“I’ve read the file on you,” said Mary Ann, “though don’t know why I bother. Never learn a damn thing from them: story’s always the same. Rich family, father’s a doctor, mother’s a nurse. Girl comes home from school, and there’s no one there. So why come home? Why not go somewhere with their friends, and sneak in the door five minutes before Dad or Mom gets home? Then, of course, they find out. Parent’s don’t give a damn if they’re there or not. So then it’s staying out until all hours, going to bars, drinkin’ and smokin’, and getting up to all kinds of mischief. Well, it wasn’t that way when I was young, I can tell you that….”
‘Of course not,’ thought Joan. ‘when you were young, the glaciers were just starting to recede. So that was nice, since it gave your pet dinosaur more room to graze. God, how will I stand five more months of this? And there’s not much room to escape, since they won’t let us into our rooms until 9:30 PM. Then, it’s lights out at ten, though how anyone in the world can sleep at ten is beyond me.”
The routine, in fact, was monotonous. At seven, one of the nuns came down the aisles of the dormitory, knocking on doors, and announcing that breakfast would be at eight. That, in fact, had caused the first fight between them.
“I don’t eat breakfast,” Joan had said, “I never have. And I didn’t sleep so well, so I thought I’d simply rest instead….”
She realized immediately that that was a mistake.
“Well! So little missy don’t like gettin’ up with the rest of us! And I suppose you’d like breakfast in bed? Served on a tray, with carnations in bud vases? Well, this ain’t no Hilton Hotel, Missy. This here is an establishment with rules, in case you ever heard of them things. So when Sister Albert knocks on your door, you get to your feet, you stand in line to use the bathroom, you splash water on your face and brush your teeth. Then you get out, lickety-split, ‘cause you ain’t the only one needin’ the washroom. Then, you go down to the dining hall and wait for your breakfast. This is a religious house, so you’ll keep your voice down, and not speak until spoken to. Breakfast—twenty minutes, ‘cause my nuns got other things to do than waiting for a buncha rich girls to finish their breakfast. Then, it’s back to your room, tidy up, make the bed, and sweep as necessary. By nine o’clock, you should be in place in the school room, getting at your books. Sister Mary Margaret will supervise you, until noon. Lunch, and then return to school at 1 PM. At four, there’s exercise in the yard. Lucky you, the garden season hasn’t started, otherwise there’d be some real chores to be done. Though you break any of the rules….”
The orphanage was so old, it was impossible to believe it had ever been new. As well, it was so ramshackle, so rickety, that it was impossible to believe it had ever been well-constructed or well-maintained. Every floorboard groaned under the weight, which prompted ceaseless criticism from the nuns.
“When are you girls going to learn to walk modestly down these halls? And please, eyes down in submission; I’ll have no girl glaring at me in the eyes, thank you very much!”
‘We’re pregnant, we’re not junior nuns,’ thought Joan. ‘Though if I had known how bad this was going to be, I’d have braved telling father and had the damn thing at home. Or an abortion, which is looking better and better every day….’
The orphanage was an eyesore at the end of the ugliest road in Wisconsin, though Joan. A long rectangular building, it had a living room to the right of the foyer. Next to that was the dining room, which when not in use doubled as the classroom. The girls’ rooms were lined at the back of the house, down a long, drafty corridor. Mary Ann’s room—by far the largest of any of the bedrooms—adjoined the corridor, but faced the front of the house.
‘That’s the reason the old biddy can keep an eye on all of us,’ thought Joan. ‘She’s right in the thick of us. So any time any of us gets up in the night, the old buzzard comes bearing down on us, with that beady eye of hers, and those hand that look like talons, ready to rip our gullets out. What the hell does she think we’re doing, up in the middle of the night? We’re pregnant, we pee—doesn’t she know that? Does she think there’s an army of Latin lovers coming down the country roads of Necedah, Wisconsin?’
They had seemed to clash the moment they met. First it had been skipping breakfast, that first day. Then, it became about the breakfast itself. The toast was both burnt and cold, the eggs were runny. And Joan had always disliked eggs in any form; her mother had given up trying to get to eat them years ago.
Mary Ann—or the Blessed Mother, as the nuns called her—was a different story.
She was clever enough not to try the waiting game, since what adolescent girl cannot outwait a middle-aged girl? Instead, she had taken the plate away after twenty minutes, and then put a mop and bucket in her hands.
“Latrine duty,” announced the Blessed Mother, and led Joan to the three bathrooms at the back of the house. “And mind you scrub them spotless!”
She then handed Joan scouring powder and rags.
“Shouldn’t there be a toilet bowl brush?” asked Joan. Lois, the family’s cleaning lady, had always used one.
“We’ve no need for them,” snorted the Blessed Mother. “Elbow grease is all that’s wanted. Get to work. Start with the toilet!”
They stood glaring at each other.
“Well, get on with it,” said the Blessed Mother. “Do I need to show you? Here! First you sprinkle the powder into the bowl.”
She did so.
“Then you take a rag,” and she thrust a rag into Joan’s unwitting hand.
It happened with lightening speed. The Blessed Mother clasped Joan’s hand with surprising strength and thrust it into the toilet bowl. Joan, outraged, tried to wrench her hand away, but only succeeded in roiling the water, which splashed onto the floor.
“Now see here, Missy—this foolish rebellion is going to stop this minute, do you understand? Because you’re to have eggs every meal until you learn your place!”
“No,” cried Joan. “I’m pregnant, remember? I can’t eat eggs, and I won’t, and I need a good diet…”
“There’s nothing more wholesome than an egg,” said the Blessed Mother. “And nothing more honest than a good day’s work. Which is something you ain’t never had to do, is it now? Well, you can just make up your mind to obey the rules, eat the food that’s given to you, or pay the consequences. Or do you think your rich father want to know where you are, and what condition you’re in? Oh, it was all very well when you was out drinkin’ and fornicatin’, and breaking every rule that the good Lord commanded. But here, you’ll learn the consequences of your behavior! Now get to work, and get these bathrooms clean!”
Where was she to go? The orphanage was at the end of a long, dirt driveway. It was early March—a sullen, cold drippy day. The nearest town was miles away.
‘One day,’ thought Joan, whose pulse was exploding in rage, ‘I’ll get this bitch, and I’ll get her good.’