Angela paced back and forth in her room, today was the day. Everyone was waiting for her downstairs. She looked at herself in the mirror again, making sure everything was perfect. Normally her mother would be helping her prepare, but her mother was unable to this year. Angela carefully smoothed out her dress, scanning for wrinkles. She had on a small amount of make up, a hint of lipstick and a faint blush, just to add some colour to her cheeks. Make up wasn’t supposed to be worn, but she was sure no one would notice. She slipped on her high heels, took another look at herself, then after taking a deep breath stepped outside.
Angela always hated going down the stairs, everyone staring up at her. She could feel her cheeks reddening as she walked downstairs. Her father and grandparents were looking up at her, all smiling and muttering to one another about how lovely she looked. Angela’s mother stared off into space. Angela’s gaze paused over the stool her brother normally sat on, he had died nine months back, in the accident. At the bottom of the stairs Angela stood and smiled for the photos, the same ones that were taken every year since she was twelve. She felt a faint twinge in her stomach and pushed it down. It would all be over soon.
Her father brought her by himself. They drove in the car, a rare luxury for Angela, only her father drove, and he only did so for work. She had left her grandparents in the house with her mother but already she was wishing she was back there. She knew that she would return in a few hours to a lovely meal and a cup of tea, spiked with just a nip of brandy courtesy of Grandma Pat. The heat would wind its way down her throat and to her stomach, making her feel warm again, feel human.
“We must be a little early.” Angela’s heart skipped a beat. Her father was right, they were early. There was a queue, but it wasn’t long. She took a slow breath, “well, at least I’ll get seen quickly.”
Her fathers cheeks reddened, “Yes, yes I suppose so.”
She had never done this trip with her father before, it had always been her mother. Grandma Pat had offered to bring her but her father insisted he went instead. Her father pulled up into a parking space, “Will I wait in the car?”
“That’s what mum normally did.”
“Ok then…We don’t have anything to worry about, do we?”
“Dad! No. Nothing at all.”
“I’m sorry. I know better. I just…”
“It’s ok. I know. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
Angela stepped out of the car and into the spring air, it was a nice day out, with just a faint breeze. She joined the line of girls, there were about twenty ahead of her, all wearing the same white dress. To the right boys were lining up, all wearing their suits. Angela felt a strange fluttering when she looked at some of them. Perhaps if she had friends she would be giggling and gossiping with the others in the line. A few of the boys were looking at the girls openly, but most were stealing glances. Two boys kept looking at her, Angela tried to keep her eyes forward, but she was glad of the make up.
The line was moving slowly, but all too quickly. She was happy they arrived early, the queue had been growing steadily longer. Soon she found herself in the shadow of the church, she shivered in the sudden cold. There were only two people ahead of her. Then one. It was her turn.
The nun was old and wizened, deep wrinkles lining her face. Angela knew her, but never knew the nun’s name, she only seemed to appear for the testing. Angela was guided through the long halls and into a small room at the back. Inside was another nun, this one was younger than the first, but still old.
Angela carefully took off her dress and hung it on the hanger provided, the old woman circled her carefully, occasionally poking or prodding. Angela tried to hold still, but every time those old fingers touched her she wanted to run. “This might be a bit uncomfortable.”
The nun’s face puckered in distaste, Angela felt her fingers moving downwards until finally they touched her. She looked up at the ceiling, breathing slowly. It would be over soon, she just had to focus on that. The woman stepped back. “You’re fine. Go on now.”
The nun waved her off as she washed her hands in a basin. Angela dressed hurriedly and made her way past the girls waiting outside. They had all gone through it before, and would go through it again, but she still felt shame burning inside her, bright and hot. She wondered if they boys knew what had been done to her. She reasoned they probably didn’t after all she didn’t know what they went through. That was a small blessing at least.
She got into the car, “How was it?”
“Are you ready to go?”
They drove home in silence.
Inside the house Grandma Pat was waiting with a cup of tea and Angela drank it gratefully. “How did it go?”
“Fine. Everything is fine.”
Grandma Pat took the empty cup from her and gave her a hug, Angela breathed deeply, enjoying the faint hint of perfume. Grandma Pat gave a final, gentle squeeze, “I’ll get you another cup of tea.”
“Oh no, it’s-“
“I insist” Grandma Pat winked at her and disappeared into the kitchen.
When the day had finally ended Angela undressed carefully, the dress would be stored until next year. She wished, as she did every year, that once the test was done she could be left alone. She didn’t want to celebrate it, she didn’t want to even think about it. She just wanted to forget, to pretend for a moment that it hadn’t happened. She didn’t like being touched like that, she knew no one did, but it had to be done. That part she understood well enough, but she could never fathom why people seemed to enjoy celebrating it, the meals out, the spectacle of it all. She shuddered, as it was she was just relieved that Uncle Tom always refused his invitation, one less person to have to endure. She took a deep breath, it was over now, for another year at least.