A short story
Violet chewed the skin around her thumbnail, and studied the way Donna held her glass; how she sipped gently without disturbing her lip-gloss whilst simultaneously making conversation and politely declining a passing tray of nibbles. She was so sensuous, so feminine. Donna’s long, even, coloured nails curved and reflected the light – in perfect harmony with the glass of sparkling wine which she held with such poise.
Violet wanted to be like Donna. Why couldn’t Mum be more like Donna: elegant, shiny, doll-like and yet animated? Even Dad seemed to prefer Donna’s company and topped up her glass more than anyone else’s. Oh, it would be nice to be admired, to feel beautiful.
Violet straightened up, sucked in her tummy and thrust out her developing chest. She would stop biting her nails and start using coloured lip-gloss.
‘Vi!’ yelled Ruby from the hall, bashing her doll against the doorframe, so that its soft, light-reflecting, pearl blonde, nylon hair bounced like a head-banger at a heavy metal concert, and its vacant blue eyes stared helplessly into the room. ‘Vi-o-let!’
Violet flicked her eyes away from Donna’s body as party guests turned to look round at her.
‘Go on, Vi,’ Mum smiled. ‘You’ve spent enough time hanging out with us oldies. You can go and play now.’
“Go and play”?! Violet wanted to yell at her mother, but instead she smiled awkwardly and ducked through the room, humiliated.
‘She’s developed into such a lovely young thing,’ noted Not-really-Uncle Marcus, as Violet swept past.
‘Oh, no. She’s just a girl, Marcus.’ Violet heard her Aunt retort. ‘You shouldn’t say things like that. You’ll embarrass her.’
I’m “lovely”, thought Violet, beaming, as she passed herself in the hall mirror, and Ruby stabbed her in the legs with sharp, plastic doll fingers.
‘Let’s dress up, Roobs,’ Violet breathed excitedly, dashing up the stairs to Mum and Dad’s room.
Through the carpeted upstairs floors, the adults’ party noises became a muffled cacophony of smooth Nat King Cole tones, waves of male and female laughter, and constant conversational murmur, as Violet and Ruby tugged clothes from Mum’s wardrobe and hurled shoes into the middle of the room.
Mum and Dad would be giggling later. They would forgive the crease and tumble of clothes mess and shoes across the floor, and the crumpled jump-dips on the bed.
Violet slid Mum’s sleeveless, wine-red, velvet special-occasion dress over her head and plonked her feet into the highest heels she could find. They’d done this for years, they’d always done this: pretended to be ladies, played make believe, chatted in hoity-toity voices, and giggled as they swaggered around admiring themselves in the mirror.
Little Ruby looked lost, daft, and hopelessly floppy and adorable: sleeves too long, shoes dangerously loose, and necklaces hanging to her naval. But Violet had grown a lot this year and Mum’s dresses were the right length on her now. The shoes fitted too.
If only someone could see her and tell her she was beautiful.
Violet opened Dad’s sock drawer and tugged out a pair of thick socks. She shoved them into her bra-style vest top and walked quietly back to the mirror. Ruby screamed with laughter.
‘Shut up, Ruby. It’s not funny.’ Violet stamped out of the room to the bathroom to fetch Mum’s make-up. They’d always borrowed Mum’s make-up.
The two girls sat on Mum and Dad’s floor, and gave each other “pretty cheeks” and “lovely eyes”; they admired, they role-played, they chatted about pretend neighbours, pretend occupations, they gave themselves names and husbands and children.
Mum’s lipstick was “Hot pink”.
They giggled as they sat cross-legged and applied lipstick to each other’s mouths.
‘This lipstick is “Hot”!’ laughed Violet. ‘We are gonna look so “Hot” in this lipstick, girlfriend.’
Ruby made an over-enthusiastic “Hot pink” mess of Violet’s face, so Violet skipped back to the bathroom to fetch toilet tissue.
As she left the bathroom she collided with Not-really-Uncle Marcus on the landing.
‘Oop. Steady on, young thing,’ Marcus mumbled, squeezing her arm and holding her firmly in front of him – as if pretending to assist her in some way, and staring down at her sock breasts. ‘What a pretty thing you are. Off out to find yourself a boyfriend?’
Violet fell silent and still. She felt the way she’d done when her swimsuit slipped down over one shoulder in front of Megan’s older brother in their parent’s hot tub last summer. She wanted to disappear, she wanted to be back in her bedroom with Ruby, wearing normal clothes, pulling her bedcovers up close under her chin and not having anyone staring at her, restraining her, calling her a “thing”.
She giggled nervously, turned her arm out of Marcus’s grasp and hurried back to Ruby.
‘What was funny?’ asked Ruby.
‘Nothing. I don’t know why I laughed,’ replied Violet, glancing back nervously at the door and looking around for her own clothes. ‘I don’t want to be a lady anymore. Let’s watch the penguin film.’