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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“Withdrawn?”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

“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.

Radiane

Radiane’s read the books about asylums, too.

Her wrist aches a little: sparring and bag work didn’t really prepare her for laying out a grown man, even one with a glass jaw. It’s cold in here. There have been no howls or rattling chains yet. She has noticed that the doors on these rooms are heavily secured, though, and the man at the entrance had no convenient ring of keys.

Georgette is shivering, but following; Iala is pale. “You do have a plan,” she murmurs, “as to what to do when we find her?”

Proserpina says nothing, just strides grimly on.

Radiane

“This is a sanitarium,” says the man in white, “and you don’t look deviant or retarded, and anyway if you were you’d already be inside, so piss off.”

“But I only want to visit my dear auntie,” she says, and her long dark eyes say: in return for which, all things are possible.

Sixteen is not, in this particular time and place, a young age for a girl. The orderly lets the hunger in his fingers twitch a smile from his face. “Well. Maybe. What was her name again?”

“Bend down here a moment,” says Radiane sweetly, “and I’ll tell you.”

Proserpina

Proserpina doesn’t have to make a rousing speech; she doesn’t have to draw a line in the sawdust. “Iala, you owe me,” she says. “Radiane. Ernestine. The rest of you can join us or not. I wouldn’t.”

And in fact, of the core group, four decline. But lumpy, awkward Euphrania Dowell volunteers, as does Emily-Jane Northup, their only third-year. So, to some surprise, does Georgette. Two glances between her and Radiane tell Proserpina everything.

“I don’t suppose we’re waiting for a moonless night to go skulking into the horrid place,” says Iala dryly.

“No,” says Proserpina, “for visiting hours.”

Proserpina

They watch the girls sneak back in pairs, waiting until last to leave themselves. Radiane rests her head on Proserpina’s shoulder.

“I was happy, you know,” she says suddenly. “Eating with Georgette, playing field hockey, hoping Father would buy me a horse. I was.”

Proserpina is silent.

“What happens to all that now?”

“It’s still there.”

“No.” Radiane cracks her neck: an awful habit they’ve all picked up. “You took it away.”

“I haven’t taken anything,” says Proserpina, a little coolly.

“That’s true,” says Radiane. “All you do is give. But your gifts are the kind with hooks in the ribbons.”

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.

Proserpina

They’ve figured out that they can get away with having six girls a night out in the wings; any more and the dorm monitors get suspicious. Their ring is chalk and their gloves filched leather. Proserpina does Mondays and Wednesdays, Radiane Mondays and Tuesdays, and on Saturday mornings you can come in to spar.

The novelty wears off soon, and takes most of the girls with it. A core group possessed of a curious intensity remains. They’re learning how to take a punch; they’re learning how to answer. They are not strong, but they know what to do with their hands.

Proserpina

“They were just here when I arrived for practice,” says Radiane with some chagrin.

Proserpina surveys them: a smaller gathering than at the big match, but still far too conspicuous a crowd of teenage girls to be clattering around in a closed wing.

“What do we do?”

“Start teaching them in shifts, I suppose,” Proserpina says.

“But you haven’t finished teaching me yet!”

“Exactly how much do you think I know?”

“Proserpina!” shouts Ernestine, traipsing over. “Where have you been?”

“Yes, out alone?” asks Radiane.

“No,” says Proserpina, too quickly.

Radiane cocks her head. “Not alone?”

“Not that either!” Proserpina says.

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