The great star smiled sweetly, her professional smile. Underneath she fumed as the headmaster bumbled on.

“As you know, Miss Elizabeth Thatcher is a world-famous superstar. She has honoured us with her presence today, her return to the town of her birth, because she was at one time a pupil at this very school. Yes,” he went on, “Elizabeth Thatcher was once a pupil here.” his voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “But her name then was not Thatcher, it was Plum.”

The film star felt an icy chill in her lower spine. Damn Dr. Schoenbaum. He had insisted that the only way she could be free of the voices was to revisit this hick town. She steeled herself as the headmaster continued.

“Yes, when Miss Thatcher attended this school, we knew her as Betty Plum.”

This evoked a remarkable response from his audience. All the little girls blushed and tittered. The little boys nudged each other with their elbows and muttered remarks that renewed the hilarity.

Elizabeth’s smile was now a fixed grin, desperately trying to conceal her pain. This was the nightmare. This was the dreadful feeling of ultimate humiliation. The Voices. The voices that had haunted her dreams. When she awoke she could never remember exactly what they had said; only that she was profoundly humiliated beyond endurance.

All through her career, the voices had dogged her, undermining her assurance, destroying her self esteem. She blamed the failure of her five marriages on the voices. Her husbands had been in turn sympathetic, impatient, and finally exasperated with her temperamental behavior in the mornings following the dream.

Her psychiatrist, Dr. Schoenbaum, had been wrestling with the problem for years. He had finally tracked it down to her childhood. To the tiny bush town in which she had spent her first eight years. This was supposed to be the cure. All she could feel now was panic. The Headmaster was concluding his speech.

Almost in a daze, she allowed herself to be conducted to his study. She still felt numb as they fussed about her, bringing her a cup of tea. Out of habit, she answered platitude with platitude. Gradually she calmed herself. It was really quite pleasant, the balmy spring weather, the warm air wafting in through the open windows, no cause for alarm, no cause at all.

Then it happened. The children, released from the speechifying of the special assembly, were playing on the grass outside the window. Their piping voices, as clear as bells, were heard clearly in the headmaster’s study.

“Betty Plum – Wet her Bum – Waiting for the Bus to come. O.U.T. spells OUT!”

Elizabeth Thatcher – Betty Plum – shrieked and fainted.

 

H.St.V.Beechey 1993.