Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Forty, Josiah. That's how many follow after each priestly pronouncement. Makes for an awfully long service. Forty Lord Have Mercies. It's not enough.
Oh Josiah. Look at me in that mirror. I don't recognize myself. Yet I feel my lips move and see them move there in the mirror. It must be me. When did I get so old? When did my hair gray? Those lines on my face. Who'll want me now? The boys always loved my eyes. They don't even look blue anymore. I look like him.
Oh, Lord, have mercy. Are you about to cry, Josiah? Please don't cry. Talk to me. All you do is sit there with that lost look on your face. Woe to me for I am not Antigone.* I cannot save my brother's soul.
Can't wait to go get a drink, can you, Josiah? Beelzebub's brew he called it. Should we pray together instead? Remember he would make us pray together, fall to our knees and clasp our hands in prayer. We hated that, didn't we? Prayer would set us free. Well, it set you free.
I try not to hate you Josiah. I don't want to hate you. You got away. I am glad you got away. But how I wish you had taken me with you. You left me there with him. You knew what he was doing. Lord have mercy. You saved yourself and I lost my soul to the devil. That's what he said. A demon took over my body and turned me into a wanton whore. There was no demon, Josiah. Lord have mercy. I liked it when a man touched me. I felt alive. I could forget the torment of hell that was home living with that man. I didn't have to think, just feel and know that I lived and mattered for those brief moments. I know you've wondered if he ever touched me. Well, he didn't. He'd look at me like a thirsty man denied water, but he never touched me. He wouldn't risk his precious soul to touch his daughter even as a father should. Would it upset you to know that I tempted him? Oh, I am not Antigone!
Why did he let me learn to read Josiah? Lord have mercy. Why did he teach me the same as you if I wasn't expected to think?
It was only after you left that the true punishment started. I had to suffer for my sins. My sins. What about his? Lord have mercy. I think he feared you. Don't ask me to remember anymore. Lord have mercy. I'll never tell you. You carry enough on your soul.
He drove Evangeline away. She would've married you, Josiah. Sweet Lord, have mercy. Did you know that? How old were you? Sixteen? Her whole family just up and left one day. Evangeline. She was like the china doll sitting on the shelf of Hooper's store that I was never allowed to touch. She was beautiful, so kind. I bet she wouldn't do what I did. She made a fine wife for somebody else.
Remember when you found me Josiah? I didn't recognize you. Lord have mercy. I thought you were him. Oh, the irony! You fought so hard to get away from that man and now you see his face everyday in the mirror!
Lord have mercy. How many times can you say the prayers following these beads, this rosary, Josiah, before you tire? I can go all night on my knees. Lord have mercy. I've done it before here. The sisters don't know if I'm a saint or sinner. They don't know why I pray. They don't know my sins. Do you know all my sins? Do you want to hear about them? Do you want me to list my depravities?
Oh Josiah, Lord have mercy. I was to be Mary Magdalene to your Jesus. We were going to save all their souls. Bring all those nice little Indian children to Jesus. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so... But you are no prophet, and I am simply the whore. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.
You see Josiah, there's this little part of me that still discerns truth, still understands. But my body won't obey this part of me. It's here in my head. And as long as I keep my litany going, I can think, if only for a little while. Lord have mercy. I can't speak the words. My lips refuse. I have to keep praying. Lord have mercy. I live in an instant of lucidity.
What if there is no God, Josiah? What happens then? Or, goodness, what if he were right? Then this is surely hell. How I wish to be Antigone and take my own life! I am simply too scared to wield the knife.
Don't blame yourself. Please don't. Oh, Lord have mercy. I hate to see you so sad. Where's the twinkle in your eye? Remember when you'd comb out my long hair and put the ribbons in my braids. How could such immense hands be so gentle? You'd so make me laugh with your stories. I miss your stories, Josiah.
Did the sun shine today? Lord have mercy. Did it bathe your face in warmth? I can't recall that feeling. I cannot feel; am I alive or dead?
Do you think God hears my prayers? Is this moment my miracle?
Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy....
+ + + + + + +
"Why does she keep saying that?" asked the man kneeling by the pitiable creature, watching her lips repeat the phrase he could barely make out over and over.
"She's praying, Mr. Sanchez," replied the nun, arms folded into her habit, serene smile upon her face. "Surely we must allow her the comfort of prayer."
"Humph," replied the older man. Comfort of prayer. He hoped his sister had comfort. But he doubted it. Perhaps she found comfort in madness? There were no worries in madness, were there?
This was the best place to keep her safe, to keep her from hurting herself or anyone else, he told himself. The nuns were kind here, at least. Weren't they? She was clean, fed, given a bed, and allowed her prayers.
"Goodbye, Hannah," Josiah whispered into her ear as he lifted himself off the floor, wanting nothing more than a glasshell no, a bottleof whiskey. She wouldn't even look at him. Her lips continued their litany. He walked out of the room, feeling tired to the bone. Whiskey. It would dull this memory of his visit until he had to return. Whiskey. That was it.
Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.
* Antigone is Oedipus' daughter from mythology and the name of an ancient play by Sophocles. She is sentenced to death for burying the body of her brother (giving him proper funeral rites) after the king of Thebes denies the sacred rite for him (angering the gods in the process) after an unsuccessful uprising. Antigone then kills herself and the king of Thebes is left a broken man since his son and wife commit suicide too (his son was Antigone's fiance). Two of the main themes in the play are standing up to tyranny and the role of women.