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a knowledge of secret things

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Remembrance is a strange concept to Regan. It is, after all, a foundational basis of mankind’s humanity, a mark of their intelligence and superiority to animals. It is a mark of her own prowess in school, when teachers write in her report cards that she has a good mind for remembering details. The ability to remember is what keeps one safe- the memory of past mistakes safeguards against present misconduct. And yet.

And yet, she is not meant to remember.

It is not any outside, inhuman force that means to stay her memory- far from it. It is her own mother, and her doctors, and her anxious, soft caregivers with their pleading eyes who do not want her to remember. Her memory is a thing rarely spoken of, when it comes to the events of her own life- she has heard her mother assure a parade of doctors that “she doesn’t remember” a period consigned to the label of That Time (referred to by Mother as when you were sick; vague and comforting, painted thickly with the brush of safety and the texture of history. When being the past; you were sick being the label that renders it harmless, a thing of her childhood like her dolls and fractured relationship with her father) but Mother never speaks of it to her. The secrets of her history are passed behind closed doors, in hushed voices, in a spy’s lexicon of careful euphemisms. She is presumed to have forgotten, and so she is no longer the keeper of the story they tell each other. Erased from her memory, it is no longer hers.

And yet, she remembers.


 

During her first semester of college, she visits a church. Religion has had no part in her life with her mother- not before, and not after That Time- and so the rituals and rhymes are as foreign to her as they were the day she was born. There are some she knows simply by osmosis, passing by the choir room on her way home from night class and hearing kyrie eleison carried on the wind. The smell of incense, she knows from her roommate’s habits; the robes she has seen on television and in the papers. The priest is an older man, kindly and gentle in his gestures, and she sits through the entire mass. The words are unfamiliar, and not at the same time- like a song heard in infanthood, since faded from daily thought, but always present. Afterwards, she sits in the pew while the rest of the congregation files out, looking at the vaulted ceiling overhead, the angels overseeing the altar, the ruby-red blood shining through the stained glass windows.

“Excuse me,” the priest says, approaching. His smile is welcoming. “Did you want to make a confession?”

Regan stands and clasps her purse in one hand. The stained glass windows still shine.

“No,” she says. “I’m fine.”


 

Now that she’s legally an adult, she has access to her medical records. She’d wanted to see them, before, but she’d never dared ask her mother. Certain compromises are made in their relationship; Mother allows her freedom to roam, as she always has, but That Time remains a forbidden topic of conversation. She had asked, once, when she was too young to think better of it; Mother had paled and said “why do you ask?” and Regan had realized the futility of her question. It was like her father; not spoken of, a fiction maintained for the peace of mind of everyone involved. But now that she can make the choice on her own, she chooses to know.

She sits in her dorm room, leafing slowly through each page, waiting for the revelation to leap out at her suddenly and violently. It didn’t. Instead, she carried through the list of regular childhood afflictions- chicken pox, flu, gastroenteritis. Finally, she reaches the period she had most wanted to find- the story no one would tell and she desperately wanted to hear.

There is a litany of doctor’s notes, written in increasingly messy handwriting as her case continued to confound them. Dozens of conditions were suggested and discarded, growing wilder and less likely with every new addition to the list. Her symptoms, the doctor wrote, were erratic and made no sense within the framework of any known disorder, physical or psychological. Behavioural problems- normal, he wrote, in a girl her age. Insomnia. Complaints of disorder around the house- well that couldn’t possibly be caused by a child, now could it? Knowledge of foreign languages, the doctors had written, was sometimes seen in patients who had suffered brain trauma, though no medical knowledge could explain it. Finally, at the bottom of the third page, in a hand so small and shaking it seemed to apologize for its presence, is written- possession? It’s followed by several question marks, the last deep enough to score a hole in the paper.

Regan sits back in her chair, face pale but for two spots of high colour in her cheeks. Her right hand, the one she was turning pages with, rests on the paper, one long finger tapping against the dried ink. Her heart beats in triple time, but she is calm. She knows.


 

In her dreams, the thing whispers to her, long after Father Karras had forced it from her body. Remember me, piglet? Oh, we were going to have such fun, you and I, but then the black-robed crow went and spoiled it all. Don’t you hate him, piglet? Aren’t you glad he’s dead? I do.  I am. Now he’s gone, and he can’t ever, ever, ever come between us again . . .

Regan shivers and turns over in her sleep. On the bedside table sits a small wooden cross, and she reaches out unconsciously to clutch it. The demon’s voice fades into white noise.


 

There is a seminary not far from her campus. She walks there one fall day, cheeks pinked from the cold, wind trying and failing to cut through the thick wool of her coat. There are no women on the seminary grounds, for all that they contain the mandated women’s washrooms alongside the men’s. It’s an eerie feeling- like stepping into a world where she knows she’s not wanted. But she keeps walking. As she travels further onto the seminary grounds, she is surrounded on all sides by men in dark coats. Some ignore her, some genuinely seem not to recognize her, and some gawk openly at the pale woman in the blue coat, walking amongst them like a bluebird among ravens. None speak to her. She keeps walking.

When she enters the main building- the church where these fledgling priests gather to worship- she stands in the entryway, hands tucked into her sleeves, waiting. Sure enough, one of the priests (priestlings) approaches her, half-curious, half-apologetic. There’s no service today, he says; it’s Wednesday.

I know, she says.

An uneasy silence falls. So . . . he says, can I help you with something?

She meets his eyes, and something in hers’ makes him blink and look away. I want to learn, she says.

A dull red flush creeps up the young priest’s neck. I’m afraid that’s not possible, he says, still red from the shame of it. There isn’t- that is to say, we don’t- the Church doesn’t-

I know what the Church says, Regan says with a faint touch of impatience. I don’t want to be a priest. Go to your supervisor. Tell him a woman named Regan MacNeil wants to speak with him. Say that I want to know about demons. When the priest hesitates, she adds,  tell him I knew Damien Karras. He’ll listen.

The priest looks doubtful, but retreats into the inner sanctum of the church. Regan waits. Within ten minutes, he re-appears, looking more flustered and confused than he did before. Father Cleary will see you now, he says.

Regan smiles and walks inside.