Aisling had not come back to the room for over a year now. I could not credit nor believe that I would not see her again. Without her I only had Cieran and I feared for him every school holidays when my mother would come and take me back to the Hotel. I would be gone sometimes for two to three nights. I thought of nothing else except returning to him and keeping him safe, protected, secure and impervious to his own flesh and blood. I would do anything they wanted, watch them do anything to each other that they desired and delighted in. Anything so they would not hurt him. I could not protect Aisling or the other children from the men but I felt sure if I did as the boys wished I could protect the younger Bolger boys but especially my darling, angelic and guiltless Cieran. Should such a fate befall him I would have more culpability and blame to bear for letting it happen.
Other children had the white pillow put over their faces throughout those years and they too never came back to the room. I do not know how many I saw leave in a white sheet. It could have been two, three, more. I just do not know. All I knew was when the pillow of silence fell upon their small faces and Mick wrapped them in a white sheet and carried them out of the room they never came back. They never came back. I never saw them again. Where did they go? What happened that they never came back. I could not keep them with my gaze nor my fairy in the wallpaper could not keep them coming back to the room. I did not understand nor comprehend what was happening to them. They were carried out after the men left in Mick’s big, burly arms with their heads lolling below his wrist like a rag doll. Totally limp, listless and floppy. Once life filled vessels with innocent hearts now had a white sheet cover their faces and I knew not why. So I believed, like I believed with Aisling, that they were now protected from the men. They could be hurt no more. It was a sheet of kindness, reprieve and freedom. I dreamed of them in the avenue of the School sitting amongst the dancing daffodils in the light breeze of a spring afternoon. Free. Those men were happy. The children had done as asked of them so they were set free and did not need to come to the room anymore. I had to believe this was the narrative. Anything else was unconscionable. Fleeting thoughts would pass through my mind in the dark but I would push them aside as quickly as they came and indulged the images of their newly found freedom. I wanted such a release for myself but it never came. My life continued between the two dwellings; the hotel of beatings and men and the mansion of abusers.
One such night in the Hotel of men I had a regular visitor come to me. His routine was familiar so all that was required was my perfectly practised mental escape until he was finished. He was quick and quiet as usual so I got dressed and was about to get back into bed to try and sleep when the door opened once again. In walked Mick accompanied by a little girl who had never told me her name even though she had been many times. She would always give me a wry smile. A shared smile of common knowledge and communal understanding is known only to the initiated. Mick let go of her hand and she came over to the bed and climbed on. She was shortly followed by the man who normally came for her. She was so pale with dark circles under her eyes and atop her head was the trademark ‘head lice’ haircut which was so dehumanising. It seemed everything about the Industrial school was about stripping down the traits of individualism and uniqueness that mark us as human beings. Bland uniforms, missing socks, ill-fitting shoes, signs of malnutrition and an inability to talk of their experiences. Somehow Aisling and I retained the link between humanity and each other. This poor wee child had been stripped of all personality, brainwashed into believing her life could be nothing more than what she was experiencing day-in-day-out, night after night. Not even the kindness of the Nuns that retained their compassion could undo the damage. They co-operated with the perpetrators and sought to please them in the vain hope of another life. Many knew of no other life, so accepted that the one they were existing in, and it was barely existing, was all that was owed to them. They had been in Homes since birth and barely treated or nurtured as humans. Their eyes were dead and when they managed to hold my gaze all that was there was a lost childhood with no future.
Mr O’Connor approached her at the bed and took her hand out of mine. I think she was about ten or eleven. She was able to get onto the large double bed easily. Mick beckoned me as usual to sit at his feet. I obediently did so. Anything else was futile. I could do nothing to help her at this stage. I whispered to her and she let go of my hand. Undressed, he mounted her with such deliberation to be frightening, his intent clear and unambiguous. There she lay, prostrate at the urging of his adult body on her waif like child’s frame. So wrong. He vocalised bile and vile things to her and as he proceeded, his cruel actions got more and more angry, enraged and seemingly exasperated. Suddenly he called to Mick “Now, I want to do it now” with urgency and anticipation. There was a moment of silence, just a moment of stillness with no hint or intimation of what was to come. I felt a panic creek up my throat. I saw his face, heard the importunity in his voice. Oh little one what is going to happen ? The door opened and in walked my mother carrying something swaddled in a tea towel. I could not make out what it was. She gave it to James who took it with confidence, brashness and and boldness. He knew what he was given. I could not see properly. His adult body obliterated the young child’s face and upper body. He laid the tea towel down beside her on the bed and unfolded it deliberately. He picked something up. With no delay he lifted it above his head and brought it down onto her upper body with such force he grunted and she screamed. Still I could see nothing of what was unfolding. His arm raised a second time. This time I would see clearly as I had lunged forward when she screamed. It was a kitchen knife. “No!”, I yelled”, “No”. He drove the knife into her this second and last time and red liquid spurted into the air and flowed freely over his chest and all over the bed and floor. It flowed unchecked. I was standing at this stage and Mick for once wasn’t stopping me. The man was out of breath, panting heavily, punctuated by satisfied grunts. He just kept staring at her, drinking in the outcome of his actions. She was struggling and writhing underneath him, no longer screaming but rather gurgling and heavily breathing with short sharp breaths. She held him in her stare, transfixed in her shocked, ogling eyes wide with shock. I was on the bed by now holding her head. Talking to her. I do not know what I said except I kept talking, Mick is telling me to “Shut the fuck up” repeatedly. He then instructs me to take a pillow and put it over her face. I stare and rivet him with my disbelieving face. I could not do that. That meant she never came back to the room. I wanted her to come back and for the red liquid to go away and for her to be just the little girl with the short hair cut again not this fluid, soaked body with Mr O’Connor astride her sharing her bodily juices. What was the fluid ? Why was it spurting out of her ? I placed my hands over her two wounds and the fluid forces it’s way through my fingers, up my wrists up my arms onto my clothes. We three shared her melliflcous innards. Mick is yelling at me to put the pillow over her face. I refuse. He hits me three times with his fist in the side of the head. The man is just transplanted to the spot like the deep roots of an ancient oak tree. He is motionless above her writhing body. “Do it or I will fucking kill you”, he spat at me. He snatches at my hands and forces them to grip the pillow and then he holds my hands down over her face with the pillow. Her body continues to squirm and thrash below. Suddenly it stops and she is frighteningly still, motionless and becalmed. Mick let’s my hands go and from nowhere I am filled with rage, paroxysms of anger and animosity towards them. I grab and snatch the knife out of Mr O’Connor’s hand which was lying limply by his side and plunge it into his stomach. He bellows. Brays like a kicked donkey. He lurches back off the bed attempting to rain a blow at my head while he bumbles backwards onto the floor. He hits the floor hard as both his hands are gripping the unexpected wound I have inflicted on his bulbous stomach so they do not break his unceremonious declivity. My mother rushes into the room surveys the mayhem. I hear her yell and swear at me. As she lashes out at me and connects with my face, slams her hand so hard into my countenance that it lifts my body upwards up and off the bed onto the floor. I look up and Mr O’Connor is holding the knife stuck in his oversized abdomen and calling to Mick who kicks me on his way over to him. He takes a hold of the knife handle and extracts it out of his friends stomach. He hands it to my mother. He gets off the floor and kicks me a few times on the ground with such a viciousness that it takes my breath away. I can see my mother walk to the sink and turn on the tap and run the knife under the sink and the water runs red until eventually it is clean again. She then retrieves the tea towel and wraps the knife once again and just leaves the room saying to me on the way out “You’ll pay for this you little slut”