Sister Madeline checked your hat and gloves before you went home inthe afternoon. The uniforms came from Clery’s, the school section, withits racks of blazers and high shelves of rolled scarves. Sister Madeline’sbig teeth pressed her bottom lip when she smiled and said good afternoon to you. Her teeth hanging unevenly like badly pegged washing,Sister Madeline told the children in her funny old way that she anticipated with great pleasure greeting them again on the morrow.
On the second of June 1939 she received a prize for her essay “Dominicof Caleruega and the Albigensians,” written in her even, sloping handon four sides of foolscap. The pages of the foolscap crisp with age. Sheaccepted her prize on the stage of the school concert hall before her fellow prizewinners. The audience included parents of prizewinners andassorted members of the community, such as active sisters, affiliated Dominicans, and, occupying the rearward rows, more brightly coloured laystaff. For her prize book she chose The Concise Oxford Dictionary, on theflyleaf of which was pasted a prize certificate signed by Father T. P. Molloy, O.P. Over the following decades the dictionary was much used, theedges of its pages worn to a soft texture similar to velvet or the surface ofcertain varieties of furry leaves, such as lamb’s ears.
On the fourteenth of February 1940 she sent an anonymous card to aboy from Belvedere College whom she had come to know through hermembership of the school debating society. Although she did not signthe letter, the boy correctly guessed whom the card was from and informed his friends in the Belvedere debating society. The short poem shehad written was passed among them and found amusing. When, twoweeks later, the societies met in an overheated room in 6 Great DenmarkStreet, the lines of her poem were intermittently repeated to her by theopposing side as she made her speech before a riotous audience. She felta tightness in her chest and finished her speech early. Somebody offeredher a glass of water, which she found she could not hold steady enoughto drink. A duvet was laid over her shoulders by an unseen hand. A firelit before her, also. Beneath the duvet she shivered violently, her bodyinventing new rules of behaviour previously unknown to her. The question before the house was: Do we control our own destiny? She had argued in the positive, and understood the irony of being impelled into herseat by overwhelming forces which made the lifting of a glass of waterto her mouth impossible. She resigned from the debating society the fol