Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 18

SISTER Benedict knocked and came into Joan’s study without waiting for permission to enter and sat down on the chair in front of her desk.

“May I ask you something, Reverend Mother?” The tone of voice didn’t seem as if the sister was going to take no for an answer anyway.

“Yes, of course,” Joan replied. “What is it you want to say?”

“Do the other nuns know about me?” The question was blunt. “That I’m not really a nun?”

“No, they don’t,” Joan replied. “Only Sister Madeline. I had to confide your secret to her for obvious reasons, as she had to care for you until your wound was healed.”

“How long can you keep them in the dark?” Sister Benedict asked.

“As long as you can behave like a nun, being quiet, contemplative and not too talkative or energetic,” Joan replied, “they should have no reason to suspect anything.”

“It’s not easy – not easy at all.”

“You’re feeling better, then?” Joan asked.

“Yes – much, but I’m restless, Mother. I need to be active, to get out a bit more – and I know I’m safe here.”

“That’s the whole idea,” Joan said. “Your safety is paramount.”

“That little beach that you and Madeline took me to the other day? I’d like to go again.”

“Why, of course you may.” Joan was pleased that the nun felt so recovered. “I’ll ask Sister Imelda to go with you.”

Sister Benedict looked hesitant.

“I want to go alone – I want to swim.”

Joan was taken aback.

“But I can’t let you do that, not on your own! What if you got into difficulties? Why not a gentle walk along the shore? Breathe deeply – you’ll feel so well afterwards.”

Sister Benedict leaned forward in the chair.

“Look, Reverend Mother, you’ve been a pillar of strength to me since I’ve been here – you all have – but to tell you the truth, I’m going stir-crazy with all the holiness. I’ve got to release some of this nervous energy I’ve been bottling up. It’s not easy being a nun!”

You can say that again, Joan thought.

“I know, my child,” she said aloud. “But you must bear with us. We’re all doing our very best for you, especially Sister Emma. She seems to be at your beck and call most of the time, bringing you hot drinks before bedtime and sitting with you in the garden, and none of the sisters have asked any questions.”

“You’re right,” Sister Benedict replied. “Emma’s been so very kind and I am aware how shy she is. Maybe the time has come for all of you to know . . .”

“Not yet!” Joan was adamant. “It’s too soon. I have to wait for permission from the Mother House. I must comply with the wishes of those above me. It’s for your own security. That’s part of the . . .”

“The deal,” Sister Benedict answered.

“Yes, I suppose you could call it that,” Joan agreed.

“Look, Mother, I’m an excellent swimmer and I won’t be in the water for very long. I just want to get out of this costume for an hour or so.”

Joan realised that nothing she could say would make any difference to Sister Benedict.

“We have some swimsuits in the barn with the picnic things, but I can’t promise that any of them will be comfortable or will even fit you. They’re quite plain, of course.” She smiled. “We do swim occasionally, you know, but the water is still pretty cold at the moment even though the sun is warm.”

Sister Benedict was not put off.

“I shall be perfectly OK. I need to cool down.”

Joan raised her hands in acquiescence. After all, there would be no-one on their private beach to see Sister Benedict except perhaps Old Jack, the donkey, and he wouldn’t care as long as he got his treat of stale crusts as entrance fee to his shore meadow.

“You have my permission,” Joan said softly. “If they ask I shall inform the sisters that you wish to be alone for a while – they’ll understand that.”

Alison Cook