Tuesday, January 11, 2005

October Valentine

On October 9th, the leaves changed their colors from green to brown and orange. On October 9th, Sister Maryanne visited the Holy Grotto that rests behind the chapel as she does every Wednesday. She likes to light candles on request from the parishioners. She lit a candle for James Gilkeep’s son who underwent surgery recently. She lit a candle for Mary Fulcliffe’s mother who had pneumonia. A candle was lit for Frank Johnson’s father (cancer) and Terry Kern’s husband (the flu). As always, the final candle was lit for Sister Sadie.

Father McKenzie is a powerful man. Even as a child, he was a leader. He always decided the activity for he and his friends. They never seemed to mind as he always had a reasonable explanation for his decision. Adults, too, seemed to be under his control. He was usually given what he wanted. When he was nineteen, he decided to become a priest. The community praised him for his decision and went about predicting the lengths of his future greatness. At the age of twenty-three, he was given control of his own missionary.

Sister Sadie has problems with paranoia, suspicion, and guilt. When she’s asked to go on missions, she packs her things like all the other sisters. But she doesn’t have much to pack. She wears only one outfit, and that, she hand washes every night before she steps to bed. She packs her cross, her mini travel bible, her pink rosary that always comes untied after the third Hail Mary, and two tiny pictures of Saint Francis and Saint Christopher that she ties together as a necklace to hang from her bedpost to protect her at night from her dreams. She rips the crucifix of the Lord nailed to the cross that is nailed to the wall above her bed and packs it along. Each time she comes back, they have to nail the crucifix back to the wall. There are nineteen holes in her wall. When she’s tired, she thinks them to be bullet holes and cries herself to sleep. Anything else she needs, she has to borrow from Mother Janice or the other sisters. They don’t let her own much.

Through the years, Father McKenzie’s powerful allure has only strengthened. His eulogies are quiet and succinct. And after service, the children will laugh at him in the parking lot while looking for their parents’ cars and say he has a face made of granite. The mothers will comment on his balding hair but that he still uses gel to slick it back. The fathers will admire his control and hope their sons grow up to be like him. But when the last parishioner leaves he loses his reassuring tone. (When asked, the sisters will say the Father has never reached beyond his duty of power, but very few of the parishioners believe them. The sisters have sacrificed and given their life to a higher power—a higher being they’ll never see. To a higher power they can’t explain away to anyone that asks. Sacrificed for a mystery, a leap of faith. And here’s that higher power, incarnate—Father McKenzie.)

On October 1st, Father McKenzie met Sister Sadie in her room. On October 1st, Father McKenzie had troubles controlling himself in front of the Lord.

When Sister Maryanne lit the final candle for Sister Sadie, she noticed Sister Katherine sitting behind her on the bench just outside the Grotto. She was not lighting candles for anyone—rather, staring in consternation at her feet. She rose her head slightly to see Sister Maryanne there and spoke.

“Sister Sadie is having a baby.”

“Oh, no.”

“I’ll have to speak to Father McKenzie and see what he has planned for her.”

In the chapel, Sister Katherine talked to Father McKenzie. He did not consider any other alternatives.
“I’m sorry but she’s going to have to leave. She can’t stay here, for obvious reasons,” he said.
“But that’s terrible. You can’t do that to her. She’s not well. You know that.”

“I understand, but this is a missionary. One of our nuns can’t be pregnant.”

“But you can’t just throw her out. She’s still a part of this family. She’s still believes strongly in the name of the Lord. One mistake doesn’t excise her from the will of the Lord.”

“Enough! I’ve made my decision.”
And Father McKenzie slamed his hands on the back of the pugh in front of him. This outrage, this umbrage, and the power he carries through prestige, reputation, and his place. All the sisters have fallen under the power of his words, the sermons both in and out of mass.

On October 10th, Sister Sadie woke up, got out of bed, and dragged a comb across her head.

She walked outside and was hit by the smoky clouded air of that season which weighs on the shoulders. Trees dying or bare or both. Grass yellowed and full of dirt risen through stamped footprints left by the morning dew. She breathed in October with an exaggerated inhale and opened the door of the communal car and drove it to the local Bird and Bee. There in the clearance bin were Valentine’s Day decorations. Sister Sadie picked up a handful without looking at what she grabbed, walked to the counter, paid for her items, and walked back to her car.

There in the front seat, staring ahead into the front windshield, watching the wipers sway back and forth even though it wasn’t raining, she thought about Father McKenzie. About the power and prestige he holds and her pride towards being the chosen one. Although he forced himself, she was the one in power. She got him to disobey the Lord’s orders for her. She had the power over him that at one time only the Lord held. Her pride burgeoning inside her, she pushes the accelerator and drives back to her missionary.

On October 11th, each corner of the mirror that covered the wall behind the sink in the bathroom closest to Sister Sadie’s room was bare. She took off the Valentine’s Day stickers she purchased the day before and painstakingly stuck them to the mirror. Each decoration had to be in the exact right location. Each purple and pink heart had to be slanted and enchanted in just the right way. After an hour or so, she took a step back and admired her work with a smile of satisfaction. Her pride burgeoning inside her, she thought for the first time that this may finally be a happy Valentine’s Day.