Violet mackerels possibl.., p.1

Violet Mackerel's Possible Friend, page 1


Violet Mackerel's Possible Friend

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Violet Mackerel's Possible Friend

  For Holly, my niece

  —A. B.

  For my brand-new apple dumpling

  —E. A.

  Violet Mackerel is exploring her new home. Her family has only just moved in, so she is discovering interesting things all the time.

  Her first discovery in the new garden is an ants’ nest. Hundreds of ants crawl in and out, sometimes carrying things that are bigger than they are. Her next good discovery is a ring of small brown mushrooms growing in a damp spot. They look like tiny umbrellas. But the most interesting discovery for the whole morning is something that actually looks very ordinary at first. It is a brown knot in the pale wooden fence.

  The knot is a dark circle with a ring around it. Violet presses it like a button to see if something happens, but she doesn’t really expect that anything will. It moves. She presses a little harder and it moves a bit more. She presses harder still, and suddenly it pops right through the fence and falls out the other side.

  Violet’s heart does a worried little jump. She looks around to see if anyone has seen her accidentally making a hole in the fence, but everyone is much too busy to notice. Mama and Violet’s brother, Dylan, are still moving furniture, trying to find the right places for it all to fit. Mama’s new husband, Vincent, is filling in cracks in the new bathroom’s ceiling. Violet’s sister, Nicola, is trying to find the channels on the television by reading some instructions and pressing all different buttons on the remote. No one has seen Violet making the hole. Perhaps, Violet thinks, no one will guess it was her.

  One cheering thought is that she now has a good way of peeking into the garden next door. Mama says she thinks a girl lives there who is about Violet’s age. Violet doesn’t have any friends near the new house, and she would quite like to make one. But making a new friend can be tricky, especially if the friend you would like to make is someone you have never met or even seen before.

  Violet has been trying to think of some theories that might be helpful for friend-making, and so far her best idea is called the Theory of Swapping Small Things. The theory is that if two people give each other a small thing, they might end up becoming very good friends. She had the idea because Mama and Vincent got married in their old garden and when they said “I do,” they gave each other small gold rings, which they both wear all the time. It was a good swap, Violet thinks, since now they are very special friends. They laugh and smile almost all the time when they are together, and Vincent brings Mama a flower nearly every day. Violet doesn’t have a spare ring, but she does have a few special small things that she could try swapping with the girl next door. Perhaps one of them would be perfect.

  She squats down and puts her eye close to the hole, spying through it like a telescope. The garden she sees is very different from her own, which is messy with lots of weeds and long grass because no one has had time to do any proper gardening yet. In the neighbors’ garden there is no mess. There isn’t a single weed or a slightly overgrown patch. It is the neatest, tidiest garden Violet has ever seen. It has a soft, green lawn trimmed very short, with hedges clipped into special squarish shapes. The owners must be very neat, tidy people, Violet thinks.

  Then she has a slightly worrying thought. A family of tidy people might not be very pleased to discover a small hole in their fence.

  Only a minute ago Violet had been trying to think of a good small thing to swap with the girl next door. But now she is not thinking at all about making a new friend or testing her new theory. She is thinking about the tidy neighbors knocking crossly on the door and saying, “Why is there a hole in our fence, and who put it there?” That is a very worrying thought.

  When it gets close to bedtime, Violet is still worrying. She would like to tell Mama and Vincent about the hole before the neighbors come over. Mama and Vincent might be cross too, but they might also have some useful ideas. Vincent might say that they could fill the hole with the stuff he has been using to fix the bathroom cracks. Mama might say that they could make a special ginger cake with lemon icing that says, “Sorry about the hole in your fence.”

  But everybody looks tired after a day of moving into the new house. They do not look as if they are in the mood to fill holes or make cakes. They are flopping on the couch and chairs, which aren’t in quite the right spots yet, and watching the one channel Nicola has managed to find on the new television. So Violet does not tell anybody about her worrying thought.

  Something she particularly likes about the new house is that now she has her own bunk bed. Violet slept in a bunk bed once at a beach house and has wanted one ever since. She sleeps in the bottom bunk with a sheet draped down so it makes a small personal space. It is a good place for thinking, even if the thinking is mostly worrying, which it is tonight. But before she goes to sleep, Violet has an idea about the problem of the hole in the fence.

  Sometimes when you wake up in the morning and think about an idea you had the night before, it doesn’t seem quite as good. At other times it seems even better than it did when you first thought of it. Violet’s idea about the hole in the fence is the second sort.

  Before she has had breakfast or even has said hello to anyone, Violet looks through her Box of Small Things and takes out a tiny silver bell. It is the kind that dangles on the bottom of a skirt from India, and if there are lots, they jingle. Violet has only one bell so it does not quite jingle, but she likes it and has been saving it for something important. She wraps it up in a small piece of purple tissue paper saved from a present Vincent once gave her. Then she sticks it together with a sliver of sticky tape. It is the smallest present she has ever wrapped.

  Next, Violet writes a message on a piece of paper not much bigger than a postage stamp, using her tiniest, tiniest handwriting. She writes:

  Then she draws a tiny violet and folds up the note. It is the smallest note she has ever written.

  Violet takes the present and the note out to the garden and puts them into the hole in the fence. They rest perfectly in the curve of the wood. Her idea is that if a person notices something like a hole in their fence, they would probably go over and look at it closely. And if they find an apologizing note and a small present waiting there, perhaps they are less likely to mind too much. It is a good idea, Violet thinks.

  When everybody else gets up, there are lots of things to do. Dylan has a violin exam in the afternoon, so he is practicing nearly every minute, and it is Violet’s job to turn the pages of the music book for him. Dylan cannot talk at the same time as he plays the violin, not even just to say, “Turn the page now, please.” So he wrinkles his nose when it is time for Violet to turn the page. Violet listens to the music, watches Dylan’s nose very carefully, and thinks and thinks about the present in the hole in the fence.

  Mama has been knitting owls for a friend’s shop, and the owls have to be finished by the afternoon, but they don’t have eyes yet, because she has been so busy unpacking. So Violet helps with the eyes, and then in the afternoon she and Mama deliver the owls together. It is a shop Violet likes and usually she is glad when Mama stops for a chat with her friend because that means there is time to look around.

  But this afternoon Violet is thinking nonstop about the tidy neighbors and wonders if they have noticed the hole or found the note and the silver bell. So although there are a lot of new and interesting things at the shop—like crocheted cupcakes and doughnuts, and notebooks with felt ladybugs on the covers, which Violet especially likes—most of all she just wants to go home.

  As soon as they get back, Violet runs out to the garden. She can see from a few steps away that there is still a tiny tissue-wrapped present and note in the hole. She is slightly relieved because it means that the tidy neighbors probably hav
en’t noticed. But she is also a bit disappointed because it would have been nice for them to find the silver bell and not be cross.

  However, when she gets closer to the fence and looks more carefully, Violet notices something very interesting. The tissue parcel in the hole is not purple anymore. It is pink.

  Violet takes the pink-tissue parcel out of the hole. There is also a tiny note. Mama says it is polite to open cards before presents, but as far as Violet knows there are no rules about notes and, anyway, no one is there to be polite for. So she unwraps the pink parcel first, very carefully peeling away a tiny piece of sticky tape.

  Inside the parcel is a beautiful tiny purple gemstone. It is about the size of Violet’s little fingernail. She knows the proper name for it because Nicola has some precious gemstone beads and a book that tells you which stones are which. Nicola has shown the book to Violet, so Violet knows that the icy purple ones are called amethysts. They are her favorite of all the gemstones. It is a very good present, she thinks.

  Next she unfolds the tiny note. The handwriting is a little bit like hers but neater. It says:

  At the bottom of the note is a tiny drawing of a rose.

  Violet folds the note up, wraps the amethyst back in the pink tissue, and puts them both in her pocket. But she keeps taking them out and looking at them again and again.

  Even though Violet does not want to tell anyone the secret of the hole in the fence, she does tell Mama about Rose’s invitation. (If you don’t mention where an invitation comes from, even a strangely small one, people usually don’t ask you any questions about it.) Mama says she can go, so Violet puts another note in the hole that says Yes, please signed with a violet. Later on, Mama knocks on the new neighbors’ door to see what time Violet should come and also to borrow a can opener, since the Mackerels’ can opener is still in a box somewhere and no one can find it.

  Violet does not go with Mama, because she wants to do some planning before she meets Rose for the first time. Since they have swapped small things, perhaps they will become very good friends. And on the day you meet a very good friend for the first time, Violet thinks it might be important to wear something special.

  In her new room there is a box of old clothes that Nicola has outgrown. Mama says most of them will still be a bit big for Violet, but Violet has been having seconds of dinner quite a lot lately, and she might be bigger than people think. In the box she finds a skirt that used to be Nicola’s favorite. It is dark purple, and when Nicola twirled very fast, it flew out into a perfect fluttering circle. Violet tries the skirt on. She breathes out as much as she can, but the skirt is still a bit loose. Then she has the idea of pegging it at the side with a wooden clothes peg. She twirls and it flies out perfectly.

  Violet has a red-and-white stripy top that is long enough to cover the peg. She tries it on and looks in the mirror on the inside of her wardrobe door. All you can see of the peg is a slight lump at the side. It is a good outfit for meeting a possible very good friend for the first time, Violet thinks.

  She lays it all out on her chair, ready for tomorrow, and puts the small amethyst in the pocket of the stripy top. Then she puts her pajamas on and wishes and wishes that the morning would hurry up.

  Before she goes to bed, she checks the hole in the fence one more time. There is a new note there. It says signed with a rose. Violet hopes and hopes that Rose might turn out to be a very good friend.

  Violet wakes up so early the next morning that it is still a bit dark outside. She gets dressed straightaway in her skirt and top. She wishes she could find both of her favorite purple socks instead of only one purple sock and a red sock. But when she puts her boots on, you can hardly tell that they are different. Mama and Vincent like people to wait until it is completely light, and preferably even a big longer, before going into their room and asking them to do things like look for lost socks. So Violet chooses some books from the pile Mama unpacked yesterday and waits for the sun to rise properly.

  When the sun is finally all the way up and there are shuffling noises and the sound of the kettle on in the kitchen, Violet runs downstairs. After breakfast, she takes some muffins that she and Vincent made and places them very carefully into a box to take to Rose’s house.

  At last, it is time to go next door. Mama comes too, to return the borrowed can opener. Violet is glad, because even when you have really been looking forward to meeting someone for the first time, you can get slight butterflies when it actually happens. It is nice if someone goes with you, at least as far as the door.

  Violet rings the doorbell, and Rose’s mama answers. A lovely smell of perfume wafts out onto the porch. Rose’s mama has on red lipstick and is wearing a perfectly white shirt without any wrinkles, like someone on television. Violet suspects Mama’s shirt was once white too, but now it is a lot of different colors. It is the one she wears to do things like painting and unpacking boxes, so there are also quite a few wrinkles.

  While Mama gives back the can opener, and they say for quite a long time what a nice community it is and how handy to have a fruit and vegetable market just around the corner, Violet stands behind Mama and peeps in. Sometimes she peeps at exactly the same moment as the girl who is standing behind Rose’s mama peeps too. She is wearing a perfectly white dress, like a girl in a magazine. When they catch each other peeping a few times in a row, they both get the giggles. After that, when Rose’s mama says, “Rose, why don’t you take Violet upstairs and show her your room?” Rose says, “Come in, Violet!” and Violet runs inside as if they are already very good friends.

  Although Rose is jiggling a little bit and doing an excited sort of squeak, her dress stays as unwrinkly as her mama’s shirt. She even has matching white hair clips. Violet puts her hand over her peg lump.

  “We take our shoes off indoors,” says Rose quickly. “It’s so the carpet doesn’t get ruined.”

  Violet takes her boots off and puts them beside a neat row of shoes near the door. She wishes very much that she had been able to find her other favorite sock, or, in fact, any two socks that were the same. Rose’s socks match perfectly, and they are white with a pink rose on each ankle. Violet does a little swallow and follows Rose up the soft, carpeted stairs to her room.

  Violet has never been in a room like Rose’s before. Everything is pink or white or both, and her bed has a floaty curtain all around it called a canopy. There is an oval mirror on a stand that tilts backward and forward, and a dresser with pink crystal knobs. And beside the dresser on a pink rug is the loveliest dollhouse Violet has ever, ever seen. Rose wants to show her lots of other beautiful things, but Violet cannot stop looking at the dollhouse.

  Rose doesn’t seem to mind. “Want to see inside?” she asks.

  “Yes, please!” says Violet.

  Rose pulls out the dollhouse and a box of dolls and furniture. Violet tucks her differently socked feet underneath her and looks, not daring to touch. There is a tiny grand piano, a lampshade, an oven with pots and pans, a bath with gold taps, a sofa, a dining table with chairs, and even a cheese platter with cheeses and a silver knife.

  “Do you have a dollhouse?” asks Rose.

  Violet does have one that she and Nicola made in a shoe box. They made a chest of drawers by sticking matchboxes together and gluing on beads for knobs, and they made a mirror by covering a tiddlywink in silver foil. Even though she does have a sort of dollhouse, Violet says, “Not really,” quite softly. The shoe-box sort probably doesn’t count, she suspects.

  “How about you set up the living room?” asks Rose. “And I’ll set up the bedroom.”

  Violet likes choosing the pieces of furniture from the box and deciding where they should go. Rose sets up a tiny canopy bed, a pink rug, and a little tilting mirror on a stand.

  “That looks just like your bedroom!” says Violet.

  “I know,” says Rose. “I’ve been collecting the pieces for ages. I wish there was a dresser like mine, though.” Rose puts a little plain white one in the dollhouse bedro
om. “They don’t make them with pink crystal knobs.”

  Violet decorates the living room with a grandfather clock and some bookshelves with books on them. Rose does her excited squeak when she sees how it all looks. It is so much fun working on the dollhouse with Rose that Violet forgets to worry about her socks. When she kneels right down to look through the doorway into the kitchen, she forgets to worry about her peg, too.

  “Why do you have a peg on your skirt?” asks Rose.

  Violet pulls her stripy top back down as far as it will go.

  “It’s my sister’s old skirt and it’s still a bit big for me,” she says, wishing and wishing that she had a perfect dress like Rose’s.

  “That’s a clever idea,” says Rose. She looks thoughtfully at the peg lump.

  Violet and Rose have their morning tea, sitting on special high stools beside the kitchen counter. There is a fresh pine foresty smell and a nice soft hum coming from the dishwasher. The only thing on the shiny kitchen counter is a brochure from a bakery, open to some pink and white cupcakes with sugar flowers on top. Violet thinks about the box of muffins she and Vincent made and wonders if Rose normally has iced cupcakes with flowers for morning tea.

  “Mama is ordering those for my birthday party,” says Rose.

  “They’re beautiful,” says Violet. She would like to taste one, but she suspects Rose probably doesn’t invite peg-wearers to her parties.

  Rose’s mama pours their juice into tall glasses and adds ice cubes from a special box in the freezer, using tongs. Violet watches carefully. She has never had ice from tongs before, and somehow it seems nicer than ordinary ice. The muffins Violet brought look very plain next to the cupcakes in the picture, even though Violet chose the best ones to bring. But Rose and her mama both eat two and say they are delicious.

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