Between preparing for the summer drama camps at the Winnsboro Center For the Arts and extra time spent with the new dog, Hannah, I have not had much down time. Which is probably a good thing in a way, as I am getting lots of exercise.
Today I’m going to share another excerpt from Evelyn Evolving, picking up from where I left off on May 19th. This is the beginning of a new chapter back in Evelyn’s point of view.
Since summer has hit here in Texas, this might be a good time to share a glass of cool, refreshing iced tea. Enjoy…
Evelyn pulled her brown sweater tighter against the frigid air in the long hallway. It was little protection against the cold that chilled her to the bone and turned her fingers blue. Viola had taken the sweater away from her after Evelyn pulled it from the donation bag first, then after Evelyn begged, gave it back. Evelyn has happy to have it, even though it was thinly woven, and the cold air found its way in. This winter was harder than last year, and even the year before that. Sister Honora said it wasn’t any colder outside. It was just that there wasn’t enough coal to heat the whole building. The sleeping ward was so frigid that at night all the children huddled under thick quilts, still wearing their clothes.
The only warm spot in the entire building was the dining room and that’s where Evelyn was headed now. Viola should already be there.
All this week, Viola had finished her morning chores early and was first in line for lunch. In addition to having choice work assignments – she had been chosen to clean the altar in the chapel – Viola was allowed to attend classes in the afternoons.
Evelyn was not.
Two years ago, the good sisters had decided that there was something wrong with Evelyn’s brain. She was slow. She was stupid. She was never going to be able to learn, so she might as well be doing chores all day. Those chores were still the worst a person could hope for, lot of floor scrubbing, which left her hands red and made blisters on top of callouses.
Evelyn tried to pretend she didn’t care that Viola had the lighter load, but sometimes resentment reared its ugly head. Evelyn was sure that she could be as smart and as good as Viola if the sisters would just give her a chance. They were always impatient with her. Wanting her to give the answer to an arithmetic problem right now. Right this very second. Not letting her take the time she needed to come up with the correct answer. And she read too slowly. At least that is what Sister Marie said in front of the whole class.
It was no surprise that Evelyn read slowly and stumbled over the words when told to read aloud. Everyone in the class stared at her, including Sister Marie, impatience furrowing the brow under the white wimple. Having all the eyes in the room focused on her made Evelyn want to run away and hide. She was sure that everyone was poised to react the minute she made her first mistake in pronunciation. And, of course, the nervousness made the mistake come quickly.
The laughter followed.
Stepping into the relative warmth of the large dining hall, Evelyn saw several kids in line to pick up a tray and be served by Sister Magdalene, who stood behind the large metal pans ready to dole out portions of food. Evelyn had to walk the entire length of the line, passing by Viola, who was first, to get to the end and wait. Stepping into the line in front of her sister was not possible. That was an infraction that could get them both punished, and Viola was standing firm in her resolve to champion herself above Evelyn.
At every meal, the children had to stand in line until everyone had filed into the dining hall. Then Sister Honora would walk to the front of the room and lead the prayer before serving could begin. Lately, Evelyn had noticed that the food portions were dwindling along with the coal supply. Porridge used to be just for breakfast, but sometimes now they had it for lunch or for dinner. Sister Magdalene, who was in charge of the kitchen, said that come spring and summer when they could plant a garden, the offering in the food line would improve. It’s just that there wasn’t enough money right now to buy all that the orphanage needed.
Viola had taken to eating with some of the other older girls, so Evelyn sat at a table with other girls her age and ate her bowl of porridge slowly. She wanted to linger in the dining hall as long as she dared; just to be warm for a few more minutes. She had to scrub the floor in the sleeping area this afternoon, and it would be colder there than anywhere in the building. But she couldn’t put it off forever. She scraped the bowl for the last bit of food, then carried the empty bowl to the cart where they put the dirty dishes. Some lucky girl would get to wash those in the relative warmth of the kitchen.
After depositing the bowl, Evelyn went to the room off the kitchen where cleaning things were kept and got a bucket and mop.
Once in the sleeping area for the girls, she first went to her cot and pulled out a cigar box from underneath. The box held a couple of pencils, some paper, a pretty rock she’d found last summer by the creek that ran behind the orphanage, and the spoon she’d brought from Miz Beatrice’s. Her one connection to a happier time.
It also still held her mother’s handkerchief, which wasn’t a connection to a happier time, but something she treasured none the less. The cloth no longer held the sweet smell of her mother’s perfume. That had long ago faded, but Evelyn didn’t care. It had once belonged to that mysterious woman she longed to know.
That’s it for me folks. I hope you have a good weekend. And as always I welcome feedback on the excerpt.