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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

“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.

Radiane

Radiane is breathless and pale outside the headmaster’s door when they emerge.

“Ah, Miss Theodorakis,” he says. “Did you need something?”

She hands him a note.

“Withdrawn?” says the headmaster. “Hold on here, Mrs. Macnair.”

“What?” says Proserpina’s mother.

“It’s notarized,” says Radiane, her eyes never leaving Proserpina’s face. You have betrayed me, they say. I can’t do this alone. I took everything you gave me and it isn’t enough and I’ll kill you, don’t go–

Proserpina’s eyes are silent.

“Your daughter,” says the headmaster, “is being removed from this school.”

“By whom!”

“My husband,” says Proserpina, quietly and at last.

Proserpina

“I want to be clear that I take full responsibility for my daughter’s behavior.” The widow Macnair is quiet but firm.

“Not at all. I’m sure it was all the Havisham woman’s doing; she had an unnatural influence on the girls when she taught here.” The headmaster is just hoping she won’t ask too many questions about that. “We’ll inform the police, have her rounded up and taken back where she belongs—this Chinese accomplice you mentioned as well.”

“Thank you for being so understanding. Proserpina? Aren’t you going to apologize and thank the headmaster?”

Proserpina’s tongue is stiff and cold.

Proserpina

“Mrs. Macnair!” says the hotelier smoothly. “Do you require assistance?”

“I want to know what my daughter is doing here with these–people.”

“Mother!” says Proserpina.

“I thought I’d ride the train out early and take you shopping for summer clothes,” says Mrs. Macnair. “Now I find you not only out of school, but in disreputable company!”

“This is important!” says Proserpina. “My teacher–”

Her mother’s grip on her shoulder is sudden and tight. “That’s enough, young lady.”

“Proserpina?” says Elijah.

Proserpina has frozen, face white, just a fourteen-year-old girl remembering: this is the woman who broke my arm.

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

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

One November day, at the age of eleven, Proserpina got a hammer from the servants’ quarters and broke the tabs for most of the keys on her mother’s new Baldwin upright piano. Her mother, quite unprepared for the discipline required–she had not punished Proserpina in years–broke her right wrist. Forbidden to write with her left hand, Proserpina was withdrawn from school for the remainder of the term. She spent it in the solarium, pensive, wrapped in a blanket with hot bricks at her feet.

The hammer hadn’t touched the keys. Not once. She sucked the scabs on her knuckles.

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