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Category Archives: Proserpina

Someday, perhaps, I will stop writing stories about dangerous little girls.


“Again, from your left,” says Proserpina. “You saw what that Pole did at the match last week–he had just one little routine, pop pop swish crack, but all he had to do was reverse it and the other man was flummoxed. You’re better than that.”

“Give me a moment, can’t you?” Radiane pants. “I already had field hockey practice today, and it’s harder from this side.”

And Proserpina almost pauses, remembering her father, and her left hand tied behind her back as she wrote shaky As.

“There’s no hugging under Queensberry rules,” she says shortly, and Radiane blushes and scowls.


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.


“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?”


In the abandoned wings there’s no one around to notice the smoke, and anyway, it’s actually outside on the stone stoop. Proserpina sits just in the doorframe. In her hand is a crude haft, bound to the same sewing needle with which she once made sock-bunnies for crying girls. She waits until the fire’s heat turns it opalescent.

She bares her forearm. She drags the hot needle through ashy blue ink, and jabs three times.

Then she throws it aside, claps her hand over the broken skin and says some words she picked up watching boxers, because it really hurts.


“No, not tonight.”

“Oh please! Black Jack Sullivan? And the Dooley Kid!”

“I have a nurse’s appointment.”

“It’s nearly evening,” says Proserpina blankly.

“It’s a…” Radiane smooths her dress. “Whatsit. Woman. Thing.”

Proserpina thinks about her dreams and doesn’t push it. She just goes to the closet in the abandoned wing, dresses down and goes to the fight alone. It doesn’t occur to her that she could be in danger; and indeed she gets nothing more than a nod and a shoulder-squeeze from the man at the gate. The whole night is quite routine.

Which is how she gets caught.


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?”


“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.


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.


She’s had less time to spend with Iala, since the Christmas holidays; so it comes as a surprise to Proserpina to find that her friend has an enemy.

“She did start it,” Iala points out.

“She couldn’t have known you were new money,” Proserpina says.

Iala’s eyes crackle. “Oh, are you going to start now too, Macnair?”

“I’m teasing, Iala.”

“Well, Ernestine Batten wasn’t,” Iala declares. “She’s a prig and a snoot and I won’t spend the next three years looking up her aristocrat’s nose!”

Proserpina says nothing more: it isn’t her affair. Until Radiane brings the girl to boxing practice.


“I am not a teacher,” hisses Proserpina, as Ernestine sniffs curiously at the oatmeal bag.

“She has to learn from someone. The Novak girl is crueler even than you were.”

“Iala’s not so bad. And you know I was caught once already!”

Radiane nods. “Exactly. With three of us you won’t have to go without a lookout again.”

“I thought you understood the storybooks. That a third link is weakest, that once you make a circle of more than two–”

“My mistake, Ernestine,” says Radiane loudly, “I thought here you could learn to be dangerous,” and Proserpina bites her own teeth.