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Proserpina

Miss Havisham waits expectantly.

“We had, um, a midnight feast, is all,” explains Iala. “In the dorm.”

“Which dorm?” Miss Havisham asks quietly.

“2B!” says Iala. “3A!” says Ernestine.

“It was sort of in both,” says Iala. “Or either.”

“Only,” says Ernestine, “there was a fight. With food. A food fight.”

“No one was hurt,” says Radiane. “It was all in fun. Gentle fun.”

“Well, to be perfectly honest,” says Iala piously, “someone did get hit with a sausage.”

Miss Havisham’s eyebrow can climb no higher.

Proserpina sits in the back, grumpy, cheeks red and left eye puffing up quite nicely.

Proserpina

Cool fingers press into her lower back. “Here?”

“Yes.” Proserpina grips the bench.

“And here.”

“Yes! You already–” She exhales, wishing the woman would just sock her in the jaw.

“Quite routine at this age,” says the nurse. “I’ll get a hot water bottle and a Bayer. You’ll be fine by morning. Ten girls with the same thing this week,” the nurse winks to Miss Havisham, “and four didn’t even have a test the next day.”

She bustles off to cabinets. “You didn’t tell her why I’m dressed,” says Proserpina quietly.

Miss Havisham’s silent eyes track three dots on Proserpina’s arm.

Proserpina

“You can report me,” says Proserpina, “and I can report your improper attitudes and behavior toward me.”

“My what?” says Miss Havisham, in honest surprise.

“How else,” says Proserpina, “would I be able to draw your tattoo?”

Miss Havisham stares for a moment. “Is this how you see everyone who’s kind to you?” she says quietly. “Your classmates, who adore you, and your Radiane, and that little fox Iala. Does every one of us have a use?”

Then the shame building deep in Proserpina’s belly becomes painfully physical, and she sits down with her boy’s shirt ripping in one tight fist.

Proserpina

She reenters the main wing as if she still has a lookout, like every other night; which of course she doesn’t.

Miss Macnair.”

Flat of foot and red of hand, Proserpina considers her tactical options. She can probably outrun Miss Havisham: this is at best a stall. She can open with a jab to “thanks to an eyewitness” plexus, followed shortly “all hours of the night” and a right hook, which should finish things up “explain your behavior?”

Frowning in thought, Proserpina suddenly realizes she’s expected to answer.

“Oh,” she says, “no, but I do have the other thing. Er, blackmail?”

Proserpina

“It’s not really appropriate discussion for someone your age,” Miss Havisham says.

Proserpina just waits.

“Very well, if you insist,” says Miss Havisham. “But I’m not undoing my bodice again: I’ll trace it. Here.”

Proserpina watches her finger. “Where did you get it?” she asks.

“A harbor town on the far side of the world.” She shakes her head. “Quite a lifetime ago. Your lifetime, nearly.”

“Is it like a brand?”

“Hardly! The King of England has tattoos, you know.”

“Miss Greenbrier says the Romans tattooed escaped slaves.”

“We’re women, Proserpina,” says Miss Havisham tiredly. “To what else do we aspire?”

Proserpina

The first time Proserpina explicitly notices one of her teachers is during choir practice. She herself is an unspectacular alto (Iala, by popular acclaim, first soprano; Radiane doesn’t sing).

The teacher in question is Miss Havisham, their choirmistress, nearly thirty and prone to occasional lectures on Liberation about which the school administration probably should not know. The way she attracts Proserpina’s notice is a simple, straightforward sobbing breakdown. Iala’s contingent bustles into comfort formation, and soon all is right again; but when she loosens her bodice to breathe more easily, Proserpina spies the blue point of a tattoo between her breasts.

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