Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 43

JOAN’S heart almost missed a beat.

“I was once married and widowed, too, if you remember, before I came to the Stella Maris. I know the signs.” Imelda sighed. “I can never forget. My love still rests in my soul quietly now like a precious gift.” She dabbed at her eyes with the oily rag. “Now look what I’ve done. I must look like a jolly panda!”

They laughed together in the old barn surrounded by bits of the mower. But at that moment Joan decided that it was time to confide Ben’s secret to Mother Catherine in France and hope that she would find an answer before Ben could bear his heartache no longer and blurted out the truth to Emma. It would shake their world.

Putting the greasy mug down on the workbench, she took the rag from Imelda and, finding a reasonably clean patch on it, she wiped the oily patches from her sister’s cheeks. All of us know about love, she thought, otherwise we would not be here, for how could we do our work and fulfil our vocations without it?

“There, now,” she said. “You’re all rosy again, and don’t worry about Ben. Whatever ails him we will sort it out somehow. Leave it to me.”

“We always seem to leave everything to you, Joan,” Imelda said. “Sometimes I wonder how you cope.”

Just before supper, Joan peeped into the chapel on her way to the kitchen. Most of the sisters were there and Ben’s music could be heard clearly coming from the sitting-room next door. She closed the door again quietly and joined Clare and Jan in the kitchen.

“We’re having polenta tonight,” Clare announced. “Sister Jan has done the cooking for I’ve no idea how to handle the stuff.”

“It is not stuff!” Jan declared. “It is very delicious.”

“Well, as long as it fills us up,” Clare replied.

The nuns arrived for supper closely followed by Ben and took their places at table, heads bowed to hear Joan say the grace.

“We have something special tonight,” Joan told them.

“Polenta,” Jan declared as she placed the dish on the table with a flourish. “It is a very big favourite in my country.”

“Oh, I love that,” Ben said, rubbing his hands in anticipation.

“Humph!” Clare said.

“Would you be very offended if I took my supper upstairs to my room?” Ben said quietly. “I have a lot of study to do.” “Of course. Bring a tray, please, Sister Jan, and a slice of Sister Clare’s apple-pie, too. Don’t work too hard, Ben.”

“I’ll bring you a mug of tea after supper,” Emma offered.

“No, thank you. I’ll come down later and bring back the tray,” he replied curtly.

“Well, I never,” Imelda said when he had gone. “There’s something really amiss with that young man.”

“He’s usually such fun,” Sister Amy agreed.

Later, during recreation, Joan heard Ben coming down the stairs. Getting up from the chair where she had been reading, she made her way to the kitchen. Ben was already there. He had poured a glass of milk and was closing the door of the fridge when Joan entered.

“Glass of milk – that OK?” he asked.

“Yes, Ben, of course.” Joan was concerned. “Are you all right?” she asked. “I was surprised when you left the table.”

He looked at her with eyes dark circled with weariness.

“I just can’t bear not telling her how I feel.”

“Telling her would not be a good thing, Ben. Emma has taken her final vows. It would not be kind to confuse her,” Joan said.

“She can get out of it.” Ben sounded defensive. “I’ve heard of it.” He seemed to have forgotten what he’d said earlier about never telling Emma how he felt.

Joan watched him take a gulp of cold milk.

“Tomorrow morning I shall phone the Mother House,” she said softly. “I shall inform Mother Catherine of this situation. Whether you stay or are moved somewhere else will be her decision. She is a very wise person and will know what to do.”

“If she says I must stay I will not abide by it. I shall go – immediately. And I don’t care where! I can’t bear to be here any longer.” He slammed the glass down on the table and left the room.

Joan was startled. If Ben left the convent he would be immediately at risk. There was no doubt at all that the criminals would be on the lookout and would have contacts everywhere. A few days outside their care could be the end of everything for him.


Alison Cook