by Nadia L. King
Violet slips her handbag over her shoulder and stands as the train jerks to a halt at Paraparaumu. Half the carriage alights at the station. She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose and steps down onto the platform.
The evening is pleasantly warm and she thinks about dinner—about thick wedges of pork pie with hot English mustard, steamed new potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and baby cos lettuce. She imagines setting the patio table with French grey linen placemats and trimming a rose for the vase.
‘Hey there, Fluffy. Did you miss me?’
Fluffy winds his black and white tail around Violet’s ankle as she pushes open the front door dropping keys onto the hall table. She kicks off jandals, pads barefoot into the kitchen and avoids the window—she doesn’t want to see what the road crews have achieved while she was at work. She certainly doesn’t want to see the concrete pillars of the flyover, giant piles of sand and the yellow signs proclaiming valued vegetation. More than anything, Violet wants to prepare an evening meal for herself and Tom. She wants to lean back in the chair, bask in the warmth of Tom’s eyes and know they will hold hands during their nightly walk along the beach.
Reaching into the cupboard, Violet takes out two cans of tuna while Fluffy mews plaintively. Popping open a can, she forks tuna flesh onto a saucer and puts it in a corner of the kitchen. The cat crouches down, head in his saucer, chewing noisily. Violet throws ready-washed salad leaves onto a plate, cuts cheddar into uneven cubes and pops open the other can of tuna. She drizzles over balsamic vinegar and pours herself a glass of sparkling water. If Tom were here, she would open a bottle of SBS and use the expensive glasses they received as a wedding gift. But there’s only Fluffy for company.
She eats her meal standing leant against the kitchen counter. Once she’s finished, she places her plate and glass in the sink. Inadvertently, Violet looks over her garden fence and is at once confronted by a bright orange digger. She scowls. Why some faceless politician has decided to plonk the Peka Peka Expressway right through the region’s greenbelt, she will never understand. Shaking her head in annoyance she runs hot water into the sink.
The local paper recently featured the expressway listing its many benefits. Promises of 30 percent fewer road fatalities; 8,000 jobs created during construction; shorter journeys; less congestion, and a more resilient road network, whatever that means. Her favourite benefit spruiked all over the paper is how the Road of National Significance will increase the value of affected residential properties. How she wonders? Why would anyone want to buy her pint-sized house now? Her views over the pony club are gone and soon it will all be Peka Peka Expressway. Instead of ponies grazing, she will watch DHL trucks hurtling up the coast. Violet harbours serious doubts such aesthetic changes can alter housing prices in the area. And definitely not in the upward direction the bureaucrats are promising.
The cat quickly clears his floral patterned saucer and saunters to a sunny spot in the living room. He rolls around in wild abandon, his furry pink tongue lolls to one side. Watching him, Violet wonders what it feels like to be carefree. Catching herself, she issues forth a stern talking-to and shrugs her shoulders.
In the bedroom, she steps out of her dress and sits down tiredly at the dressing table. She takes off earrings and her wristwatch, drags a brush through thick honey blonde hair. Even though she sits in front of the mirror she doesn’t lift her eyes. She can’t bear to see what she will find and she ignores the half-finished portrait turned towards the wall on her bedroom floor.
Clad in yoga pants, a sloppy tee-shirt, and with sandshoes on her feet, Violet pulls the front door firmly shut. Old Mr. Parker is in his garden with a transistor radio beside him. His listening preferences favour hymns and organ music. When he isn’t tending his garden, he sits in an ancient wooden garden chair, an unlit pipe in his mouth, his faithful tranny by his side. He lifts his arm in greeting as Violet walks past. She nods. She tries not to dwell on the similarity of their lives. They each live alone. Each with their Significant Other in the cemetery on the other side of Coastlands (where eighty speciality shops will enhance your quality of life like nothing else, except of course, the Peka Peka Expressway).
She walks resolutely with her head down and rolls her shoulders. The muscles leading up to her head are like coiled wet rope. Pulling at her. Niggling. Encasing her head in a vice. A sharp pain throbs through her temples forcing her to grind her teeth and grimace.
Walking quickly past Raumati Beach Primary the pain in her chest is palpable. This was to have been the village school for her and Tom’s children. They had spent months searching for the perfect place to raise a family. Raumati Beach stood out with its old world charm and village life; the handful of shops, a pub, medical centre, and the quaint miniature trains in the park which ran every Sunday.
Violet and Tom’s children would have held hands during the walk to school stopping at the zebra crossing for the lollipop lady. After school, Violet would stroll up to meet them with the family dog. It would be a labradoodle called Clancy after Tom’s favourite author. Violet would walk her children home. She would have paint on her hands from painting landscapes and portraits in oils in the studio she would rent from Mr. and Mrs. Parker. The converted garage was supposed to have been ‘Mum’s Studio’. Violet hasn’t picked up a paintbrush in eons. She can’t bear to remember Tom gently wiping paint smudges from her face.
Turning away from the miniature trains, she walks up over the hill rather than past the playground with its brightly coloured play equipment. The Waterfront is pumping for a Thursday evening. Laughter and the chink of glasses float out from the open windows. Violet shoos away the memory of Tom leaning over the balcony with a pint of Porter and a smile on his lips. She leans down to unlace her sandshoes, ties them together and rolls up her black yoga pants.
The tide is out. The beach has become a wide avenue of sand. Couples walk dogs, lone fisherman sit on fold-up chairs with lines in the water and groups of children make forts with washed-up sticks. Violet watches as a gull spirals down toward the sand, dropping a clam shell with enough force to free its supper. A red-brown dog barks excitedly at little whitecaps lapping the shoreline. These nightly walks along the beach are Violet’s only solace; bright moments in an otherwise dull and lonely life.
Kapiti Island is dressed in an indigo blue haze and Violet hides from memories of tramping over the island with Tom. Of holding his hand tightly as the small boat rocked from side to side and of him steadying her—his hands at her waist as she stepped onto the jetty. The breeze has picked up. She twists her hair into a bun to stop it whipping at her face.
Looking over the expanse of water she feels the closest thing to contentment she will ever feel. Her prospects of happiness were buried with Tom as she watched his coffin being lowered slowly into the ground nigh on three years ago. Violet used to believe she would somehow escape this quagmire of misery; she would progress and want to live again. That was awhile back and now she attempts to live in the present. As if the ocean could read her mind, her eyes gaze to the commotion at the water’s edge.
High-pitched voices filled with excitement. People hurrying in small groups. A woman runs past and turns her head, calling over her shoulder.
‘How exciting! It’s an orca!’
Violet quickens her steps and before she has time to think, she has hurried to the shoreline with the crowd to catch a glimpse of the animal. She stands alone amongst the small crowd, hears the ‘oohs’ and the ‘ahs’ and a tiny ball of excitement starts to form in the pit of her stomach.
She half-walks, half-runs along the shoreline never daring to take her eyes from the sleek, torpedo-shaped animal as it swims up the coast. Following the wolf of the sea feels so magical, so optimistic. Her whole being is centred on bearing witness to this moment. Violet starts to think in shades of green and blue and sketches an outline in her head. She doesn’t turn away once. Ducking around a fisherman, she impatiently shoos away a dog but keeps her eyes on the large dorsal fin travelling through the water; on the creature’s progress along the Kapiti coastline. She imagines running a brush along a clean canvas.
Violet watches as a dark blue mist settles over Kapiti Island and she notices the breeze pick up, just a little bit stronger, a little more forceful. Goosebumps form on her arms as clouds roll in from the Pacific. She looks out over the ocean toward the South Island concealed behind a blur of sea mist and haze, hidden tantalisingly from view. Could there be a new future for her?
The orca has swum into deeper waters. Violet stops on the shore. The orca turns and a gush of water spurts from its blowhole. Water falls back down into the ocean with a great splash. He is saying goodbye, she thinks. Giant ripples run out over the ocean as the orca slaps down its tail and Violet raises her arm as if to answer, ‘I have seen you.’
The orca disappears under the water and for a few moments Violet stands looking out across the ocean. She sighs quietly, mentally stocking up on images. Then she turns and starts the slow walk home.