Tim’s Family Photo and Violet Who Was a Flower
Violet didn’t feel pretty enough to be named after a flower and felt she should offer apology when telling her name. She didn’t think she was a terrible looking woman, but certainly could not be considered decorative or floral. She would bow her head each time when asked her name and look at the floor and say “Violet” and then pick her head up and start a conversation about anything else.
And at this moment, Violet who was not a flower burst into tears because the Xerox machine was out of paper. She had only been at the office for 2 hours and already something was wrong which meant the day was wrong and she was wrong and therefore bursting into tears over the Xerox machine being out of paper felt perfectly natural.
This was when Tim came by and stared at her.
Tim watched Violet crying and knew that it was because the machine was out of paper. It had run out during his session but he couldn’t find any 11x17 size in the cupboard above. He had left the scene in order to get a stack from the room down the hall.
And now here was Violet crying and Tim knew he could rescue her. Tim had never fantasized about being any sort of hero, but when it was right in front of him like this, Tim knew he would have to be a fool to pass up the chance.
Tim was trying to be more personable and had heard that eye contact makes people feel connected to each other. So he placed the paper on the machine, met Violet’s eyes for a few thick seconds and then walked away.
Tim sat down at his desk and stared at the photo. Tim had bought a photo frame because he liked the family in it: a pretty brunette wife, two little boys, and a dog.
Violet wondered if Tim had seen her crying and then gone somewhere to get this paper. She would never know, of course, but it did feel good to think that might have happened, because Violet had begun to think chivalry was dead. She put the paper in the machine and did what she had come here to do. She had to make 432 copies. While they were printing, she dialed Tim’s extension.
He picked up. “Tim speaking.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Okay, then, well, I’ll see you around.”
“Right-o.” He hung up.
Violet continued to stare at the copies being made, wondering if it was possible to fall into a stupor from staring at the repetitive motion of papers being printed hundreds of times. She thought it might be about to happen when the phone rang. She saw Tim’s extension and picked up. “Yes?”
“I hope your Xeroxing goes well, and that you don’t get a paper jam or anything. Those are terrible.”
She blurted, “Yes, they make me want to start hitting things.” Violet wished people could come with subtitles and hers would read “hold me.”
“They make me feel like hitting things and screaming,” said Tim.
“And then what happens?”
Tim looked at his picture, but he couldn’t explain that the picture made everything better. Nobody had ever asked Tim if that was his family. He had decided that if someone were to ask, he would say they were his cousins, so that he wouldn’t have to supply a fake wife and kids at the office picnic. He said, “And then I realize that I have something else.”
“I have to go.” Tim hung up and went back to his project.
After 150 copies, the Xerox machine ran out of toner. Violet burst into tears again, threw all the copies in the garbage can and walked back to her desk. She grabbed her wallet and coat and walked to the exit.
Violet had worked at the same location for 8 years and there came a point where she had stopped seeing it anymore. Today, however, as she stood on 48th and Sixth Avenue staring at the towering midtown offices it all looked particularly strange and gray and sharp. Violet watched a group of women stroll by who all had the same handbag.
She went around the corner to the Duane Reade and bought a bag of fluffy orange candy circus peanuts. Then she remembered she needed a picture frame and walked to the back of the store. Violet felt that maybe she should put pictures of her family or friends on her desk, even though she hated her family and the most recent pictures she had of friends dated back to high school. When she got to the photo frame section she couldn’t help but notice that in one frame was a photo she had seen quite a few times before, only she couldn’t figure out where. A brunette woman, two children, and a large brown Doberman.
And then it hit her.
Violet made a small purchase and left the store.
Tim stared at the woman in the photo, who he had named Shannon . The children’s names were Rusty and Everett, and the dog’s name was Chester.
Tim needed to talk to Violet regarding a shared source for articles they were both writing. When he got to her desk he noticed she now had the same picture he had on his desk with Rusty, Everett , and Chester , except in Shannon ’s place was a tall blondish man. He said, “So, Violet, about Martha Sims from Brownsville .”
“Right, we’re both quoting her this month. I heard about that.”
“Well, I’m just thinking we might want to…one of us might want to use a quote from someone else.”
Violet stared at her picture of the family. She wasn’t sure why she had done something so antagonizing as to buy this frame that would make it clear to Tim that she knew his secret. But it seemed the right thing to do in the moment, and Violet was trying to trust her instinct.
Tim didn’t know if Violet was mocking him with this photo or if she was actually related to the models in the photograph. “What’s your husband’s name?”
“My husband? Don. Ald. Donaldson.” Violet wished she hadn’t made this purchase.
“Donaldson is his first name. But actually we’re divorced.” Violet didn’t want Tim to think she couldn’t handle marriage, so she added, “Because he died.”
“You got divorced because he died?”
“Yes,” she said, “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
Tim smiled at her. He almost never smiled because he was self-conscious about a chipped tooth. It would only show when he smiled wide, and he didn’t feel like paying hundreds of dollars to fix something that only came up now and then, so Tim had developed his personality around not smiling wide. “That makes sense.”
Violet noticed his chipped tooth and found it endearing. “But the kids aren’t mine. They’re my sisters. And the dog isn’t mine, because I don’t like dogs.”
“Then why do you have a picture of a dog?”
“He was there. I need to finish that Xeroxing project,” she said.
“The one from before?” Tim asked.
“We ran out of toner and I got mad. Listen, I’ll find a quote from someone else. Don’t trouble yourself.”
She picked up her project and went over to the Xerox machine. She started to cry as soon as the printing began because she knew that if she stayed at this job she would be standing here thousands of times over the years to come. Violet was not sure she could continue a life filled with paper jams and toner issues.
When her 107th copy had printed, Violet looked up and saw Tim standing there holding a box of paper clips. He said, “I’m sorry you had to get divorced because your husband died.”
“Me too. Want to have lunch?”
“Together?” Tim disliked eating and he eschewed socializing and the two together had always appalled him. Tim had wondered why the majority of humankind seemed to not only enjoy these things, but found it a good idea to put them together. “I don’t know. Not today. But some other time perhaps.”
Violet looked at the floor, reminded that she wasn’t as pretty as her name.
Four days passed. Just like that, they passed. Violet Xeroxed things and paper jams happened and Tim stared at his family photo.
Then came the weekend. Tim never though specially about Violet and Violet never thought specially about him. Except for a few times.
For example, Violet thought of him while she spread butter on her toast, but if that had been pointed out to her, she wouldn’t have known why. She also thought of him when she put her egg in the egg cup and unpeeled it, but not while she was salting. Also, when she pressed the power on her remote control. And when she unwrapped a piece of sliced cheese. But she didn’t think of him when she was washing her face or making her bed or turning on her computer, so it was okay, she wasn’t thinking about him.
Tim only thought about Violet one time, and it was when he was sitting at the opera which he only went to because he was trying to like opera so he could broaden his horizons, as he felt his horizons were too small. The opera was three hours long and Tim spent almost the entire time wondering if Violet liked opera and whether her presence next to him would make this experience better.
On Monday morning, Violet’s computer froze as soon as she logged in. The worst of it was that the computer had just displayed the blurb telling her that she’d had a successful log-on, and then the thing froze. Violet felt somebody was trying to really mess with her and she resisted her at-home tendency to smack the screen and kick the hard drive, and instead went right to softly flowing tears.
Tim was walking by and smiled at Violet. He had promised himself he would do this even though he wasn’t a walk-by-and-smile type of guy. He had always admired the quick thinking and ready vulnerability of walk-by-and-smile people and he had repeatedly promised himself over the weekend that he could do this. Violet did not smile back, so Tim decided he was terrible at this sort of thing and should not try to be someone he isn’t.
Violet sat at her desk wishing she hadn’t rejected Tim’s smile. The worst thing you can do, she had thought at a previous time when she’d offered a smile which was not returned, is to not smile back at someone. She got up and walked into the coffee room, carrying the picture of her pretend husband and family.
She stood behind Tim while Tim stared at the microwave. Violet asked, “Meditating?”
“Yes,” Tim said. “You didn’t smile back.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“I never smile at people. I smiled because I thought you’d smile back.”
“I’m sorry,” Violet said. “I really am. Listen, do you want to microwave something so we have a reason to be here?”
“I didn’t bring anything.”
Violet opened the refrigerator and took out someone’s Lean Cuisine. “This is probably someone’s diet food for the diet they’re blowing right now.”
“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught or something?”
“Not really.” Violet was always secretly hoping for some kind of social blowup that would get her fired, even though she knew she wasn’t the social blowup type.
Tim said, “Okay. How many minutes should I set it on?”
“How many minutes do you want me to stand here?” she said, immediately regretting saying something that sounded so forward when she’d really just meant to be flip.
Tim couldn’t know exactly how long he would want to stand there in the coffee room with Violet. Violet with her big pretty eyes and her funny smile that tilted up more on one side then another, and that weird giggle that sounded almost like a baby—but not in the way that made Tim feel like a pedophile. He was tempted to press 120 minutes on the microwave but that might make her uncomfortable. Also, it would burn the meal.
He read the directions quickly, peeled back the top as instructed, made a slit in the plastic wrapping, and set the microwave for five minutes.
“So tell me about her,” she said.
“The woman in your photo on your desk.”
“Right. Eh, she’s good. She’s quiet. But then she is also chatty sometimes. She’s really fond of plants. You’re really pretty.” Tim stared at the words as they loomed in big cartoon bubbles between him and Violet.
“Do you still want to have lunch with me?”
“Still?” she asked. “You mean, from a few days ago?”
“Right,” he said. “I wasn’t hungry then. But now I’m hungry.” He suddenly became afraid this sounded too carnal because he’d just blurted that thing about her being pretty, so he added, “for food,” which he quickly realized might have made things worse.
“I already ate,” she said. “Tell me more about that woman on your desk.”
A coworker came into the room, opened the fridge and looked for something. She couldn’t find it, then muttered, “Jesus Christ, people always steal your crap around here,” and stormed out.
Violet and Tim smiled at each other.
Tim said, “I’m sorry about your husband.”
“Husband?” Violet remembered. “Yeah, I’m sorry, I lied about that, Tim. I’m so bored off my ass at this job. And I can’t even complain that I’d rather be doing something else. I don’t have another place I’d rather be, or another thing I’d rather be doing. I don’t have some artistic dream or someone waiting at home for me who I want to be with. I just know that being here makes me feel like I died or something. I hope there’s no camera recording me right now.”
“There probably isn’t.”
Violet asked, “So tell me more about the woman on your desk.”
“She’s always there for me. No matter how rough the day gets. It keeps me going.
You must have loved your husband very much if you still keep his picture up.”
“I’ve never been married, Tim.”
“No? Let’s take a walk. I need paper clips.”
They walked silently to the office supplies room. Tim opened the door for Violet, who led him over to the boxes of paper clips. He turned to her and said, “Do you like your name as much as you should?”
“Can I kiss you?”
“What? Here in the mailroom?” Violet quickly looked around to make sure there was nothing precarious on a shelf that they might knock over.
“No. Can I take you to dinner sometime and then if it goes well between us and you feel something toward me, can I kiss you after that dinner? If you let me take you out this weekend then it would just be a few hundred hours from now.”
“But that woman?” She didn’t want to pressure him into a confession, yet she didn’t want him to think she would dine with someone who was already spoken for.
“I’ll leave her here.” Tim didn’t know if this was making any sense, but of course he knew that Violet knew, and he knew that he hadn’t asked anyone on a date in 7 years.
“All right,” Violet said.
On Saturday night at 7:14 pm, Tim met Violet outside her building. She was wearing a green dress to match her eyes and Tim prayed that she wouldn’t make him smile too wide because his teeth would show. However, when it then happened during their main course of chicken pot pies he decided to just let it rip because the whole point of taking her to dinner was that he was looking forward to smiling.
They talked about the kinds of things people sometimes talk about when they know nothing about each other, such as where each person was born and do they have siblings, each of them not really caring about stuff like that and secretly being more interested in whether the other person likes to take long walks on West End Avenue and stare at the prewar architecture, and whether the other person likes to lie around the house reading in the same room but not talking.
When Tim paid the bill, Violet said, “Hey I’m out of circus peanuts. Will you come to Rite Aid with me?”
The two went into the local Rite Aid and after scooping up a bag of circus peanuts, they passed the section with photo frames. And there it was, the same photo of Shannon, with Rusty, Everett , and Chester , only this time the man from Violet’s picture was right next to her with his arm around her.
Tim said, “I guess she’s moved on.”
Violet asked, “Will you be ok?”
“Yes, I believe I will.”
“I mean, if you need to talk about, I’m here.”
“Oh are you?” he said.
He smiled wide and she smiled back and then Violet bought her bag of circus peanuts.
And they walked out into the evening.