Orphans, Part 1
There were only seven of us left at the orphanage. Times had grown tough all around the world due to some financial debaucle we couldn’t possibly understand — partly because we had little access to television and partly because, well, we were children, and orphans at that, so such matters as Wall Street and stimulus packages didn’t much matter to us — which had made it impossible for the orphanage to take in any more children. There were whispers heard echoing through drafty vents throughout the place that lead some of the older children to realize that the orphanage might not exist at all for much longer.
St. Catherine’s Lakota Refuge and Orphanage had originally been opened as a place for battered Indian women and children to come to when they had no other options, to escape a life of poverty all too often found in Indian societies as they remain, to this day, often places of mass poverty. They were Lakota, which was part of the Sioux nation, and they did call themselves Indians, not Native Americans. Native American no more accurately described these people than the word Indian did. They did not come from America, America came and replaced them.
Either way, by this point St. Catherine’s Lakota was no longer a refuge for battered women but exclusively an orphanage. Only two years ago the orphanage had 187 children and was always growing, but would often place children in homes as well. As economic times began to grow clenchingly tight all across the world, the poorest are the first to feel it. People speak of various markets as being barometers of the larger market as a whole, saying “When milk is down, you know the economy is down. Everyone needs milk.” or “When the beer industry booms, you know the economy is in for some real trouble.” An orphan knows, though, that when they stop seeing their fellow orphans being adopted, the world is in trouble. No one wants to have a child that isn’t even of their own blood when they can’t feed themselves. Even if pregnancy sometimes sneaks up on a woman and bloats her belly in the least opportune of times, it’s hard to have too many drinks and wake up to find that you’ve just spent the night, without protection, in an orphanage.
So now their were only seven of us left at the orphanage and no one had even driven by the old place in months. It was very much out of the way, 30 miles away from the nearest town, which itself was only a few blocks of houses, a gas station (which doubled as a bar) and another bar. There was an empty farmhouse 3 miles down the dirt road that lead to the orphanage, and nothing else between town and St. Catherine’s Lakota. Teenage kids looking to do a little cruisin’ and boozin’ used to come down the road, throwing out empty cans of 16oz. Busch and kicking up dust like 60 mile per hour Speedy Gonzalezes, but maybe now gas prices were simply too high to make the trip.
We were alone, the seven of us and the orphanage staff, which had similarly been reduced to a skeleton crew, or perhaps more accurately, a skeleton key. Instead of a dozen women serving as teachers, nurses, cooks and caretakers, we were now left with only Ms. Shelby and the headmaster of the orphanage, Dr. James. Rumor had it that Dr. James father had started the orphanage nearly a century ago, a former missionary to the Lakota people and around the world, he wanted to create a place where he could continue his work but also spend more time with his newborn son, Dr. James himself. Rumor still further insisted that Dr. James himself, upon taking over the orphanage, was an incredibly kind and generous man who dreamt of following in his father’s footsteps and only reluctantly took on the place when his father died. As anyone who is forced into a life’s work they never wanted might do, he slowly grew to hate the orphanage, and eventually the orphans inside.
When there were many woman working at St. Catherine’s Lakota it was not as noticeable, Dr. James mostly ran the paperwork and stayed away from physically coming into contact with the children, other than to read the Sunday sermon, which was only 15 minutes long due to his intense desire to avoid contact with the children at all. But now, with only Ms. Shelby left to assist the doctor, he was constantly in their lives, and they were a neverending source of antagonization to him, though they were relatively obedient and quiet children. So the days went on and the children were constantly shouted at, and then screamed at, and then grabbed by the arm to see the ferocity in Dr. James’ eyes, and then smacked with rulers or magazines or books, and eventually hit with belts.
Ms. Shelby was a decent woman, but she was a very traditional woman and believed that Dr. James knew best, or if he didn’t know best, then at the very least it was not her place to say so. This is likely the entire reason that Dr. James kept her on, if he had to interact with the children himself, then he didn’t also want to have to tolerate disobedience on the part of his final remaining member of staff.
So the time went on and we children were more and more abused, and any refuge they might have sought in Ms. Shelby was not provided, and so we all felt alone, though possibly less now that there were fewer of us. Knowing that the seven of us were likely to be here, in the orphanage and together, for a long time without anyone new arriving brought us so much closer together and actually made us feel like a family. Better than a family, like friends.