In the Garden of Persephone (Part 10)

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Hannah braces herself to tell her mother that she wants to live a different life

When Hannah returned with everyone’s meal and had changed back into her Salvation Army uniform, she hadn’t been able to eat. It was the usual Sunday “fellowship” but the smell of the decaying chickens stayed with her. She watched the people around her, laughing and eating and having what appeared to be a good time while tearing strips of chicken flesh with their teeth. It was enough to turn her into a vegetarian. 

Hannah was young enough to believe that everyone grew up to be a happy adult and she was far too naïve to consider their jocularity was contrived. She felt like an outsider in a community she had been a part of all her life: the people may have changed with every house move but the essentials remained the same. Sunday nights were for sharing meals, music and prayers—and for keeping one’s thought to one’s own self.

Hannah thought of the old drunk she and her mother had found on the main street. She had felt an enormous amount of pity for her and overwhelming helplessness too. That Xan had asked after as well made Hannah think she should have made more of an effort to assist the crazy old lady rather than abandon her mother to do the dirty work. As good as her mother was, Hannah sometimes felt she did too much for others and she couldn’t help but feel slightly neglected. She watched the people around her, laughing and smiling, who seemed like everyone else she had ever known. The uniforms gave them a familiarity she found both comforting and alarming. Hannah knew she could ask anyone for help and she would receive it.

            Afterwards, when she and her mother arrived at their house, Hannah refused their Sunday evening ritual of hot chocolate and excused herself to the shower, then change into her pyjamas to sleep a restless sleep. For once, she was going to have her own company, be alone with her thoughts, not have to explain what was on her mind, pray for guidance or disclose whatever secrets she had managed to keep from her mother for the day. Hannah ignored the hurt look on her mother’s face although that memory was what had kept her awake.

            After turning over again and again, Hannah managed to eventually fall asleep but still managed to awake long before her alarm. She lay in her bed and watched as the sun grew brighter. Even though she had taken a shower the night before, the smell of decomposing chicken flesh still stayed fresh in her nostrils.

            Hannah was too warm and kicked her covers away. She must have dozed off again because the next thing she knew her mother was calling her to breakfast.

            Mrs. Knight, as Hannah knew she would be, was already dressed in her uniform. She was singing “Bright Crowns,” as she buttered toast. Hannah sat down at the table and drank the juice her mother had already poured. She still didn’t feel like eating or talking.

            Mrs Knight placed the toast on the table, then took Hannah’s hands in her own.

            “Our dear Lord Jesus,” she began to pray. Hannah watched her mother’s face as she spoke, her eyes clenched tight. She noticed her mother was just beginning to smile again as she prayed and for this, Hannah was grateful. In the dark months after her father was killed on that lonely road so far away from them, Hannah feared her mother’s faith had crossed from the devoted the fervent. Mrs. Knight had developed a fine line running from the middle of her forehead to the inside edge of one eyebrow, the result Hannah knew, of too many concentrated hours of praying for comfort. Hannah gently pushed a strand of hair away from her mother’s face, suddenly wanting to tell her this kind of life was not the kind she wanted to live. Her mother stopped praying for a moment.

            “Hannah?” she asked with a falter. Her father’s death was too recent to be able to accept the unusual as anything other than a bad thing and she felt terrible for disturbing their ordered existence the previous night.

            “Nothing.”

            Mrs Knight resumed her prayers and Hannah remembered how as a family, she, her father and mother would join hands at the table to pray for protection, strength and deliverance from evil. Back then, it had all seemed so simple: Ask and you shall receive. Hannah had never heard of: Ask and if God’s in the mood he might just prevent a drunk hitting your father head on. These thoughts she kept to herself--she knew faith was all that held her mother together.

            “Amen,” said Mrs Knight said.

            “Amen,” echoed Hannah.

            “Shall I drive you to school?” Mrs Knight asked. Hannah pictured herself getting out of the Salvation Army van, the kids who would point and make assumptions about her. She thought of Xan who wanted something from her.

            “Today, mom, I’d like to walk to school.”

            Hannah heard the late bell just as she opened the door of the school. She entered the school and saw the hall was quickly emptying as pupils scrambled to get to home room before being marked late.

            “Jesus Freak !” someone shouted at her.

            Hannah shrugged and made her way to homeroom. She didn’t mind being called a Jesus freak. After all, by wearing a Salvation Army uniform in public she was making herself a fairly easy target for ridicule. What bothered Hannah was that she could feel herself outgrowing her faith. She knew the bible inside and out, knew the Salvation Army doctrines just as well and it wasn’t that she didn’t agree with them it was that she wanted more. She wanted a new religion, one with colourful gods and goddesses. One that wasn’t so expected in a Christian country.

More to the point, she realised she had outgrown the 6/8 marches of a military band and longed to stretch her musical wings in the classics. Mr Graham had shown her a delightful solo he wanted her to play at the next concert. It was a complicated score and even had a cadenza—a solid eight measures of only her playing. The mere memory of just looking at the cadenza made Hannah’s heart flip. If she messed it up, she could blame no one but herself.

            “You’re late, Hannah Knight,” her homeroom teacher said. Hannah nodded and took a seat at the front of the class. “Home room starts at 8:55 and if you’re not here, then I’m afraid its detention. Tonight.”

            “Okay,” said Hannah.

            “What?”

            Hannah looked at the teacher, a heavy set stern looking man. The teacher was seated at his desk but was already sweating in the morning sunshine. This teacher, for reasons unknown, wore a plaid jacket in the hot weather--in fact the same plaid jacket day in and day out. To his credit, he didn’t smell too bad unless one got right up close to him.

            “I said ‘okay’. I’m late and it’s my fault and I deserve a detention.”

            “Are you sassing me?”

            “Sir,” Hannah began politely. She licked her lips and just knew there was no way she was going to avoid a confrontation. The rest of the class were all looking at her, waiting to be entertained. “I’m too hot to be sassy. I rushed all the way from home so I wouldn’t be late but I was late anyway. I am sorry if my lateness has upset you but all I want to do is sit here, catch my breath and let the gentle summer breeze evaporate the perspiration from my sweaty brow.” She looked directly at the teacher.

            “We were talking about our weekend,” he pointed to another pupil. “Julia was just saying she went water skiing. Have you done anything interesting?”

            “Why yes, yes I have.” Hannah sat upright in her seat.

            “And that would be?”

            “I converted to Hinduism.”

            Just to make sure Hannah could claim persecution for her new found beliefs, her teacher added on another detention.

 

 

By lunchtime, Hannah had a headache and she wanted nothing more than to get some fresh air and a bit of sunshine. The proposition of playing a solo had thrown her into a turmoil she had never known the likes of. She had developed a foul mood too as the morning wore on so she was less than pleased to see Xan in the Ladies’ bathroom, door flung open, mid-crap, cigarette firmly in hand.

            “Why don’t you ever close the door?” Hannah said in the next stall. She gave the wall a bang so Xan would know she was talking to her.

            “I don’t know. Why do you close the door and lock it?”

            “Because no one wants to see me have a pee, I suppose.”

            “Really?” Xan was quiet for a few seconds. “But everyone has to pee. Why try to pretend you don’t have natural, normal bodily functions?”

            “I’m not pretending anything. I just don’t think other people want to see me pee.”

            “Hey Nancy,” Xan called. “Does my sitting here with the door open offend you?”

            “Why would they put doors on the stalls if you weren’t meant to close it?” Hannah heard Nancy say.

            “Because people want privacy.” Hannah flushed the toilet and came out.

            “Well that’s different then.” Xan flushed and came out to face Hannah who was washing her hands. “You said before you didn’t want to offend people who might see you do what people do. Now you’re saying you close the door because you don‘t want people to see you.”

            “Xan,” Hannah’s went to the driers to dry her hands and found they didn’t work. “Damn.”

            “Must be a bad day if a newly converted Hindu swears.”

            Hannah laughed and shook her head, surprised at the speed of gossip. “Damn isn’t a swear word.”

            “Say it in homeroom and you’d get a detention.” Xan washed her hands then dried them on her shirt. “I don’t know about you guys but I’m going for a swim.”

            All her life, Hannah followed rules. She was worldly enough to know no one could be completely lawless but since her father’s death she saw had become angry enough to notice that those who broke a rule very now and again, who took chances, enjoyed a certain freedom and happiness not available to those who mindlessly followed rules without question.

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