Thievery: Via Dolorosa
This month I’m doing a mentoring special to celebrate all the talented and diverse writers I’ve been lucky enough to work with through WoMentoring. Today we have one of my favourite Scottish-folklore-inspired writer, Suzy Kelly.
Six hours into her 80th birthday, and six hours before she died, Sister Mary Frances experienced her first orgasm. She awoke in the half-light, confused and open-mouthed, and with a thundering heart. After a few moments, her breathing still laboured and her muscles still tensed. Even her breasts betrayed her as they ached in time with the pulsing of her pelvic floor.
On becoming more aware, she looked up to the small wooden figure judging her from the Cross above her bed. The carved Saviour, splayed open in his own agony, sent down waves of shame. For the Lord knew hers was not the sanctioned ecstasy of Bernini’s Saint Teresa. This was something more carnal; even though it had come to her unbidden and against her will.
Throughout her life in Christ, Sister Mary Frances had done as she had been taught. She’d pushed away all sensual, Earthly thoughts by keeping herself active in the community. When she returned to her cell at night, after teaching and tending, she was ready for nothing but sleep. Never once had she reached her body’s greatest heights. So, it was in times like these that she knew she was truly sick. The disease had won.
Still, she consoled herself that the event had not occurred through her own tremoring hands. It was another test of faith, another of the Heavenly Father’s plans, since her forced retirement. However, absolution would come through confession and her trusted Sisters would understand this burden when she shared it with them over breakfast.
My story ideas are usually inspired from creatures in Scottish folklore or events from Scottish history. Via Dolorosa, meaning ‘way of suffering’, came from a newspaper article I’d read about alleged abuses in Catholic-run orphanages in the 1950s. The story grew out of a writing exercise on the University of Glasgow’s MLitt in Creative Writing. The brief was to try writing a sex scene and, lo, Sister Mary Frances did come writhing out of the darkness.
After this brief prayer section, the rest of the story is structured around the Medieval Church’s Seven Stations of the Cross (fourteen being the tradition from the 17th century onwards).
Through a series of reflections from her death bed, Sister Mary Frances journeys through her remaining memories, the ones the Lewy Body Dementia hasn’t destroyed, to piece together her past. What kind of a woman was she? Well, Sister Mary Frances and the Nazareth House system do seem to share a lot in common with Aunt Lydia and the RED Centre from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Although there is a dark-edged humour in this section, the main motivation for writing this piece was to give a voice to the real-life victims and to encourage readers to question religious and state authorities. It was also a good challenge to write from such a despicable character’s point of view.