Sister has never sought recognition for her sacred work, but those afflicted with childlessness find her. They send heartrending letters. They send aged Manchego and Jamón. They send exquisite rosaries of rare wood and bone.
The couple from Salamanca is typical. It’s May 1973. They make a personal pilgrimage to the clinic, as if Sister were herself a saint. Sister encourages them to share what they’ve been through, all they’ve done to conceive, how they’ve trusted in the Lord, but in this regard, He has forsaken them, so they’re now taking their fate into their own hands.
The wife wrings a tissue to shreds and touches what’s left to her nose as if it was a rose sachet. She doesn’t want to be an adoptive mother. She wants to be a real mother, which is the only thing that can erase her shame. Childlessness is, after all, not just a personal failure, a sign of God’s withheld grace, but a failure to pay one’s debt to the Fatherland. As the Caudillo, all blessings upon him, frequently says, only a woman can create a new citizen and therefore mothers are the country’s most exalted inhabitants.
Sister encourages the wife to mimic a pregnancy in anticipation of the availability of a child.
“Pillows?” the wife asks.
“Certainly. Pillows. They can be sewn into your dresses. Be subtle. A little goes a long way.”
The wife nods. She vows to do exactly what Sister suggests.
So, it’s with joy that Sister’s able to gratify the couple’s prayers just three months later. In response to her midnight summons, husband and wife come quickly, by motorcar, arriving before dawn.
“Go in,” Sister says, gesturing toward the nursery. “Go in. See your newborn. Bring her up in the light of the Lord.”
With a grimace as if doing so gave her pains of childbirth, the wife–the new mother–extracts the pillows from beneath her dress, tearing the stitching that held them in place. Her dress falls slack. She tosses the pillows aside. The new mother exchanges a meaningful glance with the new father, who deftly presses a folded check into Sister’s palm. It’s not a payment, but rather a gratuity. Sister’s been known to accept installment payments for gratuities, but these parents have paid in full, another good omen.
The new mother asks, “Would you like to come in with us, Sister?”
Sister shakes her head. Ironically, she’s a little timid around infants, which are unpredictable and messy and often scream when she picks them up.
“You go ahead,” she says. “This is your special day.”
They glide into the nursery, from which Sister hears a shriek of joy, a child’s wail, some shushing and sobbing and then the door closes with a pneumatic whoosh. Sister makes a notation (“Good appearance and vitality”) in a blue ledger, lists the new parents’ names, and locks the ledger away in the safe. The new father must be pleased, she thinks. Childless men rarely advance in the regime.
An orderly, a comely young novitiate Sister has become fond of, knocks softly. She begs Sister’s pardon, but in the charity ward, she says, the young lady who gave birth to the child is anxious. She wants to know what’s happened. Whether the child is ill. She’s been asking why she can’t see her baby.
Annoyed, Sister briskly descends to the charity ward, which is in the basement of the clinic. Its ceiling is stained, and the unstirred air stinks with the foulness of a wound gone bad. A matron is wringing her hands over the bed of the young lady, who is doubtless a drug addict, or maybe a prostitute, or both. Sister directs the matron to wheel the bed into a room separate from the other expecting charity cases.
When the three of them are alone, Sister says brusquely, “Regrettably, your baby has died. She choked to death on her umbilical cord.”
The whore emits an anguished, tiresome wail.
They’re all like this. They’re poor. They’re perverts. They’re leftists. They’re poets. They’re unwed. To Sister, it’s all the same thing.
“But the doctor told me she was healthy,” the whore whines.
“He shouldn’t have spoken so soon,” Sister says. She’s annoyed that the doctor has administered insufficient sedation, so that this whore’s not only conscious, but obstreperous. She’s still demanding to see the child. She doesn’t believe Sister. She says she heard the baby cry.
“That was you crying.”
“No! No! I heard it.”
But the whore will not be shushed. She will not be talked down. She demands to see the doctor. She threatens to call the magistrate. She wants to know what went wrong. She’s shrieking now, and the matron is frozen, eyes wide in horror. She doesn’t know her place. Later, direct threats will have to be applied. (Who are you to question the Church? You’ll never work in this diocese again. Who will feed your children?)
Sister knows all about the matron’s children. She knows all about all children across the entire diocese. She knows which mothers’ grandfathers fought for the wrong side in the Civil War and which are involved in social organizations inimical to Church and state and therefore ripe to have their infants placed with alternative parents loyal to the regime.
The matron’s terrified of her. The matron knows she could easily be in the place of this young mother. One word from Sister, and it will be done unto her as to this whore.
“Go get this mother’s dead child,” Sister barks.
The matron looks as if she’d rather do anything else in the world, including cut her own throat.
The matron lifts her skirts and hurries out.
Sister puts her hand on the whore’s forehead. The whore bats her hand away. Sister pinches her. She squeals. Sister again checks her temperature.
“You’re running a fever,” she says. “Too much agitation. The doctor will give you something.”
“No! First, I want to see my baby.”
“And you shall.”
The matron returns. Her expression is ghastly, and there’s vomit on her breath. She’s carrying a shallow bassinet. In it is a gray-skinned infant corpse in fresh swaddling.
The whore lunges for the corpse and cradles it to her face. She screams. “She’s so cold!”
“Yes,” Sister agrees. “She’s dead.”
“How can she be so cold?”
“She was cold inside you. You gave birth to nothing.”
Sister extracts the corpse from the whore’s arms. Unlike living infants, she doesn’t mind handling it. The refrigerated baby is entirely predictable, clean, and voices no troublesome opinions about Sister when picked up.
The whore begs to take the baby home to be buried in her own village, among her grandparents. Sister beds the corpse in the bassinet and bids the orderly to take it away.
“We’ll take care of the burial arrangements. Father will,” she says, naming the monsignor who’s chaplain at the hospital.
In fact, of course, there will be no burial, not just because the corpse isn’t baptized and thus cannot be deposited in consecrated ground, but because Sister may need the refrigerated baby again, when faced with another subversive who insists on putting her hands in Jesus’s wounds.
Later, Sister remarks to the matron, “Once the baby has completed its service, perhaps it will be released from Limbo, by God’s grace.”
“It’s a she.”
“Not an it, it’s a she.”
Sister gives the matron a malevolent glance. Sister says, “I’m told you’re pregnant again.”
New parents tend to forget Sister once they acquire one or more children from the clinic. Perhaps they come to believe the stories they tell their neighbors and family. It’s perfectly understandable.
Nonetheless, based on the data in her ledger, Sister sometimes indulges herself with a reverse pilgrimage to successful placements, even years after the fact. Motherhood, after all, is more than a concern of the individual family. It’s a concern of the Church and of the State. Sister hasn’t been called to be a mother, of course, but her work at the clinic is her tiny contribution to the institution of Spanish motherhood.
Such visits are always a great surprise. The parents fawn over her, but their eyes scan the street over her shoulder to see whether the neighbors have seen Sister knock. The children are awestruck, though they have no clue how Sister has lifted them from poverty and sin, degradation, socialism, and hopelessness. It’s not uncommon for a local priest to show up.
Invariably, such clerics regard Sister with suspicion. They must generally be defeated slowly so they don’t talk, perhaps exiled to some distant province by Sister’s uncle, who wields considerable influence at the Vatican, or won over by persistence, for which Sister barely has patience. Except for the new fathers, men, especially priests, so rarely understand the gravity or necessity of her work, God forgive them.
Once any such meddling clerics have been excused, some parents timidly ask whether Sister’s come to extort further gratuities. This common misunderstanding is quickly cleared up. Sister has come out of love. She smiles. She cannot bear not to know what has happened to her little angels.
“Of course,” the parents quickly agree.
Sister has never been troubled by doubt. If one knows where to look, God is there, and in the final years of the Caudillo’s regime, Sister has been looking more and more to the comely young orderly who alerted her to the whore’s distress over her lost child, the novitiate who has since taken her final vows. The bishops warn nuns against having particular friends, but Sister positions herself as a mentor and mother figure. One of the lessons Sister teaches to the younger sister is precisely about loneliness, which is one of the graces of their calling, but also cursed with a darker side, which is despair, the mother of all sins. Sister details the ways to resist loneliness: Getting up early. Manual labor. Constant beads. Good works.
Sister and young sister live in a convent adjacent to the clinic. The convent was once a grand mansion. Its dining room table, where the archbishop used to break bread with the sisters in the years after the Civil War, is always set in anticipation of another grand dinner of Catholic luminaries. But the paint and plaster are peeling, and there’s a slow drip of moisture, the source of which is impossible to detect. An unused monstrance graces one end of the table, the space for the host gaping and empty. The archbishop no longer dines at the convent. The Monsignor wants to know nothing. Silence, he often says, is an underappreciated virtue.
“No one will ever know, Monsignor,” Sister soothes. “The records, they’ve been…” Sister searches for the right word. “Corrected. These mothers are powerless. Some of them die.”
Sister doesn’t tell Monsignor about the blue ledger, which she keeps out of a sense of rigor and completeness.
God rest his soul, the beloved Caudillo dies in 1975. Everything changes. God who heretofore has figured so prominently in Spanish national life recedes like a frightened woman peering out from behind a drab curtain and letting it fall with a racing heart when she perceives herself in turn perceived. The regime is overthrown. The archbishop retires. The new Franciscan archbishop espouses liberal ideas and goes about in sandals. He, too, never dines at the convent, not even once.
Soon, an emissary from this Franciscan visits the convent. He insinuates that questions have been raised about certain irregular practices at the clinic.
“Socialists,” Sister says derisively. “Perverts and drug addicts.”
“The archbishop thinks it would be best for your health if you took a retreat,” the emissary says. He’s vague about the length of the retreat, the date of her return.
Sister’s an obedient servant of the One True Church, but she’s not going to be sloughed off like some shameful stepchild. She’s done not only what’s expected of her, but also things beyond expectation, beyond asking, beyond praise or even acknowledgment. She’s offered her losses and humiliations not only up to God, but to the Caudillo and the archbishop and the Monsignor and the powerful childless couples of the regime, who would never otherwise have deigned to speak to her, who could not ask of her the favor she gave them, but who gratefully received. Sister can look in the mirror without embarrassment.
“Of course,” the emissary agrees. “Of course, these things didn’t happen. Not the way they’re saying.”
“Of course. So, there’s no need for me to run away.” Sister stays firmly put in the heart of Madrid.
But the emissary’s strange behavior indicates that Sister’s unlikely to be on the receiving end of Manchego or Jamón in the near future. Nor is she likely to have need to call again upon the services of the refrigerated baby, who has become a bit of a liability.
Sister persuades the young sister of whom she’s particularly fond to help bury the corpse. Though they hardly need much of a grave, Sister swears a gravedigger to secrecy on the Bible. Mischievously, he says he has no idea what she’s talking about, and she pays him a handsome gratuity from her personal account. Sister and the young sister fill in the grave themselves.
“This is a charity,” Sister explains to younger sister. “The child’s identity is known only to God.”
The younger sister says she understands. Of course. She trusts her mentor.
“Jesus loves you,” Sister says.
They weigh down the grave with a small, flat headstone. Sister wipes soil from her hands. A segment of her life has ended, and Sister moves on to other acts of mercy.
Thirteen years pass. Sister is walking near El Rastro flea market when she notices a woman following her. The woman names Sister several times, increasingly loud.
Sister stops. She lets herself be named several more times before she says quietly and forcefully, “I haven’t denied who I am. No reason for shouting.”
“You don’t remember me,” the whore observes.
“Of course, I remember you,” Sister says scornfully, though she doesn’t recognize the slut, not specifically. The woman could be any of a thousand drug-addicted leftist whores with whom Sister has had the misfortune to come into contact.
“You stole my baby,” the whore says.
“Shush, woman. Get ahold of yourself. Enough of this nonsense.”
The whore turns to others passing by. She points at Sister. She shouts, “She stole my baby!”
“This woman is crazy,” Sister mutters. She attempts to proceed.
The whore seizes her arm and shrieks, “You stole my baby!”
Sister cries for help. Two strangers unhook the woman’s claws. Sister thanks them.
Straightening her cardigan, she adds, “The younger generation has no respect for the brides of God.”
Sister hopes she’s heard the last of the whore, but no. The whore seeks out a left-wing publication that hates God. Reporters take Sister’s photograph in the street without permission and publish it prominently above the most scurrilous accusations. They call the children she saved stolen, and they label Sister a monster.
Defiantly, Sister dares these godless, leftist reporters to try to prove even a tenth of what they accuse her of. She says, “These are only unfortunate women who’ve come to feel guilt and regret for having given up their children, so they portray themselves as victims. I pray for them.”
Unfortunately, doubt and second-guessing are the twin curses of passing time. No one ever considers the price of what catastrophes were avoided. The spread of Marxist genes. The failure of the regime. The fall of the Church of Rome.
Sister deplores this new world, which is concerned more about autonomy and authenticity than God’s will, yet the denunciations are perversely invigorating. Ever since Sister buried the refrigerated baby, she’s been plagued by purposelessness. She’s gone through a process of discernment several times, but none of her interim roles has given her an equivalent satisfaction. Her only source of contentment has been the companionship of the comely younger sister in whom Sister sees the image of God.
Six more years pass before the whore finally persuades a magistrate to investigate the clinic’s work. Sister is one of the first witnesses called.
“I am not a magician,” she testifies. “I am a nun. All parties were aware of and sanctioned what we did at the clinic.”
The magistrate instructs her to name names.
Sister says, “This is a matter for a confessional, not a public inquisition.” She declines to testify further.
The magistrate locates the matron who wrung her hands over the whore’s bed. Sister again doesn’t remember the matron precisely, or rather, she remembers dozens of her, all persons of no significance.
The matron, now beyond child-bearing years and Sister’s threats, testifies. The gravedigger testifies. The magistrate orders the refrigerated baby to be exhumed. Even with the new DNA, they fail to establish the baby’s identity, but–animated by accounts in the leftist press–the refrigerated baby acquires an afterlife. Its photograph graces the daily leftist papers. It is eulogized by those who don’t even know God. For a time, it’s the most famous infant in all of Spain.
Just days after the infant graces the cover of El País, the police raid the convent where Sister and the younger sister still live. In the days of the Caudillo, such an indignity would have been unthinkable. Now they confiscate Sister’s blue ledger. They unearth invoices Sister sent to those parents whose gratuities had proved insufficient or delinquent.
Meanwhile, representatives of the whore have been making private overtures to Sister. They claim the whore wants to forgive. She just needs Sister to apologize. She needs her to tell the truth. She wants Sister to help her locate her stolen child.
Sister senses the overtures are a trap to get her to confess, and she’ll give no one the satisfaction. She’s done nothing wrong.
She’s pleased when lawmakers on the left and right come together. Their leaders say, Forgetting is better. Why bring all this up? Most of these stolen children never knew the difference. Let’s not disturb graves and hurl bones at one another. Let the historians do their job. They pass the Law of Forgetting, which bans inquiries into alleged wrongs of the Caudillo’s regime and deprives magistrates of further jurisdiction in such matters.
Sister is grateful for the legislators’ work, but the refrigerated baby obeys no secular laws. It visits Sister in her sleep. It presses cold lips to her neck. It drapes a short, cold forearm over her coat-hanger shoulders. Its lidded eyes still have the power to accuse. When they pop open, Sister screams and wakes. She reaches instinctively for the rosary over the bedpost and counts off the Hail Marys until her heart stops thudding.
With all the negative attention, the younger sister of whom Sister is so fond experiences a crisis of faith. She’s troubled by the role she took in burying the refrigerated baby. She should have known better, she says. She says she cannot forgive Sister because it isn’t her place to forgive, since the wrong has been done to others.
Though she’s known no other life, the younger sister renounces her vows and retreats into private life in Chueca, the homosexual quarter of Madrid.
Sister is heartbroken.
Meanwhile, the whore and her daughter are reunited on live television on a show called Quién Sabe Dónde. Sister engages a young priest to speak with them on her behalf, but they’re no longer interested in talking. They have each other. They have joy. They have a partner in their sorrow. In the leftist press, the whore complains, “My poor baby had to read her own death certificate.”
Sister is contemptuous. Reading a death certificate with her own name on it would be a relief at this point. Sister can’t get old fast enough. She’d be happy if God took her that very day.
Despite her contempt, Sister feels compelled to learn all she can about the whore and her daughter. The network of patriots who used to alert her to pregnancies among leftists and other enemies of the state isn’t as good as it once was. Most have died off or renounced her, so Sister visits the public library, the Biblioteca Nacional de España. Sister spends hours of each day scrolling through microfiche or paging through periodicals from all over the world in the three different languages she can read.
If the leftist papers are to be believed, the whore, it seems, was never a whore at all. She was poor. She was unmarried. That much was true. She isn’t currently a practicing Catholic, though she a subsequent child was baptized and confirmed. Of all things, she’s a divorced court stenographer in the small town where she grew up and had wanted to bury her dead baby.
And the daughter? Did the parents to whom Sister made her available that morning in 1973 produce a child who honored God? From the papers, it’s unclear. The daughter is married to a man with a different last name. She is suspiciously childless. Her standing with the Church is uncertain. But Sister cannot deny the women’s evident joy in each other, which is three quarters relief. They thank God for their reunion. Annoyingly, they also frequently ask for His just punishments on her, on Sister, in addition to whatever of man’s justice may be meted out in this world.
The Law of Forgetting thus proves to be a mixed blessing. It deprives Sister of the opportunity properly to defend herself against the whore and her daughter in a court of law. To put Sister’s deeds into context. To remind the present age of the myriad threats to Church and State dating back to the Civil War.
Where are the children Sister saved to speak on her behalf? Why do their parents not come to Sister’s defense? Sister suspects there’s a smug contended army of saved children, who are uncomplaining, who keep pictures of the people they knew as their parents on walls or in photo albums and perhaps even unexplained pictures of Sister herself neatly scissored out, a sliver like a nail clipping trimmed from the scene. How many of them are there? One hundred? Two hundred? Sister discreetly attempts to track several down, but she has to operate from memory, which is faulty, ever since the government seized the blue ledger.
Sister moves slowly now. It takes an hour just to get down the convent stairs. It’s midday by the time she gets to Chueca. On the first visit to the flat belonging to the young sister who is no longer a sister and no longer young, Sister leaves a medal of St. Francis hanging on the knob. On the second visit, she leaves the former sister’s old hymnbook on the stoop. On the third, an exquisite rosary of bone and wood. Each day for ten days, she leaves a token to reacquaint her fellow nun with her faith.
On the eleventh visit, the former young sister is waiting. She looks harrowed and middle-aged. She says, “I knew it was you on the first day, Sister, but only this morning screwed up my courage.” She holds up a bottle of brandy.
Sister murmurs something about demon drink, but the former young sister interrupts. She presses a sack into Sister’s hands. It contains all the treasures, which are more than Sister can carry. The younger woman says, “Please don’t contact me again.”
Sister shrinks. Like a coal lump, coldness lodges in her breast. Sister feels airless and dense, a place where no breath of the spirit can possibly penetrate. She fights off dark thoughts, even doubt, but the consolations of faith come harder now.
The Franciscan archbishop sells the convent to a developer, who demolishes both convent and clinic and erects a gleaming hotel. Sister moves to a small church-approved apartment, but at least it has an elevator.
Sister wants more than an elevator. She craves the respect and acknowledgment she never sought when she was younger.
Could she have been kinder? Yes.
Less brusque? Of course.
She regrets her manner now and confesses it to Monsignor, who is a new monsignor and in unsatisfactory mold of the Franciscan. Sister craves harder stuff.
But these confessed regrets are all Sister has to offer. She made a judgment at a certain point in history under certain conditions and circumstances. No one has yet supplied any evidence the judgment was wrong. Nothing about the whore has changed Sister’s mind about the whore’s fitness in 1973 for motherhood. Nothing about the whore’s daughter suggests she was actually harmed, except in some abstruse way of not having been told the truth. The world has changed. Sister has been constant. She ought to be congratulated, not condemned.
But this injustice isn’t what truly troubles Sister in her old age. It’s the thought that the formerly young sister is going to Hell. As is the whore and the whore’s daughter. All of them.
Sister wishes she could make an intercession, but doctrine states that no one can find the way to everlasting life except through the Church, which the three women have apparently abandoned.
And then one day when she’s contemplating this sorrow, Sister finds unexpected consolation and even elation. She remembers how she made an exception for the refrigerated baby by burying it in hallowed ground. At that time, Sister reasoned that the refrigerated baby was entitled to a reward for its not inconsiderable service, even if it had not been baptized. This was Sister’s little gift to the baby, her own tiny doctrinal rebellion on behalf of the frozen infant.
Sister wonders whether God, too, seeing her example, might have made an exception in his great Mercy and lifted the refrigerated baby from Limbo to His right hand. She wonders whether He might yet still make such an exception for all of them–the formerly young sister, the whore, her daughter. Sister has come to think of the refrigerated baby as the offspring of herself and the formerly young sister, the child they could never have.
In her apartment, Sister retains one of the red and blue cribs from the clinic, and she sets it to rocking. That night, she hears random church bells that don’t seem to correspond to the hour. She hears footsteps rushing up the stairs to her door. The steps cease there. No one knocks, and eventually the steps recede like floodwater. Fireworks burst close at hand, yellow flashes in the panes of glass.
Sister feels she has forgotten something important. Something she used to know but has no further access to. She feels subject to laws set forth in a statute book she’s never read. She reminds herself how necessary her work was, but what had seemed compelling under the Caudillo’s rule no longer carries as much weight. What detail has she forgotten that would return her sense of urgency? Of clarity?
Sister prays, “Lord, do not let me forget. Holy Virgin, do not let me forget. Have mercy on me.”
The whore has appealed to Rome. So have other families. Rumors of a campaign to defrock and laicize Sister swirl. Fighting despair, Sister makes another pilgrimage, this time to the whore’s home in the little village where she grew up.
She considers what to bring. Not an offering. Certainly not a penance. But what?
Sister’s resources are meager. After running through the possibilities, Sister ultimately brings herself, which is all she has. Sister reckons her visit will constitute a forthright acknowledgment of the special relationship between Sister and the whore, bound to each other forever and always by the decisions they’ve each made.
In fact, the visit results in a vicious confrontation in the living room of the whore’s brother-in-law. Explaining to the whore and her relatives why she has come, Sister inadvertently refers to the whore as a whore.
The whore leaps to her feet.
“You’re the whore,” she shrieks, “accepting gratuities for your services and giving the bulk to your pimp the Church.” The rage in the whore’s face is leavened by confusion and betrayal. “How could you have had the arrogance to choose fates?”
Contemptuously, Sister admonishes, “How could I? How could God? Do we call His Divine Will arrogance?”
The relatives look blank but unrepentant.
Sister shakes her head. “I shouldn’t have come. This was a mistake.”
The whore shrieks, “This was a mistake? This? Of all the shit you pulled in your life, this was the mistake? God damn you. Your whole life was a mistake.”
“No,” Sister says. “No. You don’t understand how it was.”
A kind, middle-aged person leads Sister away from the whore and her outraged relatives to a quiet side street where she’s never been, where all is forgotten, if not forgiven. There is peace.
Sister dabs at her face with the hem of her skirt. She fancies that maybe this stranger who led her to safety is one of them, the content, a child she saved who flourished in the care of the new parents and was raised according to Catholic morality. Who else would pity an old woman beset by angry lunatics?
But then, in her mind, her savior’s enigmatic smile transforms into the refrigerated baby’s cold wrinkled face.
“Thank you,” Sister mutters. “God bless you.”
She totters away. At the train station, she sits on a bench next to the track and consults the schedule. Assailed by the possibility that she possesses a willfulness in which there’s no humility, Sister makes a deal: if I did wrong, break me, Lord. Break me just enough to let You in through the broken place.
Sister gives it another shot. She decides that if the train arrives on time, she’ll understand it as His sign. She’ll go on television in the company of the whore and her daughter. She’ll confess all she can remember. Who needs a priest for forgiveness when there’s live television, where the collective audience can choose her penance? Besides, the Church already knows what she did.
The hour passes. The train is late. Sister somehow knew it wouldn’t be on time. She’s beginning to suspect God wants to negotiate a new and different deal.
The whore appears at the end of the platform. For a moment, she stares at Sister. Then she walks resolutely forward. She sits next to Sister. She says nothing. She doesn’t look at Sister. Confused, Sister thinks maybe the whore must be waiting for some other train.
In a measured tone, the whore says, “I withdrew my petition to Rome. Not because you came today. Before. I just wanted some closure that revenge wasn’t going to give me. Pointless. Damage is done.”
She lets loose a long shuddery breath.
Sister smiles a wintry smile. She longs for the whore to take her hand, but she thinks, in humility, that it’s too much to ask. She must have patience. She must wait for the gesture if it’s going to come.
In any event, for Sister, it’s too late. The whore has put into motion a process she no longer controls. It’s in the hands of men now. Priests. People who can’t possibly understand motherhood.
The Church initially cites the Law of Forgetting to avoid discussing Sister’s case. But gradually, its resolve shrinks. Forgetting no longer seems a viable option.
Sister, on the other hand, is losing her memory. The details. The faces. Her conviction. She has an unsettling sense of having been robbed, things taken from her, which no one had the right to take. She rails at her landlord for intrusions and thefts that the landlord adamantly denies with an expression of pity that enrages Sister, who needs no one’s pity.
The only face remaining perfectly clear is the refrigerated baby’s. The baby is a comfort. The baby is permanent. A companion for all the rest of Sister’s days. Uncomplicated and undemanding. The kind of obligation that makes Sister feel like she’s needed again, in defense of faith and fatherland.
Some days, Sister is convinced the baby is in her freezer or safely hidden in the cupboard under the sink. She looks for it there a hundred times a day. No doubt the authorities would eventually come for it, but Sister will outwit them as she always has.
Other days, Sister wonders whether the authorities have reburied its—or rather her—body. She wonders whether the Church has given consideration to whether the refrigerated baby is entitled to hallowed ground. She laughs when she thinks how all this fuss will have done nothing but deprived the poor refrigerated girl of the loving resting place Sister granted her, overruling God, this one rebellion Sister has allowed herself, this one great mercy.