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Attic Mater Dolorosa

The Dark Attic — Bernhard Folkestad (1879–1933) — National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway — public domain

the stranded steamer trunk woodworm pocked lock plate broken yet yearning for an ocean the run-down rocking horse put to pasture grazing wistfully on the floorboard grit and the plastic baby doll slouching in the high chair with the bright red potty dangling underneath the seat in inch-deep dust all of them are blessed by the waxen lady of sorrows safe inside her bell jar jail and in the dying light I finally see the swirling motes that weave all these mouldy memories in the cluttered attic of my mind


In my childhood hometown, opposite the railway station and across the railroad tracks — one track going inland, the other headed for the sea — stood a convent, a large, red brick edifice in neogothic style erected in the early 1900’s, housing a strictly enclosed congregation of Passionist Sisters.

I write ‘stood’ — past tense.

In 2013, after years of continuous decline in religious callings, the last of the Sisters left the cloister, and in 2021 the building was razed, chapel and all, to make way for a housing development. Apart from the stereotype vision of old crones dressed in black, drifting aimlessly down corridors, lost in prayer, fingering the beads on their rosary, we children had only a vague idea of what went on behind those walls. You weren’t allowed in, and they weren’t allowed out. Except, from time to time we got a glimpse of how the nuns kept busy, when yet another lace doily or crochet blanket turned up at the house. Back in the late Sixties, selling their handicraft to the outside world was one way, I suppose, for the nuns to make ends meet, though it didn’t stop the congregation’s irreversible attrition. One handmade item from the nunnery that took pride of place on the large dresser in our living room was a wax statue of the Virgin Mary inside a bell jar, looking like some Barbie gone religious, though my little sister, despite kicking a tantrum or two, was never allowed to play with the ‘Mary doll’. How the wax Madonna finally ended up in the attic to preside over the languishing trinkets and treasures already there, I don’t recall. Maybe it had to do with the Passionist Sisters’ ever dwindling numbers.

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