“I love you, Violette.”
It wasn’t the first time he had ever said those words to me, it wasn’t even the first time in the entire day that we had spent together. But when he held my left hand and surreptitiously slipped a ring in my ring finger, as we stood and stared at the lake beneath us, those words hit harder than they ever had. He held my hand tightly and we turned towards each other. Oh, what a truly beautiful evening it was. Families who were on picnics were packing things up while their children spurned to leave the swings, innumerable couples were walking hand in hand, stopping every now and then for a quick laugh, a punch on the arm, or a kiss, the ducks in the seaweed lake underneath the little bridge we stood on were quacking about, in twos and threes, and Kris and I, we couldn’t stop blushing. Love was in the air all right, on that fine Valentine’s Evening, in 2016.
“Yes!” I said, smiling really wide. I had answered a question that was never put into words. My jaw had started to hurt. I knew Kris felt the same way I did, because when I hugged him, with both my hands tugging on his black sweater’s neckline, I could feel his heart beating right next to mine. I don’t know if this usually happens, but the pace felt almost the same. It was just the right amount of unusual. I kissed his ear and looked up at the sky, while still hugging him. It was getting darker – the azure sky with clouds scattered like little balls of cotton we were admiring only a while ago. With one final squeeze, we let go of each other. I placed my left hand from his neck on to his face. I stared at the ring. The oval amethyst in between shone alongside its diamond studded border on a silver plated band. He turned his face and kissed my hand. I put my right hand on his left-side cheek, and pulled him in for a kiss. My hands went into his hair and he held me tightly around my waist. Neither of us wanted to let go but the fact that we had just got engaged hit us both at around the same time; we pulled apart, looked at each other, grinned, jumped and kissed each other again. When we finally stopped kissing, he held up his right hand for me to hold, while I still had my arms around his neck. I just didn’t want to let go.
“You know it’s time to go,” he said with a smirk.
I put my fingers between the spaces his fingers left for me, and we both let our hands down.
“Oops!” I exclaimed. “Gotta be careful with that.”
“What happened?” Kris asked.
“I think you got the wrong size, hon.” I shifted the ring in my finger. It slid easily in and out.
“WHAT? Oh man, I had one job! Argh! You’re not an eight?”
“Seven, love. Seven.” I said, with a smile, with my right hand’s index finger and thumb still playing with my engagement ring.
Kris put his hand over his mouth and didn’t say anything for a while.
“Relax! It’s no big deal. We’ll go get it exchanged,” I told him. When he still didn’t speak up, I asked, “We can get it exchanged, right?”
“Yes, yes we can. That’s not an issue. I just can’t believe I screwed this up. This day was supposed to be perfect!”
“It is! Relax, it’s just a ring. I had a lovely day today, Kris. The lunch was amazing, so was the make-out session in the car when we pulled over on that empty street on our way here, the walk in the park with the crisp air in our hair, and now this,” I flashed my new ring; “you’ve no idea how thrilled I am to go show this to Mumma. She’s going to love it!”
“No no no, give it back to me. I’ll get a size seven and bring it to you tomorrow. Don’t tell Joanna just yet, please.” Kris looked depressed.
“No fucking way!” I put my hands behind my back. “I’m keeping it. It’s mine now. We’ll go get it exchanged together and the argument ends here, this is it, this is the finish line,” I said, and brought my right hand in front of his face and with the index finger, traced his lips from left to right, something I’ve always done, and still do, which signifies that it’s time for him to seal his lips.
Before he could even try and say another word, I gave him a quick peck on his lips, which signifies a final seal on the seal, held his left hand with my right and started to walk. I had stuck my left hand’s thumb between the ring and the middle finger, to prevent the ring from falling off.
It was warmer inside the car once the heating had started to take effect. I removed my coat, folded it a little, and kept it on the car’s back seat. I put my hands out so Kris would give me his coat as well, but I could tell he was still kind of morose about the ring size fiasco.
“Kris, honey, you’ve got to let it go. I promise you. First thing tomorrow, okay?”
“The place doesn’t open until 11, and we’ve to be at work by 10, you know that, Vee.”
“Okay well then, lunch time. We’ll drive to the place during lunch hours. We can do that, right?” I put my hand on his shoulder, the hand with the ring.
“Yeah, but Vee, Joanna is going to hate me. She’s already not a fan or anything and she’s probably going to say ‘Oh he can’t even get your finger’s size right and you agreed to spend the rest of your life with that loser?’ or something like that.”
“Hey okay, first of all, bad imitation. Second, in all these years, she has hardly ever liked any guy that I’ve been out with. But I know her and I know that she likes you. Dad turned out to be a total jerk which is why she hates men and the only date of mine she would prefer over you would have to be Marion, I think, when I had the whole ‘I might be bisexual’ phase going on in college.”
We both chuckled.
“Seriously though, Kris, listen to me,” I held his face and looked into his eyes. I love doing that. “It’s been more than two years. And you’ve even been to our stupid extended family parties Aunt Karen can’t stop throwing. And do you remember that one time an old couple had cornered Mumma about her not having a job and raising me alone and shit, and you had come to her rescue?”
“Yeah,” Kris smiled. I was relieved to see him smile. “I could see her getting extremely uncomfortable and gulping down her wine like a maniac and I just went over to ask her to help me find you, even though I knew you were throwing up in the bathroom upstairs.”
“Alright, we didn’t have to remember that part.” I rolled my eyes and continued, “Besides, Mumma’s not the only one who hates Aunt Karen’s parties. Those things are day-time nightmares; they suck all the ‘thanks’ out of Thanksgiving.”
He laughed and said, “Oh man and I thought my grandmother was the crazy one.”
“Oh, we both know your grandmother is much much much better than Aunt Karen,” I spoke and waited as he removed his coat, then folded it and kept it on the back seat next to mine.
“I remember Joanna took me to the backyard and we talked about how irritating most of your family members are. And then you joined us after around fifteen minutes, looking and smelling like total shit and your mother stroked your hair while I rubbed your shins.”
“Yeah,” I said, looking out the window. “Helena didn’t even bother offering me another dress. So much for being a first cousin. Not like I expect too much out of her, considering the kind of sister Aunt Karen has been to Mumma. An absolute shitfest, this family has become ever since Dad left us and my grandmother died.”
“Hey, let’s not open doors to territories we can at least avoid in our heads, okay?” Kris held my chin and kissed me.
He started the car and soon we were out of the parking lot and on the road.
“I’ll have to make it up to Joanna though, right? We’ll also go to that fancy liquor store and get her a bottle of wine tomorrow.”
“Red!” We both said at the same time, and laughed.
“Erm, excuse me, Kris? What about making it up to me?” I raised my left hand and made a puppy face, to show how hard it was for me to keep my thumb sticking between two fingers.
“Alright! Let’s find that empty street again, I’ll pull over and take you to the back seat, or the woods, whatever you prefer, your majesty,” he winked at me.
“Shut up and take me home,” I couldn’t stop blushing. I stared out the window looking at the different people in different cars, trying to guess what they were talking about and then I zoned right out until Kris turned up the volume of the stereo.
‘I Saw Her Standing There’ was playing, and we suddenly started to sing along. We held each other’s hand tightly and kind of started dancing – bobbing our heads, and tapping our feet. It was the first song we ever danced together to. It played at a work party and we were both very drunk and back then we didn’t even know what song it was but we knew that it was fine as hell. And so were we, together.
“You sure you don’t want to come in and say Hi?”
“Oh no. I’m not walking through that door without a bottle of your mother’s favorite red, okay? Just tell her my grandmother called with an emergency or something,” Kris kissed me on the cheek.
I grabbed my coat from the back seat and we both got out of the car. All the lights downstairs were on, save the ones of the study, and the lights in my mother’s room were also on so I guessed she would either be downstairs watching T.V. and drinking, or upstairs in her room reading a book and well, drinking.
I hugged Kris and we kissed passionately. The lipstick must have come off entirely, I thought to myself.
“All okay?” asked Kris.
I chortled. “Yeah! Now drive away before my mother sees you without a bottle of wine in your hand.”
He held my left hand, touched the ring and the ring finger and said, “I really love you.”
“And I, you, Kris. I love you.”
A final peck on the lips and he was back in the car. He drove away and I walked towards my house. I don’t know why but I decided to be on my own for a while and I sat down at the top of the staircase on the front porch. I wrapped my right hand around my left, felt the ring and my hands, my feet, and my face getting cold. When I couldn’t take the cold anymore, I got up and rang the bell. No answer. I rang it again; and again, and again. Finally, I got out my keys from my coat’s pocket and unlocked the door. The wind was getting more vigorous and cold with every passing second.
Once I was inside the house, I removed my boots and went looking for my mother. I went to the living room. The T.V. was off. The kitchen was empty too.
“Mumma?” I shouted as I took to the carpeted staircase. There was a red stain on one of the steps that wasn’t there in the morning when I left for the date, so I deduced that Mumma had poured herself some wine and took it upstairs while already tipsy, dropped a tad on the stairs, and must’ve passed out in her room reading.
I knocked on her door. “Mumma?”
I opened the door and went inside. The light was on, her bed was made, The Scarlet Letter, the book she had been reading, lay in perfect condition on the bedside table. My heart was beating really fast. I noticed that her phone and her earphones weren’t in the room so I thought she must be taking a bath. I knocked on the bathroom door.
“Mumma? Are you in there? You’re freaking me out okay?
I thought she couldn’t hear me because of the music in her ears, and I didn’t want to walk in on my mother taking a bath. So I decided to call her but I remembered I kept my phone on the island top downstairs. It was a habit. I ran downstairs and phoned my mother. I was just walking up the staircase when I heard her phone ringing somewhere in the living room. She had left it on the sofa. I dropped my phone next to hers, her phone still ringing. My heartbeat was shooting up and my throat was getting really dry. I slowly walked to the foot of the staircase. My mind was stuck on Mumma’s phone’s ringtone. When the phone finally stopped ringing, I ran upstairs. The ringing continued in my ears though.
I knocked on her bathroom door one more time.
“Mumma, I’m coming in!” I felt choked up but somehow got those words out of my mouth.
I turned the knob and slowly opened the door. I peaked inside. She indeed was in the bath. But it was red.
I stood at the door a long while. There was an empty wine bottle on the bathroom floor, with a broken glass lying next to it, and some spilled wine. A blade lay on top of the pool of the spilled wine so I knew it wasn’t just wine. My mother’s head was resting on the edge of the bathtub. Her face, her neck, and her breasts were pale. The rest of her body was immersed in the red water. My eyes ran from the mix of water and blood to the mix of wine and blood. A chill went down my spine and as much as I wanted to move, I couldn’t. I was frozen. I don’t remember how long it took me to walk over to the bathtub, but when I finally did, I sat beside her and just glared at her. Her hair was still wet and the tips were dipped in the blood water. I knew she was left handed so the cut had to be on her right hand. I placed my own right hand on her cold, deadpan face, and with my left hand, I reached into the bathtub and pulled out her hand. It was a straight cut – vertical. She knew what she was doing. I couldn’t look at it for too long so I let her hand go. I reached in for her other hand and held it tight. I kissed her wet hand and tears had started seeping down my face, dropping straight into the bathtub. I wanted to scream but I obviously couldn’t. I let go of her hand and looked at my own. My ring was missing. Frantically, I put my hand inside the water again and after a bit of fiddling, found the ring. It was right next to my dead mother’s hand. I touched it, was about to pick it up, but I couldn’t. Instead, my hand moved on to hers, and I traced the vertical cut she had marked herself with. I touched the swollen skin around it and I thought of the amount of blood she must have lost. Not that I needed to think about it at all, it was pretty clear because of the color of the water in the tub. I took the water and splashed it on my face. To this day I don’t know why I did that. It stank of my mother. I splashed some more on my face and let my hands stay there. I got up and walked over to the sink. I looked at the mirror, my hands still on my face. The kohl had spread around my eyes and my fringes were wet. I removed my hands. I was still crying. My lips looked like they never had any lipstick on in the first place. I took the towel beside the sink and wiped my hands and then my face. I let it stay there for a while because I wanted it to soak up all the water on my face. Or maybe I let it stay because I didn’t want to look at my mother. Nevertheless, if not directly, once I threw the towel on the bathroom floor, I looked at her, but only because she existed in my peripheral vision. I turned around and walked out the bathroom door. I opened the first drawer of her bedside table, seized the bottle containing her sleeping pills, left the drawer open and walked out of her room. I went downstairs straight to the kitchen; I was shivering. I swallowed ten of her pills with water, went to the living room and picked up my phone. I didn’t look at the time but there were around five missed calls from Kris and a lot of messages. I could feel my insides twisting but I knew I couldn’t return his calls or reply to the messages. I threw my phone on the floor. I then picked up Mumma’s phone and dialled 911.
“911. What’s your emergency?” Emergency, Ha! I sighed.
I told them where I lived and hung up the phone. I had started to feel drowsy. I threw my mother’s phone next to mine on the floor, put on the T.V. and curled up on the couch. I don’t even remember what program or what channel was on or if it were just advertisements. I closed my eyes and the picture of my mother and I swimming in Aunt Karen’s swimming pool, from one afternoon when I was a teenager and had recently learned how to swim, came to me. We were holding hands and we were under the water, smiling at each other. The swimming pool water in the picture behind my closed eyes soon turned red, and I’m positive a deep sleep must have arrived that night, long before the police did.