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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: November 20, 2009

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 20, 2009



Sister Angela stared absentmindedly.

"The bell's gone for us to go to mass," Sister Enid said stiffly.
The hand bell rang along the passageway, tolled by Sister Olivia.
Sister Angela shook her head as if to shake away unwanted thoughts
and smiled at Sister Enid whose pinched features gave her a severe
demeanour. "Sister Olivia tolls that bell as if she were waking the
dead," Sister Enid moaned looking away from Sister Angela. After a
few minutes the bell went silent. The severe nun sighed and walked
slowly along the passageway muttering to herself, leaving Sister
Angela wondering whether the severe nun was praying or merely
uttering a few ideas for a book she was writing on the life of an obscure saint.

"Are we off to mass?” Sister Una asked coming out of her cell by
Sister Angela's elbow.

"Yes, Olivia's rung and Enid's as grim as ever," Sister Angela said.

Sister Una pulled her cell door towards her. She shook the doorknob
severely to insure it was held fast and the knob came away from the
door causing her to fall back into Sister Angela's arms.

"The Rule states," Sister Enid said firmly from the far end of the
passageway, "that sisters are not to lay hands upon the other."

"An accident," Sister Una muttered, holding aloft the doorknob.
"It came away in my hands when I was closing the cell door."

Sister Enid shook her head and muttered a few words to the ceiling.

Sister Una placed the knob in a pocket of her black habit and rubbed
her small hands together. Staring at the two nuns for a few moments,
Sister Enid beckoned with a finger for them to follow her to church.

Sister Ingrid sniffed the air.

The five nuns stood outside the church of St. Perpetua. The mass had
ended and four of the nuns gazed at their Superior with a mixture of
awe and apprehension. After a few moments, Sister Ingrid opened her
eyes and ceased sniffing.

"Back to the convent for Terce," Sister Ingrid said. The five nuns
walked along the path that led to their six-bed roomed convent a five
minute walk away at a slow pace.

"I preferred the Latin mass of yore," Sister Enid proclaimed.

"Latin’s a dead language, Enid, people were often in the dark as to
where they were in the mass," Sister Ingrid replied, gently.

"Educated people would know," Sister Enid retorted. Sister Una who
was just behind Sister Enid raised her eyes to the blue skies and
muttered a prayer. "Some of us were educated at our schools in the
language," Sister Enid added, recalling her school years.

"Clarity is best for the less educated, Enid, as charity is best for
those inclined to be less so," Sister Ingrid informed, softly.

"The mystery's gone out of the mass."

"The mystery is in the sacrament of the mass, not the language."

Sister Enid half-raised her eyes and fluttered her eyelids, but said
nothing more. Sister Ingrid sniffed the air. Sister Una gazed at the
sky for a sign. Sister Angela fingered her rosary beneath her habit
and Sister Olivia mused on what to prepare for lunch and how long it
would take to cook. Already she could sense her mouth water and her
sturdy stomach rumbled as it waited for the small snack after Terce.

Sister Olivia stirred the soup.

She lifted her head when Sister Angela entered the kitchen carrying
an armful of vegetables from the convent garden.

"What’s for lunch, Olivia?" said Sister Angela.

"Leek soup, toad-in-the-hole and apple pie and custard."

"Are the leeks home grown?” Sister Angela sniffed the onion air.

"No. Sister Enid says she's no room for leeks. I procured them from
Mr. Pyper the grocer," Sister Olivia informed.

"Procured? Sounds painful."

"I sort of begged."

"You and your charm," Sister Angela said. She settled the vegetables
on the table by the sink and gazed at Sister Olivia. "Ever thought
of marrying?”

"Is that a proposal?”

"No. I meant before you entered the Mother House," Sister Angela
said picking at the leaves of the cabbage.

"I considered it once." Sister Olivia mused on Jess Mustock of yore.

"Were you in love?” Sister Angela picked another leaf of cabbage.

"Not really. He was thirty years older than I was and his breath
smelt of beer. A mere passing whim. A last minute temptation."

"A lucky escape," Sister Angela suggested. Sister Olivia lifted the
wooden spoon to her lips and tasted the brew. She nodded her head.
Sister Angela watched for a few moments then returned to her chores.

Sister Una sat in the chapel.

She'd polished the small choir-stalls and floor. She'd done the
passageways and toilet and now was resting before Sext. She loved the
chapel, it was quiet and peaceful. She could talk to God here. The
chapel was a room sanctified by late Father Desmond some years back.

"All done?” Sister Enid whispered from the chapel door.

"Yes," Sister Una whispered back. Sister Enid beckoned her to the
door with a bent finger and slight incline of her head.

"Have you done the stairs?”

"Which chairs?” Sister Una affected deafness with a straight face.

"Stairs," Sister Enid said, "stairs."

"Pairs of what?” Sister Una asked squinting.

"Stairs, stairs," Sister Enid bellowed heedless of the chapel.

"No need to shout," Sister Una replied adjusting her glasses.

"The stairs need doing."

"I’ve done them." Sister Una peered over her glasses.

"When?” Sister Enid quizzed sternly.

"Erm...Yesterday...Erm..." Sister Una became lost in thought.

"They’re covered in dust and dirt."

"Dust them with a skirt?” Sister Una muttered.

"Dust and dirt!" Sister Enid shrieked withdrawing from the chapel.

A bird sang in the garden.

Lunch had ended. It was afternoon recreation. Sister Una told Sister
Angela about the chapel incident with Sister Enid. Sister Una said
"Enid must have some sort of problem with her face muscles because
she never smiles, and Our dear Lord forbid, never ever laughs. Love
to see her just ease up for a moment." She gazed over shoulder at
Sister Enid down at the end of the garden with Sister Ingrid.

"It’s how she is," Sister Angela replied, looking over Sister Una's
shoulder at the two nuns down by the roses. "She’ll not change.

You'll need patience and tons of God's grace." Sister Una pulled a
face. It was her way of being contumacious. Sister Angela sighed.

"Can one quantify God's grace?” Sister Una asked staring down at
her small black shoes.

"No, suppose not. Boundless," Sister Angela conceded. And what she'd
noticed about Sister Una was the way she took hold of your hand or
arm, as if you were her mother or whatever. Nuns were supposed, when
not using their hands, to keep hands hidden in their habits. But she
waves her arms about like a conductor in front of a huge invisible
orchestra. And she was doing it now, Sister Angela discerned, taking
her arm and moving onward. Sister Una whispered again. Enid she
thought had never been kissed. She was certain. You can tell, Sister
Una suggested. Sister Angela had never given it much thought, in
fact, none at all. And the way she walks; she's more virgin than
Our Blessed Lady herself, Sister Una uttered so low it was almost
inaudible. Sister Angela wished it had been. She looked up at the
sky: blue with a dab here and there of a white cloud, and shook her
head slowly side to side and placed her index finger to her lips.

Sister Ingrid studied the Miro painting.

The painting had been there when the house had been bought and became
a convent. It was one of two. Sister Ingrid liked them, but Sister
Enid screwed up her nose as if the painting had a smell about it.
Sister Enid thought it childish and would have rid the convent of it
had she been in charge. Sister Ingrid would not be moved. Then, her
eyes moving about her, Sister Enid spoke of her concern for Sister
Una and her attitude to work and how her own patience was sorely
tested. Sister Ingrid noticed the grim features that assembled on
Sister Enid's face. Could sink a few ships, she mused. "Come, Enid,
She's still a child in her ways. Barely professed. God's ways are
slower than ours," Sister Ingrid said.

"Far be for me to interfere with God's work upon a soul,” Sister
Enid lamented. She watched out of the corner of her eye and wondered
if her Superior ever got ill tempered, moody, or downright mad. She
had to concede she had not noticed such. Calm as a leaf on a duck
pond. Softer than butter in sunshine. Sister Ingrid put her nose
right close to the Miro painting. "More than I can see in it,"
Sister Enid said standing by Sister Ingrid's shoulder.

"It’s like gazing into the eyes of another. You can see the soul.
Needs patience." Sister Ingrid paused. She'd need to speak with young
Una, just to see into her eyes, just a little soft word, she mused,
coming back from the painting. Soon be the office of None. The bell
will ring soon, she mused." And how's Olivia coping in the kitchen?”
Sister Enid thought she was doing well enough, even if the potatoes
were a little on the hard side and the soup too thin. Does well, she
added, with custard, lovely custard. That's a good thing, Enid,
that's a blessing indeed, Sister Ingrid said smiling.

The refectory smelled of polish.

"Smells like the Mother House," Sister Ingrid said.

"Is it the polish?” Sister Olivia asked.

"Yes. And the smell of fresh fruit."

"I try to catch the essence of the Mother House refectory."

"Memory by association. Like Proust's Madeleines."

Sister Olivia held a jug of water up to the light from the window.
"I like madeleines," Sister Olivia said,” always have."

"All that's missing is Sister Gabrielle."

"Always had a smile. Always thanking God," Sister Olivia said.

"And liked her food," Sister Ingrid said, watching Sister Olivia's
ceaseless movement. "Found Lent hard, but persevered, I recall."

"Yes, she did, but said it was God's way with her."

"And how are things with you, Olivia?”

"Like to be busy. Can't abide being idle," Sister Olivia said as she
placed the fruit bowl down.

"To work is to pray, so it is said," Sister Ingrid informed. Sister
Olivia picked up her broom and moved across the to the kitchen door.

"And to pray is to work,” Sister Olivia said standing motionless
for a few moments.

"Indeed it is," Sister Ingrid said softly," indeed it is."

The garden was still.

"Do you miss the cloister of the Mother House?” Said Sister Olivia.

"It was a place to go for a sense of peace," Sister Una replied.

"The garden's peaceful," said Sister Olivia.
"But the cloister had a different peace about it."

"But there were nuns coming and going all of the time."

"I loved the cloister. It was what I loved about the Mother House."

"I felt lost there. Mother Abbess seemed so remote," Sister Olivia
said reflectingly.

"That’s how God feels to me at times: remote and far away."

"He’s always close to me," Sister Olivia uttered gently.

"Maybe you listen better," Sister Una said touching her glasses.

"Do I?”

"Yes," Sister Una replied.

"He does speak to me."

"What’s he say?”

"To improve my gravy and cook the potatoes longer."

"He must have been listening to the sisters."

"Hope so."

"Peaceful." Sister Una said staring at the sky's blueness. She took
Sister Olivia's hand in hers and gave a gentle squeeze.” Peaceful."

The nuns were in the common room.

Supper was over and it was recreation before Compline. Sister Una sat
in one corner fingering through the Cds looking for one to play. On
the sofa Sister Angela sat next to Sister Enid who was sewing an old
pair of black cotton stockings.

"My Father didn't want me to enter a convent," Sister Ingrid said.

"Mine insisted,” Sister Enid said. "At least once I'd mentioned it
And seen our priest."

"Why did he not want you to enter, Ingrid?" asked Sister Olivia.

"He didn't believe in God. Thought it an utter waste of my time and
education." Sister Ingrid moved over to where Sister Una sat and
watched as the young nun selected a cd.

"So how is it you're here?” Sister Una asked placing the cd in the
cd player.

"He couldn't prevent me. I was over eighteen."

"Does he mind now?” Sister Una said.

"I expect so; I haven't seen him or heard from him for years."

"My mother cried when I entered," Sister Olivia uttered softly.

"My parents thought me a fool," Sister Angela said thoughtfully.

Sister Una placed the earphones on and closed her eyes. Sister
Ingrid gazed at her and smiled.

"Being a fool for God is almost a Holy command," Sister Enid said.
Her words seeped about the room. The nuns remembered or tried to
forget or tried not to think at all but sink into the arms of God.

The day was ended.

Compline was over. The angelus said. The nuns each slowly and in
silence made their way to their cells. Sister Ingrid watched them.

Sister Una climbed the stairs deep in thought, wondering what her
friends were doing now and where they'd been. And remembering Doug
and what he'd said and how it had made her feel unloved. Until, that
was, God had found her. Yes, she mused walking along the passage, He
found me, He loves me, He loves me.

Sister Enid saw young nun entered her cell. She thought young Una a
long way off from being a good nun. Needs to think more, she mused,
opening her door and entering her own cell. Far from God, no doubt,
no doubt. And the way she touches. Makes one shudder, God forbid.
When I was young, we had discipline. Manners. Respect, always respect.

Sister Olivia closed her door. Her stomach rumbled. She mused on the
next day's meal and what to prepare. Undressing, she thought of Una
and the way she held her hand in the garden and her closeness. Enid
had eyes on it all, no doubt, she mused, placing her nightgown over
her head, and feeling the soft stubble of her hair, wondering just
for a moment, just for a mere moment, what such softness meant in
that touching of hands. No doubt God knows and cares. No doubt.

Sister Angela turned out her light. She lay on her bed and stared at
the barely visible ceiling. A fool for God, she mused. Perhaps that's
so. Perhaps it's how He meant it, even if they didn't, her parents.
And Una's touch she still sensed it. Still felt the warmth of it even
in the coldness of her cell. God forgive. Such things. Such things.

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