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Category Archives: Proserpina

Someday, perhaps, I will stop writing stories about dangerous little girls.

Radiane

Someone whispers it to someone else at breakfast, and by dinner everyone in the school knows that Radiane is a scholarship girl. Family couldn’t even afford to pay for the education of one daughter? Her classmates pull sympathetic faces. Poor dear.

That night someone leaves a silver dollar on her pillow. Radiane stares at it in cold fury, then goes to the window and flings it out into the darkness. She knows exactly who began the rumor; she’s still trying to figure out why. They have begun playing a very old game among women, and Radiane doesn’t know all the rules.

Radiane

Which is why, the next day, she simply walks up behind Proserpina, grabs a fistful of her hair, and hauls sideways. Proserpina bites back a yelp and lets the taller girl pull her off the dining hall chair.

“I’ve read the boarding school stories too,” Radiane says, trembling. “I’m not going to be your little victim, you understand? I know how to handle a bully.”

She cautiously lets go. Proserpina wipes tears from her eyes. “You know how to stand up to me, you say?”

“Y-yes,” snaps Radiane.

“Good,” breathes Proserpina, and proceeds to break Radiane’s nose and two ribs.

Proserpina

Despite her parents’ concern, Radiane is only home recuperating for two weeks. Her nose heals a bit crooked, but the effect is oddly pleasing: she no longer seems to be looking straight down it all the time.

Proserpina meets her at the gate, holding a stick. Radiane looks at her and says nothing. The bruising hasn’t entirely faded.

“Do you understand that I’m dangerous now?” asks Proserpina. “More dangerous than a storybook bully?”

Radiane nods.

“But you didn’t tattle on me.”

Radiane waits.

“I can teach you,” says Proserpina, almost shyly, “to be dangerous,” and holds out a literal olive branch.

Proserpina

“Strike here,” and Proserpina taps the first two knuckles of her fist, “even if you’re wearing gloves. Keep your off hand a little farther out, to act as a guard; that gives your better arm more extension distance, and that makes it more powerful. And for heaven’s sake don’t swing like that. Draw back a little, then uncurl your fist so it ends up straight–see?”

“Who taught you all this?” pants Radiane.

“A friend. Named Tom.”

“And why do you think you need it? To beat up girls in the lunchroom?”

“As if I’ll need to,” smirks Proserpina, “after you.”

Proserpina

Proserpina’s grades are unspectacular, which is nothing new. Her mother will urge and cajole; Proserpina will reiterate that, sans any intention of attending college, she has more important things to take care of.

Watching a soggy winter landscape out the train window, she takes stock. What does she have? One best friend, one confidant, and a hundred other girls filled with either fear or admiration of her. A Greek textbook inherited from an older student, margins filled with notes about all the good scandals. Nineteen pairs of mismatched socks.

And, she understands within minutes of arriving home for Christmas, a suitor.

Proserpina

Half of her suitor is a boy, ash-haired and soft-fingered, only a few years older than she is. Proserpina sees that he won’t enjoy this meeting and wonders why.

The other half is his father, whose hand, when Proserpina shakes it, feels hungry. But his eyes are warm.

“Proserpina,” says her mother, “this is Mister Buchanan! He’s an old friend of your father’s, a business associate from New South Wales.”

“That makes you very brave, Mister Buchanan,” says Proserpina.

“Odd choice of phrasing, gel,” says Buchanan, but he smiles. “This is my son Dacelo.”

“Oh,” says Proserpina, “that’s why.”

Proserpina

“I’m here about your father’s business matters and I won’t be coy, little miss,” says Buchanan, over his game hen. “You see, he left certain shares to you, but as you’re a child–”

“Aren’t you my trustee, Mother?” says Proserpina.

Her mother blinks. “Er, yes,” she says.

“Except women don’t vote on Board matters,” says Buchanan. “It simply isn’t done–yet. Now, I can try to bring them around, but I need your agreement to serve as proxy, see?”

“Perfectly.”

“That’s your pop’s spirit!” winks Buchanan.

“Could you pass the salt?” asks Proserpina sweetly. “I could do with just a grain.”

Proserpina

“But he was being coy,” Proserpina will muse to Iala at the start of the new semester, “and he wasn’t just there about Father’s holdings. He’s in a different kind of business altogether.”

Iala wrinkles her face. “You really think he wanted to marry you? To his son?”

“Only as a short-term goal,” says Proserpina absently, “he wants something else in–” She stops and blinks. “Wait, do you think it’s improper? It’s not unusual to plan these things.”

“It’s not that–he’s from down there.

“The world’s getting smaller.” Proserpina’s smiling now.

“I’ll wager he killed someone,” says Iala darkly.

Proserpina

This is school: Latin and Greek, deportment and dressage, the lineage of the House of Wettin. They learn to waltz with each other and how to address a Duchess. They learn which fork to use.

Proserpina and Radiane sneak out in boys’ clothes to watch the fights, and Proserpina vomits the first time she sees a man’s blood drooling through his mustaches. Radiane doesn’t. They go again and again, and on the nighttime walk back they talk out every step. Did you see his feet, they say. Did you see how he fell apart as soon as he touched the ropes?

Proserpina

Dacelo’s handwriting tilts as it advances, like a man on a drunken boat, until by the ragged right edge it’s nearly horizontal. It always starts again straight and tall on the next line, though. It speaks to Proserpina of an endlessly misplaced optimism.

He spells everything right but misplaces the ends of his adverbs; his stationery is scented, filched from a woman’s desk. Proserpina remembers the absence of his mother at their dinner together.

She folds the letter and slips it under the lining of the chest at the foot of her bunk. Very sincerely, he says in closing. Your servant.

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