Hope, then Faith, then…

They’d gotten her sisters sometime during the night. It was a gross joke, she thought, that she should be last, some demented cosmic wheeze that her parents, perhaps, dour Christian souls that they were, would have appreciated. First Corinthians 13:13, repeated so often on so many birthdays that she knew it like jargon, meaningless through repetition.

Her father told the story over dinner. “It was, hrm, so many years ago tonight that we went to the hospital. Your mother was the biggest thing you’d ever seen, so huge I thought she’d like to burst. And her so small to begin with, hrm, how she could carry you lot around I never understood. But then she was fiery. Hrm. Stubborn, even. Wilful.” He looked, always at this point in the story, toward the other end of the table, where, even years after she’d died, there was still a place set for her, silverware shining in the electric light. “And then it was triplets, three beautiful little girls, as alike as peas in a pod, and just about as small.” He smiled slightly through his beard, that had gone grey on the cheeks. “And we only had the one name — James if it was a boy, Judith if it was a girl — and the nurse wanted to know what to put on the birth certificates. ‘Call them Faith, Hope, and Charity,’ she said, your mother I mean, while I was wracking my brains, and that’s what they did. And she’s gone now, gone to glory, and I’ll follow her sooner or later, and Faith, Hope, and Charity will remain — you three.”

“And the greatest of these is Charity,” she said, under her breath. They punished talking viciously. And Faith and Hope had gone during the night and she was left alone, and far off she could hear screaming, it might be a man or a woman, but much closer was the sound of water dripping on stone, the continuing process of erosion.