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ABOUT MY SANCTUARY A lonely girl who dreams of an impossible future. A sullen boy with a troubled past. Together, with a stained glass angel, they form a bond that shelters them from the cruel indifference of life in a church-run orphanage in the 1950s. When a “secret game� leads to the unthinkable, a choice must be made that no mother, real or imagined should ever have to face.


MY SANCTUARY Sarah-Jane Lehoux

Sanctuary. It’s a big word we learned ’bout in catechism. It means the part of the church ’round the altar, and I guess it’s pretty special. My teacher, Mr. Martin, told us it also means a place where you can feel safe. He said people sometimes hide in churches, and no one can hurt them while they’re in there. Now Mr. Martin is the smartest teacher ever. He taught Elizabeth Winters the times table in just one term, even though Mother MacDonald swears Beth is the stupidest girl ever to walk God’s green earth, and she’s got so much smog in the noggin it’s a wonder smoke don’t come out her ears. He got Billy Richmond to say “I am not” ’stead of “I ain’t.” And he proved to us all that morning dew on the grass isn’t bug spit like Davey Morris swore it was. Mr. Martin knows more than anybody I ever met, but when he told me ’bout those people using a church as their sanctuary, I didn’t believe him. But it’s not his fault. After all, Mr. Martin’s never been to St. Jerome’s. My name’s Rebecca Dolores Kingsley. Sounds high and mighty, don’t you think? But most people call me Dot. I don’t know how that got started, but it stuck and it suits me just fine. Only person ever to call me Rebecca is Mother MacDonald, and when I hear it, I know I’m in up to my neck. Don’t let her name fool you; she’s a house mother, not a nun. Perry Carter says we oughta be grateful ’cause he’s lived with nuns, and they got right wicked tempers, but I don’t see why God would give a nun a temper worse than Mother MacDonald’s. Nuns are supposed to be married to Him, right? I don’t think He’d want a lot of crotchety wives. Just the same as how no man wanted a wife like Mother MacDonald, and that’s why she ended up here with us.


I been living at the orphanage run by St. Jerome’s ever since September 15, 1952. The day after I turned eight. That’s when my folks decided they couldn’t keep me no more. They had their reasons. That’s what I been told anyway. Everybody got a reason for something or other, I suppose. I sure as shooting got a reason for telling all this. So I best get to it. I turned fourteen three months ago, and I’m one of the oldest girls here. Mother MacDonald said if my chest keeps growing, I won’t be able to stay. Said I’ll be a distraction to the boys, and no good will come of it. I tried to keep ’em smaller, really I did. I used some cloth to wrap ’em up, but it didn’t work. Just made it hard to breathe. Then I tried praying. For a long time, every time we went to mass, I would pray and pray for God to stop making the darned things grow. Jenny Benton says I should grow ’em as big as balloons so I can get outta here. But where would I go? I don’t have kin that want me. There’s nothing for me out there except an empty belly and frost-bit feet. Here, I got a roof over my head, and that’s really all a girl can ask for. Sometimes though, I think ’bout what it’d be like to have more. I make believe Mr. Martin asks me to live with him. I dream he comes up to me and says, “Dot, you’re the prettiest girl in the whole school. Prettier than Beth even. Let’s get married.” And then I’d have it made in the shade. I’d get to live in his nice little house, and I’d wear cocktail dresses and high heels everyday. But Mr. Martin won’t ever say nothing like that. He’s too proper. He’s just too good to be true. That’s what all the girls say. Thomas Kerry says he don’t understand why we all sigh and giggle for Mr. Martin so much and not for him. I’m not mean enough to tell him it’s ’cause his ears stick out like an elephant’s. But Sally Maynard is. She says next time he starts swaggering ’round like a cock on a walk, she’s gonna let him have it.


I guess I’m naming a lot of names. Sorry for that. I got a lot to say so I’m rushing. That’s my biggest problem, I think. I get ahead of myself. But don’t worry yourself keeping track of who’s who and what’s what. There’re lots of us in the orphanage, and even more at the public school we go to—kids who have parents and live in houses, and make fun of us who don’t have either. I don’t know all their names, and I don’t suppose they know mine. So they ain’t important. The only names I want you to remember are mine and little Kenneth Booker’s. Kenny is my baby, you see. Well, not really. He’s too grown to be mine for real. And besides that, if you ask him, he’d tell you he’s my boyfriend. But to me, he’s my baby and he’s my reason for everything.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah-Jane resides in Southern Ontario with her husband, and her ever growing horde of Machiavellian cats. For more information, please visit www.sarah-janelehoux.com.


My Sanctuary by Sarah-Jane Lehoux