“Sister Theresa, what time does the new applicant arrive?” Sister Pauline asked politely, to avoid Sister Theresa’s wrath. For a Franciscan, Sister Theresa could be entirely uncharitable, even to the abbess herself.
“Oh you old cow, I’ve told you twice already!” Sister Theresa replied, throwing the bread dough she’d been kneading into a large wooden bowl, as if the water, flour, salt and yeast had purposely annoyed her. She punched the dough down a few more times, then covered the bowl with a kitchen towel to let it rise. In an hour or so, she would form loaves of rye bread to bake for the monastery’s supper. Timed perfectly, the bread would be on the table, piping hot, served with butter, ready to be eaten just after the night prayer and close of exposition. A cast iron stew pot simmered on the stove behind her, full of diced leeks, potatoes, and ham.
“If I could remember what time you said, I surely wouldn’t trouble you,” Sister Pauline added, patiently, momentarily wanting to push Sister Theresa’s face down into her wooden bowl.
“So, 4:00 p.m.?”
“You’ve knelt down next to me for the exposition of the blessed sacrament of the rosary for the past two decades, Sister Pauline. I think you know well and good that it ends at 4:00 p.m.”
“I’m going to pray for you, Sister Theresa.”
“We pray for the world, Sister Pauline. And I am in the world,” Sister Theresa snapped, slamming a kitchen drawer.
“Much to our dismay,” Sister Pauline muttered, turning on her heels and walking to her office to wait for the new applicant.
“What do you know of the contemplative life?” Sister Pauline asked the young girl, who nervously straightened her skirt. Her legs were bare, her sweater tight, her face heavily made up. She had a pierced nose and eyebrow, but her eyes were kind. “What do you know about joining a Poor Clare cloister?”
“I know that I leave the world. I don’t get to talk. And I get to pray to God.”
“That’s right. You get to pray to God a great deal. We are devoted to prayer, as well as penance and manual work. You will be joining a sisterhood of 20,000 Poor Clare nuns throughout the world.”
“We have to skip meals and go barefoot and grow vegetables.”
Sister Pauline stifled a laugh. “We occasionally fast to show our obedience, but most of the time, we eat quite well.”
“So, can I sign up?”
“It’s not the Army, dear. There are lots of steps before becoming a nun, especially in the Franciscan tradition.”
The young girl looked disappointed, but Sister Pauline had a list of questions to go through.
“Have you graduated high school?”
“Are you over eighteen?”
“Yes, sister. I turned eighteen last month.”
“Do you attend mass regularly? Are you involved with your home parish?”
“Yes, I am, sister, but I don’t like the new priest. Father Macmillan retired and the new priest’s eyes are too big. He's very loud, and he cries during the Eucharist.”
Sister Pauline nodded. She knew the type.
“Are you in good health?” Sister Pauline hated this question. It seemed like prying, but the cloister was very small and there was much work to do. She had seen many would-be nuns leave the order during their first year as a postulate. Whether it was a change of heart or Sister Theresa’s bad temperament, she had never been quite sure. “We need to verify you are healthy, both physically and mentally . . .”
“Physically, yes. And I am mentally stable as far as any girl my age is,” she wryly replied, shrugging her shoulders.
Sister Pauline conceded her point.
“Are you prepared to make a vow of poverty?”
“I’m already there, sister. I don’t have a car. Heck, I don’t even have a bank account.”
“Noted. Are you prepared for enclosure? Can you see pledging yourself to a life of solitude?”
“Being alone sounds really good right now,” the young girl answered, flat, without emotion. Something in her voice gave Sister Pauline pause.
“It takes six years to join the monastery. After three years, you may take a religious name and be clothed in the habit. Then you may make temporary vows.”
“Could I wear a veil as soon as possible?”
Sister Pauline looked startled. “Why?”
“I hate my hair,” the girl replied, holding out a long frizzy strand.
Who doesn’t, Sister Pauline thought. In hindsight, wearing a coif, wimple and veil definitely made dressing for the day much easier. As a teenager, Sister Pauline herself had spent endless hours with beauty products and hair dryers and curling irons, attempting to get her wavy hair to behave. But that was another life, when she was Jenny Maldonaldo.
“And after six years, you may choose to make solemn vows. A wedding ring will be placed on your finger, and you will be a permanent bride of Christ.”
“I’d like that,” the girl smiled. “Do you like that?”
“Do I like what?” Sister Pauline asked.
“Being married to Jesus.”
All these years and Sister Pauline had never really considered it. “Yes, I do. I mean, there’s not really a son of man to compare to our Lord and Savior.”
“Tell me about it,” the girl said cynically.
“So, have you felt the invitation from God? Have you felt a gentle, persistent yearning to give your whole life to Him?”
“Well, yes. I mean, I think so. How do you really know?”
How do you really know, Sister Pauline thought. She didn’t have an answer for the girl. She quickly glanced down at her next question.
“Do you have warm and loving relationships with your family and friends, but feel drawn to surrender to the Divine will?”
“My parents are okay. They don’t know I’m here, but I think they’ll be all right with it.” The young girl fidgeted, looking down at her feet. “I mean, it’s better than the alternative.”
Sister Pauline put her questions down and looked at the girl, full in the face.
“Are you prepared to take a vow of chastity? That means for the rest of your life you are a Bride of Christ. We become spiritual mothers to countless souls.”
The girl began to cry. Sister Pauline reached over to pat her shoulder.
“In all my years of being an abbess, I have met girls who want to help the world or girls who want to run away from it.”
The girl sobbed harder.
“Christ wants brides who run to Him, not from someone else.” Sister Pauline handed her a box of tissues.
The girl blew her nose. Sister Pauline wondered how that worked with a nose ring.
Sister Pauline escorted the girl to the front door of the monastery. A sour-faced Sister Theresa swept the front stoop, just as they approached.
They stood together to watch the girl walk to the bus stop.
“Was it a boy?” Sister Theresa barked. “It’s always a boy.”
“Appears so,” Sister Pauline sighed. “Boys have been turning girls towards nunneries ever since Hamlet.”
“Nice young thing,” Sister Theresa replied, uncharacteristically complimentary. “In three or four months, she’ll forget all about him.”
Sister Pauline nodded, but disagreed with Sister Theresa entirely.
Some boys in particular stayed in a girl's heart going on forty years now, their memory just as vivid, just as bittersweet.
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This needs to get at least a shortlist just based on your interpretation of the prompt alone. So effing clever!
Why are you wasting your precious time reading my drivel -- ?? The world needs your words. Get back to your novel, young man.
Not me eating a bowl of popcorn, enjoying the show that is Deidra hollering at K. To get back to work🤣🤣🤣
This hit my mood. Clapping. Thank you.
Thanks, Mafia. Glad to have you aboard.
Wow, enjoyed the story, now i see why there were so many comments. Its as if you are stood beside them, embarrassed to overhear their frustration at each other. Your replies to the comments are a story in themselves ;) Thankyou for bringing a smile to my face on a dark winters morning.
Agreed, it's been a dark winter, but spring always manages to come just in time. :) I appreciate your charming comment and the comment on my comments. Onward.
Great work here Deidra. I especially loved that last line with Sister Pauline. Hit me deeply :)
Thanks, JC. I had fun hanging at the convent. Lost love always resonates. The one who got away 🏃🏻♀️ haunts us all.
Wow! I loved every second of this. Such a unique interpretation of the prompt. You are fantastic!
Thanks Katelin — I appreciate the ❤️ These nuns were a blast to write ✍️ Maybe the Sisters will have a sequel outing? I’d like to see them at a nightclub.
Lovely story. What an excellent response to this prompt! I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I was intrigued because my story this week involved the church as well! The dialogue flowed well between Sister Pauline and the young girl. I like how you let us in on the sister’s inner thoughts. And the ending….a heartbreaker. I think you might have another chapter here…like what in heavens name is Sister Pauline’s story! I’m intrigued. Maybe a prequel or a sequel should be in the works? ;)
Heather, Thank you! I loved your inquiry into Sister Pauline :) That makes me think I made an interesting character -- WOO HOO Maybe she and Sister Theresa will start a band or something? (haha) I appreciate your delightful compliment. The kudos keep me going!
I loved the attitude of Sister Theresa kneading the bread. She was sassy! Sister Pauline was interviewing a young girl that wanted to become a nun and this girl didn't even tell her parents she had the calling. The young girl really didn't have a clue what she was giving up but just liked the idea of covering her hair and living in solitude which makes the reader come to the conclusion as the nuns do, that it has to be a man. Great story!
Honestly, getting the chance to be alone in a quiet place for an extended period of time and not having to worry about my frizzy horrible hair was TOTAL wish fulfillment on my part. :)
Deidra, believe you have another winner with this one. It's well written, well conceived, and amazingly imaginative.
It's already been kicked to the curb. If a story isn't a "Recommended Story," it doesn't move on. Always next time :) I'm cheering for you this week! Woo Hoo
Your story's a winner and the prize is unimportant. To be honest, one thing in your comment baffles me. I never knew stories were recommended on Reedsy. If you care to share a link/info I'd love to check it out. Thank you for sharing your work with us, and looking forward to speaking with you and your co-host on March 12, 2022. Thank you both for inviting me to be on your program!
Go to your story. See the tags? Select one of them, like Creative Nonfiction. You'll see a list of WINNING STORIES, then a section for RECOMMENDED STORIES. This means a judge has already seen your story and recommended it. Your readership will be larger than usual, as people like to see who's recommended for the week. By next Thursday, the Reedsy judges will cull down all the RECOMMENDED STORIES and select the WINNER and SHORTLISTED ones. Then they make the announcement on Friday. If your story is in ALL STORIES, you didn't make the fi...
There are loads more contests here: https://blog.reedsy.com/writing-contests/ And you can try https://manager.submittable.com/signup -- Submittable is a huge clearing house (and free!) It keeps track of what you submit and has endless opportunities for some of your darlings that didn't get that Reedsy love from the judges. :) Fortune favors the bold!
Than you, Deidra, for the very detailed information. Very handy to have!
I'm stalking your comments thread. Thanks for sharing this behind-the-scenes info! I've been dying to know how the judging process works. Is there a certain day each week that's a cutoff for recommending stories?
I'm a new judge, but long time Reedsy gal. Basically the pool of stories is vetted by a large group of judges who do the first cut. I think the pool is cleared out by Wednesday, usually. It's a fluid process. The staff at Reedsy make the final decisions. :) It all works out -- YAY
Amen to that! Great interpretation of the prompt. Now I can’t get Whoopi Goldberg out of my mind!
Sister Act 1992? That's a reach, Mr. Manders :)
You will not find anyone who knows less than me about Christianity, but I loved the story nonetheless! It was creative and cleverly tied up in the end - I was hoping there'd be a bit of comedy somewhere. (The nose ring thing got me and I totally laughed aloud.) My only critique is to take "she knew the type" out of italics. It can stand on its own and adds more to the dry humor. Great story! PS I noticed the Hamlet bit you're so sneaky
Italics gone *poof* I have always admired people who have deep religious convictions. I’m envious, actually. This story came from a long ago memory — I had a friend in my 20’s become a nun, seemingly out of the blue. One minute we were all partying in college, debauchery 1980s-style, and then she had an epiphany and joined a cloister. It gave me pause. As for my boy? Hamlet’s breakup with Ophelia still breaks my heart. Two people, desperately in love, ending things because a love that pure cannot exist in this realm…his rawest of pain that c...
^ I know that line by heart. I remember I got to play Hamlet in a school play or something I LOVED saying that. Epiphany is a weird word. I guess everyone has their own epiphany and it's only given that name when they realize it?
We can call epiphanies something new . . . like "Bob" or something. Example: "I had a Bob and realized I am wasting my life teaching high school seniors English Renaissance poetry."
Hello! I swung by to respond to a message you wrote in November (although I would have sworn it was late December or maybe early January...to my shame), and I thought, while I was here, that I should check out what you've written lately. Good grief, you continue to be prolific! I LOVE the way this story feels so authentic. The characters drawn on archetypal nuns but never fall into stereotype, and the way you show what's going on with the applicant is fantastic. Of course, my favorite line is, "Much to our dismay." It wouldn't be one of y...
Ray Dyer is back! I’ve missed your long wonderful comments. ☀️ One of the best definitions I’ve ever heard is that “archetypes” are where you START building a good round character, and “stereotypes” are where you END with a weak flat character. A kind nun who just prays vs. a kind nun who races motorcycles 🏍—stereotype v. archetype.
I love that!
Hi Deidra, I was again very happy to see you writing another story and it was very good, like always. You took an idea and expressed it nicely! I had an idea in this prompt but I couldn't bring it out in a story so I did the arrival in a new town with gossip one. Overall, thank you for sharing.
🦈 Thank you, Shark. I struggled a bit as well before I decided on my sisters being nuns. The idea came to me in the middle of the night.
Hastily scrawled in barely legible writing on the ever present pad of paper on your nightstand no doubt?. ;)
I should send you a screenshot, Russell. It's truly hieroglyphics.
Incredibly entertaining! Nailed it!
Deidra, I love how you interpreted the prompt. I didn't see Whoopi so much as Fraulein Maria, though lol. Sister Pauline was such a warm character - the type of nun I'd have adored in Catholic school (decidedly more Sister Theresa's at Mount Saint Mary's, though). Probably my favorite bit was the banter in the beginning. Those nuns, man. Well done!
"How do you solve a problem like Sister Theresa..." I still have a crush on Christopher Plummer :) Capt Von Trapp was DREAMY.
LOL! My grampy looked so much like Christopher Plummer that having a crush on him would have felt... wrong. But I get it!