Damp grass tickled my ankles as I moved through
an English country night, through air scented with the familiar
November smells of smoking leaves and sheep-dung. This was my fourth
butterfly: golden lovely with peach-tipped wings and emerald feelers.
The underbelly gleamed silver-blue as I watched my paintbrush make
its arc, gliding across the chapel's outside wall. For light, I
held a small torch between my teeth, drooling as I worked.
"Oi!" A shout came, but I hardly noticed.
Nothing could compare with this wondrous sensation, the thrill of
bringing what danced in my head to life. I was so utterly absorbed
that the grim fields and trimmed hedges had all but morphed and
melted into shapeless oblivion. Then the shout came again, bouncing
off the clouds, trawling the grass: "What do you think you're
Fear broke in me like a medieval plague and the brush slipped
from my fingers when I saw the dark bulk of a man. I bounded to
the left and then to the right. A split second later, I was running,
my feet slapping against the tarmac. But, he was faster than I,
and feeling his arm around my neck, I struggled and kicked, sucking
"Sod off!" I snarled, trying to bite
him. That very morning, in the predictably awful fashion of my boarding
school, the headmistress had hovered behind the lectern, speaking
sternly. There was a vandal at large, she said, wreaking havoc and
defacing school property willy-nilly. This vandal must be caught
-- and she would be punished...
"Watch your language, young lady. Blimey!
What do they teach you at this posh school then?"
He took me straight to Miss Malone, who came to
the door in a terrycloth dressing gown. She spluttered and spat.
I was a terrible disappointment she said, and I agreed, thinking
that the more contrite I seemed, the easier it all would be. But
Miss Malone was not fooled by my teary voice and shining eyes --
nor did she seem to understand the need I had felt to honor the
chapel by adorning it with an international symbol of beauty and
bounty. She escorted me at six to the headmistress, who was seated
in her breakfast nook sipping tea. She put down the cup, looking
at me over the tops of her bifocals.
"Ah, yes," she said. "I see. Sit down."
I sat, wondering if I could convince the headmistress that
there was no need to tell my parents, no reason for the other girls
to know. But, the headmistress didn't much like to discuss things
and was eager to dispose of me so that she could finish her toast
and marmalade. "I suppose you ought to be suspended, if not
expelled," she said. "We'll have to call a staff meeting."
And then to herself she muttered: "What a bother that'll be."
Turning back to me she said, "Now run along to prayers, Imogen."
She always called me Imogen. I expect she had me confused
with someone else.
As if in a trance, I moved through the melee of shouts, the
jostling, the shrieking, and fooling to the great hall. Girls everywhere
whispered and giggled when they saw me coming.
"We all know it was you," Monica sneered. "We
heard Miss Malone telling you off."
"It's been spread," Geraldine said.
"Vandal!" hissed Marina as we filed into prayers.
"I am not a vandal!" I cried, but there
was no force in my voice. Word was out and now I had to resign myself
to the truth. I was a spod, a loser, a flaming misfit -- and there
would be no more pretending, no more skulking in the shadow of the
pretty ones, the loved ones. This, for me, was real, and despite
its cruelty, the knowledge also contained a grand and glittering
Elizabeth Stamford was raised in England, and has
lived and worked in Namibia, Ecuador, and Sri Lanka. She is currently
living in New York City and is pursuing an MFA at New York University.