Maiden Lady Teachers | Tina Barry

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Prudencia? I startled her as she sat at her desk staring at her hand. Dios! she said, then began to cry. Prudencia had been married briefly to a wealthy man who divorced her after their year-old son died. My mother sympathized but fired her with severance and a letter of recommendation. Grief and teaching don’t mix, she said.

Madeleine and Maude

Madeleine and Maude were a year apart. They had pocked skin and big breasts that felt hard when I leaned against them. When I conjugated a French verb correctly, Madeleine said, Oui. Then Maude said, Oui. When I made a mistake, Madeleine said, Mon cher. Non, non. Maude said, Mon cher! Non, non! I called them the Parrot Sisters.


Hermosa, small as a child, came to us from a girls’ convent. She wore her hair in plaits. So fine, she’d murmur, pinching the fabric of my clothes between her fingers. One weekend Hermosa visited a sick aunt. I opened the door to her room where I was not allowed. One of my porcelain dolls, eyes snapped open, feet in shiny spats, sat propped against the pillow of her bed.


Justine wore her dark hair in a tight bun, oily at the part. She was thirty when she came to us. Never married. Clever girl, she’d say, when I recited the times-tables zero to 10. When no one was home to disturb us, she’d sit me on her lap and kiss my hands.

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