Bernadette’s Corner (freewrite)
It was sort of a rite of passage, the first visit to the park, even though most of the kids in the area spent much of their childhood there, riding the iron horses with their washed-out featureless faces and bumping into each other on the slides that got so hot in the summer sun they left red splotches on their round little buttocks. But that was the new park the kids went to and no decent mother would allow a child to set foot in the old overgrown park that started at the broken wooden fence and ended God only knew where. That was Bernadette’s Corner, with its thick wild bushes that formed a barrier so formidable not even a toddler could squeeze through. Only the teenagers knew of the secret passages that led inside the old park, the locations of which were transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to another, from one love-struck young man to another kindred spirit, in search of a bit of privacy, something hard to come by in a small town like theirs. If you tried going out for a walk with your sweetheart, chances were a fat old lady in a funny hat would stop you to inquire about your Mom and fondly remember how much you loved her apricot tarts as a little chubby boy and how you’d stuff yourself with them until you puked all over your navy blue shorts.
That’s why Bernadette’s Corner was sacred ground to all young couples in town. They knew where the was a gap in the rotten wooden fence and how to push away the scratchy thick branches and keep their thorns away from the pretty dress of your loved one, all the while gripping her arm with a firm hand so she would not slip on the wet carpet of dead leaves that covered the old park’s grounds all year round.
The town’s records made no mention of why the place was called Bernadette’s Corner, but every one knew it was named after a young witch that had been killed there many centuries ago. Back then it was only an empty field, as the witch lived on the outskirts of the village in a small house with a red roof and strange plants growing in the garden, that she had inherited from her mother. Her presence there was tolerated as all those who frowned and pursed their lips upon hearing her name secretly visited her in times of need. Young Bernadette was knowledgeable in all sorts of women troubles and could just as easily bring the light of life to a barren womb as well as snuff it out. Everything was fine as long as Bernadette kept to her place, covered her head on the rare occasions she came to town and would not defile the church of Sacred Heart of the Blessed Virgin by allowing her wicked eyes to even glance at its prim white walls. They should have known better, the honorable townsfolk later said. As evil as her father, whom they all felt sure must have been Satan himself, for who else would lie with a heathen sorceress, with the flaming red hair of a harlot, as they remembered Bernadette’s mother to be in her prime. The girl had inherited those heavy red locks and even though she kept them neatly tucked under a nondescript gray bonnet when she walked about town, they somehow caught the eyes, the innocent eyes, of Abel Thompson, son of Ezekiel Thompson, the most prosperous merchant in town and its most upstanding citizen. The boy, Abel, started taking long solitary walks that strayed ever further from the town center where decent folks lived and closer to the wild field where the witch Bernadette was waiting in her lair ready to pounce on the unwitting prey. No one knew what happened between the two of them, although there were those ready to swear they’d seen him stumbling out of the red-roofed cottage, all disheveled, with the sparkling wild eyes of a man possessed. Old Ezekiel, God have mercy on his soul, tried to reason with his son, but it was too late, the boy was lost and hanged himself from the branches of a tree on a small hill overlooking the witch’s place. The townsfolk united in grief and holy vengeance tied the witch to the four posters of her bed, naked, with her legs as far apart as they could force them, and burned her alive in her cottage. Blood-curling howls could be heard over the creaking fire as the demons inside her fried along with her mortal flesh, cursing them for all eternity. No wonder that by next spring the locals put up a fence around the cursed lot and let it go wild with odd-looking uninviting bushes, that in summer were covered in sour berries, red like the witch’s hair.
But that was not the end of it, but rather the beginning of the strange events that made Bernadette’s Corner famous all over the county. No one ventured inside, yet there were clear paths crisscrossing the forbidden territory. Witches’ gatherings, no doubt, the people thought. They grew very suspicious of any foreign woman that set foot in town, although after a while they realized theirs was pointless endeavor. Everybody knew witches only gather under cover of darkness. And nobody was crazy enough to prowl the grounds in the dead of night. If the witches wanted the place, let them have it. Then came the stone benches, whose shapes could only be guessed at through the thickets. And the statues, all of an excellent craftsmanship, the weeping woman with her face frozen in a grimace of pain, the forlorn lover looking back over his shoulder with his cold unseeing eyes. There was even a small stone fountain, with water gushing from an invisible spout hidden between the two halves of a broken heart. No one could build these things in total secrecy, it was obvious there was magic, black magic, at work, but the many priests called upon to rid the place of spirits and demons found themselves powerless against the terrible curse Bernadette had placed upon the land. If the old housewives crossed themselves as they passed by, the most fearful throwing in a Hail Mary, too, for good measure, the younger folks were in awe of the place. Soon enough, the most wondrous stories were said around campfires or whispered under the blankets in the dorm of the all-boys school. One hour spent with the girl you fancied on one of them stone benches and she’d be yours for ever. The most impossible love stories had been weaved under the thick branches that protected the park. Dab your ex-lover’s handkerchief in the water of the fountain and she will come back to you in seven days’ time.
The place never lost its magic, little monuments sprang up overnight, a robin with a broken wing, the dead girl’s tiara, the unopened stone present box. Countless small knickknacks set in stone could be found hidden under the bushes if you were brave enough to stray from the relative safety of the overgrown paths. The young men and women that tasted the thrill of their first kiss in the sanctuary of love that was Bernadette’s Corner were completely unfazed by the strange things that agitated the life of the park. They only had eyes for their loved ones while in that place.
Take young Gregory, for instance, Greg as his friends call him. As does his beloved Miriam, the girl who grew up in the house right across the street. He’s had a crush on her since third grade, but it is only now that they are both 16 that he steeled himself to ask her out. They’ve been meeting in secret in Bernadette’s Corner for six weeks now, their favorite spot is the bench that sits right next to an unmarked grave, that had been there for at least a century. Obviously fake, who would be mad to bury a loved one on heathen grounds? A mouldy statue of a weeping angel adorns the marble slab. When they’d first stumbled upon it it gave Miriam the chills, but they grew to love the place, for what is there more romantic than a love even death cannot conquer? Love endures, like theirs will. They have every reason to worry, because Greg’s parents want to send him away to a better school next fall, he has his future to consider. He understands it, even if it breaks his heart he will only see Miriam on holidays. The girl has been crying ever since she heard the news. Greg answers by holding her even tighter, his kisses drinking the tears off her pretty face. They swear an oath they will love each other forever, an oath sealed with the tiny drops of blood they are able to draw by grazing the skin of their left arms’ pulses with the thorn of the red rose Greg brought her. A rose she will keep hidden in her drawer and kiss every night that Greg is away. Until the day a young man called Johnny jams a cheeky note inside her locker, asking her out for an ice cream.
Some two weeks go by before she notices the red rose is gone. Maybe her Mom threw it out, she presumes, but she doesn’t bother to ask. She has the cute China doll Johnny gave her to keep her company at night.
The young lovers that make their way for the first time to Bernadette’s Corner the next day walk with unsure steps, looking for a place to make their own. They do not stop at the weeping angel, the grave creeps them out. They find the right spot right down the alley, a secluded spot with no scary monuments. Just a bench with a single stone rose flowering in the dirt in front of it. The boy is silly and tries to pick it up for his girl, but the rose would not budge. It just lies there, testament to an eternal love, no doubt. A love like theirs, they swear.
Story written for @mariannewest's freewrite challenge. It is based on two promps, equally inviting: 'stone rose' and 'wet carpet'
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Thanks for reading!