Born-Again Virgin

Andrew McNabb

Holy, holy Ciara, numbed below the waist in her freely flowing bridal gown. Three months fresh from absolution. Pre-Cana, and she had kept her word since, lying stiff as a board night after night next to her Digby so she could wear white and it wouldn’t be a farce; but there she was, garter tight to thigh, in the room in her mother’s house she had grown up in, waiting for the word of the limousine to arrive, having just banished her mother to the hall, so confused in bridal plume, wondering about what she hadn’t mentioned to Fr. Danny: that bit of blood red by her own hand.

That blood red would now be a ring-bearing boy, a petal-dropping girl. The guests would smile. Scandalized, hardly. A modern marriage. No, actually, not modern at all in that social class. Absolutely archaic. Pre-’72. There among them or off and gone and unknown and not bearing rings or dropping petals but living with some adoptive family. Her question: Were sins unmentioned still, still forgiven?

* * *

Ciara rises from the bed to the same sickening “reer-er” of the tired coils that had gashed over and over on the night she had been impregnated. It was in that bed that she lay after finding out, frightened and sick with the knowledge that something was growing inside her while a different life, ostensibly, awaited her.

There was never any doubt about what she would do. She had gone with a girlfriend, had never even told the boy. Relieved that no one had been outside holding up signs, not that that would have stopped her. Inside was sterile business. It was done. She moved on. But all the broken promises to the Lord: she continued to give herself up for those who were even just slightly more than friends. It could be said that she was careful, though. Both pill and condom. Never another blood red event. That much she had made sure of. Requisite life lived: college, post-college, travel, beginnings of an unwanted career, some semblance of love.

That love with Digby after fights and break-ups and eventually an unspoken acknowledgement that their relationship was what any loving relationship was-a settling, for both of them; a grand settling, perhaps, because there was love, not the love of those first six months when love was not real, but a demanding love, love chosen between humans, no blood to thicken it.

She was sorry, so sorry for him, for these last three months, how he acquiesced, confused, amused, lightly, sometimes, frustrated other times. For each of them, there was something so peculiar about it. “I’m nothing,” he always said, when asked about his religion and for her this was straight out there, other-worldly. Ciara had fallen for nothings before, well aware that rarely was an ought an ought. There had only been one other whom she had thought she loved, James, who was all zeroed out because his mother was Lutheran and his father was Jewish and they couldn’t decide so they decided on nothing. Nothing, for James, had become a religion in itself. It wasn’t agnosticism, it wasn’t atheism but a virulent belief in human potential.

Digby was different, less intellectual, more loving, less judgmental. He had agreed to the day of pre-Cana, happily. It was a rote, uninspiring affair. A rural hamlet in northern Westchester County, a monastery—a compound, really—cloaked in ‘70’s architectural ill-conception. Austere, boxy, full of cement and adorned with the hideous mosaic distortions of Christ and his soldiers. Three hundred prospective husbands and wives opting for this one intensive day of pre-marital therapy instead of blips and starts over the course of a season. Milling about, Digby had mentioned something about the Reverend Sun Young Moon.

Despite the banality, the predictability—“Sex is for procreation and union, enjoyment is a by-product.” “Talk and be honest with each other.” “Children are a blessing.” “Don’t let finances get in the way.”—there was that one thing, late in the day, that had changed everything.

Reconcilation. Digby waited. Ciara walked in to a small room where there was no box to hide inside. None was needed. Fr. Danny was blind, his eyes gone milky yellow, yet unconcealed, an odd little circus, one eye intent on trying to escape notice, darting repeatedly off to the side. “Um, inter…course,” Ciara said, borrowing the word from one of the day’s presenters. A short list of other things—but no blood red.

Still came the words, Your sins are forgiven.

A teary gush of relief, perplexing both her and Digby when she emerged from inside.

Life. Her first test coming just a few hours later. All of the talk of sex that day had prompted Digby to pull her playfully down on top of him when they got back to their apartment. “Only missionary,” he said, in jest, borrowing his own line from the day. “Just doing my best to be a good Catholic.”

She pulled away and just looked at him. She had told him about confession. He only partly understood. He said he loved her. And so he said, “Okay.” They had made it to today.

Despite the radiance of the day, the birds chirping over the burgeoning spring she was afraid, now, that tonight he was going to hurt her. But that was the least of it. It was a day of ideals, something was different, and she had a bride’s need for everything to be perfect. But how could anything be?

She could hear her mother clucking, pecking outside the door wondering what was going on inside. Making peace, making peace, at the sound of the limousine arriving, Ciara closed her eyes and started talking.


  1. Jerome says

    I don’t like the fact that she withheld her abortion in confession. If this is fiction, it makes the ending less than happy. If it weren’t fiction, I would feel terrible for Ciara making a bad confession. Not a good story.

    • MG says

      For goodness’ sake, is your definition of a good story that it “has a happy ending”?

      And by the way, arguably this one does, except its not a trite “and they lived happily ever after.” The fact that she withholds this during confession makes the story all the more effective, since it shows her as a real, flawed, and frankly frightened human being, pulled in God’s direction but not quite being able to give herself fully. Admitting the abortion to God means also admitting it to herself, and I think she is trying to ignore her guilt rather than come to terms with it. But the last paragraph, as Dorian Speed points out, clearly shows a move towards conversion. One can infer that the abortion will eventually be confessed, that she will come to terms with her guilt.

  2. Sarah says

    I agree with Jerome. I also think that out doesn’t have that much depth to it. It seems like it was written by someone who doesn’t really get how women feel.

  3. Bill says

    It’s interesting, though somewhat self-conscious and needs an editor. E.g. the apostrophe after 70 is superfluous, you just write 70s.

    There is good talent here. I like the description of the Pre-Cana compound. It contrasts nicely with where I had mine, in a Gatsby-esque mansion on Lake Erie in Derby, NY.

  4. Allie says

    I believe this could be an accurate depiction of how a woman would feel. Women have the hardest time forgiving themselves and who knows how long it would take someone to come to terms with this particular action. I know a lot of women who would bury this because of the massive emotional scars it produces. It is a very complex situation.

  5. Kinsi says

    It is unfortunate that she could not come enough to peace with that part of her history to confess, but to those who are disappointed; I do believe it is implied that she is now struggling, post-confession, with that decision to withhold information.

    • says

      So, I have this 88 year old Great Aunt who was, in her hey day, a real renaissance woman. She built hosues, made art, rode a motorcycle around Idaho, served on Idaho’s Emergency Planning department, and played electric guitar, singing country and western songs despite being partly deaf. She has traveled all over the world playing music and being different. We went on a cruise together a few years ago (she is a cruise-aholic) and I got to hear the story of how she almost died in a car accident when she was just a teenager. My mother hadn’t even hear the details of that story and they have been friends since they were both very young (my great aunt was the youngest and my mom’s mom was the oldest kid ,so there were a lot of kids and years between them ). I love her very much and she has served as a role model for me all my life. What a fabulous one, too.

  6. AF Zamarro says

    Bravo! Very well done.

    The style is excellent, and the tone is set perfectly. The story is substantial, and I think it is a great peering into one of the “little moments” when God makes an invitation to a soul to move into a deeper union. These are the moments that Catholics need to pray for, and to act upon when we see that we have been invited to participate in them.

    Good work.

  7. Ulla says

    I understand nothing?? Sorry what are you talking about.. Confusing nonsense. What do you want to say.. Sin like you desire go to confession and everything is OK?? Is confession a carwash? You think you would never need to do pennance for your sins and avoid every occasion? So why are you still sleeping with that man?? N matter what ….

  8. says

    (For the record, although I am affiliated with the magazine, I wasn’t at the time this story was chosen for publication).

    I think this story shows us a conversion in progress – which, really, describes all of us, doesn’t it? We are all growing in holiness, hopefully, and the protagonist here is making a big step in the right direction. To whom do we think she’s talking to at the end of the story? I would assume she’s praying, although I guess you could argue she’s replying to her mother and is closing her eyes in impatience. It’s a very realistic depiction of how she’s slowly coming to Christ. I could definitely see the burden of her abortion and her sorrow being so great that she would leave it out of her Confession.

  9. Christine says

    I think some of the criticism about her not confessing the sin is incorrect–this is more a snapshot of this girl’s life than the finality of her going on with this unconfessed abortion. The journey back to the Church is sometimes slow and drawn out, and I get the feeling the bride is somewhere in the middle of it right now. I enjoyed this piece, and I too loved the descrition of the 70s era church–spot on!

  10. CFS says

    It makes me care about her and wonder what will happen next in her life and her marriage and how she will come to terms with her abortion and finally confess it and let the burden begin to lift.