Violet’s mother – Aunt Ivie – had three little boys, three baby boys, and she lost them. Then she had the three girls. Perhaps to console herself for the bad luck she had already suffered, on a rocky farm in a back corner of Turnberry Township – or perhaps to make up, ahead of time, for a lack of motherly feelings – she gave the girls the fanciest names she could think of: Opal Violet, Dawn Rose, and Bonnie Hope. She may not have thought of those names as anything but temporary decorations. Violet wondered – did her mother ever picture her daughters having to drag such names around sixty or seventy years later, when they were heavy, faded women? She may have thought her girls were going to die, too.

Lost meant that somebody died. She lost them, meant, they died. Violet knew that. Nevertheless she imagined Aunt Ivie her mother wandering into a swampy field, which was the waste ground on the far side of the barn, a twilight place full of coarse grass and alder bushes. There Aunt Ivie, in the mournful light, mislaid her baby children. Violet would slip down the edge of the barnyard to the waste ground, then cautiously enter it. She would stand hidden by the red-stemmed alder and nameless thorn-bushes (it always seemed to be some damp desolate time of year when she did this – late fall or early spring) and she would let the cold water cover the toes of her rubber boots. She would contemplate getting lost. Lost babies. The water welled up through the tough grass. Further in, there were ponds and sink-holes. She had been warned. She shuffled on, watching the water creep up on her boots. She never told them. They never knew where she went. Lost.

The parlour was the other place that she could sneak to by herself. The window-blinds were down to the sills, the air had a weight and thickness, as if it was cut in a block that exactly filled the room. In certain fixed places could be found the flushed, spiky shell with the roar of the sea caught inside it, the figure of the little kilted Scotsman holding a glass of amber liquid which would tilt but never spill, a fan made entirely out of glossy black feathers, a plate which was a souvenir of Niagara Falls and showed the same picture as the Shredded Wheat box. And a framed picture on the wall which affected Violet so intensely that she couldn’t look at it when she first came into the room. She had to work her way around to it, keeping it always in a corner of her vision. It showed a king with his crown on, and three tall, queenly looking ladies in dark dresses. The king was asleep, or dead. They were all on the shore of the sea, with the boat waiting, and there was something coming out of this picture into the room – a smooth, dark wave of unbearable sweetness and sorrow. That seemed a promise to Violet, it was connected with her future, her own life, in a way she couldn’t explain or think about. She couldn’t even look at the picture if there was anybody else in the room. But in that room there seldom was anybody else.


October, 1948
Herself in Love