A fanciful account
She genuflected, crossed herself, then followed the line to the priest. In a trance, her body seemed a second or two behind her, unattached and out of reach. Her mind, on the other hand was razor sharp.
“Hell, hell,” she thought, “what would a bloody priest ken aboot hell? The hardest thing a priest ever had to dae was remember tae speak in English, that monotone, bastardised tongue of the Sassenach. It may as well be Latin, for the way he speaks it, you’d be sure he was sucking on a stane, and if he stuck that nose of his any higher in the air, his heed would fa’ right aff.”
“Hell is being married to a man who spends half his life working, and the other half drinking near’ every penny he’s paid. In between one and the other he comes hame only just lang enough to faither another bairn. Twelve bairns, twelve.”
She was at the alter now, kneeling with her mouth open. “Blood of Christ” said the priest.
“Blood of Christ, what would a man know about blood, or bleeding.” Her son Allan flashed in her mind, seven years old and coughing up blood, tears running down his face, his eyes bloodshot full of fear. Seven years ago the previous month, and still that face haunted her. “Well maybe some know a little of bleeding.”
She stood up, having consumed the small biscuit “Body of Christ”. Her head was swimming, there was a pain in her chest like a knife being twisted between her ribs. She swayed visibly until the woman behind her placed her hand on her shoulder, just enough to steady her.
She shuffled back to her pew. How she had gotten through Christmas she did not know, but three more days and a long drunken night and it would be nineteen fifteen. “Nineteen fifteen, Glasgow Scotland, that’s where hell is.” She grunted audibly, to the withering glare of her husband Archie.
“Annie’s no here again,” she thought, “I wouldnae be either, if I had a choice. Twelve bairns I’ve had. I’ve no’ even finished havin’ my ain bairns, before my bairns are havin’ bairns. My wee Lizzy and Annie’s wee Johnny. The pair of them gasping for air, one would fa’ asleep and the other wake, the whole hoose awake and praying. My bairns, they are. Mine. I’ve nursed and fed, and loved them day and night. What dae I get? I get to watch them thrown out into the street. My first born, cast out into the street like a pail o’ shite, by her ain faither!” Another grunt and another withering glare.
“Only a few weeks old and Johnny was gone. Annie putting her first born in the ground, that was hell. Three weeks later, and Lizzy’s gone too. Pulmonary something-or-other the doctor said. Died o’ breathing is what he meant, the pair of them, died o’ breathing.”
Outside the church, Jane surveyed her brood. Why they were so happy she could not understand. Watching them playing on the icy street, she could clearly see that they were happy. She began the short walk home, the children and the husband following after, she couldn’t have cared less, she was numb.
She was making some tea when the two Archies came in. She looked up at them, young Thomas darted out from behind them and let the cat out of the bag.
“Archie’s going to be a soldier. He’s gonnae get those German’s” he crowed pretending to fire a rifle, “He’s gonnae win the war.”
Jane nearly feinted. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph Archie, what are you thinking of.” She blasphemed.
“Leave him, Jeanie, leave him, he’s a man noo” Archie senior said accusingly.
“Me an’ the lads went yesterdae, we enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders, we had our medicals and we’ve a’ passed. All I have t’ dae is wait for ma uniform and orders.” Archie junior was beaming with pride.
“Och, Archie, Archie, what have you done?” It was rhetorical, she didn’t wait for an answer. She put her coat and hat back on and reached for the door. “I’m off tae visit Annie.”
She shook her head unconsciously, “I cannae lose another bairn, I cannae, my heart is already broken.” She muttered under her breath as she trudged the short distance through the icy street to Annie’s house. “Nineteen fifteen, a’ the world’s gone mad.”