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The Convent Affair

by Denise Larkin 10 months ago in Series
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A fictional short story about a young girl's life during the second world war in Ireland

The Convent Affair
Photo by Stan K. on Unsplash

Trapped in a convent for girls in Southern Ireland in the midst of world war two where the abuse of the nuns and the carnage I endured had weighed on my thin bony shoulders. The foul whipping was nothing compared to what came next. I was finishing up my cleaning chores when I heard screaming. It was raining heavily. I squinted as I tried to see through a window. The rain hit the glass, smearing it with condensation. I heard a screeching yell. I picked up the candle and opened the heavy black steel door. I peered outside. Quietness greeted me except for the prattling of the rain hitting the ground. I shivered as cold wetness fell onto my face. I wanted to see what was going on so I grabbed some black wellingtons that belonged to the nuns and fetched a torch.

In my dirty overalls, I stepped outside. I switched the torch on. I saw a shadow at the end of the lawn. I couldn't see in the blackness of the night. A growling scream came again and then a couple of nuns appeared. Their black outfits faded in the dark but I saw a flicker of light nearby. I quickly switched off the torch. Hiding behind a pillar, my heart raced violently when I realized what was happening. I took a peep and saw two nuns drag the girl towards the building at the end of the lawn. She cried out in distress and started throwing punches at the nuns who were cruelly dragging her. I saw a tall man standing there waiting but then he disappeared. I remembered talking to the girl a few days ago. She was my age. A horrifying dread filled me with fear thinking how it could be me next.

Running away wouldn't be easy because the gates were always locked. I'd imagined running away dozens of times as I cleaned the tiled patio steps and floors of the convent and helped wash the sheets from the beds. I knew nothing about the world, only how to clean and wash the clothes of others and my own. I had never been offered a way out.

The comfort from my marigold bracelet helped me to think of mammy whenever I was scared. She had given it to me before she died. I treasured it to this day and kept it hanging on my wrist. The little orange-flowered charm of a marigold flower on a gold chain had kept my faith together. I could never go anywhere without it. I even slept with it on, making sure the nuns never saw it, and to this day they hadn’t.

Ireland during the second world war was neutral. Sometimes I saw soldiers when they came into the convent's Catholic church for confession. I was always there scrubbing the brown wooden floors under the watchful eye of a nun. The local Irish grocer was the only man I had seen enter the convent. He delivered the weekly groceries. He'd been coming in for years. I smiled remembering the first day he had noticed me. I’d been drenched in soppy filthy suds from cleaning. Kneeling down, washing the tiles on the hall floors, he approached me grinning. I couldn't see his face because his hat hid it. My long brown coarse thick hair was bunched up and hidden under a white linen cap that the nuns made us wear. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him staring at me curiously as he hovered over me. My dirty hand touched my cheek leaving suds of black specks on my skin that I hurriedly wiped away with my sleeve. A scent of a man's aftershave wafted around me. It had spilled out like a wildness from a new ray of hope filtering into my being as I gazed at a pair of black dirty boots.

"Are ya having a good look?" I heard myself grunt as I often did with strangers.

"Sure enough… I'd like to know why a pretty girl like ya’self is scrubbing these manky floors?" I looked up and saw him take off his hat revealing a mop of ginger wavy hair and green eyes.

I had stopped what I was doing and kneeled back on my knees staring up at him feeling flustered and bothered by his stare.

"This is me job. I clean and the nuns feed me and let me live here. It's the rules! But ya wouldn't know, would ya?" I stated flippantly as I wiped the dirt from my forehead knowing that my predicament was worse than that.

"Why do ya stay here?"

"Why? Because I've nowhere else to go. My family dumped me here when I was eight. Well… my stepmother did after daddy died. So, this is me home and… I can't afford to lose it… so… let me get on will ya," I said as I felt the burning ache in my thighs.

"How old are ya? What's ya name? Ya seem too delicate for this kind of life," he said, giving me his full attention.

"I’m Maizie and I can take it… I've been doing it a long time," I whispered sarcastically, hoping the nuns wouldn't see us talking as I glanced sideways to check.

"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Maizie. I'm Brian from the farm. I was wondering… wouldn't ya like to leave here?" He asked as I sniffed and his sweet breath smelled of something alcoholic.

"Where would I go with no money?” I said as I looked up at him with hazel brown eyes and rubbed my sore aching arms.

Every week Brian turned up and spoke to me. He seemed wiser and older at twenty-six.

When I turned seventeen, I began to feel differently towards him. Womanhood developed as I started to feel my bosom growing. Brian would find me cleaning every time he arrived. The nuns never knew. I was drawn into those sensual glazing eyes and it gave me a churning I had never felt before. When he touched my hand, I felt a spark bloom inside my chest of something I didn't understand. The nuns didn't teach us about love and marriage. They just made us work and if we were disobedient they would whip us with their long unruly whips on our backsides or on the palms of our hands. It stung for days. The black and blue bruises would remain for weeks on my pale skin.

"Where ya from?" Brian asked as he flicked his ginger hair out of his eyes.

"County Mayo. I lived there till I was eight. Daddy remarried and then he died and my stepmother couldn't handle me terrors at night. She threw me in here to teach me a lesson."

"Harsh," he said as I saw him put his hat back on.

"I've some memories of happy times with mammy but nothing else."

"Do ya want to leave here one day?" I wasn't sure how to answer that question so I shrugged my shoulders with a weak smile.

Brian's young pointed nose and his ginger eyebrows complimented his ruggedly handsome face as I saw him put a pipe in his mouth. He had sincerely taken an interest in me from that day onwards.

The rustling of the wind brought me back to reality. Hiding behind the pillar trying not to think about Brian, it dawned on me why girls were being returned in the middle of the night to their beds shaking and crying in distress. I witnessed the bruises on their arms and faces the next day. I had wondered about it but I was never curious enough. Most of the girls had turned seventeen like me. I shuddered in the cold blustery wind.

I went inside dreading my outcome. My weary bones shriveled in pain as I felt despondent and furious about my situation. Then I saw Brian walk into the corridor. It was late but I was glad to see him. He approached me and pushed me into the corner.

"What's wrong? Ya seem harassed. Has something happened?"

"Nothing yet but… if I don't run away I will be next. Girls my age are being ruined here. I can't let these nuns rule me. I'll be eighteen in a few months... it's time for me to leave," I whispered as his hand touched my upper arm and I quivered sensuously.

"I'll help ya. Come with me. Yee can live with my parents until we’re married. Well… that's if ya'll have me. Will ya marry me, Maizie?"

My smile widened with amazement. I didn’t have time to think because some nuns filled the corridor and Brian was forced to move away from me before I could give him my answer.

I sincerely couldn't spend another night here. My legs were already bruised from the previous day. They stung crazily. The endless battle with cuts and bruises drained me.

The rain had finally stopped. I took off my linen cap and stuffed it into my skirt pocket. The icy coldness blew my long tangled hair into my face as I waited, hiding in the shadows hoping no one would see me.

"Maizie! What are ya doing out here?" I jumped and saw Sister Mary.

"I… I…" I was stuck for words as I saw her whip flare by her side.

"Get inside at once!"

She pushed me and flung her whip at my legs. I staggered ahead. I saw Brian coming towards me. I passed him a sincere smile as I whispered.

"Yes."

I saw him freeze as Sister Mary viciously pushed me on.

"This way, Maizie. I want you to help me with something," she said as she grabbed my arm digging her nails into my skin guiding me towards the building where the girls were usually led.

"Where we going?"

"Keep moving. Come on," she sniggered as she hit her whip at my legs.

She dragged me inside. The lights glared brightly and she pushed me further.

"Now take off your clothes and put on that dress," she said pointing to a black low-cut satin dress hanging on a rail.

I had no choice. I took off my clothes and put on the dress along with a pair of black thin-heeled pointed shoes.

"Why do I have to wear this? Ya have to tell me," I asked as she lashed her whip at me.

"Don't ask questions girl."

I heard the door creak open. A man appeared.

"No," I screamed.

"Stop that, Maizie. This man will show ya what to do," she said as I saw her leave and the tall gruesome man bullied me further into the room.

He grabbed my wrist and pushed me onto a red blanketed bed, crying into the pillow until I heard a familiar voice.

"Hey! Get away from her ya wild pig!" I heard Brian's voice. "Maizie, we're getting out of here!"

I got up from the bed and saw Brian point a large rifle directly at the man's head.

"Get behind me," he said, hitting the man on the head viciously with the rifle as I saw him fall to the floor.

Brian guided me outside. He banged the door shut and we ran to Brian’s donkey and cart. He helped me up onto the seat.

It was the last time I saw the nuns because I eventually married Brian not knowing at the time what it meant until I tasted the alcohol on his lips along with his spiteful words. I had escaped the convent only to be trapped in a ruthless marriage. A callous situation from an Irish man's devastation. I endured it because my daughters gave me the perseverance to carry on.

I touched my marigold charm as I gazed out at the marigold flowered lawn. The orange field has been my life's joy and a sweet sanctionary for my grandchildren. My love for them and Mammy’s love for marigolds had inspired me; leading me to better things.

©️ Denise Larkin 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Series

About the author

Denise Larkin

An author living in London writes about her experiences and shares her poetry and fictional stories here on VocalMedia. She is also the author of thriller fiction books, such as Time to Run and The Island of Love.

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