Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 51

WHAT a day! What a day!” Sister Clare sighed as she poured tea from the big green teapot into the waiting mugs on the kitchen table. “I’m so glad to be back in the quiet.”

“Me, too,” Madeline agreed. “Now then, Sister Jan, your hands must be aching after all that book signing. I’ll give you some home-made ointment for that.”

“I only hurt a tiny bit. I shall soon recover.” Jan smiled.

“What about my hands?” Ben objected. “I’ve been playing pop music all afternoon.”

“You’re trained for it,” Imelda said unsympathetically. “It was just a bit of practice for you.”

They ate their supper together in the warm kitchen. Ben was almost his old self again but Joan could see that he was making an effort. He left the table before they went to chapel for prayers and afterwards, when she went up to retire for the night with her sisters, Joan glanced up the stairs that led to the guest room. The door at the top was closed but she could see a sliver of light coming through at floor level and knew in her heart that it would not be turned off for many hours.

Sister Jan’s box of books was no longer under the window and Joan went to open it to let in the cool night air. The light from the guest room was shining out over the garden and lit up the old apple tree so beloved of Sister Flora. Joan wondered how Emma was faring and sent up a little prayer for her. As she breathed in the night air a faint sound of laughter came to her in the onshore breeze from the French yacht anchored out in the bay. It had been a long, busy day and she was ready for sleep.

“Goodness, I’m going to be late.” Ben’s chair scraped across the tiled floor of the kitchen as he grabbed a last slice of toast. “May I leave, Sister Joan?” he asked.

“Of course you may,” she replied. “You mustn’t keep old Jack waiting.”

Ben put the toast in his mouth as he picked up his large floppy hat and thick work gloves from the dresser. He removed the toast long enough to say goodbye, then he disappeared through the open doorway, ramming the hat on as he went.

“Don’t run and eat!” Sister Clare called after him. “Walk slowly or you’ll choke.”

But he was gone.

“He’s a different lad from the one who arrived earlier in the year,” Madeline observed.

“Sure, loving care was all he needed, and a place to be safe,” Clare said. “And Emma took such tender care of him . . . until she caught him shaving and we all discovered he wasn’t a nun at all.” She laughed.

Joan caught a glance from Jan. Those kind brown eyes held the message that she understood without a need for words.

“We will still care for him right until he has to leave,” Joan said. “After all, that’s what we’re here to do.”

“Sorry I’m a bit late.” Ben took his place at the lunch table. “I got a bit sidetracked, you see, so I had to run all the way. The wheelbarrow is still down at Jack’s shelter.”

Joan clasped her hands together as she and her sisters said grace.

“What do you mean, Ben?” she asked as she took a bread roll from the basket that was being handed around.

“Well, you know I said that the crew and passengers on that yacht waved to me the other day?” Ben tucked his napkin into the neck of his T-shirt. “Today I shouted ‘Bonjour’ to them and they answered me. We had a bit of a French chat.” He laughed.

“That was not wise, Ben,” Joan said firmly.

“Not jolly clever at all,” Imelda put in.

“Oh, come on, they think I work for the farm – they couldn’t possibly be any danger. They’re just a group of blokes having fun and they’re a different lot every time the boat anchors out there, except the captain and crew, of course.”

“Don’t do it again – please,” Jan said quietly.

“That would be a bit strange, now, wouldn’t it?” Ben replied. “Friendly one day, silent the next. I’m rather enjoying my new freedom and I can assure you that I do know if it’s dangerous or not.” He sounded irritated but gave the nuns a cheeky grin.

They looked anxiously at one another.

Alison Cook