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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The United Kingdom (01/22/09)

TITLE: Running On Faith
By Chely Roach


The moon reflects off the glass shards mortared onto the top of the wall. I can barely breathe. If I don’t leave now, someone else will notice that the iron bars have eroded from the salty sea air; if not the nuns, then one of the other Maggie’s.

“You are unfit of the name of our Blessed Mother. Instead, you will be called Colleen. Here you will follow in the footsteps of our Patron Saint of the Magdalene Convents—Mary Magdalene—who was a sinner of the worst kind; giving of her flesh for money. You, too, will be able to pay penance and bring your salvation through denying yourself all earthly pleasures, and working beyond human endurance. In our laundry, tis not just bedclothes and linens that you are washing; you are cleansing yourself of the stains upon your soul.”

“But, Sister…it is Jesus’ blood that cleanses…” Slap.

I touch the four round scars above and below my lips, where they were sewn shut for blasphemy.

The iron bars slightly pull away from the stucco wall as I push my folded sleeping mat through them. It makes a soft thump on the roof below, and my heart runs away from me. The bars will either break free, or I will commission my own demise. I take a deep breath as I grasp the rusty bars and thrust them forward.

I am surprised at how quietly and easily they detached, and I almost drop them in my shock. Leaning out the window as far I can reach, I gently drop the bars onto my sleeping mat. I climb through the small space feet first, and with my legs almost touching the roof of the laundry, I let go.

Setting the bars aside, I grab my mat and tiptoe to the precipice. The wall is four feet away—too far to make in one stride. I’m going to have to jump. As the wind gust subsides, I toss the mat onto the wall, draping the sides. I pray that one of the other girls might see my path and follow…

It suddenly occurs to me that mat might not be thick enough to protect me from being disemboweled by the glass shards. Pushing that thought out of my mind, I make a leap of faith.

The impact knocks the wind out of me, but I manage to swing my legs over the wall and slide down the mat. I am finally free, but my heart is pulling me into three different directions. In my mind, I have made the run to my family’s farm a thousand times.

My ma and sisters nursed my wounds…my left eye was swollen shut; my spine bloodied and full of splinters, and my thighs tender and bruised. We heard Da come up the road and Ma went out. I could barely hear the hushed words from her lips, “Your brother attacked Mary in the barn…”

“Nah, he wouldn’t. She’s always had a wee bit of a soft spot for him, ya know…”

Ma whispered something. We all gasped as we heard her flesh slapped, and the thud of her hitting the ground.

If Da is still alive, he’ll drag me right back up this hill, and Sister Margaret will cripple me…I’ll make your earthly body as hideous as your soul. The first time I ran, the Sisters beat me and shaved my head. Getting caught was my own fault. I tried to find him, and they knew I would…

Without telling a soul that I was in labor, I went to bed with the others. Laboring alone; silently. When he finally came, I cleared his airway by sucking it out with my own mouth. He let out a cry…the sweetest sound I have ever heard. As I put him to my breast, I could see the whites of a dozen eyes, all staring at me in horror. I stole his first ten minutes for myself, before they could steal him from me. My first night out of solitary, I ran to the town orphanage to look for my wee one, Joseph…

At this moment, it is all I can do to not search Joseph out again, but my heart knows that he is gone. He is someone else’s baby now, with name I do not know.

So my mind is leading me away from my heart, off this emerald isle, and across the Irish Sea. I pray that God will help me to forgive them…and forget.

Note: The Magdalene laundries began in early ninetieth century Ireland as a refuge for prostitutes, when all of Ireland was considered a colony of England. As the next century passed, they began to admit any girl that was considered “in moral danger”; whether that be unmarried mothers, girls that were high spirited, or simply too attractive. These barbaric laundries spread across all of Ireland, and then to England and Scotland. Though the Catholic Church has offered apologies, they have not provided reparations for the survivors or their families.

The last Magdalene laundry closed in 1996.

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This article has been read 1132 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Eliza Evans 01/29/09
I think you did a brilliant job.
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful piece of writing.
Lynda Schultz 01/29/09
A wonderfully told story. Though it shames us to do so, remembering ours sins of the past will, hopefully, keep us from repeating them in the future.
Beth LaBuff 01/30/09
So many horrific things were done/and are still be done in the name of religion. So sad. I've never heard of the Magdalene Laundry you mention. Wow! Your message "it is Jesus' blood that cleanses" shines through. Your writing is exquisite and compelling.
Mona Purvis01/30/09
Your writing reaches the depth of the readers soul and causes a desire to reach out and aid your MC. Beautiful, highly descriptive, and haunting. Write the book, tell the tale.
Diana Dart 01/30/09
This story was intense, raw and gripped me from beginning to end. Excellent writing.
Jan Ackerson 01/30/09
Oustanding writing, heartbreaking story, superb characterization and atmosphere. Excellent and beautiful in every way. I find it incredible that these were still operating in 1996! Wow.
Eliza Evans 02/02/09
I read this once, a few days ago.
It is still haunting me.
Absolutley amazing writing!
I wonder if I know who this is.
Marty Wellington 02/02/09
Heart-wrenching story that truly grips the reader. Descriptions are vivid and story is wonderfully told. The fast-paced action acts as a catalyst to draw the reader into this compelling read. Bravo!
Joanne Sher 02/03/09
Absolutely masterful. The note made me cry. So horrible, and you gave it a face and personality. Excellent.
Myrna Noyes02/03/09
How heart-breaking! I can hardly believe these infamous laundries continued until 1996!! How could such things exist today?? Thank you so much for your compelling portrayal of this bit of history! Excellent writing!
Verna Cole Mitchell 02/03/09
Your story is amazingly well written, going straight to the reader's heart.
Karlene Jacobsen02/04/09
Amazing job! YOu captivated me with this story. It seems to me like it could be expanded into a full length novel. I'd read it, full of suspense and struggling along the path to forgiveness for self and others.
Catrina Bradley 02/05/09
Fabulous, Chely!! Such tension and suspense, and heartbreak. Congratulations!
Myrna Noyes02/05/09
I felt this well-written story was a winner when I first read it!! CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR E.C.!!
Beth LaBuff 02/08/09
Chely -- Congrats on your EC with this!!!