"A GOTHIC AND ELEGANT PAGE-TURNER."-The Boston GlobeTwenty years ago, Jane Hudson fled the Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks after a terrible tragedy. The week before her graduation, in that sheltered wonderland, three lives were taken, all victims of suicide. Only Jane was left to carry the burden of a mystery that has stayed hidden in the depths of Heart Lake for more than two decades. Now Jane has returned to the school as a Latin teacher, recently separated and hoping to make a fresh start with her young daughter. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories. And young, troubled girls are beginning to die again-as piece by piece the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface. . . .
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January 01, 2003
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Excerpt from The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman
I HAVE BEEN TOLD TO MAKE THE LATIN CURRICULUM RELEVANT to the lives of my students. I am finding, though, that my advanced girls at Heart Lake like Latin precisely because it has no relevance to their lives. They like nothing better than a new, difficult declension to memorize. They write the noun endings on their palms in blue ballpoint ink and chant the declensions, "Puella, puellae, puellae, puellam, puella....." like novices counting their rosaries.
When it comes time for a test they line up at the washroom to scrub down. I lean against the cool tile wall watching them as the washbasins fill with pale blue foam and the archaic words run down the drains. When they offer to show me the undersides of their wrists for traces of letters I am unsure if I should look. If I look, am I showing that I don't trust them? If I don't look, will they think I am naive? When they put their upturned hands in mine-so light-boned and delicate-it is as if a fledgling has alighted in my lap. I am afraid to move.
In class I see only the tops of their hands-the black nail polish and silver skull rings. One girl even has a tattoo on the top of her right hand-an intricate blue pattern that she tells me is a Celtic knot. Now I look at the warm, pink flesh-their fingertips are tender and whorled from immersion in water, the scent of soap rises like incense. Three of the girls have scratched the inside of their wrists with pins or razors. The lines are fainter than the lifelines that crease their palms. I want to trace their scars with my fingertips and ask them why, but instead I squeeze their hands and tell them to go on into class. "Bona fortuna," I say. "Good luck on the test."
When I first came back to Heart Lake I was surprised at the new girls, but I soon realized that since my own time here the school has become a sort of last resort for a certain kind of girl. I have learned that even though the Heart Lake School for Girls still looks like a prestigious boarding school, it is not. It is really a place for girls who have already been kicked out of two or three of the really good schools. A place for girls whose parents have grown sick of drama, sick of blood on the bathroom floor, sick of the policeman at the door.
Athena (her real name is Ellen Craven, but I have come to think of the girls by the classical names they've chosen for class) is the last to finish washing. She has asked for extra credit, for more declensions and verb conjugations to learn, so she is up to her elbows in blue ink. She holds out her forearms for me to see and there is no way to avoid looking at the scar on her right arm that starts at the base of her palm and snakes up to the crook of her elbow. She sees me wince.