by Jenny Butler

Deep within dark premonitory dreams, the White Canon is juddering in his sleep. In his dream, the headstone looms large, its name defaced, chiselled and chipped away. He had helped pour the concrete over that grave, as if the one in it was a vampire about to rise up and suck the blood of the nearest sleeping innocent. The people knew he would do, and has done, much worse than that if he were to rise again, like a stinking, loathsome Lazarus. They poured concrete so nobody could desecrate the grave or dig up the body, defile the defiler. 

Maggie held her baby close as she neared the church wall. The steeple was intimidating, oppressive, to her. “Just keep the wee child safe”, she thinks, heart racing. She is holding the baby close, her baby, keeping her safe. The child cries and she realises she has been holding the baby too tight. Beyond St Matthews, she breathes a sigh of relief as she approaches the door of her sister’s house. She will never set foot in that church, or any church, never give one of them an opportunity to lay a finger on a sweet angel like her Róisín, tiny rose that she is. She regretted parking the car so far from the street. She wouldn’t have had to pass the church on foot if she had driven in but she could never be sure if there would be space on the street.

East Belfast looked grey and dreary as it always had. She wondered how her sister could bear to live here still. She walked past the O’ Donnell’s house and smiled to herself as she saw the same ornament in the window as was there twenty years back. Mrs O’Donnell used to go crazy when the dog, a wee snappy thing, would get excited and jump up on the window, knocking it over. Old Mr O’ Donnell, their grandfather, had been murdered by loyalist paramilitaries, “Orangies” they used to call them as kids. She hadn’t been back in Short Strand for sixteen years, an enclave stranded indeed like a stretch of Catholic beach in a sea of Unionist hatred. The troubles have died down but the tensions were still here, she could feel it in the air.

Her sister Mary’s son Ruairi would mind the kids as the two went out to the pub, “only for a few, mind”, her sister said, “so we won’t be long”. They decided to walk to the pub as it was close by and her sister linked arms as they walked along. Maggie had missed this. The way to the pub was down the lower Newtownards road and then Mountpottinger Road. Throughout the Troubles there was a Royal Ulster Constabulary base in Short Strand, heavily fortified due to IRA bomb attacks. It was gone now, demolished in February 2011, and Maggie was glad to see the back of those bastards! She remembered reporting the abuse, blurting out what that monster did to her. She was fifteen and frightened, not just of the RUC station ominous and imposing before her, but petrified of not being believed, of how she would tell a stranger – what if the words didn’t come out when she tried to speak? What if they laughed at her? Her father had warned her not to go to the police but she plucked up the courage to go in the double doors, the inside one she had to press against to open when the buzzer went. The Policeman sneeringly said, “Hey sarge – we’ve  got a fuckin bead mumbler here sayin’ she’s been molested by a priest! A raping papist!” The sergeant laughs, “a wee popeblower now is it? Go home and say your prayers you stupid girl”. Maggie had heard this slur before, but she knew the copper was trying to make an innuendo out of it. Her heart sank but in a way she had expected this. She’d had eight years of incredulity, stares, shame, not being believed. She knew, too, that the RUC men used to think that the station call-ins, and especially call-outs, were set-ups, attempts to lure them into nationalist strongholds to be ambushed in retaliation for what was going on down the stations.  

She was relieved to reach the pub that looked warm and inviting. They sat in the snug and Maggie was happy with that. She didn’t like being observed, watched by strangers. She looked at the shapes through the frosted glass and swirly colours like an abstract painting. Patrick watched the two women as they brushed past him, laughing together. He recognised Mary but couldn’t place the other one though she looked familiar. He turned back to look at the TV and the shock of what he saw on the screen actually made him sit bolt upright. His mouth might have been open and he hoped nobody had noticed as he sipped his pint and tried to remain calm and normal-looking. The brunette newsreader was enunciating about the papal nuncio. The headline in sliding text along the bottom of the screen: A former papal nuncio will be tried in Vatican city state for sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography. He felt cold sweat down his back and tried to regain his composure. The woman whose name he couldn’t remember was at the bar and he hoped she wouldn’t look in his direction. He felt faint. How mortifying for a grown man to faint! He gripped his pint and tried not to remember. It didn’t stop the flashbacks coming in quick succession. Desperately trying to remember to forget didn’t stop the nightmares either, night terrors, waking up in cold sweats.

Patrick had never told a sinner, not even his wife Aisling who he had been married to for nineteen years! He knew she wouldn’t love him less, but feared she would think him weak. How could she view him sexually if she knew what happened him? How would she feel cooking dinner for a rape victim? No, he’d never tell. His memories were recurrent and vivid. The priest, in his memory fat-faced with grotesque misshapen features, used to hook the altar boys around the neck with the cincture from his habit and drag them backwards into the sacristy. The altar boys would try to dodge it, frantic, but some were new to the role and not so deft at evading the loop, like colts at their first rodeo. Patrick had been eight when it first happened and the priest, a large imposing man, asked him to carry the vestments into the sacristy. Patrick felt elated at being singled out, important even. He placed the garments, which seemed heavy to him, in the vestry cabinet. When he turned around, the priest had no clothes on! He felt confused and unsure whether this was part of altar service. It was the first time he served as altar boy and he wanted to do it well and to be like the other boys who were ten and eleven. The priest was glaring at him malevolently and said, spitting through his yellow teeth, “don’t look at me, boy. Face the wall”.

Aisling lifted out the tray slowly from the oven, trying not to drip any oil from the roast potatoes. The news was on, something about a high up cleric being a pervert. She turned to look at the TV and the tray dipped, spattering her hand. She wasn’t burnt but it had spilled on the floor. She reached for a paper towel and bent down to wipe it. She felt an overwhelming sense of dread that almost pushed her into the ground, like a weight on her back. Hyperventilating, heart racing, the images flooding back, things she’d forced herself to forget. Her Communion Day, supposed to he a happy day, when the priest took her by the hand and led her around the back of the church. He said he had “a wee something” to give her. This man she trusted, “such a nice man of God”, that’s what her mother called him. She spied in his hand a white silky bag like she had seen some girls had for their Holy Communion money. She felt very special that she was going to get a bag too, and from the priest himself! She beamed up at him and he smiled back, though it seemed more like a grimace and she felt uneasy. Around the corner now and he throws her small frame against the wall. “Don’t you look at me” he growled. Her lovely white dress bloodstained, her innocence forever destroyed. Her mother was angry about her bloodied knees in the photographs, “I told you not to get your dress dirty”, as she picked the gravel roughly out of her soft creamy-white skin. On their wedding day, Paddy thought she didn’t want to marry him. Imagine that! But how could she tell him she just didn’t want to wear the wedding dress? White dresses made her feel dirty, sullied.

Niamh bends down to place flowers on her parents’ grave in the lovely little church in Cavan and remembers the day they died. Straight after the funeral, which wasn’t long after the car crash, the nun took her by the hand and told her that nobody wanted her so she had to live with them and “no more crying, now”. In the orphanage, she looked forward to when the nice man, the “Father”, would come with sweets in a bag just for her. They would draw pictures in crayon together and he seemed happy when she sat on his lap and told him secrets. She told him that the nuns would beat her with a belt or punch her in the back of the head with a big ring on and he made a shocked face and said it was “terrible”. He made her feel safe and wanted and when the Father came to speak to her “in private”, she was ready with all her new secrets and tribulations. In the room, he locked the door, surely, she thought, to ensure the secrets would not be overheard. His demeanour changed when he ordered her to face the wall. Her stomach lurches to think of it. Every time she hears her neighbour’s dog barking, as a grown woman she feels panic because it reminds her of him wheezing, grunting, jowls wobbling as he said threateningly “don’t look at me, you little bitch”. She didn’t understand the things he had done, not knowing yet was sex was, and she told a Sister Assumpta. She was startled when the nun started screaming “you’re the Devil’s child!” and hitting her across the face with the bunch of keys she carried on her habit. She was made kneel outside in the cold and rain all night in just her nightdress and pray for her sins. She prayed so hard! It must have been her fault for keeping secrets. Remembering now this memory that will never fade, she sobbed as she looks in the mirror to see her key-scarred face staring blankly back.

Wayne looks out across the bay to the lighthouse. On the radio he heard that Rhode Island is sinking slowly as sea levels continue to rise. He ponders what it will be like here in the future, whether he would be able to stand where he’s standing, and he gets to thinking about his childhood growing up in Providence. Life was good until First Grade when his dad walked out on them leaving his mother to raise four kids with no income. He had to go to school and he hated it! He wanted to stay home with his mom but she had to work two jobs. She was delighted when the nice priest came with money and sweets for all four of the kids! He would even play with them when she was at work. Through stutters and stammers, Wayne had told her about being made to face the wall. He told her how, while it was happening, he focused on the statue of Our Lady in the living room and cried out to her for help. He had tried to grasp the statue, even, in the hopes that Our Lady of Mercy would bring an end to the pain. His mother had said nothing but the other priests who came to the house asked him lots of things. They told him he should never tell anyone about the “misconduct” and the Father would be sent away for “counselling”, though he didn’t know what these words meant. He didn’t much care about the meaning if it meant the scary man would be gone away. He couldn’t look at the Blessed Virgin without getting a feeling like a kick in the gut. The sorrowful man looks at his arms patterned with cigarette burns and razor-slices and back level with the plastic statue eyes of the Mother of Sorrows: “can you help me now?”

Little children who told trusted adults became dumb after repeated admonishments not to “make up lies”, “a priest would never do that, don’t be ridiculous!” Others never told, thinking it was them alone the monster preyed upon. Dumb mouths made shapes to blind eyes that looked upon deaf ears. The people stood with their feet in the blood and the filth and stared toward heaven. Angels wings fell into the accumulating filth and white feathers stuck to bleeding hearts that littered the ground. Hundreds of children scream in unison but the false-virtuous pretend they fail to hear as they kick a broken wing around the dirt. Children’s tears collected until they eventually rushed out to form the waters that baptised more babes, held up by the soiled hands of the predator priest.

Eventually the children’s tears formed cleansing rivers and washed away the façade to show the people that this was not God’s Will. Waters fell from heaven and the pure droplets went into the mouths of the people caught in the purifying downpour. The droplets found their way into the hearts and East Belfast voices started to shout out, followed by Dublin cries of indignation, Welsh calls of “it happened to me”, Italians who thought it was “just them”, and the wave of voices crashed onto American shores to meet hollers of “me too”. The tide continues to turn, gaining traction to wash away the predators from the face of the earth.   

And so, they poured concrete over the grave with only the light of a hearse to work by. In the dark and in secret, their most familiar time, they poured concrete. This effort was to avoid daylight protests, demonstrations at the Church itself actively, deliberately, covering up this horror for over forty years. If only they could cement this in, keep it down, but the waves are stronger than any concrete they can mix. The White Canon shed a tear as the cement was poured over the grave of his foul friend. In his dark dreams, his tears turn to blood and black stinking brimstone for he is crying for the Father of Lies. In early evening he heard the furious shout from within the font and when he tried to bless himself it was hot blood marked on his forehead! This is the Mark of the Beast. He knows the vociferous waves are coming, rising high above the steeples, reaching up so God can hear them. Soon the deluge will come to wash away their concrete faster than they can produce it, wash away all of their revolting reliquaries containing cups of children’s tears, the unholy grail they sup from. With it, the sea of righteousness will sweep away the white habit that covers the disgusting creature within. The White Canon will be exposed. The concrete sets against the backdrop of a beautiful sunrise.
This is a new dawn.


About the Author:

Jenny Butler

Dr Jenny Butler has had short stories published most recently in The Same Literary Journal and The Raven’s Perch Literary Magazine and previously in Fictive Dream Magazine, Literary Orphans Literary Magazine, Corvus Review, The Flexible Persona Literary Journal, Tales from the Forest Magazine, The Roaring Muse, Mulberry Fork Review, Killjoy Literary Magazine, Firefly, The Ginger Collect, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and 81Word Story Challenge. Her piece titled ‘Apophenia’ was nominated for the Best Small Fictions Anthology 2018. You can read more about her on her website www.drjennybutler.com. You can also find her on Twitter @jenny_butler_ and on Instagram @spiral_eyed_grrl