The year is 1963 and Lisa Grant is four-years-old. Her mother, Elizabeth, has hatched a plan with two families living down the road from to employ a governess to teach Lisa and the neighbours’ young daughters. I confess I am guilty of a case of writer’s revenge when I wrote this, but it is the only blatant autobiographical event that has been woven into Lisa’s story. And it is here that any similarities between myself and Lisa Grant ends! 😉
The governess’s name was Miss Laverty, and the children thought it was hilarious when they re-christened her Miss Lavatory, but they soon stopped laughing when they met her for the first time. To them, she must have looked like Methuselah, although she was only in her early sixties. She always dressed like a stereotypical Victorian governess, in black, the colour of her dismal personality.
So it was hate at first sight as far as Lisa, Charlotte and Julia were concerned. They had been brought up knowing it was rude to stare, but it was very hard not to when Miss Laverty first came into their lives. The skin on her face was spattered with a web of tiny red veins and there was a very large wart on her left cheek, which was impossible to ignore as it twitched when she spoke. Her eyes were always bloodshot which, to the older Lisa Grant, conjured up visions of Miss Lavatory holed up at home every night with a bottle of gin behind closed curtains.
Miss Laverty always smelt, very strongly, of lavender water and the smell eerily wafted through the house as soon as she arrived every morning. As a pre-school teacher, she was entirely ill-suited, charmless and emotionally lacking. Eileen had doubts after meeting Miss Laverty for the first time.
‘I don’t know, Nellie. How on earth did a woman like Miss Laverty ever become a governess? She has to be the most disagreeable woman I have ever met.’
Unfortunately for the children, she wasn’t against using corporal punishment on four-year-olds. The tool Miss Laverty chose to inflict punishment, as well as pain, was a ruler, aggressively slapped on the backs of their tiny hands or the backs of their squidgy thighs. The children were frightened of her, but, for some odd reason, they seemed equally terrified to tell an adult that Miss Laverty was making their lives a misery. Maybe because they had been brought up to adhere to the out-dated philosophy, children should be seen but not heard.
Eileen started noticing little welts on the back of Lisa’s thighs or the backs of her hands. She would ask Lisa how she got them, and Lisa would say that she didn’t know or couldn’t remember. There were also times when all the children came out of their lessons, looking subdued and Eileen strongly suspected one or more of them had been crying. So she told Elizabeth on one of her rare visits to the family home she had concerns, which Elizabeth immediately dismissed.
‘Don’t be so ridiculous, Eileen! Miss Laverty came to us with excellent references. Anyway, I hardly think smacking a child is such cause for concern. What better way is there to discipline a naughty child?’
‘But, Mrs Grant, they’re only four and wouldn’t do anything terrible enough to deserve a smacking.’
‘Enough, Eileen, I’m late for an appointment in Cheltenham. I don’t want to hear any more on the subject.’ Who provided Miss Laverty with such glowing references? Only Elizabeth knew.
One hot summer morning, the windows of Lisa’s nursery, which doubled up as a classroom, were flung wide open and the smell of the dusty heat flooded through the window, along with a whiff of karma. Lisa had drifted off. She was visualizing what she and Eileen would be doing after the boring Miss Lavatory had gone. A walk by the river or perhaps they would go and have tea with Charlotte or Julia. Eileen always made Lisa forget about her miserable mornings in the schoolroom.
Miss Laverty’s characteristic drone was reaching acute boredom level. The subject was arithmetic, and she asked the girls, which they would prefer to take shopping with them, a penny or a sixpence. Lisa, whose brain was focusing on playing Pooh Sticks, opened her mouth and the words,
‘A penny,’ popped out, along with a subconscious yawn.
When a scowling Miss Laverty asked why she would choose a penny. Her four-year-old still developing brain failed to engage as she absentmindedly responded, ‘because it’s bigger!’
It was an unfortunate response in the pre-decimalization era, when one copper penny, although much bigger than a silver sixpence, was worth five times less. So it wasn’t until Lisa looked into Miss Laverty’s pulsating bloodshot eyes that the proverbial penny dropped.
Julia and Charlotte sucked in the air through their teeth; they both knew Lisa was wrong. Ms Laverty’s gnarled face screwed into a tight grimace, which made her wart twitch. Bunching their fingers into podgy little fists, they watched in horror as the harridan picked up a ruler in her shaking hand and slapped it down onto the back of Lisa’s hand. They both felt her pain.
Lisa was trying very hard not to cry as she watched the red mark streak across the back of her hand. She narrowed her eyes, the pièce de résistance of her very best cross look and fixed the witch with her stare, placing both her hands palm down on the table. Then biting hard on her bottom lip, she watched Ms Laverty lift the ruler again and slap it down on to her other hand. This time Lisa let rip a blood-curdling scream, which reverberated around the house. Enough was enough.
‘Eileeeeeeeeeen!’ All three children jumped up, instinctively reaching out to hold each other’s hands in solidarity as they raced towards the door, screaming Eileen’s name. Still holding hands with Julia and Charlotte, Lisa turned around and drew herself up to her full 3ft and bawled at the red-faced, lavender smelling, twitching gargoyle.
‘I hate you, Miss Lavatory! And my Daddy says he hates you too!’