Get Thee To A Nunnery Chapter 1
When I first met him, I was on my knees. I was 19, in the novitiate, knuckles scrubbed raw as I cleaned the hardwood floors. I had joined the order two years prior - as far as my family was concerned, it was that or marriage, and I balked at that prospect - in those days, it was tantamount to ownership. No one, I thought, then, would ever own me. Perhaps I was naive.
He was tall - that was the first thing I noticed. He wore the collar of a priest, but no cross. His hair was dark and curly, tousled as though he hadn’t so much as glanced in the mirror that morning, his skin cool brown, his eyes a startling amber. I realized too late that I was staring, mouth agape.
“Excuse me, Father!” I stuttered, grabbing my sponge and bucket and stumbling out of the way.
He turned to me, a strange look in his eyes, and for a moment I felt trapped beneath his penetrating gaze.
“Good morning, Sister,” he said, and walked past me. I stood transfixed for another moment, a dark blush creeping over my face. The bell rang, and I snapped back to reality, composing myself.
“Oh my goodness, Nicky, did you see the new priest?” The words tumbled out of Rosie’s mouth in a burst of girlish energy as we sat down to lunch. I’d stopped bothering to correct her when she used my old childhood nickname rather than my religious name, Sister Joan. Perhaps it was refreshing to know I could still be my old self, even just once in a while. I decided that day to indulge that long-neglected part of myself and enjoy some childish gossip.
“You mean the tall, dark, and handsome one?” I whispered. Rosie covered her mouth to stifle a peal of high pitched giggles. She snorted in laughter, her tongue between her teeth, her laugh delightful in its inelegance. She had never been the most uptight of Sisters, ginger curls perpetually slipping from her habit, always the one to encourage the speaking of thoughts better left unsaid. I had enough trouble with the ‘obedience’ part of my vows, by nature brash and rebellious, and typically tried to avoid those who would tempt me to misbehavior. I never could resist dear Rosie, though, not since we were girls. Soon, I was laughing too, silently as I tried desperately to maintain some modicum of propriety, a tear slipping from my eye. It wasn’t even that funny, just a tad scandalous and besides, Rosie and I could never help but to fuel one another’s laughter.
“Nicky, you’re incorrigible! I think something’s not right about him. I - overheard him talking to the Mother Superior,” – an old habit of Rosie’s - “and when she asked him why he left his old church, he got all weird and muttered something about ‘not being the right fit for his congregation’.” She said this last part in an uncanny imitation of his deep voice and subtle, unidentifiable accent. As a girl, she had wanted to be an actress. We were going to run away to Hollywood, I’d write scripts, she’d be in the pictures, we’d take up a flat together like modern women and never, ever marry. These were immature daydreams, of course. She never did get to act, but I suppose I’m writing now. It shouldn’t feel like a betrayal.
“Gosh, Rosie, you didn’t even hear the whole conversation. You’re a poor spy. Don’t jump to any silly conclusions.”
“You’re just mad because you have a crush on him. Sister.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
Just before I drifted off to sleep that night, in my half-conscious state, I could sense, somehow, a dark presence in the small room. I didn’t dream often, but that night I dreamt of hands. Fingers threading through my hair and then pulling, sending a jolt through me, sharp nails tracing my jaw, grasping hands reaching beneath my nightdress, exploring places no one had ever touched me, no one, not even the sun. I woke before dawn from a fitful sleep, shining with fever-sweat. My roommate was sound asleep. As the weight of reality rushed back to me, I couldn’t bear the shame of the sin my mind had conjured up.
I took the discipline from my bedside drawer and began to hit myself with it. The pain was sharp and addictive, and guiltily my hand slipped below the waistband of my rough white cotton panties and found them soaking wet. I bit down hard on my lip to stifle the noise that burst from my chest as I touched myself until my vision went white and I collapsed onto the bed. I spent a moment there to catch my breath and, coming back to my senses, I got up and dressed in my habit. Goodness, what had come over me? To ensure no hair was astray, I glanced in the small hand mirror I kept by my bed and saw scarlet blood dripping from my bottom lip. I wiped it off and left the room. Perhaps there’d be a priest already for confession.