Away Down the Hill

A Short Story by Savannah Liston

Excerpts published below, the whole will be published in serial throughout the next few weeks.

My name is Adele.  But the other sisters call me Catherine. So I do not know who I am.

I crept to the bed and pulled myself up to the window again. The moon was shining brightly, and that helped to sooth my worry. I watched it shining on the cold ground until it moved beyond my sight. Then I lay down and cried myself to sleep.

Thus was my first day at St. Margaret’s Nunnery.

The streets were full of people shouting and crowding all over. I didn’t want to walk out into it, but it was too late to go back now. I took a deep breath and pushed my way through.

The stores were empty, the windows dirty and bare. Children ran around begging from everyone. I was frightened when they came near me, and at last I made them see I had no money or food either.  Infants were crying from all over. The big houses were disheveled and crumbling. Most of the people I passed had a listless hollow look in their eyes.

As we walked out of the room I glanced back, through the window, and saw a woman reaching out the window of the burning house.

“You weren’t around to remember the Great War. It was horror beyond imagination. It was just a big fight between everyone. But we lost. The winners made us pay for everything. They made us give them our factories, our food, our money, they forced us to kneel down before them, like nasty sniveling little creatures begging for their lives. I watched everyone around us die.”

I felt heaviness in my heart.  The weight squeezed out a tear, and I hastily brushed it away. I shall be a nun. There was leaden dullness left, as if what used to beat with energy and hope had now turned to stone. I felt prison doors being pulled closed, tighter, with each step I took. This was a life of dreary self-imprisonment. This was a life of utter despair and routine. It was safe, but the nunnery felt dead.

“Here we are,” I said to the young man cheerfully. He didn’t seem to notice the pain as I wrenched the sticky bandages off.
“What’s your name?” I asked, trying to make conversation and keep my mind from what I was doing.
“Franz. And yours?”
“Catherine.” He just stared at me for the longest time, until I said it was time to move onto the other men.
“Yes, but don’t forget to come back,” he smiled at me again. I did not know then, I was such a stranger to the world, but I know now that it was then that Franz Gruber fell in love with me.

It was the man with the strange melancholy gaze who was making sounds.

“Are you alright?” I asked him.

“Do you ever feel a dull aching right about here?” He put his hand over his heart. “That is my ailment. What is your name, child?” He spoke so sadly, and so gently.

“Adele. I mean, Catherine.” I cursed myself for saying Adele; I didn’t know why that came out. I hadn’t called myself Adele for years, at least not out loud.

“Do you forget who you are?”He said with a queer smile. “You aren’t the only one.”

“My hatred destroyed their lives. Just as my parents were at home waiting for me, these soldiers had parents, perhaps wives and children eagerly awaiting news. They would be having a funeral soon. Because I hated, and did not stop myself. It was that night, as I lay in the dark, when I resolved to stop this foolishness, I would begin to love those who wronged me and my country.”

“There are battles to be fought, and I must help. You didn’t take the life vows; I asked one of the nuns once. So you are still free to come with me after this is all over. Here,” he drew something out of his pocket, “this will make it a more solemn promise.” He took my hand and put a small gold band on one of my fingers. “It was my mother’s. Now I can go away, and be sure that you will be here waiting for me.”

I felt a dull ache in my stomach, and said I was going to go lay down. By the time I laid down, the aching had grown greater, and it was in my heart. I was sick of thinking about Franz and life after the war. I thought about seeing Franz again…and dreaded it. I cried until my pillow was thoroughly damp. I cried with fear at what Franz would say, I cried because I was angry with myself for thinking I loved Franz, and I was enraged at Frederick for drawing the tears out of my heart.

Thus was the first day of sorrow after I became engaged to Franz.

Leave a Reply