Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 53

SIGNING the last cheque in the pile of bills, Joan tidied her desk and, getting up from her chair, she went to the kitchen. Clare and Jan were sitting on the bench outside the back door, where a cool breeze made the heat of midday more bearable. Clare was fanning her face with the slim instruction manual for the microwave oven.

“It’s hotter than I’ve ever known!” she exclaimed.

“Italy is hotter,” Jan replied. “I rather like it.”

“That’s as maybe,” Clare replied. “But Ireland is green and cool and that’s how I like it.”

“I expect it’s nice down on the beach,” Joan said. “I imagine that Ben will have a paddle when he’s finished making old Jack comfortable.”

“Oh, for a paddle.” Clare sighed.

“Or a swim,” Jan added.

“Maybe later on this afternoon we could all take a walk down there,” Joan suggested. “We often used to take a picnic lunch,” she said to Jan. “You’d like that.”

“I swim very well,” Jan remarked. “I won medals when I was a young girl.”

“I just bet you did,” Clare said tartly.

“You would not have to bet,” Jan answered, “because I certainly did.”

“I’ll give you both a hand with the sandwiches,” Joan said diplomatically.

“Thank you, Sister.” Clare got up from her chair and tidily put the instruction manual back on the cookery book shelf. “I may not have medals but my sandwiches are second to none, and there’s no sin of pride in telling the truth.”

They all sat around the kitchen table and waited for Ben.

“He’s having a long paddle.” Clare observed, glancing at the clock. “He must be getting hungry by now.”

“He’s swimming and has probably not noticed the jolly time.” Imelda eyed the sandwiches.

“If he doesn’t come soon I’ll say grace and we’ll begin,” Joan said. “We cannot adjust our day to suit Ben’s tardiness.”

“Oops! Sorry I’m late.” Ben appeared at the open kitchen door and with difficulty removed his wellingtons on the mat. “I’ve been doing a bit of swimming.”

Jan, who was sitting next to Joan, sniffed the air.

“Young man,” she said quietly. “You have been drinking.”

“I’ve only had just one small glass of wine,” Ben confessed.

“Ben!” Joan was as puzzled as she was shocked. “Did you meet someone? A stranger, maybe?”

Their security was so unsure now that the two reporters could not be identified. Nothing must happen between now and Ben’s safe departure.

“Let me explain. I’d finished seeing to old Jack and was just about to take the wheelbarrow back to the compost heap when the chaps on the Stella Maris yacht started to shout at me. I shouted back. Then they indicated that I should join them, beckoning me and calling.

“I shouted that they were too far out for me to swim so they lowered their launch into the water and started to motor over to the beach. They stopped just off shore because Jack had seen them and was braying like mad. So I took off my things and swam out to the launch. They hauled me aboard and took me back to the yacht.”

“Have you no common sense?” Joan exclaimed. “Don’t you realise, after all this time, exactly why you are here?”

“They’re not crooks,” Ben objected. “They’re just blokes having fun.”

“You have no idea how ruthless the criminals who want to find you are,” Jan said. “They would stop at nothing to silence you.”

“What did they talk about? Did they ask your name?” Joan was worried.

“They asked me who I was. I said I worked at the farm and one of my jobs was to muck out the donkey every morning. The captain asked if that was why they hadn’t seen the nun walking along the shore lately.”

“Did they say anything else?” Joan asked.

“Only that they were puzzled to see a single nun on the shore because they thought nuns went around in pairs,” Ben replied.

“Makes us sound like jolly kippers,” Imelda remarked.

“I’m sorry I made you cross,” Ben said.

“Not so much cross as concerned,” Joan replied. “You have been very foolish to go aboard that yacht!”

Alison Cook