Magdalene sat two pews back from the confessional; stared at her knees. Sister Lucy stood by the aisle her eyes running up and down the sitting girls with their glum looks, muffled whispers and pretending-to-be-praying hands. Magdalene tapped the cigarettes in her cardigan pocket; felt the hard pew beneath her; smelt the remains of incense from mass; the stale polish lingering like age and dying. Bridget squeezed in beside her; her broad flushed face red as her backside, if her father's the same as he was, she mused, shifting a hand stretch away from the girl and her odour. Father Joseph was doing the confessional; handing out the Hail Marys like a street trader; the Our Fathers he sprinkled like icing on a cake. She shuffled her seat; pulled the hem of her dress to her knees; stared at the scratched words on the pew. Molly came out of the confessional; her face flushed, her hand gripping her rosary for dear life, rubbing between finger and thumb. Magdalene moved up; sat staring at the door of the confessional as Mary Moran entered with the casualness of a street girl. Sister Lucy leaned towards Magdalene; whispered words; prepare yourself, the nun had muttered, her face a picture of holiness; hands pale and thin, gripping the pew rail. Magdalene nodded; closed eyes; thought of the rumour of the nun and the unholy father himself; the confessional and whispered words; the giggles the girls said emanated from the said box. God seemed far off; in some other room or space, she mused eyes squeezed shut; sniffing the incense and odour of the girl behind; the rattling of beads; the murmuring of prayers; the sighs; last minute sins to be confessed. She opened an eye; saw the nun kneeling in front; her hands gripped in prayerful pose; her feet pressed together like twin babes in a pram. Magdalene suppressed urge to laugh; held it in like brewing wind; remembered old Sister Ambrose, teaching Latin, passing a squeaky wind and a cough to match, peering at the tittering girls through her thick lens. The image faded. Mary left the confessional with a wink and a smile. Magdalene stood and made her way to the door. Forsake all hope, she mumbled, pushing the door open, letting light enter for a few moments, as if Christ had come Himself; sat in the dark box rubbing His hands in merciful patience, and not the priest Joseph, with his pale cheeks; long thin hands that held the host with the fussiness of a girl discarding her soiled lingerie. Darkness. Purgatory. The priest's voice. The shifting of knees; the coughs; the prayers begun; the suppressed lies; the dying for a cigarette. Forgive me, father. And out of the mouths of babes and girls. The sighs. The silences. The beads rattled. The penances. Amen.