Violet, from The Night Edith Didn't Die
I've been going to the beach nearly every day since I was born. Until three weeks ago. That's when my best friend, Violet Frank, was found strangled in the sea grass near my house. I used to go to the beach even in winter, which you know in Florida isn't really the winter, just more like spring with a bad cold.
After Violet's funeral, my parents sent me to live with my Aunt Tammy in Georgia.
"Just for the summer—until you feel like yourself again," Mom said. My father said nothing. He never does.
The first night at my aunt's house, I lay in bed thinking about As You Like It, the first play by Shakespeare I'd ever read. I loved the part when the Duke banished Rosalind, and Celia said to him, "I cannot live out of her company." When we read it two years ago, I told Violet I felt this way about her and she said, "Me, too."
Instead of crying like a giant slobbering baby, I got out the packet of exams from my suitcase. They'd come with a note attached telling me I could turn them in when I returned for tenth grade.
On the front page of Ms. Viceroy's English exam, she'd written in curly purple:
"Dear Edith, I've really enjoyed having you in my class. Though you were quiet, your written work was always exceptional and I expect this essay will reflect your industrious efforts this year.
P.S. I am so sorry about Violet."
I'd kind of hoped she would have told me to call her if I felt like it. Ms. Isabelle Viceroy was the only teacher at Dale Brennick Academy who seemed real. She was only twenty-five. She had dirty fingernails. And she kept cigarettes in her top drawer.
Once she said to me, "I know you think the girls here are a bunch of coquettes."
I had to look it up, but "coquette" described Dale Brennick's girls perfectly. They were always pawing each other's new leather miniskirts and moaning, "You look prettier than me today!" Or they whined into the locker room mirrors that their boobs were lopsided. It was absolutely sickening.
Violet and I got teased for our vintage beaded dresses and antique rhinestone pins.
"Prom today?" was the standard coquette joke when we wore one of them. Then they'd all burst out laughing at their stunning wit.
I wanted to confide in Ms. Viceroy because she seemed like the one person who might be able to understand me. And I needed to talk about Violet because with each day that passed, I felt like I was losing particles of her. I began writing in an empty notebook I found in one of my aunt's closets, and I spent the next few days sprawled across her olive-green carpet, a cigarette in one hand and a pen in the other.
Dear Ms. Viceroy,
I have decided not to give an example of tragedy from Oedipus Rex or Othello or anything else we have read this year.
Instead, I will give an example from my own life, which I think is far more pertinent to grasping "a dramatic, unhappy, often disastrous event." I think the type of tragedy my story illuminates best is Complex, though it is most certainly Pathetic, too.
Finally, I'm really looking forward to your advanced class next year. I heard we get to read The Bell Jar, which I admit I've already read four times. This is what I was doing when you complained I wasn't contributing to class discussions.
Violet Elizabeth Frank and I met in the second grade when our mothers were late to pick us up from school. Violet had just started at St. Paul's Elementary and all the girls were enchanted by her silky black hair and English accent.
I found her jumping alone in a mud puddle. Usually she was surrounded by other girls and I couldn't believe my luck. The minute I saw her, I jumped in the puddle, too. My mom was strict about cleanliness—she nearly fainted when we tracked sand in the house—but at Violet's side, being clean didn't seem very important.
When Violet saw her mother's car pull into the parking lot, she turned to me and stuck out her hand. "Edith Rug, would you like to be my friend? My best friend?"
I couldn't believe she knew my name. Some of the girls in my class didn't even know it. I was always in the background, hoping someone would remember I was there.
I put my messy hand into hers. "Of course," I said. Then I whispered, "Are you a princess?"
All I knew about England was that Princess Diana was one of my mother's idols. I figured every girl that lived there must have some connection to the Royal Family.
"Why yes. I am . . . Princess Puddle. And you are Madam Mud."
She touched a finger to my forehead, and all the way down to my toes I felt a rush of excitement—like when you're called on in class after you've been daydreaming and you actually know the answer. I'd never felt that before. I was the kind of girl who laughed at her own jokes because no one else did. Our P.E. teacher didn't even make me play anymore, allowing me to sit in the grass and write little stories in my notebook.
After Violet introduced me as her new best friend, her mother told me not to call her Mrs. Frank.
"Makes me sound like a bloody grandma," she said. "Call me Liza."
She wore a long, flowy golden skirt and her hair was pulled back in a scarf. Like Violet, she shook my hand. She said she was late because she'd been baking bread and hadn't expected to take so long.
"Maple pecan, Mummy?" Violet asked, standing on her tiptoes.
When her mother nodded, Violet clapped her hands. "It's divine with orange marmalade."
"Edith, I'll put an extra slice in Violet's lunch tomorrow just for you," Liza smiled.
When my mother arrived a minute later, her blondish brown hair stuck out in all directions. She wore a long plaid dress and brown flats and after looking me over, she exclaimed, "Honey, you're so dirty! Edith, you know you aren't supposed to play in the mud!"
Then she apologized for being "delayed." I knew she was only saying this because other people were around. She always fell asleep watching TV, and I was used to the imprints from the sofa cushions on her cheeks.
Liza introduced herself to my mother but instead of doing the same, my mother rubbed at a patch of dirt on my collar.
Liza offered to take our picture. "I'm starting a little photo project of our life in the U.S."
"What brought you here?" My mom asked.
"My husband desperately missed the sunshine and his family. I absolutely love your drugstores. I can fill up on nappies and get my favorite lipstick at the same time. Now, you two get together. This is the first time Violet has introduced me to anyone at her school."
My mother objected, complaining that she looked awful, but Liza insisted.
I still have both the pictures she took that day. The first one is of my mother and me and I look miserable. Mom stood behind me, clutching both of my arms, her sleep wrinkles still visible. I remember I wanted to lean down and bite one of her knuckles.
That picture was stuck inside the back of a drawer and I only found it last week when I was digging around for pictures of Violet to bring with me to Georgia.
But the picture of me and Violet has lived in a frame on my desk since my eighth birthday when Violet gave it to me.
We are the cutest things in the whole world. Violet's dark hair is braided, or "plaited" as she always called it. Mine's in a side ponytail, which is the retarded way I wore it back then. Our faces and shirts are streaked with dirt, our knees are black.
I look at that picture as the beginning of my being happy. I look at it as the moment my life became worth remembering.
The beach became our special place. We sat on towels after school and told each other our deepest, darkest secrets. And our secrets were never just about which boy we liked, though Violet always liked more than one.
She worried when her parents fought. I worried because my parents didn't talk. She knew I couldn't stand to be alone with my mother. And I knew she'd overheard her father telling her mother he wasn't having an affair, even though Liza had found a lipstick in his car that wasn't hers.
All of these things we kept locked up inside of us along with details like my tendency to suck lemons to keep from crying or her hatred of sand.
Violet hated sand more than she hated broken glass in the street. Or spiders. She couldn't understand why I liked making sand angels and she always insisted on wearing her shoes when we took walks. She said wet sand made her toenails itch.
But she loved the ocean. She always wanted to swim out until her feet couldn't touch the bottom. Doing this always scared me, but I never told her.
My dad rode waves with us most weekends in the summer until I turned eleven. The day Violet told me she'd noticed he'd stopped coming, a fact I was trying to ignore, my older sister Hattie was stretched out beside us.
"He's afraid of your breasts," Hattie announced.
I told her she was being gross.
"We don't really have breasts," Violet said.
"Edith does," Hattie said.
I felt both of their eyes on my body.
"It was the same with me," she sighed. "He stopped going to the beach with me once I got breasts."
That's when I officially began to detest the growing mounds on my chest.
When I got to high school, I wore two sports bras and tried not to lean over for fear the boys would see down my shirt.
Still they met my eyes in the hallways, glancing down and licking their lips—even though they called me and Violet lesbian whores and wrote "Pussy Licker" on our lockers.
Violet laughed, called them androids. Of course it was much easier for her because her body wasn't an issue. At least it wasn't until a few weeks ago.
The newspaper showed pictures of the other two girls Stephen Amos killed. Melanie Dupont and Amanda Jackson-Falls were both short, with wide, bright eyes, and dark hair. The paper said all three had "boyish figures." And when they found Violet, sand covered her from head to toe.
At the beginning of ninth grade, we met Trance at Einstein's, a dance club we'd started going to on weekends. Violet and I loved Einstein's because it was as different an environment from Dale Brennick Academy as we could find. Smoky, red-lit, filled with boys who pierced their ears and wore pastel polyester suits, we'd decided it was our heaven. Violet bummed a cigarette off Trance one night and from then on they were inseparable.
Trance didn't go to Dale Brennick Academy. Trance hardly went to school at all. She had b.o. and she was loud and she bragged to anyone who would listen that she'd been allowed to pick her own name when she was four.
More importantly, she could drive, which meant when Liza and Violet had one of their plate-throwing, door-slamming fights, Violet had someone to whisk her away from the crime scene. Liza referred to Trance as "Violet's horribly rude mate." I referred to her as the green-headed monster who stole my best friend.
Since Alan, Violet's father, had left nine months earlier, Violet liked any reason to yell at her mom. Violet believed Alan left because her mom was always accusing him of cheating on her, and I always defended Liza because I loved her so much.
But soon it didn't matter what I said because I was never around. I became less of an afterthought to Violet's plans and more like a very distant memory. She talked to me at school, where I was her only friend, but on weekends I didn't exist.
Then one Saturday in April, Violet called to ask me to go shopping with her. I hadn't forgotten her birthday was less than a month away, but I figured she'd skip the annual hunt for the perfect outfit.
Birthdays were a big deal at Violet's. They always took place in the Franks' backyard, which was like a tropical island with all of Liza's neon-colored plants. Over the years they'd hired belly dancers, face painters, astrologists, magicians. And Liza always made something exotic for dessert—sticky toffee pudding cake, strawberry starfruit pie.
I assumed that since Trance had come into the picture, this would all seem stupid to Violet.
But Violet informed me they'd been planning it for weeks.
"It's going to be a fifties prom theme," she said.
"Trance is going to wear a dress?"
I'd never seen Trance out of her black velvet jeans
and combat boots.
I tried not to laugh.
"Well, Edith, do you want to go or not?"
Of course I did. Any excuse to be near Violet.
Trance drove us to our favorite vintage dress store, Old Habits Die Hard. Because it was expensive, we only went there for special occasions. The owner, Marjorie, shopped rich people's estate sales and always had the coolest stuff. Violet announced what she wanted the second we walked in.
"Something poofy and completely girly," she said. "Something that will make me feel like a princess."
I hadn't heard Violet call herself a princess in years. And I was especially shocked to hear her say it in front of Trance, who was slumped in a chair, her eyes closed and her mouth set in a smirk.
Marjorie took off her cat eyeglasses and let them dangle from the chain around her neck.
"Well, then, I think you should try this one. I just found it and I was going to give it to my daughter, but I think it could be the perfect thing."
Marjorie, like Liza, was another person I wished could trade places with my mother. Her daughter, Maggie, sometimes worked with her and they were always huddled together at the front counter, trying on costume jewelry and singing along to the radio.
The dress Marjorie brought out was pink, and after Violet looked it over she turned to me.
"I don't know about the designs on the front. Edith, what do you think?"
Trance opened her eyes. "I hate it," she said and closed them again.
"Try it on," I said.
I thought the sequined flowers were kind of tacky, too, but I didn't want Trance to be right. And she wasn't. When Violet whirled around in the dress, we giggled and clapped our hands like the old days.
"That's the one," I said.
"Violet, why do you give a shit what Edith likes? It's our party."
Marjorie looked Trance over very slowly, in a way I loved.
"Are you looking for a dress, too?" She asked.
"No, I'm not," Trance snapped. "Violet, I'm getting cigarettes."
When she was gone, Marjorie disappeared, saying, "I think I have a pair of shoes that will match the birds of paradise perfectly."
I went to the mirror and stood beside Violet. I wanted to say so much. Somehow the dress had melted the wall—just a little—that had been growing between us ever since Trance entered the picture. And I was hopeful things could go back to the way they used to be. Maybe they would have, but I'll never know.
"I think you look great," I said.
"Elegant," she corrected. "I'll look elegant on my fifteenth birthday."
Even though she didn't have much of an English accent anymore, she still liked the idea of being refined.
When Liza gave me the dress after the funeral, she said, "He tore it off her like a bow from a present." Liza had cleaned it and tried to sew up the holes, using safety pins on one of the sleeves.
I refuse to take it off. Well, except when I take a shower. My mom said Liza had "positively lost her mind" giving it to me, and she begged me to get rid of it. She told my father, "It's depressing how she wears that death dress." It's probably why they sent me to Georgia for the summer.
I tried to explain it's like Jackie Kennedy, another one of my mother's idols. The girls in History thought it was so disgusting when Jackie wouldn't take off her blood-spotted pink suit after John was assassinated. But Violet said it was how Jackie showed the world she loved him.
Now I'm showing the world how much I love Violet. Her dress is tight on me and I avoid mirrors because I'm sure I don't look the least bit elegant, especially since I started cutting my hair. But wearing it comforts me when I wake up from my nightmares. I find her on the beach, our beach, her mouth stuffed full of sand.
Ms. Viceroy, not even Oedipus' gouged-out eyes can compare with what I have experienced. I didn't just lose my friend. I lost myself. I'm back to writing in a notebook like those pathetic days in P.E., but instead of making up stories, I'm writing about Violet. And now I know what it's like to laugh until my belly feels like it's going to break. Now I know I'll never laugh that way again.