by Anne Forrest
I had two mothers and two fathers. When I was a seven-year old I thought that was unfair because Gill Waterstone only had one father and no mother at all, and James Jackson only had one mother. Of course, neither went to our church, Our Lady of the Rosary, as my mum, dad and sister did, so didn’t even know the father guardian, Father Ethelbert, or our mother superior, Mother Providence. Charged with our spiritual welfare, both were diligent and sincere, and I took in every word. Armed with the sign of faith, Mother Providence wore her Rosary and Cross at her breast, Father Ethelbert’s wooden Rosary was tied around his waist; his brown, hooded habit made me think of Friar Tuck except that our friar was lean. I loved the way his habit hung and swished with an authoritative sound as he walked. When he was home at the Friary, he wore sandals on his bare feet; they smacked the tiled floor as he came to answer the bell..
Mother Providence was corvid-like; long, black, head-veil and gown over her white wimple, from which her beaky nose peeped; black shoes. When I was seven, I thought Mother Providence was over a hundred-years old because her boney fingers looked like dried twigs. These she poked around inside a large glass jar to loosen the pear-drops she dished out every Saturday morning if we had been good in Catechism. Each week she said, Off you go and play in the grounds for ten minutes, come back when I ring the bell. One week she withheld the sweets because we dilly-dallied too long. I remember watching her from behind a tree, her figure bent as she stood in the doorway shaking the little bell, its querulous tinkling lost in the air.
The nuns were lovely to us. But one of them was stealing our cocoa. Mixed with sugar in a jar, the cocoa lived in a tall cupboard. At 10.30am, a spoonful was added to hot water and milk for our morning drink. Arthur James pencil-marked the label every week to see if any was missing, and often there was. Peter Brook said he was going to tell Father Ethelbert when he came to give us extra lessons, but I don’t think he ever did because we were all a bit afraid of the father guardian. He arrived dressed as he did when he was out to business: a black suit with Roman collar, a black trilby hat, shiny black brogues, and a brown briefcase. Once he opened the briefcase and it held a railway timetable and an apple. Mother Superior never went out to business.
Not a month went by without Father Ethelbert telling us of the unrepentant man on his deathbed. Unrepentant to his last breath. I was left shuddering at that dying man’s audacity and wondered if the thieving nun would confess her cocoa sin before she died.
About the author:
Anne Forrest is studying for a Masters at Chester University ‘Writing and Publishing Fiction’ 2019-2020, after gaining a First Class Hons at Bangor Uni: MArts in ‘English Literature with Creative Writing’. Her common-folk biography, My Whole World, Penmaenmawr (in 2nd print) was published by Old Bakehouse Publications, Abertillery, in 2000. Her Gothic novel, Lilies if the Valley made the strong longlist in the Cinnamon Press Debut Novel Award 2019. She wrote a series of ‘Timothy Crumble’ stories, set in the NT’s Bodnant Garden ‘to educate and entertain children’.
Visit her website at anneforrestwriter.weebly.com