Ever since Lola was born on Zelda’s third birthday the sisters had been making their parents lives difficult. Quite difficult. “A nightmare!” their father claimed.
At nine he threatened to make Zelda sleep with the dog in the doghouse unless she promised to no longer make disparaging remarks about or to her sister. Zelda’s detour around this injunction was immediate. She stopped speaking to Lola at all. Not a word. If Lola entered the room Zelda immediately stood up and left. If Lola spoke to her Zelda only sneered and turned her back. Their father, grateful for a respite in the whining, crying, and complaining but a bit guilty about his method of persuasion built Zelda her own room at the opposite end of the house and as soon as she’d moved out of her old room beside Lola’s he combined the two small rooms into one larger room–a mirror image of Zelda’s.
His wife then suggested that since things were quiet they could have another child. He replied quickly that once he’d wanted a large family and several sons but now he preferred peace and quite.
Lola painted her room in lovely soft pastels and had her mother make rose-velvet curtains that seemed too grown-up when she was eight but by the time she was thirteen they were a perfect foil for her soft brown curls and moss-green eyes. Zelda’s room was black, and white, and various shades of gray. Very modern, sophisticated, sleek. Not very welcoming but very Zelda. For vacation their parents took one girl with them but never both and their father’s cousin Misty came to tend the one who was left behind.
Zelda was a brilliant student. Lola was voted ‘best friend’ by every single child in her class. Zelda became an expert fencer. Lola excelled at decorating cakes. Lola ate dinner at six o’clock and Zelda sat down at seven. “Split-shifts,” their father had announced proudly when he came up with the idea. “We’re not an ideal family,” he announced one day to Misty, “but I do what I have to do.”
Then a boy moved in next door, not a fabulous boy, just a boy and neither of the girls really noticed him until he began writing a critic’s corner for the school newspaper. In one of his columns he attempted to describe the difference between “beautiful” and “pretty” by using Zelda and Lola as his reference points. His argument was somewhat logical but the girls were offended by his conclusion that beautiful is dangerous and pretty is boring.
For two weeks the girls argued that they were best described by the opposite adjective. Lola wanted to be beautiful. Zelda wanted to be pretty. Then their father got another of his great mediating ideas. He pointed out to each of his daughters, one at a time of course, that perhaps the problem of these definitions didn’t lie with them but with the boy next door. Lola thought about it. Zelda thought about it. Then, for the first time ever they joined forces to make and execute a plan to kill the critic.
“Dieppe, 14 July 1905: Night” painted by John Duncan Fergusson in 1905
National Galleries of Scotland, The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council