By the time I walk the 1.36 miles from our house to the orphanage, the surface of my cardboard suitcase will be pliant from the mist, and I will have trouble gripping its slippery plastic handle.
It is Good Friday evening,
just before supper,
and I am walking in fog
that fills the tree bermed avenue
leading to the center of our small city.
I am eight years old, and I am carrying:
-a $20 bill snatched from my father’s dresser, plus a dime
-a pair of black, gnarled ballet slippers
-a pinafore in dotted Swiss which is my favourite
-and a doll with beautiful golden hair which is not a Barbie.
These compulsory items are in a small, blue
cardboard suitcase which normally lives under my bed.
By the time I walk the 1.36 miles from our house to the orphanage,
the surface of my suitcase will be pliant from the mist,
and I will have trouble gripping the slippery plastic handle.
No one sees me in the dusk, on these still streets,
except for a man who stops to ask where
am I going with a suitcase, alone?
I am poised and used to talking to adults, so
he believes me when I say I live in the
apartment building right there,
and that my grandmother is waiting dinner
for me in that one over there.
He wishes me Happy Easter
and I skip along.
It is hard to skip with the suitcase,
but it is the right thing to do if he is watching.
I have never felt empty in the head like this,
although I have read about how it happens,
the removal of thought, the stillness,
the blocking it all out.
I only care to watch my feet,
in rubber boots, slopping on the sidewalk.
I’ve had a calling,
to live with the nuns at the home for children
which we drive past almost every day.
The thought to go there came upon me,
the way people who go to Jesus
feel the spirit come upon them, so they say.
Something – maybe God – said I should
leave because . . . well, that’s all I want
to say about it now.
I reach the gates of the building where still
some orphans live, not many any more.
It is Victorian, I know, because the file folder
in the library full of clippings about the
Sisters of St. Joseph said so.
I think I will be a gift for the sisters,
at Easter, someone they can save.
I stop at the foot of the steps and the moon,
which is full, shines down a drainpipe,
which is dripping.
I don’t know what will happen next.
A nun opens the door when I ring
the bell, and I hand her the $20 bill.
Her face inside the wimple
does not betray a thing as she
gently takes the money.
She tries to talk to me
but I am mute
like a whiteface mime,
and so I follow her,
to a room with black and white tiles
on the floor, and a TV with rabbit
ears on a card table.
I do not say another word.
It is up to them, I think,
these women of godly duties,
and swishing skirts to know
and then to succor me.
But it does not turn out that way.
The police come, I am taken home,
and . . .
I do not want to talk about it any more.
Image Credit: The Commons, 1876, uncredited, Mount Hope, London