I thought I might post a fictional conversation that takes place between two of my youngest characters in the book I’m now working on. The setting is Victorian Ireland in the 1860’s and fourteen year old Mary-Anne is trying to get some sleep, in the bed she shares with her younger sister, Brigid, aged ten.
“Molly Sinnott told me that if you kiss a boy with your mouth closed you won’t get pregnant,” whispered Brigid, “I thought you had to do a bit more than open your mouth. I asked Ma and she said she would tell me when I was older. Then she made me scrub the bedroom floors for hanging about with the Sinnotts.”
Mary-Anne turned on her side to face her sister and spoke in a hushed voice. Neither of them wanted their younger brother to hear the conversation they were having, and the snores coming from the opposite side of the room indicated that he was fast asleep.
“Don’t mind what she says. She told me that her cousin got pregnant the first time she ‘did it’ with a fella and she wasn’t even fond of him.”
“No wonder Ma forbid us to go near that family. What do you mean by she ‘did it’? What exactly did she do?” asked Brigid. “I’m not really sure,” lied Mary-Anne, “But whatever it was, he told her he would have to do it again to finish making the baby. He said it would have no arms or legs if he didn’t.”
“Merciful heaven, and she didn’t even like him?” gasped Brigid. “Could she not have ‘done it’ with someone else that she was fond of?”
“Molly’s cousin asked the very same question and the fella told her that it had to be the same man or the limbs wouldn’t stick,” Mary-Anne glanced over to where Jamie was lying and listened to his even breathing before carrying on. “He told her that some babies were even born with no heads because the woman wouldn’t allow the man to finish making it.”
Brigid’s hands flew to her mouth to smother a gasp of horror. The image of headless babies would give her nightmares for sure but she didn’t want to finish the conversation. “I’ve never seen a baby with no head. I saw one with half an arm, though.”
“Sure if they have no head they can’t breathe or eat. That’s why we don’t see them crawling about, Brigid. Have a bit of sense, girl.”
The sisters covered their mouths with their hands to contain their laughter. Jamie coughed then turned over, temporarily silencing the two of them.
“Is that why you have to get married and stay with the same man? To make sure the child has all its bits and pieces – and a head,” whispered Brigid.
“No. You have to get married because it’s a sin to ‘do it’ if you’re not. But maybe that’s why God made it a sin, to stop poor unfortunate babies being born with parts missing. Now turn around and let me get my sleep, and don’t you dare repeat a word of what I told you to Ma, or she’ll have the both of us strung up. Do you hear, Brigid?”
Having assured her sister that their mother would be none the wiser about their conversation, Brigid turned her back to Mary-Anne, closing her eyes tight. Counting backwards from one hundred, she tried to dismiss from her head, images of partially formed babies but she knew in her heart that sleep would not come easily that night.
Jean Reinhardt 2014