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Proserpina

“I won’t permit this,” says Proserpina’s mother, who is scared and worried and upset and has nothing else to say.

“You can’t prevent it,” says Proserpina. They’re waiting at a train station: almost a year ago (only a year ago?) she arrived here for fall term. She remembers her steeled jaw, her buried fear.

“You’re my daughter–”

“You wanted me to take up with the Buchanans, to secure our future. Well, I have.”

“I wanted you to be safe!”

“None of us is safe,” says Proserpina, as Dacelo walks in with hope on his face, and his father follows with hunger.

Dacelo

Half a world and twelve hours away, another crank is turning on a reel of film, this one crisp and virginal.

“Speed,” says the nervous cameraman, “I think.”

“Cue!” shouts the director. Then: “Go!”

“Is that for me?” asks the chapped and holstered bushranger, squinting dawnward. His voice is squeaky, but his face is all stone and leather.

“Yes! I cued you!”

“But last time you said ‘start.'”

The director’s neck veins pop. “I’m sorry. What word would you like to settle on?”

“You could try ‘action,'” mumbles Dacelo, perched on an apple box in trousers too nice for this dust.

Proserpina

20th January

Miss Macnair:

aship again, with Father.

The appearance of wealth is at all times so bedamned
“criminal stock.”

All alike in their contempt.

belowdecks on these great filthy steamers: and though the company is cheerful

If I am to be Father’s apprentice, these lies, these manipulations
my cloak and hat.

How does anything new survive to be old, when the old is so wrought with hatred?

for all the gems in Africa;
confession

anything but honesty with you.

Since beginning this letter I have been sick four times. I suppose it is the sea.

Cordial,
Your servant,
D. Buchanan

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.

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.”

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