We’re lined up as we enter Year Seven.
Rulers are pulled out, skirts inspected. Three inches above the knee, no more.
Our skirts are millimeters too short. We hope to pass. If we pass, we’re allowed into the house. Those who don’t are sent home so their mothers can mend what’s broken.
They scour for torn hems, loose stitches, and find none. But Marissa filled out over the summer, and the back of her skirt rises up her thigh nearly an inch above an appropriate level. We share a knowing glance as she flows out of our line, thrust back into the office where someone will call her mother to gather her. Our mothers taught us to lean back when the ruler passed, to let the hem dip down to the creases of our knees. No one would know. When we pass, we share a silent victory.
When they can’t hear us, we whisper about Marissa’s chest, how red splotches cover her nose and cheekbones. We think she won’t come back, girls like her never do, and seventh years always seem to pour from St. Dymphna’s.
We give no thought to Marissa and her bulging chest and bottom after we’re let into the house. Instead, we flood in, eager to choose our beds, to begin our final year.
The Year Seven house is the oldest and drips during rain storms. For a month or two we can ignore it. Our rooms are on the first or second or third floor. The attic is where the girls who left would have slept. It now sits quiet but fills with water when the storms come in. For the first few, the drops puddle above us; later, old wood creaks as the pools weigh down the attic floor. We do not mind. We laugh about it to the younger girls when they come to stare at us with wide eyes. We think it is awe, we hope it is awe, but we were all younger once.
After the worst storm, with rain so heavy we could hardly see out the door, Cynthia and Rose wake with blood on their sheets and are rushed out of the house. We do not laugh now, and the girls on the third floor have moved down to the second. The third floor is empty, the attic is nearly forgotten, and we’re all too frightened to go up. The door at the top of the stairs has been sealed so the water won’t drip down, but we know of back stairs that could take us up if we wanted to go. On weekends, when we’re locked in for the night, we sometimes dare each other to go up, to check if those no longer here are still up there, floating silently between drifting dolls and soaked pillows. The debris from their departures was never removed.
Our skirts are inspected again halfway through the year, when half of us are missing. Seven more go, though two we suspect have eaten their way to growth. Nora stole a bandage from the infirmary and wrapped herself to fit into the uniform, but they caught her, told her she was far too big now to stay. We stopped eating a month ago. Our skirts are longer than ever. They eye us, but do not make us leave like the others. We are still flat chested and flat bottomed. We can stay.
We are silent, now. In the rainstorms, we cling to the things we’ve deemed important: books, letters, jewelry boxes from our mothers, the chain from our father’s pocket-watch. There are four, now, of our original forty. We all live on the first floor, and no one comes to visit. We wait for the sun, but it doesn’t seem to come back. It is too warm this year for snow and the rain rushes in without cease. They tell us it is to cleanse; we think it is to submerge.
When they lock up the second floor, the water has begun leaking down the walls of the first. Our skirts hit our knees, now. We can use them to cover our legs when we curl up to keep away the chill. It will be our turn, soon, we know. They know it, and the younger girls know it too. Lisa has been staring into the walls. She tells us her gut aches, and she doubles over from pain. We call them, and they take her away. They’ve taken everyone away.
I’m waiting alone in my bed on the first floor, clasping that which I hold dear—my hollow stomach, my skin and bones—waiting for the drip drip dripping above my head to finally quiet down, or for the dam to burst.