Sister Margaret had a righteous hump on her back. A hump of belligerent, Fairy Tale proportions. The Hump inspired hours of ramrod posture in dedicated slouchers.
It was mean-tempered and straddled the nun's neck like a horrible parrot. The Hump was deeply dedicated, and would know no satisfaction until Sister Margaret could only see her feet when walking.
But, Sister Margaret worked around it without a word of complaint. If she wanted to look at something, she just got above it. Sister Margaret imagined that this tactic drove The Hump wild with frustration.
Sister Margaret stands on the second floor terrace, peering down into the courtyard. Below her, Sister Genevieve lays on the grass reading The Bible.
Sister Genevieve, who sees no point in lying on the grass like your average person, spills herself onto the lawn like a bolt of silk. It is said that Sister Genevieve possesses a certain, ‘Je ne sais quoi.’
Sister Margaret, a nun of suspicious temperament, suspects Sister Genevieve of being nothing less than French.
After all, she looks French. Her eyes are pitiless and dark. Her eyebrows perpetually arched, as if in faint amusement. Mouth like an insolent child.
Also, Sister Genevieve appears to have a French accent only when it suits her – a behavior that increases the probability in Sister Margaret's mind that she is indeed, French.
French and not admitting it.
Perhaps this ‘not admitting’ business is also symptomatic of being French.
Sister Margaret is a model of German efficiency. She produces work of superior quality, in larger amounts, in less time.
Sister Genevieve is also efficient. However, she is the sort of efficient that inspires others to cheerfully fetch things on her behalf.
Sister Genevieve is both the newest nun and the youngest nun at the convent. Her appearance coincided with a vast charitable gift. Sister Margaret finds this ‘coincidence’ deeply suspicious.
And not in any sort of way that was ungrateful to receive the benefit of consistently running hot water. And the benefit of proper heating that prevented Old Man Winter from rustling about under one’s habit. And the benefit of new blood in a dying convent populated by pickled walnuts.
Truth be told, the other nuns spoil Sister Genevieve like a long lost granddaughter. In exchange for these kindnesses, Sister Genevieve graciously supplies the old nuns with someone to spoil.
But not Sister Margaret. She doesn’t believe in spoiling. She chooses instead, to express her devotion to Sister Genevieve, by spying. Spying, speculating and wondering about the state of her possible ‘Frenchness.’
Below, in the courtyard, Sister Genevieve claps the Bible to her chest and unfurls a dark peal of laughter.
“Ha,” thinks Sister Margaret. “She’s reading the dirty parts.”
Sister Margaret slides her upper denture plate out and in.
Buck teeth, no teeth. Buck teeth, no teeth.
Slurping her dentures in and out has proven to be an excellent meditative device.
Buck teeth, no teeth. Buck teeth, no teeth.
Sister Margaret considers herself to be God’s favorite wife, and believes, that God is the only man good enough for her. The only man worth setting her heart on fire.
She has done all He has ever asked of her. And she has done it out of white, hot Love for the Lord.
For example: Sister Margaret has never strangled anyone. Even the most infernally stupid people. She has never kicked the Lazy, or slapped the crap out of single person. Not a one. Despite the hundreds of worthy candidates God had trotted through, to test her restraint.
The whole of her life, Sister Margaret’s palms have itched to grab the World by the lapels and shake it shitless.
She has yearned to sing, ‘If I Had a Hammer,’ while using one to pound some sense in.
And, the whole of her life, Sister Margaret has responded to these deep misanthropic urges, by getting elbow deep in good works.
The kind of grinding, physically laborious, good works that don’t get any press, and contain no Glory but God's.
She works tirelessly at the never-ending tasks that no one notices, for people who don’t appreciate her efforts.
There are of course, exceptions.
Exceptions that send her heart frogging into her throat, choked that God should Love her so.
That He should give her, now and then, one who can be Saved.
Because, you can only save the ones capable still, of Believing. The ones who haven’t given up yet. The ones who weren’t born to give up.
Hardship, over time grinds the soul out of the body. Faith becomes a casualty. God makes Himself known to every being, every day. But, blindness replaces Belief. Which means there is no Comfort. Because God is just an invisible, anonymous force, that lets bad things happen.
At eighty-three, Sister Margaret knuckles look like angry knots of wood. But her understanding of God’s everyday toil and hardship is nearly absolute.
This doesn’t mean, that Sister Margaret hasn’t had some lively conversations with the Lord regarding the state of the World. It doesn’t mean she’s never questioned Him at length as to why, for example, He makes so many assholes.
Sister Margaret considers herself to be in nearly constant conversation with God. For the most part, these talks occur internally. Although when moved by passion, Sister Margaret has been known to speak aloud unto the Lord.
“Another Asshole?!” Her head cricked sideways, one terrible eye glaring upwards.
Sister Margaret swears with immunity because God doesn’t care when she swears. In fact, He has on occasion produced into her realm of work an exceptional difficulty, just to hear her drop the F bomb.
Usually these events take place in the garden, when she is alone. Perhaps via a thistle-like weed two inches high above ground and three feet long beneath it (in every direction.)
When she was younger these special moments occurred at the chopping block, by way of a clotted knot wood that refused to split.
At least until her angry hatchet beavered down its spirit.
Sometimes, Sister Margaret would scuttle inside and burn the wood immediately. Not caring that it wasn’t properly seasoned.
“How do you like that Mr. Log?” as the sap popped and hissed.
God understands that Sister Margaret needs these times. Needs the therapeutic nature of the physical exertion, needs to swear at the sky.
God sees the raw meat enjoyment she derives from savagely rooting out a weed that is willful and difficult. Hears her pants of triumph, as she tugs the last of it free. Sees her creak up off her knees, trophy gripped in one gnarled hand.
Appreciates the way she hikes her habit up to the knee and dances with joy, like a miner forty-niner.
But mostly God really, really understands her need to take something apart after trying to put things together all day.
Also – when a nun says,
“Fuck!” it’s funny.
Below, Sister Genevieve erupts with laughter. Startled, Sister Margaret slurps her teeth back in and chokes, for a moment, on her own spit.
“Thy hair is like a flock of goats!” Sister Genevieve hoots skyward.
Sister Margaret shouts down,
“Thy breasts are like two young roes that are twins!”
“Thy breasts to clusters of grapes!”
“My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him!”
“I am a wall, and my breasts like towers!” brays Sister Margaret, flapping her boobs up and down in her habit.
It is then, that they get down to the serious business of laughing themselves sick over The Song of Solomon.
Sister Margaret, weak with said laughter, sinks to her knees on the terrace, rolling slowly backwards onto her hump.
Simultaneously, the two nuns realize that they have wet themselves a little. They then, simultaneously, find this also to be quite funny. They graduate to shoulder rattling ‘silent’ laughter punctuated by snorts.
It occurs to Sister Margaret that although she remains secure in her status as God’s favorite wife, she understands that God probably likes Sister Genevieve, quite a bit.
Then, it comes to her, all in a flash.
Sister Genevieve is not French. She is, in fact:
Simmering down now, the nuns lie separately, but together in the sun, eyes blue skyward, tears of laughter pooling in their ears.
God, who has been listening all along, adds with deep affection,
“Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tir’zah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.”