The year is 1963, and Lisa Grant is four-years-old. Her mother, the self-centred 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.
The governess’s name was Miss Laverty, and the children thought re-christening her Miss Lavatory was hilarious, but they soon stopped laughing after meeting her for the first time. They knew it was rude to stare, but it was almost impossible not to. Her eyes, although invariably bloodshot, had a hypnotic effect on the children, like Kaa in The Jungle Book. A network of spider veins ran across her face, but, it was impossible to ignore the wart on her left cheek because it twitched when she spoke.
From a four-year-old’s perspective, she must have looked like Methuselah, although she was only in her early sixties. Her dress sensed smacked of a stereotypical Victorian governess, without the crinoline and wearing shorter frocks, which were all made from a fabric that rustled when she moved. They were all black—the colour of her dismal personality.
As a preschool teacher, she was entirely ill-suited, charmless and emotionally lacking. 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 thighs. The children were frightened of her, but they were equally terrified to tell an adult that Miss Laverty was making their lives a misery.
Eileen had suspicions about Miss Laverty’s credibility as a governess after noticing little welts on Lisa’s thighs and hands. When she asked Lisa how she got them, her response was she didn’t know, or couldn’t remember. All the children were subdued after a morning spent with Miss Laverty, and Eileen often suspected that one or more of them had been crying. On one of Elizabeth’s rare visits to the family home, Eileen voiced her concerns about Miss Laverty, which Elizabeth 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! They wouldn’t do anything terrible enough to deserve a smacking.’
‘Enough, Eileen, I’m late for an appointment, and I don’t want to hear any more on the subject.’ Who provided Miss Laverty with 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. The smell of the dusty heat flooded through the window, along with a whiff of karma. Lisa had drifted off, visualising what she and Eileen would be doing after the boring Miss Lavatory had gone. A walk by the river, perhaps?
Miss Laverty’s characteristic drone was reaching acute boredom level. The subject was arithmetic, and she asked the girls which coin they would rather take shopping with them, a penny, or a sixpence. Lisa had been fantasising about playing Pooh Sticks, looked up at Miss Laverty as the words ‘a penny,’ popped out, along with a subconscious yawn.
‘And why exactly would you choose a penny, Lisa?’
Lisa thought about it for a second before absentmindedly responding, ‘Because it’s bigger!’
Julia and Charlotte sucked in air through their teeth; they both knew Lisa was wrong. It was an unfortunate response as, in the pre-decimalization era, one copper penny, although much bigger than a silver sixpence, was worth five times less.
Looking into Miss Laverty’s pulsating bloodshot eyes, the proverbial penny in Lisa’s head dropped. Scowling, Miss Laverty stood up, her gnarled face screwed into a tight grimace, making her wart twitch.
Bunching their fingers into podgy little fists, Charlotte and Julia 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 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. Taking a deep breath, she put both hands palm down on the table and braced herself. Miss Laverty lifted the ruler again, a glazed, unhinged look in her eyes, and slapped it down onto Lisa’s other hand. This time Lisa let rip a blood-curdling scream, which reverberated around the house. Enough was enough.
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. Drawing herself up to her full three-foot seven inches, she bawled at the red-faced, lavender-smelling, twitching gargoyle.
‘I hate you, Miss Lavatory! And my Daddy says he hates you too!’ she said just as Eileen burst through the door.