The crucifix above my bed is old and large, said Sister Bede, it hangs from the white wall on a crooked hook; the Crucified is pinned to the cross by rusty nails. The tortured Christ haunts my long nights and days; his example guides my daily life and chores. Some days I remove it from the wall, brush away the dust, clean the Crucified with cloth and cold water from my washing bowl, ease away the dirt from the plaster Christ, clean beneath the chin, the outstretched arms, the agonised feet. All the time I speak in my whispering voice, my words echoing in my head and heart. Sometimes I kiss the Christ, kiss his hand, feet and head, I sense his agony in my lips, the vibrations in my spittle. My mother had a crucifix above her bed, black wood with a plaster Christ, with battered body and limbs that had seen far better days. She would kneel at prayer for hours, her knees aching as she knelt. She would make me kneel beside her in her prayers, press my mouth to her rosary’s Christ, feel the metal figure on my bruised lips. Some days she would take my hand, place it to her side, show me the invisible wounds she said were there and on her hands and feet. On Sundays, she would talk of saints and angels, who might intercede for my childish soul; she would beat me if my prayers were spoken wrong or mispronounced. My father had her committed to an asylum when she pierced her hand with a six-inch nail, the bloodied wound hanging above her head, she screaming obscenities at him from her bloodstained bed. Sister Clare visits me in my room, talks of things that trouble her mind, of matters to delicate for others ears, too much for the flabby ears of the priest who calls. Sometimes she kisses my cheek or hands, lays her head in my lap as we sit and pray; her eyes closed, her lips murmuring words in her foreign tongue, her hand holding mine, counting each finger in turn. The crucifix hangs above my head, the agonised Christ looks down with peering eyes, His half-open lips about to speak, His outstretched arms seeking to embrace if only the rusty nails were pulled from His hands. Once I dreamed I washed His wounds, cleansed the holes in His hands and feet, kissed His wounded flesh with my own all too human lips, the brush of skin on skin, the removal of my sin. I awoke with Sister Clare kneeling beside my bed, her tear-filled eyes gazing at the crucifix, her lips uttering prayers in her native tongue, her hands clutching at my arm, seeking my embrace; the Crucified, peering down from His cross, the half opened lips about to speak, the wounds seeping invisible blood, the wounded hands wanting to touch, if only the rusty nails could be undone and the Crucified set free to hold us again.
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