Janet Heeran lives in rural North Cork, Ireland, with her husband,
children, and assorted animals. She studied Environmental Policy in
Cambridge lived in France for a while and currently works as a
Special Educational Needs Teacher. Some of her writing featured on RTE
Radio 1 Countrywide programme.
Remembering the Unremembered
By Janet Heeran
First, Sister Brigid put Baby John in a shoebox. Then, the gardener
dug a hole, like he was planting a tree. Finally, he banged another
nail to join the hundreds of others in the graveyard wall.
“Spawn of the devil,” Sr Brigid called our babies. Baby John was only
two-weeks old when he became a heavenly light. At night they pinned
his sleeves to his mattress, like a tiny Crucified Lord.
“Was it worth five minutes of pleasure?” Sr Brigid would crow. I had
no pleasure. My uncle would assault me with his ignorant grunts, his
stinking breath and his strong wallops. But still I had to repent – on
my knees, cutting the convent lawn with my fingernails.
“We don’t die,” Blind Nana Nora had once told me. “No, we become a
light in the heavens, always watching.” And so, Baby John’s light rose
and danced in the sullen sky. I had to be with him, so I gifted my
bread to another hopeless mother.
Eventually, one dark morning in chapel, the volume of the priest’s
admonishment began to fade. I felt my thin body collapse to the marble
floor. Then I sensed myself float above the bowed, veiled heads. I saw
a scarlet pool trickle from my ears. I joined John and Blind Nana Nora
in the cosmos.
Time passed and we observed babies become valuable. They got new
parents and passports. Eventually, women went home with their infants.
Shame had lost its currency.
Would anyone remember us? Would the nuns succeed in erasing our
wretched lives? We watched as they made a bonfire of our files. Had Sr
Brigid looked down at her rosary, she would have seen a weary Jesus
cry fifty-nine silent tears.
Remember us. Listen to the rusting nails as they tell their secrets.
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