L.L. Madrid is the winner of our 2015 Halloween contest! Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest. You can read our finalists and runners up here.
THE RAT GIRL OF SAINT BRUNO’S
by L.L. Madrid
Sister Mary Elizabeth acts cheerful, but she’s afraid. My nose crinkles. Underneath the mildew, I can smell her fear. She calls me sweetheart and is careful not to look at me. It’s funny; grown-ups try their best not to see, but kids stare, too scared to turn away. Mommy and I follow her down a dark corridor that connects the cathedral to the convent. She’s taking us to see the Mother Superior. My fingernail drags along the wall, scratching the bubbling paper. Mommy pushes my hand away and shakes her head.
Tail slips from its holder and smacks the stone floor. Sister Mary Elizabeth jumps. She’s a flincher. Tail flicks and sways. Flinchers make her want to wrap around ankles and yank. She wags fast and fierce. Mommy gives me that look. She doesn’t understand that Tail hates being tied up, that I can’t always control her. If we were anywhere else, she’d tell me to put Tail away, but today…
Today you’ll regret waking.
Voice is in a foul mood. I’m trying to ignore him, but he lives in my head and he can make me hurt. I did what he said, I kicked and screamed and told Mommy I wouldn’t go…but I can’t control Mommy either. Voice snarls.
I wonder what it’s like to have a quiet mind. I’ve never been alone in mine, but still, I’m lonely. I don’t have anyone besides Mommy and Voice to talk to. I go to school, but no one wants to be near me.
They call me Rat Girl. Though I wear layered skirts that go to the floor to hide Tail, everyone knows. Tail’s always getting free. She grabs, swings, and can kind of cool. I wish Mommy would let me, just once, go to the park and hang from the monkey bars by Tail. I know she’s strong enough. I tested her out on the towel rack and Tail pulled the bar right out of the wall. Mommy was so mad.
Sister Mary Elizabeth doesn’t look at me when she points to a kid-sized chair next to a box of toys. Eyes on the door, she says that it was nice to meet me, her voice sweet in the same fake way medicine is.
Mommy sits in front of the desk. The room is small and the window is long and skinny like in a dungeon. The only wall hanging is a giant crucifix with scary Jesus on it. I don’t mind happy Jesus, but crucifix Jesus with his twisted face, razor ribs, and nailed feet…I just want to go home.
The door opens and Mother Superior, all in black, enters. She is much older than Sister Mary Elizabeth and wears a full habit. Voice growls, hisses, and spits behind my ears.
A giant wooden rosary hangs from Mother Superior’s hip, beads clacking like skeleton bones. Tail twitches. She wants to wrap around the cross and rip all the pieces off.
“Nice to see you again, Mrs. Palmieri.”
Mommy rearranges her hands, hiding the bare finger on the left. “Rose is fine.”
Mother Superior pitches her voice higher. “Hello, Miriam.”
Naked dolls and sticky blocks fill the toy box. I reach for a big headed baby.
“Manners Miri,” Mommy scolds.
Mother Superior’s gray eyes are small and sharp. She’s no flincher.
“Hi.” I pull the doll from the box and place it on my lap. It has a cloth body and fat plastic hands and feet. Mommy and the nun start talking. I try pulling the baby’s head off. It doesn’t budge. I wish I was anywhere else. This room is dark and smells like bleach. I dig in the box some more. There’s a GI Joe who’s missing a leg. It doesn’t matter. Most of these toys are broken. Nobody wants them.
“Have you thought about having the growth removed?”
“The doctors said we’d have to wait until she was older, but she wants to keep it.”
Tail is alive. It would be a mortal sin to let her get cut off. I don’t want to be a murderer.
I move to the floor. It’s hard and cold. I find a Tonka truck and have it run over GI Joe. The baby tries to stop the truck, she’s bigger than it, but she’s just a baby.
“Have you considered exorcism?”
I don’t know what that word means. I slow the truck, paying more attention.
“No. I don’t think so. I mean, how can you exorcise a tail?” Mommy laughs like she does when she’s about to cry. I don’t like it when she cries. Her tears are black like ink.
“The tail is a mere symptom of the demon that’s been with the poor child since birth.” Continue reading