Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 14

THE next day Sister Benedict was there with them at morning prayers. Joan noticed that she didn’t sing with them or respond to the prayers but kept her head bowed respectfully. Afterwards she went back to her room, followed by Joan and Madeline, with her bag of first aid equipment.

Joan shut the door behind them and addressed Madeline as Sister Benedict sat on the edge of her bed.

“I must ask you, Sister, not to mention to anyone in the house what you are about to see. I am confiding in you until the time is right to speak to the others.”

“Of course, Mother,” Madeline said, looking puzzled.

Joan turned to Sister Benedict who sat looking pale and worried.

“Don’t worry, Benedict, Sister Madeline is well qualified to attend to you. The Mother House has advised me of your situation. Please relax and let me help you to remove your things.”

Sister Benedict clasped her cardigan tightly round her.

“Come, Sister,” Joan said firmly. “We must attend to the wound on your shoulder. Sister Madeline is here to renew the dressing. You must trust us. There is nothing to fear.”

Joan heard Madeline’s sharp intake of breath as the sister removed her cardigan and blouse. Nevertheless she took off the old dressing and, discarding it into a plastic bag, she put antiseptic on to a wad of cotton wool and cleaned the area around the wound.

Glancing at Joan, she spoke calmly.

“Sister, this is a bullet wound and this is not a nun.”

“I know, Madeline. Please say nothing about it to the others. They are not ready to know the whole story yet.”

“I understand, Mother.” Madeline proceeded to dress the wound and helped Sister Benedict to put on the habit again.

“Now we shall go to breakfast, all three of us.” Joan smiled. “I can promise that this morning the porridge will not be burned.”

“We have a lovely private beach here,” Joan remarked as they enjoyed perfect porridge together. “Maybe you’d like a stroll down to the shore after we’ve talked in my study?”

“I don’t really want to go outside,” Sister Benedict began.

“Nonsense!” Imelda said cheerfully. “It’s not far to the beach and it’s downhill all the way. Jolly uphill coming back, though.” She grinned.

“Madeline and I will go with you,” Joan said kindly. “It’s quite a long while since I’ve been down there. We have picnics on the shore in the summer.”

“Do you the world of good,” Imelda stated, spreading marmalade on her toast. “Put a bit of colour in your cheeks.”

“I’ll give you some stale bread for old Jack. Poor thing, he hasn’t had a treat for ages,” Clare added.

Sister Benedict gave a start.

“Who is Jack?”

Sister Amy laughed.

“He’s a donkey. Mr Murray, the farmer next door, keeps him in the shore meadow. There’s a little stone building down there for him to shelter in.”

Sister Benedict relaxed.

“Oh, a donkey. He can do no harm.”

“Don’t you believe it!” Clare exclaimed. “He’s full of mischief and very naughty when the fancy takes him. He’ll give you a nip when you least expect it, so he will. The stale bread is a bribe so that he’ll let you go into his meadow.”

The nuns laughed, most of them having had that experience with old Jack.

The late morning was warm but not too hot. The path down to the shore was dry and the walk delightful. Past the field in which Mr Murray grazed his herd of cows and along the path lined with wildflowers newly bloomed under the hedge as they did every year, undisturbed for more than a century.

Old Jack received his gift of stale bread gratefully and Joan opened the gate for all three of them to cross the meadow that ended on the shoreline. The tide was full, there was nothing but a slight breeze and the sun shone on the little waves making them sparkle like a million diamonds. Standing there on the water’s edge Joan felt that there was no need to say anything because it was so beautiful.

Sister Benedict sighed at last.

“I feel – I feel safe.”

Joan put a hand on the nun’s arm.

“We will let no harm come to you here. That is a promise.”

A seagull wheeled around overhead crying into the sunlight.

Stella Maris, Joan thought – Star of the Sea. Nowhere could be safer or more peaceful.

Alison Cook