Viola learned one harsh, inviolable, life-defining truth the hard way: Baby possums are adorable.
Adolescent possums...not so much.
She had been adored as a child. Revered, even. People stopped to coo at her in the streets and she was given treats by anyone who had a treat to give. Her parents fussed, her grandparents doted, and her aunts spoiled. A nice life, if you can get it.
But as her fuzzily sweet baby self grew into an ungainly rat-like creature whose whippy rodent tail dragged behind her, reaction to her person became far less enjoyable. It seemed that the other animals responded not to her sparkling personality, not to her ability to soothe fussy infants, not to the fact that she could recite every flower that grew within two miles of the village - alphabetically by name and genus, thankyouverymuch - but to her appearance.
People loved her when she was adorable, but were decidedly less interested when she grew into her tail.
Viola pushed her spectacles up her nose and glared at her fellow classmates. Her sharp eyes scanned the room. She was definitely the ugliest one between these - and let’s be honest, most - four walls. She wished she didn’t care so much. But it’s hard to go from toast-of-the-town to ignored-in-the-corner in just a few short years.
Noticing that her left lens was smudged, Viola whipped off her spectacles and polished them on her gingham dress. When she put them back on and the classroom swam back into focus, she saw a perfect pale face right in front of her, a little too close for comfort. Especially when that face was Fern’s, the prettiest bunny in the county. Viola’s eyes crossed as she tried to focus on the diminutive pink bunny nose two inches from her face.
Viola hated Fern. She hated her pink leather satchel, she hated the way her shiny whiskers floated and her silky ears lay down her back. She hated that Basin the badger was always sitting next to her in school. She hated that Fern was now sitting right in front of her, nose twitching expectantly, impossible to ignore.
“Will you help me with our spelling list, Viola?” Fern asked, rather anxiously. Viola was surprised. She just assumed that Fern had deigned to join her in order to mock her lank gray fur or perhaps the long, unattractive tail she kept curled under her seat. Just because Fern had never shown any penchant for being unkind didn’t mean today wasn’t the day.
Viola looked down at her own list, accurately spelled in her beautiful round hand. Viola spent hours perfecting her penmanship. Just because her face couldn’t be pretty didn’t mean she couldn’t make her homework so.
Fern took this as an invitation and sat in the empty seat beside her. “Flowers are so dreadfully hard to spell,” she said miserably, plopping her fuzzy chin in her paw. “Chrysanthawhat? Basin doesn’t know how to spell any of these either,” she said, as Viola’s entire frame tightened. “He sits next to me to help me with my sums because I’m hopeless at them, but he isn’t good at spelling and we’re both lost.” She gazed despondently down at her long bunny feet. “Can you help? You’re so good at school.” Fern looked up at Viola earnestly, her entire body quivering in hope.
Viola had her suspicions, but decided she was in no position to be choosy.
So she sat with Fern and Basin by the river every day after school, teaching them how to spell. By the day of the test, Viola had both Fern and Basin accurately spelling everything from anemone to quibble - and she had two new friends.
Fern and Basin didn’t care what she looked like. In fact, they were jealous of her tail and its ability to hit a croquet ball through the farthest wicket. In turn, Viola didn’t mind that Fern was hopeless with fractions or that Basin was late to everything. It meant she was useful - it’s nice to be useful - and that she and Fern could eat all the cake before Basin arrived.
True friends are in charge of loving what you don’t like about yourself, Viola thought, holding it for you until you learn to see it as they do.
This is the fourth in a collection of stories about animals who talk and drink tea and get themselves in trouble. The first story, about a fastidiously dressed raccoon named Randall, is here. The second, about a world-weary lemur named Mortimer, is here. The third, about mischievous wombat twins with terrible names, is here. These stories have become some of my favorite things in life, so I hope you enjoy them.