “And use antiseptic. I mean it.”
“The shirt is ruined though. I wish you’d be more careful. That cut could have been much worse.” She went on and it was all I could do not slam her face right back into the dirt.
Margaret always did this. Her problems didn’t exist but the smallest hiccup for me was the end of the world. If we both fell overboard at sea Margaret would drown directing my rescue before letting anyone help her. It was infuriating.
“You want to talk ruined?” I barked, ready to start a fight. “Look in a mirror!” Margaret didn’t react. She pinched the bridge of her nose with one hand and wiped away blood with the other, ignoring me. Then, without asking for help, she lifted herself off the ground and dusted grass clippings from her shirt.
She looked awful and right then I remembered I didn’t rush out to argue.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“I need you to use your brain.”
“Violet what I need is a towel,” she said, “from inside the house,” the sarcasm grew, “the place I told you not to leave…” she shook her head. “Look at your arm!”
Blood flowed down to my elbow and into a tangle of fabric that was beginning to pink. I couldn’t help but marvel at what a clean and painless cut glass makes.
“I was trying to help.”
She dismissed me with a bloody wave.
“I really was.”
Margaret smiled but with the blood and the bruises growing across her cheeks the sentiment was lost.
“It would be great if you’d get me towel.” She sighed. “But this time, I’ll follow you inside. OK?”
Most of the time with Margaret instead of arguing it’s more productive to silently curse. So I walked back to the house for bandages while mentally cataloging all the things wrong with my step-mother.
I grabbed a stack of towels from the drawer and set a clean bowl in the sink. As it filled with cool water I remembered the antiseptic.
“Hey is the med kit in the closet…?” Margaret didn’t answer, she was still outside. In fact she was standing in the same spot I’d left her pecking away at her phone with her one clean hand. So much for rapid first aid. Good thing I rushed out to help.
“Don’t forget you’re bleeding!” I called. Margaret didn’t budge, not hearing or ignoring me again. Either way it was irritating.
“Towels are here when you’re done!” I yelled. “I’m gonna get bandages!” Margaret looked up. I waved.
“Violet wait!” she called. “Wait for me!”
“Already going!” I yelled back. I could get a first aid kit without supervision. But Margaret continued to call after me. All the way to the front room closet as I grabbed the kit from the shelf, I listened to her telling me to stop.
I was just about to yell back when out the window I saw a box van pull up and park in front of our house. A man in brown jumped out. Next thing he was running to our door like his life depended on it. I’d never seen a delivery guy look so serious so I raced him to the door and pulled it open before he could ring.
“Hello. Have something for us?” I asked.
He froze, hand stuck in mid un-zip of his jacket. I must have scared the crap out of him but his expression was stone.
“Violet!” I spun around. Suddenly Margaret was behind me with a towel pressed to her face. “I thought you were going to help me?”
“I am. I’m picking up the mail.” I told her and turned back but the delivery guy was running the other direction. I called out. He didn’t look back and in a second was in his van again starting the engine.
I moved forward. Margaret yanked me back, clamping a bloody paw on my shoulder and leaving my “very expensive blouse” with a very dark stain.
“Well the shirt is sure ruined now.” I growled. Looking a bit shocked at my bold mouthiness Margaret lifted her hand. I ran out after the driver before she knew what hit her.
“Wait! It’s OK! It was just a little accident. We’re cool here!” I shouted but he shifted into gear anyway and, with the door still slid open, tore away from the curb. Air whipped through the cab puffing his half zipped jacket up like a balloon. It slipped off his shoulder and stopped me in my tracks.
The delivery guy was armed. Discreetly holstered under his elbow was a pistol bigger than both my hands.
The driver jerked the wheel right. He wasn’t finished fleeing yet. The van swerved, balancing on two wheels and took the turn. Then it was gone.
“A little help here?” Margaret called. There was something about her voice. Frustration? Nervousness? I said nothing and walked back. Didn’t she see the gun?
“You’re home early.” At the door she waved me in. “Everything alright?”
“Class was canceled.” I replied as she closed the door behind me. “Why did you stop me? He might have had a box for you.”
“I’m not expecting anything.”
“So he left. Clearly he had the wrong house. These guys don’t ever stay when they have the right house. It is drop and dash.” I thought it over.
“Didn’t you see the gun? That guy had a gun, a really big gun. Since when do delivery guys pack?”
“What? He did not.” Margaret rolled her eyes. “You’re imagining things.”
“Am not!” I whined, but part of me wondered if she was right.
“This is weird.”
“It is not.” Margaret stated. “Come. Help me out.” She carried her pile of rags to the hall bath. I followed her
“What do you need?” I asked as she carefully pulled a towel away from her nose. The bleeding had stopped. She tossed the bloody rag in the sink.
“You could put that in the laundry.” She pointed. “Extra bleach.”
“Nice.” I looked at the towel. “But I was talking about you. How are you?”
“I’m fine.” Margaret stood in front of the mirror inspecting the damage.
“Here. To you, to the door…What happed?”
“Oh,” she said. “There was a rat.”
“A rat? A rat broke our door?”
“There was a rat in the house.” She corrected. “I wanted it to leave, it had other plans. There was a small battle for territory. I won.”
Of course she did.
“Who smashed the glass?”
“I did.” She frowned. “With the broom. I told you there was a battle. Wonder what insurance will think.”
“What about your face?” I asked wondering what I thought. A rat? Margaret didn’t scare easily.
My step mother paused. She looked at me through the mirror holding my gaze. For a moment her face was a blank. Then she smiled and washed blood from her hands.
“Once I chased the dirty thing out I tripped.” She replied. Then Margaret made a noise.
A sigh? Or the jagged breath of someone recovering from a scare. Was I imagining that too?
“I fell, that’s all. Onto my nose it would seem. It looks worse than it is.”
“Are you sure everything’s OK?” I asked.
“Vi go.” She said, closing her eyes and shaking her head. When she opened them again she didn’t look at me. “I’m fine and you have homework.”
“I just want to make sure you’re OK.” I repeated.
“I told you I am.” She was getting angry.
“Fine.” I responded in kind and turned.
“Vi,” Margaret stopped me. “Take care of that cut on your arm, OK? It doesn’t look good. Antiseptic and cover it with a clean bandage.” I turned back, shifting a gaze from my minor cut to Margaret’s purple nose. Her face was still splotchy with blood.
“You missed a spot.” I said flatly.
“Oh?” She replied but I walked away leaving Margaret behind me rubbing her face with probably more vigor than was necessary.
That evening I couldn’t find my hairbrush.
It was such a small thing.
“Are you sure?” Margaret asked. “You’ve looked everywhere?”
“No, but I’m sure. Why would my hairbrush be anywhere other than where I left it?”
“Maybe you took it to school.”
“I didn’t take it to school.”
“Is anything else missing?”
It was that question that betrayed her. Margaret was worried. It was all over her words.
“Wrong? Nothing. What are you talking about?” She waved me off like I was a talking crazy and pissed me off for the tenth time that day.
“What happened today?” I demanded. “Really.”
“I told you.” She sounded like she meant it but she also turned away. She wouldn’t face me.
“Oh, you know what?” She turned back, a bright gleam in her eyes. “I think I remember seeing your hairbrush now. The purple one right?” I nodded. “Darn it. I thought it looked familiar. I’m sorry sweetheart, I threw it out.”
“You threw it out?”
She nodded once, firmly. “It was an accident.”
“You accidently threw out my hairbrush?”
“Relax. I’ll pick you up a new one tomorrow. Tonight you can use mine. Look it’s eight already. Are you watching with me or shall I record it?”
“Record it. I have an essay to write.” I answered before realizing how effortlessly she’d changed the subject on me. “I don’t understand. How could you accidently…”
“Jeez Vi. I said I was sorry and I’ll replace it. It’s not the end of the word.”
“I didn’t mean to…”
“Alright already!” Margaret held up her hands in surrender, exasperated with the whole episode. “You win. I’ll go to the store now.”
“Nobody said anything about…Hey, what are you doing?”
“No no, it’s better this way.” She said, slipping into her coat. “At least now we can watch together. You record it. I’ll be back in a bit.”