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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 4, December 2012

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David Terelinck
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Empty Hearts

As the light drizzle ripens into real raindrops, you step faster through the clinging paspalum. You circle the high wire fence to find it simply ends, and does not fully enclose the grounds. After all you have read of this place, you wonder if they were trying to keep people like you out, or a hundred years of memories in. Either way, it appears the battle for containment has been lost.

Approaching the building you see that every window is just a gaping maw of serrated, transparent teeth. The tattered remnant of what once was a curtain flaps forlornly in the winter wind. To the left of the steps is a marble plaque. It proclaims the foundation stone of St. John’s Orphanage for Boys was laid by the Bishop of Goulburn in March of 1912.

You pause and look up. Towering above the entrance, beneath a concrete cross, is a marble statue; presumably St. John. Immaculately white, he still smiles down benignly on all who enter. As you walk up those seven steps, you find you’re involuntarily crossing yourself.

Sunday prayers
for the forgotten
and fragile . . .
who knew the wolf
wore cassock and stole

Despite an absence of window coverings, it is dim inside the rooms. But this darkness is composed of more than an absence of sunlight. Approaching the gloomy corners, your breath quickens with the sensation that the walls are oozing a century of fear and anger . . . perhaps even hatred. You head up a narrow pine staircase to the first floor. Except for want of some serious elbow grease, it still looks as sturdy as when first installed. Washed-out daylight struggles through the naked window and the balusters create a pale outline of prison bars upon the wall.

You reach what must have been the dormitories. There are broken bed frames, and the shells of kapok-depleted mattresses, now only fit for vermin to doss on. You recall the stories you’ve read about the brutal midnight visits of the maintenance man, the public floggings on Saturday nights, and cruel punishments at the hands of the brides of Christ; how for some this became a regular way of life until they were old enough to leave, or lucky enough to be adopted or fostered out.

shadows
in lonely corridors
and bedrooms—
the empty hearts
of priest and nun

Each room you enter adds another layer to the sadness resting on your soul. You imagine past residents returning to this scene. Would they too take a rock, and try to expunge their deprivation, neglect, and abuse with each window broken?

Weighted down with the guilt of the past, you head down the back stairs knowing it is time to leave. When you reach the ground floor you feel colder than you have ever felt in your life; and you know there is more than the weather at play.

You hear voices, but see no one. They say the place is haunted, and you have no reason to disbelieve this. You walk faster to the front door, desperate to be outside despite the rain and wind. Just as you reach the exit, the sudden crash of a door slamming unhinges you. You run down the drive without a backward glance . . .

lamb of God . . .
the work of Christ
must require
more passion
than habit

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