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Proserpina

Two trunks from school, full of socks and Greek tragedy. Proserpina owns very little. Train to the station, carriage to the dock. Tension at the gate, checking tickets; Madeleine Havisham is, after all, a wanted woman.

But no. Above the ramp, clouds are gathering. Proserpina catches an upside-down headline under someone’s arm: EXCLUSIVE! ABDUCTION, ABUSE AT ST SEBASTIAN SANITARIUM. Iala told her father after all.

The great ship casts off with a bellow. Proserpina stands at the rail, watching her mother dwindle. People begin to murmur and gasp around her as, from the darkening May sky, snow begins to fall.

Proserpina

The Lees’ rooms are small and bright. Madeleine Havisham is not large, but she barely fits on Elijah’s mother’s little mattress, curled up with a hand at her mouth.

“Thank you for this,” says Proserpina.

Elijah says nothing.

“She can’t stay here,” says Proserpina. “They’d just–I’ve talked Mr. Buchanan into taking her on as my tutor. On the steamer with us. I think she’ll accept.”

“Don’t you,” says Elijah, and his voice shakes. “Don’t you need a porter? Me fetch carry very good, Miss Lady. Only two dollar–”

“Elijah,” she whispers, and tries to kiss him. His lips are cold.

Proserpina

“She smells like the shade of death,” says the hotelier. He jerks his head at Elijah. “We won’t have them here either. Try the flophouse at Oaks.”

“This woman is ill,” Proserpina says again. “If you’ll give her a meal, a bath and a room you’ll be compensated tomorrow.”

“You should get back, dear,” mumbles Miss Havisham, barely standing. “It’s time for class.”

“Didn’t think we even had any opium dens here,” the hotelier sniffs. “Much less with trollops.”

“I will ask once more.” Her fist tightens, and–

“Proserpina,” says her mother, in the doorway. “What on earth are you doing?”

Proserpina

“You’re a deus ex machina,” Miss Havisham whispers.

“We are not yet,” says Proserpina tightly, “out of the machine.”

They can’t get out the way they came in. Emily-Jane’s already had to break an orderly’s nose; more must be coming soon–

And then, suddenly, Elijah is standing in a delivery door. “Come on,” he says. The world outside is surprisingly sunlit.

“I’m taking her into town,” says Proserpina. “Elijah?”

He nods.

“I have to get back to school,” says Radiane. “Georgette, Euphrania, you can help me cover–”

“I’m going to tell my father,” says Iala, pale and sick and furious.

Proserpina

#9430, from the orderly’s sloppy logbook. Proserpina tiptoes to slide open the viewing slot, and inside, Madeleine Havisham twitches back in reflexive fear.

“Ma’am,” she whispers, “it’s us.”

Miss Havisham says nothing–this isn’t her first hallucination, in here–but leans closer.

From down the corridor, Emily-Jane gives a pigeon’s whistle: at school, it would mean a teacher approaching. Radiane’s throat is pounding. “Can we circle back?” she hisses.

The door is double-bolted and bound with steel. Proserpina looks at it, thinking of filmstrips, of her father, of six boards placed in a stack.

She draws back her fist.

Miss Havisham

The genius of their treatment is this: there is no trial to determine sanity. Why bother keeping one’s prisoners in prison, when the asylum has room?

Miss Havisham remembers crying six months ago at some unkind words from a romantic interest; how much, she thinks, I have aged. My students are training for a war, and I am a casualty. The memory of school makes her almost smile.

Then the attendants force a bar between her teeth and lever them open, tube of milk and eggs at the ready. Six days of hunger. She isn’t crying. She’s too weak to fight.

Proserpina

No one pays much mind when Miss Havisham isn’t in class the next day, but then, nobody else has spent quite as much time creeping about the abandoned wings as Proserpina.

She startles the headmaster as he leaves his office. “Oh, I’m afraid she was arrested last night. Some kind of riot or to-do,” he explains kindly. “But don’t you worry! She was of course released from her employment as soon as I heard the news. No need to have her bad influences around sweet girls like yourself!”

“With respect, sir,” she murmurs, “I count three mistakes in that statement.”

Proserpina

Proserpina’s grades have not improved.

One stolen Saturday, Elijah takes her ragged disguise of a sleeve and leads her up on top of the cinema, then over a series of other roofs to a viewpoint down on Maple Street. Horse drovers and motorists shout elaborate curses as a phalanx of silent women march very, very slowly, bound together by a hand-stitched banner: SUFFRAGE.

“They’re mad,” says Elijah admiringly. “Half-dollar says one of them gets her head kicked in.”

Proserpina doesn’t think Miss Havisham makes eye contact from the front of the ranks, but at this distance she isn’t sure.

Proserpina

“I wish you’d come out to the matches,” says Radiane, under the high-pitched chatter and scuffle of practice.

Proserpina contains a blush. “I don’t feel like it lately.”

“The real boxers don’t punch like us. Did you know that? They jab or swing, from the forearm or shoulder, but you taught us to uncurl from the upper arm out–”

“I taught you what works. We don’t have muscles like they do.”

Radiane smirks. “Maybe you don’t.” She feints high; Proserpina’s already up, anticipating, and soon everyone stops to watch the old partners spar.

Miss Havisham watches too, then slips away.

Miss Havisham

Miss Havisham, in a rare concordance with simple student beliefs, actually does live at school. She started doing so during the winter break, when things were even emptier than usual; no longer afforded residence at her boarding room in town after a violent disagreement with its proprietor, she packed her things and paid the cinema boy a nickel to stow them in one of the empty wings. She eats in the dining hall and bathes in the gymnasium lockers. She’s almost always first to class.

In her shame, she doesn’t go exploring much of the school–until one restless April night.

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