Hannah September 2020
I turn left off Gorgy road and pull into Springwell House. It’s been an exhausting day. The familiar smell of brewing hops hits me as I open the car door and walk towards the glittering sandstone building. I love the smells of Edinburgh; each area different. The movers are just coming out as I reach the entry way, poised to enter my key code.
“Alright Miss Allen, that’s everything unloaded. All in the right rooms for you. Everything sanitised. Do you want a hand to shift anything before we go? I know what you ladies are like changing your minds.” Tommy winks at his son Ed- the other half of T Wilkes and Sons removers- who shrugs; turning up his eyes in mock reprimand at his dad’s sexism.
“No thanks. You’ve done a great job. Have a drink on me when you get back tonight.” I take a twenty
pound note out of my jeans pocket and pass it to Tommy before they step into their van,
leaving me, the new tenant of apartment 1 Springwell House.
I make my way through the entry area. White walls, partly oak- panelled with a shining marble tiled floor give a warm, modern, clean feel to the place. I turn left and reach my strong oak door. Opening it the calm colours welcome me in. Floor to ceiling windows allow me to look out, the castle and “auld toon” full of Edinburgh’s ancient history to the east, and the twinkling lights of the Newtown built in the Victorian times and now awash with trendy restaurants and bars to the north.
I closed the door and sigh. I don’t feel half as confident now.
I look around at the chaos and bite my lip- overwhelmed by it all, but I won’t cry. Instead I busy myself making up the bed, unpacking clothes, lamps and some knick-knacks I’d brought to make this house become my home.
Pouring myself a glass of wine, I slump down on the sofa.
I screw up my eyes tightly as I think of the huge step I’ve taken.
Rose September 1829
The carriage draws up at Springwell House, Magdalene home for wayward girls. The smell of coal dust and smoke from the chimneys clings to me as I look towards the austere and blackened looking building. I approach the studded door and raise the heavy iron knocker. A loud clang echoes as it hits the rivetted ironwork. I bite my lip. Mamma said not to cry. I do as I’m told.
My body twists inwards like a snail curling into its shell. I don’t like change. After several minutes the door creaks open and a stern-looking nun indicates to me to enter. The walls are panelled with dark oak, I feel them closing in, trapping me. Footsteps echo on the stone- flagged corridor. A sister takes my bag saying, “You’ll not be needing this now, lass. We’ll give you all you’ll need. You can have this back when you leave us.”
I don’t understand when that would be or how long I would be here, only that mama said I had to be here because I was sick.
“Come along now and I’ll take you to your room.”
We walk along the dark corridor and turn left. The sister rapps twice loudly. We enter a large room with rows of beds. Next to each stands a girl; still, grey, rows of spears. I feel my hands start to twitch, my heart to flutter as panic like hands squeezing my breath from me. Twenty pairs of dull, lifeless eyes looked at me from out of pale, exhausted, emaciated faces. I bite my lip again and look over at the small barred windows, obscured by smoke belched from the laundry chimneys. The door thuds shut. The spears collapse on to their beds.
I sit on the bed I’ve been given and bow my head. I don’t understand. Mama says I’m wicked but I’m not. I’ve tried to be good. Do what I’m told. Never tell. I miss Dada. He loves me. I’ve not seen him for a while, not since I’ve been sick.
I feel as if I’m choking. I cover my face with my hands and sob. After a few minutes a hand reaches out and touches my shoulder another rubs my back.
Despite a disturbed sleep, I ‘d dreamt of someone weeping, I wake full of optimism, keen to complete the unpacking and find some time to explore the area. The weeping had disturbed me. There was something about it that tugged at my heart.
Breakfast done, I tear into the remaining boxes, finding places for my treasures. After two hours,
the last item in the last box is tucked in its place. I make a coffee and seeing the sun has
come out, take it out to the garden.
Neglected is probably an understatement; jungle a better description. It’s waist high in
weeds. Thistles and nettles jostle for supremacy, pushing upwards in their race to grab the light.
It reminds me why I had left it till yesterday to tell my mother about my decision. Self-sacrifice was what my mother and generations before her promoted. “Well she’s made her bed
so she’ll have to lie in it,” was what I’d often hear her say when judging this neighbour or that friend.
Those who carried stoically on, doing their duty, whatever life threw at them were seen as the salt of
the earth. They were the thistles in the hedgerows; strong and straight, growing above the others,
pushing out their flower to ensure their survival, arming themselves with thorns so nothing could touch them. I suppose I’ve inherited that bravery.
Later, I wander back inside and slump onto the sofa. I rub my stomach tenderly.
I know we can do this.
I wake to the sounds of feet bustling around, busy. Straightening beds, folding clothes all in a
strained unusual silence. I watch and copy.
I follow the line of young women upstairs to a high- ceilinged room filled with rows of tables. Elbows jostle me as I creep forward to get her bowl of porridge. Then I feel Mary’s hand clutching my arm steering me towards a seat. I keep my eyes down as rows of cold eyes like barbs pierce me. A rap on the table says it’s time to be still and say morning prayers.
Breakfast over, we walk in line out of the side entrance and down towards the laundry.
The heat and steam leak into my body drawing out my energy making me feel weak and limp. I do try but I can see that I’m not like the other girls, all sharp edges and thorns. I wilt in the heat and drought. I feel a gentle hand reach over and rubbed my shoulder. “Come on Rose lass. Only anither hour tae go and we can get back tae the hoose.”
The hour crawls. Every bone in my body aches, every movement a trial. I trudge back, swallowing back tears.
I place my hand on my stomach where I feel a strange fluttering.
I don’t know if I can do this.