Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The United Kingdom (01/22/09)
TITLE: Running On Faith
By Chely Roach
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“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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