It makes me feel safer, that Moira is here. We can go to the washroom if we put our hands up, though there’s a limit to how many times a day, they mark it down on a chart. I watch the clock, electric and round, at the front over the green blackboard. Two-thirty comes during Testifying. Aunt Helena is here, as well as Aunt Lydia, because Testifying is special. Aunt Helena is fat, she once headed a Weight Watchers’ franchise operation in Iowa. She’s good at Testifying.
It’s Janine, telling about how she was gang-raped at fourteen and had an abortion. She told the same story last week. She seemed almost proud of it, while she was telling. It may not even be true. At Testifying, it’s safer to make things up than to say you have nothing to reveal. But since it’s Janine, it’s probably more or less true.
But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger.
Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison.
Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us.
She did. She did. She did.
Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen?
Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson.
Last week, Janine burst into tears. Aunt Helena made her kneel at the front of the classroom, hands behind her back, where we could all see her, her red face and dripping nose. Her hair dull blonde, her eyelashes so light they seemed not there, the lost eyelashes of someone who’s been in a fire. Burned eyes. She looked disgusting: weak, squirmy, blotchy, pink, like a newborn mouse. None of us wanted to look like that, ever. For a moment, even though
we knew what was being done to her, we despised her.
Crybaby. Crybaby. Crybaby.
We meant it, which is the bad part.
I used to think well of myself. I didn’t then.
That was last week. This week Janine doesn’t wait for us to jeer at her. It was my fault, she says. It was my own fault. I led them on. I deserved the pain.
Very good, Janine, says Aunt Lydia. You are an example.
I have to wait until this is over before I put up my hand. Sometimes, if you ask at the wrong moment, they say No. If you really have to go that can be crucial. Yesterday Dolores wet the floor. Two Aunts hauled her away, a hand under each armpit. She wasn’t there for the afternoon walk, but at night she was back in her usual bed. All night we could hear her moaning, off and on.
What did they do to her? we whispered, from bed to bed.
I don’t know.
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