Violet looks up from her book, all eyelashes and curly blonde hair, and says, “Uncle Samuel, what’s a contrafibularity?” For a moment, I consider making something up. Instead I pull a dusty blue dictionary down from the shelf and hand it to her, then resume my pacing. I pause by the window. “Where the hell is she?” I whisper to my reflection.
How the hell am I going to tell her?
“It’s not in here.”
She seems so small.
“Um yeah, contrafibularity…it’s…um…a malfunction of the electrical impulses in the heart.”
“Oh,” she says. She looks confused for a moment. “Is it a broken heart?”
My chest feels tight. “Um yeah, something like that.” I’m looking at her, but I’m seeing her mother, my baby sister, Lauren, crying softly as Gran tells us that our Mama won’t be coming back for us. “You’re wrong!” I almost shout. “She’s just late! She’s breaking up with Paul and then she’ll be here. You don’t know her!” I am panting and embarrassed by how high my voice sounds. Lauren cries quietly. Gran puts her hand on my arm.
I clear my throat. I know how to be strong.
“We’d better make a bed for you on the couch, Baby.”
“Your couch smells funny, Uncle Samuel. I’m going to wait for Mama.”
Lauren inherited our mother’s poor judgement when it came to men. It’s hard to blame her for all this, really, it’s as if we’ve all been moving towards this moment since that night on Gran’s couch. Even Violet, not yet born.
“You can sleep in my bed then. If you get tired of waiting”
“I won’t,” she says softly, not even looking up from her book.
I go into the bedroom to use my phone; I arrange a few days off work to get Violet settled. I’ll need to buy groceries; vegetables; cereal; maybe muesli bars. Eventually I’ll need to find a bigger flat. I know how to be strong.
Lauren left Violet here early this morning. Chris, got his parole this time. Lauren wanted to tell him in person that she was leaving him. Then she was going to drop him at his mother’s house and come straight back for Violet. “A brand new start,” she said. I think I knew all along. I try her phone one last time. “I can’t believe you’ve done this.” I tell message bank. But that’s not true.
Violet looks up as I come back into the room. “Uncle Samuel, what does ‘frasmotic’ mean?”
“Um…I’m not sure, Baby. I need to talk to you.” She looks at me with round eyes and I falter. “Um…”
“Mama will be here soon, Uncle Samuel. She’s just running late.” She’s so sure; so trusting and I know that what I have to say will break her in a way that can never be fixed.
“Mama!” she squeals as the key turns in the lock. I look up to find a ghost slumping through the door; pale and battered.
They are in each other’s arms before the door has closed. I stare dumbly, struggling to understand what I am seeing. She looks at me and immediately, she understands everything. “Oh, Samuel,” she breathes. “You should know me better.
Then I see the policewoman behind her. She touches Lauren’s arm; “We’ll come by tomorrow for that statement.”
When Violet is in bed, Lauren and I sit on the couch and she talks. She skims over her story as if telling me about any other day.
They parked somewhere quiet to talk. She told him what she had to say. They argued. He demanded to see Violet. She refused. She kept refusing. He hit her and took her phone and drove her out to the bush. “He had this look in his eye,” she told me, and she knew. She just knew, she’d made a terrible, horrible mistake. “Violet and I should have just taken off,” she sighed, “I can’t imagine why I ever thought I owed him anything. Then suddenly the look was gone. He stopped the car and pushed me out and drove away. I guess he thought of Violet. I sat there and waited, but he never came back.”