Saint Mary’s orphanage was tucked away on the boarder of the town, Rolling Corners.
From the front door, you can almost see the tiny town. It‘s winding road dipped down a hill steep enough to catch the glow of the streetlamps before it swayed out of sight. The horses and wagons trotted over a road of dirt and rocks that etched its way through the town, passing by the clapboard houses and General store in a wave of dust and wind. It floated its stinging wrath through the street and scraping against anyone and anything that moved.
The town was thin with only twenty or so families. They had grown used to being connected with one another through a steady diet of greetings and pleasantries, births and deaths. They enjoyed the togetherness of church Sundays and believed that they could and would protect one another. Strangers didn’t stay long in Rolling Corners.
Once maintained and run by nuns, Saint Mary’s was well passed its glory day. Elderly widows and spinsters did not let the small structure go to rot, but could only do so much for the dilapidated roof that covered its fair share of children.
Tara was one of them. She was named by a nurse that was caring for her at the time and who has since passed away. For ten years, she lived with surrogate siblings and mothers, but felt the absence of both.
Behind the orphanage was a wooded area that was filled with ancient trees that towered and enclosed a secret world that Tara loved to explore.
One fateful day, she was picking flowers along the border of the wood. Her bright blue eyes scanned over the colorful petals and found the one she wanted. She was bending down to pick another when she saw a large shape among the trees. She moved slowly toward it, as if in a trance and obeying a silent command. She moved aside the branches and brush and walked toward what appeared to be a rust colored shack. By the warped stairs and open door, were the most beautiful flowers she had ever seen.
She practically ran to pick them and didn’t notice that someone was watching and waiting for her to come near. She bent down to pick the velvety petals but was suddenly being lifted up in powerful arms. A large hand covered her mouth to silence her as she struggled to escape. She could feel herself being lifted up and into the shack. Tara’s eyes were wild with fear as her eyes darted around the room. It was a place that used to have desks, a school house that was abandoned to the elements. The wood that he threw her on was decaying and yielding.
The man was tall and smelled of sweat and grime. The odor made Tara want to gag and she tried to fight him off. In frustration, he slammed her head on the floor until she was stunned enough to be still. She could remember that there were ten slats of wood that made up the ceiling, because that was what she was focused on while he was ripping at her clothing. She felt him tear at her underneath the thin skirts and a searing pain rushed through with the vague feeling that something was being taken from her, something irreplaceable.
She was still dazed when he ran off, but she was afraid that he would come back and maybe do something worse. She winced when she tried to move her legs, she could see bruises already coming through the pale skin and blood smeared the inside of her dress. Tears had come and dried, come again and dried in passing shock as she walked very slowly back to Saint Mary’s.
One of the younger girls, Penny was helping put up the laundry when she saw Tara walking past wide eyed and ghost white. She looked at the ripped dress and dirt on her face that had pale streaks where the tears had flowed. She ran to Tara, who just seemed to look past her.
Tara’s skin looked blanched with pain that kept coming from different places, only the shame remained and had already settled in.
A thin film of sweat was on Penny’s head when she got close enough to touch her. The blonde hair stuck to her neck under her pigtails.
“Tara, you okay? What happened?” Penny asked. She could sense that it was something very bad. Tara glanced at her and kept walking. The empty expression on Tara’s face is what made Penny run and call Mrs. Harris, who was in charge of them all.
After they extracted from her what happened, the outrage exploded.
Word spread and soon everyone in town gathered together in front of Sherriff Roe. His weather worn face showed every day was hard, though not much happened in the town. His striped shirt had dark sweat marks under his beefy arms.
“Alright, everybody quiet!” he bellowed. Everyone did and faced him. “I have a description of the man and I got two more men to come and get him.”
The mob cheered and cried out for his blood.
Through horrified eyes, she watched the townspeople rage with the injustice and fear of a stranger preying on them.
A few men tracked down the drifter who was just walking into the next town over. By the time they dragged him back to town, he was badly beaten. The men brought him to Tara so that she could confirm as she half hid by anyone who was close and trying to calm her shaking. When she did, the men thought it would only be right if they passed judgment at the scene of the crime. They dragged him to the schoolhouse as they all followed crying out for his demise. Tara was surrounded by the shouts and unknown arms keeping her still from running away.
Mrs. Harris took hold of her as if to comfort her against her breasts, but she turned Tara to face the carnage that was reaching it’s peak. She leaned down to Tara’s ear.
“It’s good for you to see justice, child. There aint much of it in this world.”
She made her watch as the men castrated the now howling man and then set the old schoolhouse aflame. Everyone stood around and listened to the screams that came from inside until he was silent. Then one by one, they went back to their lives. Only Tara could not move, the shame sat too heavy inside her. It stayed in her very bones, making them stiff and painful, but she was still alive. She pounded down at the small glimmering spot of hope that she sensed somewhere inside her with her own silent hateful words.
After that, she spent most of her time sitting on her bed and staring out the window, watching the others play made up games and racing. She couldn’t imagine smiling again, feeling the wind in her hair as she ran toward the finish line or even picking flowers. She started to see the place in her that was once brimming with daydreams now filled with an indescribable boiling disgust that she was sure stank as she walked by.
She saw Penny turn her face toward the window with a look of pity that that made Tara turn away. She didn’t like the soft look that Penny and most of the townspeople had when they looked at her. It seemed to seal in the rage and the memory.
Every morning greeted her with it along with the chores of the day and it didn’t bother her that Mrs. Harris would give her all the dirty work. Manual labor was best because it exhausted her to the point that Penny would plead for her to stop for fear of her dropping dead. Unbeknown to her friend, Tara already felt dead. She even stopped speaking for a few months and took whatever punishment she had to from Mrs. Harris without the slightest whimper, most times without a tear.