? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 6


G.F. Edwards

The Belle's of St. Mary's

In the beginning,
Mother bought crisp white shirts
bound with a dozen pins
to sheets of shiny cardboard
coveted for drawing.
I turned obediently as she
tucked the tail down
nearly to my doorknob knees.
Then she zipped the trousers
and pinched the metal snap,
and the elastic waistband cinched
the billowing fabric to my belly.
She turned the cuffs up once or twice
on pants and shirt alike, maybe
three years' growth for stunted me.
Suspenders bit with tiny metal
snake-head teeth and held the baggy
avalanche of excess pants
from burying my Buster Browns,
their oxblood sheen and scuffless soles
fresh from the factory box.
A knitted clip-on tie and finally
a rich red blazer cutesified
with mock-collegiate insignia,
and I was sent to walk between
my elder brother and sister down
the half-a-mile to St. Mary's School,
where towering women shrouded in black,
musty-smelling uniforms
taught me how to march and speak
and shut up on command. Forgive me
if it seems too blatantly
symbolic, but at the end
of my first day I broke ranks
from a row of bewildered first-graders
and bolted across West Rocks Road,
desperate to get back home,
as a delivery driver on a deadline
jammed his brakes, rear wheels lurching
off the pavement, the teetering wall of steel and glass
screeching to a halt just inches shy
of my startled, frozen body. And then
the nuns descended on me, waving
fingers in my face, shrieking like tires
on asphalt, and doing their damndest
to brand my brain with shame and regret