This week's edition to our Olympia Extracts is an attention-grabbing novel of two short stories- A Pair of Shorts by Ann Strong. 


Millie and Bella



It was the second last week of our last school term when Sister Rita went insane, nearly killed Leanne Norton and then dropped dead.

It was a stinking hot day which always spelled trouble for those of us who were under the tender care of the Brides of Christ (BoCs) as they sweated and itched beneath their heavy habits.

Just before lunch Sister Rita was pulling down the blinds over the high windows, using the long polished wooden rod with the gold hook on the end, when she intercepted a note being passed between Cheryl Collins and Leanne Norton.

It was a drawing of Sister Rita swinging by her rosary beads from a clothes line.

Of course Sister went ballistic, screaming about disrespect to God, to the church, and the morals the good sisters had tried to teach us.

Each point was made with a smash on the desk and high-pitched screaming.

I guess Leanne ducked when she should have weaved because next moment she was on the floor with blood streaming from her head.

The silence after the screaming tirade was scarier than Leanne's bleeding head.

Sister Rita dropped the rod, grabbed her beads to her chest and crashed to the floor on top of Leanne.

Now, after many years of tender BoC care, we were pretty well immune to screaming, spittle spraying, caning, punching, pinching, and piano lids slammed on fingers treatment, but this was something else and ‘as one’ thirty teenage girls had hysterics.

Vanessa Laws threw up all over her desk, Mary Patrick fainted, and the rest of us bolted for the door, trampling Mary as we tried to get out.

Out in the corridor other class doors opened as BoCs spilled out like black ants from a kicked nest.



Like cattle, we were driven by white faced BoCs wielding canes to the sewing room where we were told to work on our end-of-year dresses while saying the rosary, all the while under the watchful eye of Miss O’Dea our evil sewing teacher who regularly threw a fit, at least once a week.

Sister Clare says we should pray for Miss O’Dea as she surely must be a Saint the way she bears her suffering.

I would prefer to stick a darning needle in one of her yellow eyes.

Not much sewing or praying went on, we were all too busy trying to see through the frosted glass windows as dark shapes raced by.

Eventually, Sister Agnes came to tell us we could get our bags, which had been lined up in the corridor, and we could go home early.

We were to come early next morning to confession and church before a special mass for the repose of the soul of Sister Rita who had gone to Jesus, and who would not have died if we had been a better-behaved class, and it was a sin we would have to carry on our conscience for the rest of our lives.



That's if there was any room for our consciences to carry any sins, since we were enrolled we had been regularly told how sinful we were.

Unless we celebrated ashes on our head, fasting, church on Sunday's and what seemed like hundreds of feast days, we were hell bound anyway.

We were each given a letter for our parents which contained a permission slip and a request for a parent to accompany us the next day where, in the presence of a BoC, we would be interviewed by a policeman over today's tragic incident.

When we went downstairs, the school yard was full of cars, BoCs, and priests. There was even an ambulance there, something we had never before seen up close.

Everyone seemed to be talking at once, people were even yelling at Father O Brien, our parish priest.

It reminded us of the time Sister Margaret locked Emily Martin in the stationary cupboard for talking.

Emily must have dozed off, we forgot about her and she was not found till later that night.

Rumour has it she had wet her pants; after that incident she went to another school.

After we were on the bus on our way home, Bella and I opened the letters we had been given for our parents.

We have no father, he had been killed in the war, and Mumma works long hours running two of the first Italian restaurants in Australia and we were sure she would not be interested, so we tore our letters up.



Next morning was great, there were no BoCs which was good because we did not go to mass.

There were plenty of grim-faced parents, lay-teachers and even the bishop, who usually only popped up for special occasions, but the best thing was that we were allowed to go home early for the rest of the week.

The next couple of weeks dragged by, a lot of pupils stayed away but we had to keep going as we were the senior class.

We had teachers we did not know and who were quite happy to let us read, sew, draw, or knit, just as long as we did not talk.

Then, at last, it was over and for those of us who turned up, it was our graduation day.

The BoCs came back and after morning tea, awards and praise (for the usual suck-ups) were given to those who said they wanted to continue on and become BoCs, no doubt so they could torture future children.

Do as you have been done by.

We all lined up in our finished dresses as the BoCs said goodbye.

Marlene Busly was yanked out front for wearing lipstick and no stockings.

Sister Justine said she was a disgrace to the sisters who had tried to mould her into a Christian woman, no doubt she would end up being nothing but a whore walking the streets.

This was a new label pinned to our hell bound souls.

Screaming and abuse for years had made us immune to most things, but being called a whore was something to be thought about later.

Then, at last, we were free.



Bella and I went with some others to the local shop for a celebratory milkshake.

I asked Mrs. Allen, who owned the shop, what Sister Justine had meant by calling Marlene a whore she said it meant a lady who was not very nice, but she was sure Sister Justine did not mean it, Mrs. Allen obviously does not know Sister Justine.

That night I made a list in my diary of things I learnt from the years of BoC care.

Never make eye contact;

Never turn the other cheek;

The meek will never inherit the earth; and

God rarely answers prayers.

Over the next few weeks we helped in mumma’s restaurants.

This was boring, so we looked for some part-time work while deciding what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives.

Bella got some work in the city, working as a filing clerk for a solicitor.

I got work in an office of a clothing company.

My job included taking phone orders and passing them on to the factory, but the thing I liked best was that I got to open up in the morning and go up the two flights of stairs to a covered roof garden here I would set up teas and coffees for when the sales reps came in to do their orders before leaving for the day.



In the first week all went well – then the owner Mr. Bastock leaned over me from behind and put his hand down the front of my dress.

I was terrified, I started to cry, he moved back and apologised saying he would never do it again.

I could not stop crying so he said I could go home early but please not to say anything to anyone.

I did not tell mum, but Bella said I should leave and find another job.

Next morning there was a gift-wrapped box on my desk, Mr. Bastock said it was a present for me, it was a beautiful watch, I had never had anything so pretty. I thanked him, I wore it at work but hid it from mum.

Next week it happened again, he ran his hand up under my dress.

This terrified me, I started bawling again and my hands were shaking, he shut the office door and pleaded with me to be quite in case anyone heard.

He pushed me against my desk, his fingers grabbing my thighs, all the while trying to force his sweaty face onto mine.

I tripped and fell on the floor and let out a scream.

He helped me up, sat me in my chair, then rummaged around in his desk drawer. He pulled out a handful of money and thrust it at me, saying I could go home early if I wanted and please not to tell anyone.

That night Bella and I counted the money, I had about four week’s wages, wow amazing.

We talked it over and decided I should give my notice the next day and make up some excuse to mumma about why I left. We knew enough to know if we told her what had happened all hell would break loose.

I felt much better as he was very scary and it was not at all romantic like at the pictures; he was sweaty, fat, and bald.

Next morning, when I went to open up the outer door was already unlocked, there was no one downstairs so I went up thinking Mr. Hale, the sales manager, must have come in early.



I was quite surprised to see Mrs. Bastock, who was perched on the wall puffing away on a cigarette, and dropping her dirty ash over the side to the roof of the factory.

She said she had been really disappointed in my work and she really felt I was not suited for the job. So she was terminating my employment.

She held out an envelope saying there was three week’s pay in it and I should just go now.

Even though I had the full intentions of giving my notice that day, I did not feel like being ordered around by her.

As I took the money she told me I was a slut, a whore.

There was that word again, I had since found out what it meant.

It was not a battle as in war but as Mrs. Allen said, a not very nice lady.

While I stood there in shock and shaking like a leaf she actually slapped me across the face and shoved me, telling me to get out.

I could not believe it –  the whole of my time at school I had been punched and pushed by insane BoCs and here it was happening again.

I was really angry.

I had done nothing wrong and without thinking I punched her back, on the shoulder where Sister Clare used to hit.

It made your arm go all numb and useless and it took quite a while for your fingers to be able to hold your pencil properly.

But I must have pushed too hard because she fell back over the low wall and smashed down into the car park below.

I stood there like an idiot clutching my envelope of money.

My knees felt all shaky and I could not see very well with sweat running down my face.

I moved then, wanting to run away, raced downstairs and out the front door.

Mr. Hale, the sales manager, thought I had just opened the door and he said good morning and started upstairs, telling me not to worry he would set the tea things up.



I staggered into my office and fell into my chair, shaking so hard I could hardly breathe.

The sales girls arrived next, calling good morning as they giggled their way upstairs.

Taking deep breaths to steady myself I waited, but nothing happened.

I began to breathe again and it was then the screaming started.

Mr. Hale raced past me into Mr. Bastock’s office, telling me to wait out the front.

The sales girls ran down the stairs and out the door taking me with them where we huddled on the lawn with arms round each other, which was lucky as I could hardly stand on my own.

Alarms rang in the factory and the workers joined us.

They told me there had been a terrible accident, Mrs. Bastock had fallen from the roof.

The relief I felt made my knees go weak and I fell to the ground.

The policeman who spoke to us was very kind and he made me a cup of tea, he told me Mr.Hale said he had arrived the same time I did, and that when I felt up to it he would drive me home.



I went back inside to get my bag, Mr. Hale was in the office and I told him I did not want to work there anymore and he said he doubted the place would be running for some time.

He opened the safe and gave me a month's wages and said he would be in touch when things were sorted out.

The nice policeman drove me home.

I think it was then that I decided I would become a policewoman.

When Bella and I counted the money that night I seemed to have a fortune, it was the most we had ever seen.

I told mumma there had been an accident at work and I did not like working there so I had resigned.

I gave her some of the money and felt bad when she gave me half back.

But, all in all, it had been a very profitable employment.

What had I learnt from working there?

God helps those who help themselves.

An act of contrition makes everything right.




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