ASH WEDNESDAY | By: Terry Collett | | Category: Short Story - Confession Bookmark and Share


The priest thumbed ash on Sister Scholastica’s forehead, his thumb firm like that of Francis whom she thought she loved once. Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris, the priest whispered. Her mind translated the words her father use to relate often in his foul moods, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return; then he’d beat her for some misdemeanour she’d forgotten from days before. The dirty ash made her feel as if she was marked out again, that her father would come rushing through the church doors, grab her with his mighty arm and beat, and beat. The priest had a lean face; eyes deep as if they had been set back too far. His lips slits in his paleness. She moved back to her place in the choir stalls; knelt down sensing the first day of Lent biting at her stomach already; the days ahead and hunger; the mark seemed to burn; she wanted to rub it off as she did as a child once and her mother said she would be damned. Her mother used charcoal to draw; once drew the Crucified in such detail that it made her cry. In her lucid days, she would paint for hours, before the madness swung her back and forth in and out of sanity like a pendulum. Through the slits of her fingers, she watched Sister Cecilia kneel as if stabbed in the back; the eyes glaring at the cross; the hands tight together in tormented praise. She’d seen her once, kiss the statue of the Virgin in the cloister, and whisper words. Faith in words; faith in words. Sister Scholastica heard the bell sound, rose, and stared at the priest at the altar. Mass. Bread and wine. Body and blood. Broken and spilt. Francis had not loved her as he said, just in it for the copulation and the image of her on his arms to impress his friends. Wednesday. It had been a Wednesday when they copulated the first time back in her youth; the grimy bed, which she remembered, had the smell of cigarettes and beer and days of being unmade. She lifted her eyes to the Crucified. His arms outstretched to embrace the world; his head to one side as if listening to her every thought and whispered word. Repentez-vous et le péché pas plus, Sister Gabrielle had said once when she was a girl at school, regret and sin no more, she’d repeated to them in her broken English. Innocent days. Mother swinging from lucidity to madness like the censer boat the altar boy swung at mass. Sister Scholastica closed her eyes. Her father raged in her memory at her mother’s growing madness; her mother painting red across the bedroom door; cursing her husband in French at the top of her voice. Peace now. Lent has begun. Sackcloth and ashes. Sin on sin. Washed away with the blood. Monthly bleeds; the blood of the Lamb. Requiem in pace.

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