The devil’s children live behind big black gates and high stone walls girdled with barbed wire. Seven days a week they work, no clocks, silence enforced. Isolated from the world, windows barred with steel, kept separate from each other to prevent contagion. Behind the heavy, brown door – always locked – it’s airless and hotter than hell. Broken-backed, unwaged, cranking the cast-iron wringers, working the Hoffman presses, the hungry girls purge their sins by washing dirty laundry by hand. Reeking, bloodied butchers’ coats. Grubby Guards’ uniforms. Soiled nuns’ habits. Scrubbing and bleaching stains from the priests’ vestments. Grime and girl are burned by toxic lye. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Dolores knows she’s dirt to them; Satan’s daughter. Shorn bald, the nuns lather her questions and curses, soap her filthy mouth. Batter her for speaking. Crack her head on the convent wall until blood pours. Dump her in a disinfectant bath, then scour away her sins with a floor brush. They say: you’re dirty in thought and deed. We’ve to do this because you’ve the devil inside you. We’ve to rid you of the devil, look what you made us do…
I done nothing wrong, her silent reply.
Dolores escapes. Some creases cannot be ironed out, some stains too stubborn to be shifted. An unrepentant, city heathen, her mind barely tainted, she cuts to let the badness out. Some nights she hears the brown door slam.
She talks so history won’t repeat.
She traces her stolen daughter.
She teaches her about survival.