Alone, Together–Inspired by Karen Fallot

Today’s story idea comes from Karen Fallot.

Sally is 10 and fun-loving.
She lives in an orphanage.
Conflict: A 4 year old girl just came to live there and they share a room. Sally wants the little girl to warm up to her, but is so exuberant she scares her…at first…

The girls sat at long tables in rows. They sipped soup and nibbled on rolls. Quiet, quiet, quiet. The religious sisters that ran the orphanage were strict about the silent meals. Mother Mary-Anna insisted upon it. She demanded highest discipline. Expected self-control and responsibility from the girls. All forty-two of them.

And so, the silence at meals. The girls to bed before sundown and before sunup. Prayers and memory verses and classes.

“There should never be a girl who leaves this home who is unable to sit quietly and read the Scriptures and understand them for herself,” Mother Mary-Anna was known for saying. “I shall teach them self-control. If I must take the reigns of control, first, in order for them to learn, then so be it.”

Her plan of ruling with an iron will worked for nearly twenty years. Until Sally came to them.

“We can’t keep her no more,” Sally’s mother had said the day she dropped her daughter off at the orphanage. “She eats too much and she’s too much trouble.”

Sally had just stood in the corner, meekly. Afraid. Mother Mary-Anna had compassion for the girl.

“Come here, child,” she’d said, beckoning with her hand. “I may very well look strange to you, but I am kind.”

Sally had shuffled over to the nun.

“What is the matter, child?” Mother Mary-Anna put an arm around the girl. “Are you sad to be leaving your family?”

“No, they aren’t very good,” Sally had said. “I’m worried about living here, though.”

“Why, my dear?”

“Because I don’t want to turn into a penguin!” Sally kissed Mother Mary-Anna on the cheek. “Where’s my room?”

Sally hadn’t stopped bouncing and laughing and dancing since that day, three years before. She didn’t seem to notice or care that her family had given up on her. Or that the country was bankrupt. She also didn’t seem to mind punishment.

“For talking during mealtime, staying up after bedtime, sleeping in class and dancing during vespers,” Mother Mary-Anna had said. “You must mop the kitchen floor everyday for a month.”

“Great,” Sally had said. “How nice!”

“And you must work with the newborns for two weeks.”

“So sweet.”

“Changing diapers.”

“That would be fine with me.”

“And copy the book of Leviticus.”

“I can work on my penmanship.”

Mother Mary-Anna was beyond exasperated by the ten year old. “She’s so full of life,” she’d said. “I only pray that she doesn’t have aspirations for the sisterhood. That would be my undoing.”

One early morning, a young child came to live in the orphanage. She was only four years old. She had out of control, curly black hair. Her skin was a creamy brown color. Her eyes were the calmest color of green. And her toes pointed in as she walked. She was beautiful. And she was angry.

She spit in the face of Mother Mary-Anna on her first day.

She smacked the faces of other children who asked her to play.

She wet herself at the slightest provocation.

“I cannot very well keep her in a room with other young girls,” Mother Mary-Anna said. “I have but one option.”

The little girl was moved into a room with Sally.

On the first day, Sally tried to learn the little girls’ name. The little girl kicked Sally in the shin.

The next day, Sally tried to share a cookie with the girl.

“I got it from Sister Agnes,” Sally said. “She’s the baker. And she’s very nice. If I sing a song with a naughty word in it, she gives me a cookie.”

The little girl crawled to the corner of her bed, wrapping her arms around her knees.

“Leave me ‘lone,” she said to Sally.

“Well, I wanted to share this cookie with you.”

“Okay. Bring it here.”

Sally took the cookie, broke it in two and handed half to the little girl. The girl bit Sally on the arm.

Sally decided that the only thing to do was to talk to Mother Mary-Anna.

“Young lady,” the mother said. “You needn’t cry so.”

“I know,” Sally said. “I just want her to like me. And she won’t even tell me her name.”

“Louise. Her name is Louise. And she’s had a very bad life.”

“What happened to her?”

“Her parents died in a fire. She’s very angry and very sad. Do you think that you might best be gentle with her?”

Sally went to lunch. She ate in silence. Thoughts went racing through her mind.

Just before bed, Sally was in her bed. It was chilly. The winter wind seemed to seep through every crack and gap in the window.

Louise was curled up on her small cot, shaking the bed with her crying.

“Are you cold?” Sally asked, standing and taking an extra blanket to the small girl. “It gets so cold here.”

Louise swung her arm out to hit Sally.

“Hey,” Sally said, sitting on the edge of the cot. “You wanna hear what happened to me? Well, a couple years ago, my Ma told me she didn’t want me anymore.”

Louise rolled over and glared at Sally.

“It’s true,” Sally said. “She had a whole bunch of other kids. And I was the worst one. She’s hit me a lot. She didn’t always give me food because she said I ate too much.”

“Did you eat too much?” Louise asked.

“No. Not anymore than anybody else.” Sally reached out her hand slowly, smoothed Louise’s hair. “But I was so scared. And I didn’t want to be here. You wanna know what I was afraid of?”

Louise nodded her head.

“I was afraid they’d make me be a nun.”

“I don’t wanna be a nun.”

“Me either. But they don’t make us be nuns.”

“Good. Cause I like being bad too much.” Louise giggled.

“Me, too,” Sally said. “And they like being really quiet.”

“I miss my Mama,” Louise said. “She was pretty.”

“I know, Louise.”

“Is everything gonna be alright?”

“I sure hope so.”

Louise moved herself and fit her head on Sally’s shoulder. “I want my Mama.”

“Me, too. It’s hard being here without a mother.”

“I wanna sing naughty songs to Sister Agnes tomorrow,” Louise said. “You think she’ll give me a cookie?”

“Yeah. I do.”

The two girls sat on Louise’s cot, warm with an extra blanket and the hope of a fresh cookie.

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