Thursday, 03 December 2009
One Queer Turn
By wisewebwoman of The Other Side of Sixty
Well, my dear, sometimes you live long enough to see life working out fair. And life is fair, you know, very fair. You see me now, I’m ninety-three, I can talk with some authority about such things.
I was only twelve when I went to the convent and spoke to Mother Perpetua; she was the head of all the Presentation Sisters in Milltown then. I knew I had the vocation. I just wanted to make sure they knew about it too and would reserve a space for me. I was fierce innocent then. A space, imagine!
She kept me standing in her big office with the statue of Our Lady in the corner smiling down at me and the bleeding Sacred Heart with his hurt-looking face behind her on the wall as I asked about the space.
“Oh no, you unfortunate girl,” Mother Perpetua said, her hands folded in front of her on her shiny desk, “Sure, we could never take you!”
I should fill you in a bit now on my background. Did I tell you about my big sister, Lily? Well, my dear, three years before that, Lily had run off with the young Protestant minister of the town. Eloped up to Belfast with him she did. All the way on the train from Milltown in County Cork to Belfast in the County Armagh. Imagine! And of course they married outside the faith.
So let me get back to Mother Perpetua, sitting there, her big, glarey frown withering me up.
“Your sister,” she said to me, “will be confined to the fires of hell for all eternity for what she did. And you come from the family that raised her to do this despicable and sinful act. You are tainted, Frances Murphy, tainted with her sin, and we can’t ever accept you into our holy order of the Presentation Sisters.”
Well, my dear, I thought my head would burst open with all the water locked inside it. I had dreamed of becoming a nun since I was four. I didn’t know what to do with my broken hope so I turned around and ran out the door and down the corridor and into the toilet and between the throwing up and the overflowing tears I was a terrible mess.
And I never told a soul. It was too humiliating and Mammy and Daddy would have been mortified. For this would be on top of the pain of Lily who Mammy had a wake for after she ran away and declared her dead to the family for ever. Daddy never did smile again after that.
But I got over it. I got myself a job as nanny to the local gentry. And they treated me so decent, like one of the family. I even went all over the continent with them. I saw all there was to see with them and their three lovely children. They gave me a small pension too when I was done and later on there was a little remembrance in Sir Bentley’s will.
And that’s when life took one queer turn. I was sixty and retired when Mother Sebastian knocked on my door. Mother Perpetua was long dead by then and Mother Sebastian was her successor.
“Miss Murphy,” she says to me sipping on her tea here in this parlour, “I hear you are reliable and good with the figures and sums.”
“I am,” says I, blushing at the compliment.
“Well,” says she, “We have no one in the convent like that anymore since Sister Caspian passed on. And we are in a bit of a fix. We need someone to take care of the bookkeeping and the office work and arrange the banking. Someone confidential. Someone we can trust.”
I stayed quiet. This was no time to get on my high horse by thinking of myself in that toilet way back then, coughing up bile all over my clean uniform.
“We’d pay you, of course,” she went on. “The going rate. To take care of us all.”
Me! - taking care of them! And a bit of extra money too! I’d have enough to visit Lily a few times a year. I’d never been to the North of Ireland. And now thanks to the nuns I would be able to.
And so I did - for many, many years.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]