Fiction written for the First Line Friday Challenge by Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie.
Spider silk clung to the doors over the windows, across everything she had left behind. Jennifer stood next to her assigned bed, remembering all the nights that she laid there praying to God for some sign of who she was, whose she was, and where she came from before being left on the doorstep of the now-defunct St. Mary Magdalene Orphanage when she was just two years old.
Her first conscious memory was of the high ceilings with beautiful frescoes on the ceiling of angels with wings. The angels were dressed in robes of different vibrant colors, and they seemed to be transporting people from one place to another.
In the day, the light played on the frescoes, and the angels seemed to come alive, ascending and descending what appeared to be Jacob’s ladder. It was the one aspect of the orphanage that she missed, and, even after all this time, you could still make out their shapes and smiles.
There were always rows of other children in beds just like her own, lined up like crayons in a box, awaiting someone to come choose them. Even at that young age, she could feel the loneliness and sadness that permeated every nook and cranny of the large room.
The children were not encouraged to befriend each other. It was hoped that their stays were temporary, and the nuns did not want “scenes” as one child left behind the unfortunate others.
Potential new mommies and daddies would come on Saturdays to examine the available children from head to toe, checking their teeth, hair, and ears, as though they were purchasing horseflesh instead of choosing a human being to love. The children were always warned to act nice and smile, if they wanted to be chosen over another child.
Every Saturday from the time she was about four years old, one of the nuns would escort Jennifer to the library during the hours of what Jennifer came to think of as “the cattle call” or “the auction.” So, for the longest time she did not know what was happening.
Then, one Saturday when she was seven years old, the nun appointed to take her to the library became ill, and before someone else could take her, she noticed the other children dressed up and being pawed over by adults she had never seen before. She asked Sister Margarete what was happening in the other room.
The old nun told her that the other children were getting new parents. So, Jennifer asked why she was not dressed, too, so she could have a mommy and daddy, for she had never had any parents, much less new ones.
Sister Margarete said that she was unable to have new parents because no one knew who her parents had been, so she was destined to live at the orphanage until she was 18 years old. Jennifer, who was believed to be an “old soul” because she had learned to read at two years old, and who at seven years old was taking sixth-grade classes, accepted this edict with not one tear.
The nuns were astonished that a seven-year-old did not scream and cry upon hearing her fate. But, Jennifer had cried so many tears when other children left and she was still there, receiving no answers to her prayers, that she had no more tears to shed. But from that night forward, she studied hard and for hours on end, determined to leave this place as soon as she could.
She graduated high school at age twelve, and with full scholarships to MIT in math and physics, she walked out of St. Mary Magdalene Orphanage, leaving everything behind her. She never came back, even during holidays and breaks at the university, for once you left the orphanage, you could not return.
Over the years, she had tried to learn all that the nuns knew about the night she was left on their doorstep, but to no avail. Then, she learned that the orphanage was closing, as the state decided to use a foster-parent system. So, with a sense of hopelessness, she accepted that she would never know her real name or any family history.
But, at her graduation from medical school, the old nun, Sister Gretchen, whom she had helped with the cooking all those years at the orphanage, came to see her. Sister Gretchen was dying, and she just could not meet her Maker with the secret that she carried.
So, she walked up to Jennifer and hugged her, which surprised Jennifer, for the nuns had never touched the children in their care. Then, she placed a package in her hands, told her how proud she was of her, and turned and walked away, blending into the crowd so fast that Jennifer could not catch her.
Later that night, Jennifer opened the package, and it contained two books still in the plastic covering used to protect them. They were The Little Engine that Could and The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
In each one was a note that read simply: If there had been any other way, I would have kept you, for I love you more than life itself. Here you will be loved and cared for. When you are older, if you can forgive me, call this number and someone will know how to reach me. With much love, Mama.
That night she sat alone, not joining in the graduation festivities, for she could not drink at age 20! She looked at the number and wondered it would be answered after 18 years! She had spent a lonely life, but not a bad life, and she was accustomed to being alone.
Maybe that should be enough, rather than chance getting her hopes up and being disappointed. But the little train on the cover of her book seemed to be saying, “Yes, you can! You can do this!”
So, she dialed the number, and when a small, sweet, melodic voice answered the phone, she said, “I forgive you!” She heard a gasp, and the lady said, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow! I am your mother! I have waited so long to hear your voice.”
With tears on both sides flowing freely and joyfully, Jennifer found out that she was Anna-Elizabeth Winston, daughter of Rachel Winston, and that she had always been loved. They met a couple of days later at Boston Harbor, and when she saw what she had looked for in every face, a copy of her smile, she knew that her prayers were finally answered, for she had found a heart to call home.
She stood now in the place where her intellectual abilities had been nurtured but not her heart. She did not feel any tugging of her heartstrings, as she had believed. So, careful not to undo the spiders’ long and tediously hard work, she departed the place, knowing that she would never visit it again, for it was being demolished in the morning.