- Chelsea Whitton
brief interviews with hideous women: veruca salt
When the weather is fair, the Beauregarde-Salts will sometimes take a long walk with their giant schnauzer, Peg. Peg and Violet are nine and sixty-five years old, respectively. Veruca, senior-most of this odd bunch, has just turned sixty-six. For two thirds of each year, they live together in a 3,000 square-foot solar powered earth house in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The other third they spend in London and Manhattan where Veruca conducts the majority of her business as chair of Salt Industries’ executive board. Today we’re at the Finger Lakes house, which is partway buried underneath a bright green field, and the weather is fair as can be. A certain Rasputin-faced clown has apparently been begging for a walk all morning, so Veruca asks me if I’d like to join her in Violet’s stead. “She’s got a thing this afternoon. Otherwise, she’d be here, too.”
I’ve come to a fictional present where Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde, along with all of the other children who toured Wonka’s candy factory in the sixties, are now aging adults. The details of my quantum leap are highly classified— no one besides myself, the folks at Iron Horse, and Her Majesty the Queen, know how I’ve done it— but I can tell you this much: my hair does is not loving the humidity in this dimension.
“We didn’t speak for many years,” Veruca tells me when I ask about her history with Violet. “I was impressed by her, that day at the factory. So easy-going, but really focused on her goals. I remember thinking she seemed very grown up, even though she was younger than me.” From the start, I am thrown by Salt-Beauregard’s candor and kindness. She is definitely Type A, a direct and confident speaker who prefers to control the direction of the conversation, but there’s none of the churlish entitlement I’d come here expecting. She refers to herself, at one point, as “a wealthy old hippie,” and this description suits her fairly well. Her frizzy hair is brown and silver, swept into a braid that hangs over one shoulder. Her dress is minimalist, earth-toned, expensive-looking. She’s very crisp and proper for an old hippie, but her words are invariably carefully chosen and kind.
“Violet went her way. I went mine. We’d been traumatized, frankly. We just couldn’t see each other— none of us— for a long time. I remember Mrs. Gloop reaching out to my parents, at one point, about pressing charges— Augustus’s medical bills had bankrupted them. Dad sent her some money, I think, but there were never any grounds for a lawsuit. Wonka’s contract really was airtight— we checked.” She winks at me and bends down, baggie in hand, to address Peg’s most recent contribution.
“At any rate, some ten years passed. I finished school, then went to Paris for a few years. Tried my hand at modeling, but I was never any good. I had a huge trust fund, unlimited resources, loving parents, etc.— but I was so screwed up. I had nightmares and panic attacks. Thanks to the contract’s NDR, none of us were allowed to go public with our own accounts. Both my parents are dead, so now nobody but Violet and my therapist knows the whole story.” When I ask her how her memory of the events differs from the public record, Veruca concedes that the facts are all there— she and her parents fell into an incinerator after Veruca, then twelve, threw a tantrum in the nut room (or the golden egg room— accounts differ).
Veruca admits her behavior was uncalled-for, and an overreaction. “I’d been having these mood swings— I realize now it was probably something related to puberty. Maybe a reaction to all that sugar. Anyway, I touched something I wasn’t meant to touch, and Wonka reprimanded me— I can’t remember what he said, exactly, but I just… lost it. Screaming, kicking things. I think I started singing at some point— that’s how out of it I was.” Luckily, the incinerator into which the Salts plummeted was broken that day. Veruca confirms that it was broken, but when I ask her whether the fall was an accident, she only smiles ruefully, looks at my tape recorder, and pantomimes zipping her lips. She does the same when I inquire about what happened afterwards. “Look, was I spoiled? Hell yes. We all were. Every one of us had some behavioral issues— even poor little Charlie— but we were also kids. None of us deserved what happened to us.”
In the late seventies, an American talk show host contacted Veruca, Violet, and the others about a televised reunion— “Wonka’s Golden Five: A Decade Later.” Charlie Bucket, Wonka’s rags-to-riches heir apparent, the boy whose wholesomeness and virtue had charmed the world, was now publicly floundering. Having assumed control of Wonka Industries at eighteen, Bucket bankrupted the company within two years. He also took up drinking and partying with a vengeance. A tabloid favorite, Charlie spent the seventies becoming more infamous than famous for his erratic behavior, tumultuous love life, and decadent lifestyle. His personal brand in need of a serious enema, Bucket wanted to stage a nostalgic victory lap. But there was a problem— everyone else had grown up and done their best to move on.
“I don’t know why I agreed to it, except for the fact that my father had just died. Perhaps I needed closure,” says Veruca. Violet, preparing to run for local office, signed on hoping to draw attention to her campaign. Mike Teavee, a seventh grade history teacher, joined the reunion to promote his memoir, Personal Growth: My Life After Willie Wonka Shrunk Me to the Size of a Mouse & Then Stretched Me Out With A Taffy Puller. Augustus Gloop, whose health never fully returned to him after the events at Wonka’s chocolate river, declined the invitation and continues to avoid media attention to this day.
“The show was a disaster. Everyone but Charlie stormed off crying in the first half hour. They never aired it, which is probably for the best. Still, I’m so glad I did it because that’s where I met my Violet— really met her, I mean, as adults. We had this horrible experience in common, which we couldn’t really talk about with anybody else. So that was part of it. But also I’d never realized how beautiful and brave she was until the talk show. We left together, went for drinks. Six months later she moved in with me, and life’s been better ever since.”
Name: Veruca Salt-Beauregarde
Current Occupation: Retiree and philanthropist, former CEO of the Salt Corporation
Ideal Occupation: My current situation is ideal. I have what I want, and I very much want what I have.
Favorite sound: Violet’s keys jingling on the far side of the door, in the moment just before the lock flips and she comes inside. I try to picture her before I see her, try to guess what she’ll be wearing or what her first words will be once she’s inside. I’m often right. We’ve done a bit together, she and I.
Favorite food(s): huevos rancheros, gummy candy, cherries jubilee
Favorite vice(s): sour diesel, cabernet
What do you like, or do for fun?
Exercise, long walks like this one, swimming, sailing, some pilates, jogging once in a blue moon. I read a lot of bad detective novels, essays on design and architecture, travel logs. I love hosting big dinner parties— all of our friends around a big, full table, talking into the night. Vi’s a terrific cook. I’m not much of a chef, myself, but I love eating.
What do you dislike, or avoid?
Small, confined spaces me frantic, so air travel is quite challenging for me. I’ve tried Xanax, chanting, heavy drinking, television, noise cancelling face masks, acupuncture, meditation, podcasts, everything but shooting myself with a tranquilizer dart, but every time I have to fly I fall nearly to pieces. I also hate elevators and crowded subways.
Personal quote or motto:
"Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing.” - Sylvia Plath
Who is your style icon?
What would you “rewrite” about yourself, if you could?
I want a new name that isn’t also a therapeutic treatment for plantar warts.
Do you think you are a villain (pure evil) or just an antagonist at cross-purposes with the heroes (Charlie/Mr. Wonka)?
I wouldn’t say that evil quite comes into play in this adventure. In its place are bad things more akin to greed, lack of consideration, recklessness and poor manners. I’m not described as evil, but words like “rotten”, “nasty”, and “spoiled”. Essentially, I’m garbage. Is garbage evil? No, of course not, but it’s gross. You don’t want it near you. This is, more or less, my dynamic with Charlie and Wonka.
What role does your femininity play in your status as villain?
I’m described as a priss— mink fur coat, pin curled hair, perfect manners until something doesn’t go my way. I’m dangerous because I’m able to code switch quite easily, from a demure little angel to a deranged tyrant, in seconds. What I’m punished for, in the end, is not my greed exactly— all the children are greedy and have poor impulse control— but, rather, my shrillness and over-assertiveness. The punishment— thrown with the trash into the incinerator— is a gesture of humiliation specifically designed to lower my status and create an association between my character and waste.
What other hideous woman—past, present, or future— would you like to meet?
I’d like to host a gathering of all of Roald Dahl’s villainesses: Mrs. Twit, Agatha Trunchbull, Aunts Sponge & Spiker, Eva Ernst, etc. We’ll make a weekend of it— cocktails, lawn games, etc.
What goals do you have for the future?
I’d like to talk Vi into taking a cross-country road trip. I’ve been covertly researching RVs. They have ones with dishwashers, now, and queen size beds. I don’t think she’ll go for it at first, but I’ll work on her. It seems like a lovely retirement cliché to lean into.
Tell our readers something surprising about yourself:
I have never, not even in childhood, enjoyed the taste of chocolate. I love most other candy. Sour Glow Worms are my especial favorite.
What is in your purse right now?
One smartphone in a dark green case, two pairs of oversize sunglasses, lavender-scented hand sanitizer, organic dental floss, keys, assorted pills, assorted candy, dog treats, dog waste bags, a rose gold vape pen (birthday gift from Violet), honey-almond hand cream, one dangly earring, one aluminum straw, one pack of cards, two wet-naps, one fortune cookie slip, which reads: “You will prosper in a field of wacky inventions.”*
**this is a real fortune I recently got with my takeout order
Chelsea Whitton's poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, Sixth Finch, Bateau, Ilk, Poetry Ireland, Stand, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in poetry from The New School and is an English PhD candidate and graduate assistant at The University of Cincinnati. She is the author of the chapbook Bear Trap from Dancing Girl Press. Read more of her work at www.chelseawhitton.com. Read the entire "Brief Interview" series here.