Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.
The moist air, surrounding the 16th century creation planted its wet kisses upon the cold stone walls, which slid luxuriously down its weathered face. The creeping ivy, chlorophyll pulsing through its dark green leaves, caressed the soft hearty moss. New generations of recently born shoots sprouted from the elder ivy’s fingertips, seeking their lone paths in the cracks of St. Catherine’s monastery.
The religious encampment had been built on the storm infested Western coast of Ireland; its founders seemingly intent on locating the most masochistic environment possible to beat their souls into sublime submission.
The last residing nun, Sister Rose Marie, had died a blessedly sudden and peaceful death at two in the afternoon, on an unusually balmy Easter Sunday, in the year of Our Lord 1968. She and a faithful supporter, Mrs. Bernadette O’Brien, mother of Walter O’Brien, had been on their knees praying in the chapel when it appeared that the good sister had a heart attack and keeled over quietly onto the floor.
“Her hands was frozen in prayer, they was,” Mrs. O’Brien had religiously repeated for years thereafter. “She had the smile of an angel.”
Shawn and Marcy didn’t give a witch’s ass about the history of St. Catherine’s. They’d been driving randomly from county to county, looking frequently in their rear view mirror; expecting nothing but trouble.
They’d discovered St. Catherine’s while returning from an off-the-road farm, where a farmer had given them a couple gallons of petrol from his broken down tractor. While carrying the fuel back in a couple of plastic milk containers, they accidentally turned right, instead of left to their energy starved car.
“’Tis this way,” Shawn said with assurance.
“’Tis not,” Marcy insisted. “Was that way.”
Shawn frowned, shaking his head impatiently.
“Remember that rock, why don’t ya?!” Marcy pointed at a large chipped boulder to her left.
“I’m a going this way. You coming or not?” He started walking without waiting for her answer.
She trudged after him, complaining to the gravel below her feet, “An idiot, he is.”
When they rounded the bend that brought St. Catherine’s into sight, Marcy gasped.
“Jesus!” Shawn exclaimed,
“It must be ancient.” Marcy stumbled forward.
“Think they be any dragons?” Shawn teased.
They pushed hard upon a rusty-hinged, thick wooden door. It cracked open. The wind played with itself in the center of the courtyard, rising, turning, diving and suddenly taking flight. Calls of “Anyone home?” were absorbed into the stones like water in a dry sponge.
“Why’d they build such hideous things?” Marcy whispered, as they walked into a shadowy, stale room, her dirty black hair stranded on her shoulders.
“They must’ve been tilted.”
“A bunch of bloody lunatics!” Marcy scowled.
“Absolutely,” Shawn agreed, his bushy red hair, freckles and twice broken nose, nodding obediently.
Marcy had on a long coat to cover her thin, full-length skirt. She hated skirts, but couldn’t tolerate much else these days. “I can’t wait to get back into some jeans,” she said, looking down at her swollen belly. “Without this coat I’d have frozen my tits off by now.”
“Look at these windows!” Shawn said, “They’re small enough for dwarfs.”
Marcy pulled open a door to some side rooms that contained a single wooden platform for a bed in each small musty enclosure.
Shawn looked in over her shoulder. “What a dreary thing.”
“They was some awful poor brothers this lot.”
“Didn’t know there was anyone with less than we.”
“Och, but they chose it, didn’t they?”
After further investigation they returned to the trail and found their car. They parked close to the rocky path leading down to the sea’s edge and hauled their belongings back to the monastery, into the warmest, best protected room they’d found; the chapel.
They had enough food for a couple of weeks, groceries they’d picked up in County Clare, using a stolen credit card they’d lifted upon leaving Dublin. They could drive back when they needed, go to another store or town and use a different card. They thought about switching the car, but figured they had a little more time before it was reported missing.
As darkness fell, they zipped their sleeping bags together, put them on the torn carpet by the altar and tried to get some rest. It didn’t help that Marcy had to pee again and again. There was no indoor plumbing. It seemed as if she’d just snuggled in and gotten all warm and toasty like, when nature urgently called. The freezing wind coming off the Atlantic screamed over her head as she rushed to and from the outhouse. CONTINUED