Viola in reel life, p.5

Viola in Reel Life, page 5


Viola in Reel Life

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  “Why do you think Shakespeare chose a ghost to deliver the prologue?”

  “Well, he probably needed a character to get everybody in the audience up to speed. And a ghost is as good a way as any.”

  Marisol raises her hand. “It was inventive.”

  “And why is that?” Mrs. Carleton leans against the desk. Her khakis are baggy in the front too, where her knees bend. I don’t even know how you’d fix that saggage problem in a beauty/fashion makeover. You’d probably just have to spring for new pants.

  “When someone dies in real life, sometimes the essence of that person remains,” Marisol says.

  “That’s very interesting, Marisol, the idea that a person’s essence lingers in the ether after they have died.”

  “It’s creepy,” I blurt. The girls in the class laugh.

  “It’s supposed to be creepy.” Mrs. Carleton paces before the class. “The father has been murdered but he wants to help his son, who is still living, make important decisions, so he appears to warn and to guide him.”

  Mrs. Carleton checks the clock. “I think this is an excellent avenue for our next discussion. I’d like you girls to research the role of the supernatural in Hamlet and write a one-page essay about it for our next class. Here’s a hint, I happen to know there is an e-book of an old book called Life in Shakespeare’s England in the library. And I’d like you to take a stand in your essay. Argue that there are ghosts, or argue that there can’t be. And back it up with research.”

  At the end of class Marisol and I stand on line waiting to pick up our phones. We pick them up and commence scrolling through our messages as we walk out of the building and into the cold. There’s a text from my grandmother.

  Grand: Your mom and dad tell me you’re adjusting. I sent cookies. I didn’t bake them. Balducci’s did. Love you.

  “Newsflash. Cookies coming from my grandmother,” I tell Marisol.

  “Great.” Marisol tucks her phone into her pocket.

  “She didn’t bake them but they’re not exactly store bought. She got them at Balducci’s and they make their own food. So it’s sort of homemade, once removed.”

  “I’m sure they’ll be delicious,” Marisol says.

  This is definitely something to like about Marisol. It takes very little to please her. There is not an ounce of snark in her entire body, and just the word cookies puts a smile on her face. I wish I had some of that bottomless cheer.

  I text Grand.

  Me: Rockin’ on the cookies. Do you know anything about the ghost in Hamlet?

  Grand: Played Ophelia at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the

  Park. Glorious production directed by Ed Stern.

  Me: Cool. May need to pick your brain later.

  Grand: Anytime! xoxox

  “How many people have an actual actress for a grandmother?” Marisol asks. “That’s so cool.”

  “She’s a character. That’s what my dad always says about her. And I always found that such a funny thing to say: Grand is a character and she plays them. How weird is that?”

  “It’s fabulous. Are you kidding?” Marisol smiles.

  “She’s been on Broadway. But you know? She doesn’t even care where she acts, just so she gets to be in a play. She even loves dinky productions where she travels to Queens and they lift up the back of a truck and turn it into a stage and she does monologues from the classics for free. She is totally game for anything.”

  We walk to the dining hall as fall leaves, gold and red, swirl around us in the wind. They crunch under our feet on the winding sidewalk. Sometimes the Prefect Academy is downright pretty. Like now. It’s twilight and all of our campus turns deep blue. The lights from the dorm flicker in the distance like stars. The air is crisp and smells like sweet vanilla.

  I’m lucky that I have most of my classes with Marisol. I think they deliberately put a Brooklyn girl with a Mexican girl for a reason. Diversity. Marisol and I have discussed it.

  Marisol misses Richmond a lot, and her grandmother who lives in Mexico. It’s hard for her as the days get colder. She’s a warm-weather person, which is why it’s so insane that out of all the boarding schools in the world, she picks this one in freezing South Bend, Indiana. I don’t mind winter and I sure don’t mind autumn at all, because it means soon it will be Christmas break, and I can see my parents and my friends and eat sesame noodles until my stomach explodes.

  We bury our hands in our pockets and make our way down the path. “Do you believe in ghosts?” I ask Marisol.

  “I don’t know. Do you?”

  “For sure. My friend Caitlin Pullapilly says there’s a whole pecking order in the spiritual world. They have pictures and everything. She’s Hindu.”

  “Cool.” Marisol shrugs.

  I haven’t thought about ghosts much since that first night when I was looking at the footage and saw the Red Lady. It’s a funny thing—when something like that happens, and you can’t explain it, you put it aside in your thoughts and then, as the days go by the memory of it fades and I wonder if it ever happened. Maybe I did make it all up.

  I was so freaked out that first day—it was probably my imagination playing tricks on me. At any rate, I’ve decided I’m not a very spiritual person. I don’t really know about other worlds, times, and places—though I sort of wish that all that stuff were true. If it were, it would mean that time as I know it doesn’t exist, that my mother and father aren’t half a world away, that Tag Nachmanoff really isn’t too old for me, and that the hands on the clock are spinning so fast that I’m already back home at LaGuardia and in my old routine.

  “Can I tell you something?” Marisol pulls her hat down over her ears.


  “I hate Shakespeare.”

  “Me too,” I admit. “Why do they teach it?”

  “It’s classic literature.”

  “Who said so?”

  “Everybody. I mean, every school teaches Shakespeare.”

  “Maybe it’s just us.” I shrug.

  Marisol pushes open the door to the dining hall. We are greeted by peals of laughter and loud conversations as pretty much every girl from ninth through twelfth grade is either on the line to pick up their dinner or at the salad bar or already at their tables eating.

  A warm blast from the overhead heater by the entrance warms us as we go in. It’s tetrazzini night and I can see wedges of apple pie for dessert. Yum.

  Marisol and I usually study the forthcoming menus in the online school newsletter as though we are archaeologists on a dig unearthing something wonderful—we discuss it, ruminate, and get excited when the menu lists something we like.

  Marisol hands me an orange tray, and places her own on the ledge, filling it with utensils and a napkin.

  I wave at Suzanne and Romy, who have saved seats for us by the window at what has become our table. It’s so funny. My mother told me it would take exactly two weeks for me to like the place. It’s been almost a month (let’s face it—I’m a hard sell) and I guess boarding school is sort of growing on me. It’s little things, like dinner with my roommates when it’s cold outside, or assembly on Fridays when they have lame speakers and we drive them nuts with questions afterward, or in class, when I’m learning something I know I’ll use in life—these are the moments when I know I kind of like it here.

  Prefect Academy has turned into a family in a strange way with many moving parts and different points of view. Yet, we crave the familiar and stake out our tables and seats and sit in the same ones every night. All the girls do. It’s part of a routine now, and it reminds us that we depend upon one another now, and whatever makes us feel secure is best.

  Marisol and I wave to our neighbors from down the hall.

  “Did you hear about Missie Cannon on Third South?” Marisol whispers. “She went home to Pennsylvania.”

  “What happened?”

  “She was caught drinking.”

  “You’re kidding.”

  “Nope. She’s in tenth grade and she
snuck in a bunch of wine coolers and gave them out and somebody reported her.”

  Marisol and I lift our trays and snake through the round tables to our roommates.

  “Okay, we’re all going to this.” Romy holds up a flyer.


  Freshman girls are invited to attend!

  November 15, 2009

  Grabeel Sharpe Academy for Boys


  Buses depart at 6 p.m.

  “I am not going to Drab Dull for a dance,” I tell the girls as I put down my tray and backpack.

  “What’s Drab Dull?” Romy asks.

  “It’s like the law of the jungle at PA,” I explain. “I hear the upperclassmen say it all the time. Finally I asked one of them what it was, and she explained that’s what generations of girls have called our brother school. So count me out. I’m not going.”

  “Oh, probably some disgruntled girl got burned by a Grabeel Sharpe guy a hundred years ago, and she started a campaign to diss the school forever. Guys can be idiots. But not all guys,” Suzanne says diplomatically.

  I’m not about to explain the real reasons I won’t get on that bus and go to their dance. They do not need to know that I will never go to a dance until I can go with the likes of Tag Nachmanoff. I don’t settle in any other area of my life when it comes to excellence, so why should I lower my standards when it comes to boys? I don’t use a crap camera, I don’t eat junk, and I’m not going to a dance where the boys are bores.

  “You snap judge,” Marisol says to me.

  “I do not,” I say, taken aback.

  “Viola, you totally snap judge. You thought Mrs. Carleton was a fashion disaster because she wears Land’s End khakis.”

  “I modified my position when she wore Levi’s.”

  “I know. But you still had a week where you were doubting everything she said in class because she didn’t dress cool.”

  “You make me sound awful.”

  “If the yellow patent leather flats fit…,” Suzanne jokes.

  “I haven’t worn them since the first day,” I say defensively.

  “Everybody makes mistakes,” Romy says. “Even you.”

  “Okay, okay. I suck. I get it.”

  “Not in every way. Just in your snap judging,” Marisol says kindly.

  “Viola is slightly sheltered,” Suzanne says in a matter-of-fact tone.

  “What does that mean?” I’m almost shouting, my anxiety level on orange.

  “Oh, don’t worry about it. It just means that you’re an only child, and you don’t have siblings who push you to do things.”

  “Okay. Fair enough.” I shrug.

  “Look, here’s the deal about boys,” Suzanne begins.

  Marisol, Romy, and I lean in, because in our universe, Suzanne is The Great and Tall Blond One, who knows much more than we do about the intricacies of romantic relationships. She’s definitely got the upper hand when it comes to boys and there are two reasons for that. One, she has two older brothers who are hot and in college, and two, pretty girls like Suzanne are pursued, so they get to pick the boys they want first. It’s not like they ever pine, because they don’t have time to. They’re too busy fielding offers. I guarantee you that Suzanne does not have a Tag Nachmanoff-style crush on any boy in Chicago. She is way too cool to waste her time on something that might never happen. So when it comes to boys, dances, and the players at Drab Dull Academy, we have to defer to Suzanne. She has an inside track.

  “It’s not like you have to go out with these guys or even see them every day. This is a dance. It’s a chance to shake things up and make new friends who happen to be boys. They are not a separate species. When it comes to boys, we all need practice. We’re at an all-girl boarding school, and our options are limited. So, let us all be open to the possibilities. We’ll talk. We’ll dance. Maybe one of us will even kiss a cute one.”

  I lean back in my chair. I think we can all guess who would come away from this dance having been kissed. It won’t be Romy, it won’t be Marisol, and it surely won’t be me. But Suzanne will do everything she can to convince us that we should try.

  The dance that I wasn’t ever going to attend in about a jillion years just turned into a make-out session with random boys we have never met. The pressure is almost too much to bear except that I really do want to kiss a boy that I like—and when the time comes, I don’t want to be bad at it. It makes sense that there should be some practice involved, or at least the development of the skills that lead up to kissing. Now, this could be a plus to being in Indiana. I could practice here and then when I go home to Brooklyn I’ll be a pro. But any way around it, I am already in the presence of a girl with wisdom and experience. Suzanne knows what she’s talking about.

  “Now…,” Suzanne continues, “you absolutely are not required to kiss any boy just to kiss them. It’s not like there’s a scorecard or anything.”

  “Really? We’re being herded onto a bus to drive across town to an all-boy academy where we disembark and join our lonely counterparts on a dance floor. Sounds like a scorecard situation to me.” I salt the tetrazzini.

  “You’re making way too big a deal out of this,” Suzanne says. “We should be talking about what we’re going to wear, not about how we’re going to feel. Who cares about that? If it sucks, and the boys are idiots, we always have each other.”

  “I’m in,” Romy says solemnly.

  “Me too.” Marisol jabs me with her elbow.

  “Okay, okay. I’ll go.” I stab my apple pie to take a bite because I oversalted the tetrazzini. I wonder what my mother would say about eating dessert for dinner, but that’s the beauty of boarding school. I make all my own decisions, small and medium, while the big ones are left up to the Prefect Academy—and as far as boys go, to the only expert I know: Suzanne Santry.

  “Hi, honey! We’re in Wardak. It’s near Kabul.” My mom waves into the video conference camera on my computer. “You look great!” Mom moves in toward the eye of the camera, her face so close to the screen, she fills it. It’s such a tight shot, our dentist, Dr. Berger, could examine her molars.

  “Viola, how are you?” My dad moves into the frame, pushing my mom aside.

  I look around my dorm room to make sure none of my roommates are lurking. “There’s a school dance coming up,” I tell them.

  “How fabulous!”

  One of my mom’s worst traits is that she gets excited about things like school dances.


  “Now, Vi, attitude is everything when it comes to your social life.” Mom bites her lip and sinks back in the frame, while Dad leans forward to deal with me. His forehead wrinkles up in small lines like a tree trunk.

  “Your first dance.” Dad smiles.

  “And it may be my last! Princess Snark lives!” I make a tiara on the back of my head by waving my fingers.

  “So does your sense of humor. I think you like the idea of this dance,” Dad says teasingly.

  I just shrug.

  “I’m going to let you two talk for a moment.” Mom looks at Dad and then goes out of frame.

  “Oh, Dad.”

  “Your mother thinks we should have a talk.”

  “About what?”

  “Boys,” Dad says.

  “I know all about them,” I promise. “I mean, Andrew is a boy—and you used to be one—how much do I need to know?”

  “Good point. We’re just people.”


  “Just talk to everybody and have a good time,” Dad offers.

  “Great advice, Dad. If I had a personality like that, I could follow your instructions.”

  Dad laughs. Mom comes back into the frame. “I didn’t listen to a word of that,” she lies. “So, how are your roommates? How’s Soledad?”

  “Marisol,” I correct her.

  “Right, right. I loved her blog.”

  “I like Marisol a lot. We have a lot of classes together. Suzanne is, like, totally pretty and nice. Romy talks nonstop.”

  “Maybe she’s nervous,” Mom says.

  “No, she just likes to talk,” I say.

  “It’s good to be around upbeat people.”

  “I guess.”

  “Have you been working on your video diary?”

  “Oh yeah. The Viola Reels. It’s going great. I’m kind of known for my camera now. That’s how I’ve been dragged into working on Founder’s Day.”

  “Oh, you’ll love it. The girls dress up in costumes that are the uniforms from every era in the school’s history,” Mom says.

  “I know all about it. I’m helping with the play. I’m doing computerized scenery.”

  “How wonderful!” Mom actually claps her hands.

  “How are the classes?” Dad asks.

  “The teachers are totally Midwestern.”

  “You’re in the Midwest, Viola,” he reminds me.

  “That’s the problem. South Bend, Indiana, will never be Brooklyn, New York. Indiana has its charms. I like twilight. The girls are growing on me. The hash browns are most excellent. But I miss home. I miss stuff. Like, I miss our house. I miss our stoop where people leave cards for emergency locksmith service and stacks of flyers for Indian food to go and discount coupons for Tel Aviv airport rides. I miss Andrew. I miss Caitlin, even though her mother is way too strict and annoying. I miss LaGuardia. I miss Ray’s Pizza and the Manhattan skyline at night from the overlook at Dumbo. I miss gummi worms in Ziplocs from our bodega. I miss the garden on Clark Street where they planted sunflowers that got as tall as the second-story windows. I miss taxi cabs and gyros and frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity on Saturdays. I miss the fountain at Lincoln Center in December and the ballerinas in their leg warmers on their way to a Nutcracker matinee. I miss Mr. Sandovitch in his tuxedo when the car service comes to pick him up with his ginormous bass fiddle to play a classical concert at the Steinway Hall. I miss New York. I miss Brooklyn. I miss the subway. I miss you.”

  “We miss you too, honey,” Dad says.

  “With all our hearts,” Mom adds.

  “Then fly me over there. I can be very quiet in Afghanistan. I can do some amazing handheld camera work. You know I can do it!”

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