A picture of the totally naked Miss Smithers, this time barefoot with a little pouch around her ankle, walking through autumn leaves with a thin black girl in tights and a sweater. “After Thanksgiving a further stripping of Miss Smithers took place. They took away all her footwear, any large towels, the blankets and sheets on her bed. The college maneuvered dorm arrangements so that she had two new roommates so that her nakedness would always be on display in front of someone. Fortunately for her, these roommates were not ‘in’ on Henry’s plan and became good friends, though, and this is another terrible irony, they were under the impression that her ‘religion’ was real and they admire her for sticking with it.”
Brian Cook shook his head. “And she still held on.”
“Indeed. Even when the weather got cold. Look at this.”
Another picture, and this time gasps and shudders from everyone. The naked girl was standing in front of a supermarket on an icy cold day, bare feet planted in snow, heavily-clothed people walking by her, stockboys staring at her from the supermarket window. The girl’s eyes are closed, her arms are straight down at her sides, her hands clenched. “Here she is waiting for friends in front of the local supermarket.”
Another picture: the girl on a campus path, walking toward the camera, behind a couple of other girls in bright coats and heavy pants and boots. The extreme cold is clear from the fogging breaths from the two girls, who are cheerful and talking to each other. “Jesus,” Donald said softly. Nina felt herself whimpering, “Oh . . . God . . .”
“January in Vermont,” Sarah said. “The temperature on this day was one degree below zero Fahrenheit. Yet Miss Smithers walks nakedly on.”
“Isn’t she getting frostbite? Or hypothermia?” Donald asked.
Dr. Maber said, “Walking a few minutes between buildings would be safe. But that is not to mention the intense feeling of cold, which is like pure pain.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever BEEN in zero degree weather,” Donald, a California native, said.
“I have,” Nina said dully. “I grew up in Kansas. It feels like your face is cracking because the ice gets into your pores.”
“Well then,” Dr. Maber said, “imagine how it must feel with your whole body exposed like that, including all those parts that have never gotten used to being cold.” A collective shudder went through the room.
Sarah let the silence sink in. Then she pointed to the coat on one of the girls, and the miserable, longing look on the naked girl’s face. “When Miss Percival took away Miss Smithers’s clothes she distributed them to her friends. This is -- or used to be -- Miss Smithers’s coat. Notice her look of longing, almost agony.”
Another picture, surreal and hardly more comforting. A full-figured Mexican-looking girl and the black girl from before, both bundled up, walking along casually with the naked Miss Smithers in between. They are chatting and smiling, the naked girl playfully kicking up the snow with her toes. “Miss Smithers does have a circle of close friends, and when she’s with them she seems o.k. with being naked.” Another picture, this time walking hand in hand with a young black man with a shaved head and glasses. “This is her boyfriend, Rod Sykes, an engineering major.”
“She seems like Little Miss Diversity”, Donald said.
Dr. Maber exhaled, obviously trying to control her irritation. “That may be related to her plight, we don’t know. Probably she’s merely unprejudiced,” she added pointedly.
“Because she is so unassuming and apparently dedicated to her ‘religion’, Miss Smithers is one of the most popular, admired even, freshmen on the campus. As you put it, Brian, she ‘held on’. So Henry and the Dean intimidated her into signing a statement that modesty was against her religion too. Not only must she be naked, she must never show any sign of wanting to cover herself. That is why her arms were down at her sides in front of that supermarket, instead of clutching herself for warmth. And they plotted to put her in increasingly exposed and humiliating situations.”
A dramatic silent beat went by. Finally Donald said, “Situations? Like what?”
“Like THIS,” Sarah said, switching to the next picture. And everyone gasped. Helen put her hand to her mouth and whispered, “Oh my god!”