A Child is Born
June 13, 1956
Someone was knocking at the door.
Sister Clare Walsh looked over at the clock on the nightstand beside her bed. It was a little past midnight, and she’d been awakened by what sounded like a knocking at the downstairs door. She listened for it again in the darkness, but heard only the harsh patter of rain against her window.
Clare’s room was on the second floor of the convent at the Holy Angels Catholic Church in Santa Monica, California, where she was one of the six nuns housed there. She was a 22-year-old Irish immigrant, one of two assigned to the parish, who had left the rolling green pastures and quaint villages of her native land for the vast urban sprawl of Los Angeles. She had brought with her only the black habit of a newly professed novice, her dark hair sheared down to her shoulders, light blue eyes, an Irish brogue often mimicked by the students in the fifth grade class she taught, and the Irish disposition for superstition and the supernatural. And few things could raise the hairs on her neck like a knock on the door in the dead of night.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
A chill crept across her. Taking a deep breath, she climbed from bed and eased over to the window. She drew the curtains aside just a crack and peaked down on the grass courtyard below. The power was still out from earlier that evening, and the school’s buildings surrounding the courtyard appeared as dark silhouettes against the stormy sky.
Clare wiped the condensation with her sleeve, and craned her neck to see the front entrance where the knocks came from.
A figure stood outside the door huddled beneath a blanket, and from the figure’s long dark hair, Clare could see that it was a girl.
Clare released the curtains and backed away from the window before the girl could see her. She knew she had to do something, but wasn’t sure what. Maybe one of the other nuns would know.
Clare threw on a robe and went out into the hallway where the other nuns were already gathered and discussing the knocking sounds they had heard.
“Did any of ya see who it was?” asked Sister Fiona, whose red curls skimmed the collar of her robe in an unruly mess. She was the convent’s other Irish nun and the youngest of the group at age 21. Like Clare, she had grown up in a small village where few people even owned cars, so Los Angeles’ massive traffic jams had come as a complete shock, as had its broad boulevards and towering buildings. It was just so big, and she still wasn’t sure how she felt about that.
“I did,” said Clare, bundling her robe around herself. “It’s a girl. She looked pretty young.”
“Well let’s go get her,” said Fiona, who was already turning to head for the stairs at the end of the hallway. “Can’t leave her out there to get soaked.”
“Wait,” said Sister Katherine, the oldest and most mature of the nuns at 39. “We shouldn’t do anything until we speak with father.”
“And s’pose he doesn’t hear the phone ringin’?” said Fiona. “Are we jes’ gonna leave her in the rain?”
“I’m with Fee,” said Clare. “We should at least let her come inside out of the rain.”
The other three nuns nodded in agreement. “It should be fine,” said Sister Veronica to Katherine. “It’s just one girl.”
“Okay,” said Katherine. “But be careful. And make sure there’s no one else with her.”
“We will,” said Fiona, who was already heading for the stairs with Clare.
The nuns hurried down the stairs to the living room and across it to the front door. Fiona pressed her eye against the peep hole and looked out.
“Can ya see her?” said Clare as the other nuns gathered around them.
Fiona stepped back from the peep hole and shook her head. “I can’t see anythin’,” she said. “The glass is too fogged.”
“I’ll go outside to check,” said Clare, and before Katherine could object, Clare had already opened the door and gone out. She tucked her head down against the rain and headed down the steps to the sidewalk that ran along the front of the convent. Cupping her hand above her eyes to shield them from the rain, she looked up and down the empty sidewalk.
Fiona hurried down the steps and came up beside her. “Do ya see her?” she said.
Clare shook her head as she continued to scan the sidewalk in each direction. “I think she left.”
“She can’t have gone that far,” said Fiona, cupping her hand above her eyes to look around. “Hey, if you’re still out here,” Fiona shouted into the storm, “you can come inside.”
The nuns waited for a moment listening, and over the harsh patter of rain on the sidewalk, there came a faint moan from a little ways down on their left. They looked over, and saw something squirming beneath a blanket on the grass.
The nuns rushed over, and kneeling beside the figure, they saw that it was a girl who couldn’t have been older than fifteen. She lay curled on her side and moaning in pain.
“Are ya okay?” said Clare, gently resting her hand on the girl’s shoulder. The girl simply moaned and shook her head.
“Do ya need a doctor?” said Fiona.
The girl turned to look up at the nuns, and her eyes were wide in fear. “Please, do not let him get me,” she pleaded in a thick Romanian accent.
“Let who get ya?” said Clare.
The girl looked past the nuns to the dark courtyard and her fear turned to panic. “Please,” she choked. “He is here.” She turned back to the nuns. “Please, sisters, do not let him get my babies.”
Clare and Fiona looked out across the courtyard in the direction that the girl had been staring, but they saw only the dark outlines of the school buildings.
“I don’t see anyone,” said Clare, turning back to the girl.
“Me neither,” said Fiona.
“No. Is only I who can see him,” said the girl, again in a thick Romanian accent. “Please do not let him get my babies.”
Clare looked around the grass but nothing was there. “What babies?” she said, and then a gasp came from Fiona. Clare turned back and saw Fiona staring at the girl’s abdomen, which bulged from beneath the blanket.
“Ow, wow,” said Fiona. She looked up at Clare. “She’s having a baby.”