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Authors: Jane Haddam

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BOOK: True Believers
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“That's all right. Do you know what? Marty Kelly's truck is in the church parking lot this morning. Isn't that great? He hasn't been here for ages.”
“Have you seen him? We've all been so worried about Bernadette.”
“No,” Mary said. “I haven't seen him yet. I thought I'd get this straightened away and then go look for him. I mean, they must have come in for Mass, don't you think? Why else would they be here so early in the morning? For Mass now, and then for Scott's funeral later.”
“Let's just hope it's both of them,” Peter Rose said, “and not Marty on his own because Bernadette is in the hospital again.”
Mary hadn't thought of that. She looked behind her at the pickup truck and said a quick prayer to the Virgin, because she always prayed to the Virgin first, and because Bernadette was the
kind of
person the Virgin was supposed to be especially protective of. Then it hit her again, in a way, that feeling that this was not enough, that something was missing. It made her feel as if a great gaping hole had been blown through the middle of her body. It made her feel as if she didn't have enough air.
Sister Peter Rose turned and looked back at her. “Mary? Are you all right?”
“I'm fine,” Mary said. “I'm just a little tired. I'm coming.”
She did come, too, as quickly as she could, forcing herself not to look back at Marty's truck or at the stream of light that came from the front of St. Stephen's. After she was done with this, she would go find Marty and Bernadette. After she had brought the food and the homeless people out to the soup kitchen and run her shift there, she would come back here and find Chickie George and see if she could get him to talk. She had an afternoon of classes, but she thought she could skip them, this once, in order to do the right thing.
Something at the back of her mind was telling her that this was still not enough, but Mary McAllister was doing her best to ignore it.
Sister Harriet Garrity had received the invitation to move into the convent with the Sisters of Divine Grace with as much politeness as she had been able to muster—but it had not been much. The problem was, by now, she had the routine taped. Every time there was a new Superior at St. Anselm's Parochial School, the invitation would come, usually proffered over coffee in one of the conference rooms in the basement of the church. Before that invitation, there would be others: to have dinner with the sisters in their refectory; to stop over for tea and cake in the convent parlor on Saturday afternoon. Sometimes, Harriet would agree to those, if only to see for herself if the Sisters had begun to offer some resistance to the patriarchy, or at least to chafe under the burden of its rule. It was a depressing sight, over there. Sister Harriet's order had given up the habit in 1969. Sister Harriet herself wore nothing to distinguish her as a nun but a small gold Eucharistic symbol on the collar of her plain navy blue wool blazer. She wouldn't wear a crucifix, because the crucifix was so clearly part of the problem: God, viewed as male, and only as male. She wouldn't even wear a cross, because she had reservations about the entire concept of the crucifixion. As a mythology, it glorified violence and child abuse. It was a mythology of the Fathers, and as a mythology of the Fathers, it was a mythology of death. So much of the mythology of Christianity was a mythology of death, Harriet had a hard time contemplating it. Sometimes she sat in her pew at Mass and saw the church full of the bodies of women and people of color, hacked away at, destroyed from within. Sometimes she closed her eyes while Father Healy was saying the consecration and prayed to God the Mother the way she was allowed to do, out loud, when she went to the meetings of WomenChurch. There was a time when Harriet had thought that WomenChurch was the Church of the future. The legitimate aspirations of women and people of color would not be held back. They would overwhelm the hierarchy and shake the foundations of Rome. Now she wasn't so sure. There were too many women out there like the Sisters of Divine Grace—too many women willing to aid and abet
their own oppression. That was what made the situation of women like Harriet so very tenuous, and so very dangerous. They were in the belly of the beast, but they could be found out and destroyed at any time.
At the moment, if Harriet was going to be destroyed, she was going to freeze to death. She had opened her bathroom window to look out on the parking lot behind the church. The glass was caked over with ice, so that she couldn't see anything very clearly. Now she could see what she wanted to see—Mary McAllister talking to Sister Peter Rose in the courtyard near the convent—but the cold was going straight through the terry cloth of her bathrobe and making the joints in her fingers ache. She leaned a little farther out to see if there was anything else going on that she ought to know about and caught sight of Marty Kelly's truck. She made a face and retreated back inside. She didn't know what was worse, really, women like Sister Scholastica or women like Bernadette Kelly. Scholastica had the brains, but Bernadette was both a witness and a disgrace. Harriet could just imagine that girl on one of those inspirational shows on EWTN, gushing to Mother Angelica about how the only thing that kept her going in her troubles was her faith in Christ and the comfort of the Blessed Mother.
Harriet closed the window and went back to the bathroom sink. She had already brushed her teeth and washed her face. She never wore any makeup. When she had first entered the convent, they had been forbidden ever to look at themselves in a mirror. For years after the changes that had come with Vatican II, she had found it almost impossible to spend more than half a minute looking at herself in anything at all. Now she looked but did not contemplate. She was a plain, square-faced, square-jawed woman with hair that was almost too thick for her skull. She kept her hair cut short enough so that people could see the turquoise-and-silver earrings she had been given the summer she had spent teaching reading on an Indian reservation in the Southwest. It was the only part of her old life she allowed to be visible around her. The other things—the Equality Now banner from the first women's rights march in New York City; the pictures of herself at the two large demonstrations in Washington against the Vietnam War; the mimeographed flyer from the time the students had occupied the
offices in St. Benedict Hall and she had been one of the few teachers to support them—she kept tucked away in a box in a drawer in her bureau, where nobody would ever think to look for them. She had not given up hope. She knew that capitalism was corrupt and that it would eventually have to fail. She expected to live to see the day when socialism rose triumphantly from the ashes of its Soviet betrayal. She looked forward to the moment when the people of the Third World threw off their lethargy and demanded their rightful share of the fruits of the earth. She could see all these things as clearly as if they were a vision of God Herself—but she now thought she would be very old by the time they came to be.
In her bedroom, she put on a white blouse and a blue wool pantsuit. When she had first taken off the habit, she had favored suits with skirts, but after a while she had no longer been able to stand the panty hose. With the pantsuit she was able to wear trouser socks and sensible clogs. The clogs reminded her of the way the women sounded when WomenChurch held a celebration, or a retreat—all those women together, worshiping God the Mother, God the Goddess, God as Sophia, the essence of wisdom. Oh, it made Father Healy fit to spit when Harriet went off to WomenChurch, but there was nothing he could do about it. He didn't have any power over her, and the Cardinal Archbishop didn't seem to want to interfere. For now. Harriet was more than sure that the Cardinal Archbishop would interfere if he knew she was giving support to Catholics for a Free Choice, but he didn't know, and Harriet wasn't about to let him find out.
She got her short coat out of the closet in the hall and put it on. Her apartment was on the third floor of the rectory, walled off from the rooms where the priests lived by a set of hastily erected partitions, put up by the archdiocese fifteen years ago, when she had first refused to be banished to the convent. In this front hall there was a grate that hung right over the priests' recreation room downstairs. Sometimes, when she was in a particularly sticky spot, Harriet crouched there and listened to the priests' talking among themselves. Sometimes, she even heard things that made a difference. When she was younger, it would have embarrassed her to be this underhanded. Now she knew that that very guilt had been a tool of the patriarchy, one of the methods by which all men kept all
women down. The oppressed had not only the right, but the duty to do whatever had to be done to throw off their oppression. Honor and honesty were the hypocrisies of the ruling class.
At the moment, of course, there was nothing to be heard through the grate, any more than there would have been anything to see through her binoculars, if she trained them—as she sometimes did—on the convent's front parlor window. At this hour of the morning, the nuns would be saying their office and Father Healy would be getting ready for Mass. Father Donovan, the parochial vicar, was off on a month-long course in theology in Rome. Harriet buttoned her coat up to her chin and went out and down the long double flight of stairs. It was cold even in the stairwell. She hated February.
Outside, it was not only cold but dark. The big arc lamps lit up the parking lot, but did nothing for the pathway to Harriet's entrance door. This was, most certainly deliberate. They thought that if they made her live in fear of her own safety, she would give up and go away. Maybe they were hoping for something more dramatic to happen, for her to be the victim of a mugging or a rape. Whatever they were trying to do, it wasn't going to work.
She got to the parking lot and went by Marty Kelly's truck, looking inside as she passed. There was an empty carton from an order of McDonald's french fries on the floor near the gas pedal. Harriet wondered if Marty ate that sort of thing in front of Bernadette, tempting her to throw her diet to the winds and gobble herself into a diabetic coma. In all likelihood, he just didn't think. The soup-kitchen van was still parked near the convent's door, but there was no sign of Mary McAllister. Harriet thought that was just as well. Where had all these people come from—where had all these
come from—who wanted nothing more than to go back to the days of pray, pay, and obey?
Harriet let herself into the church's side door. She hated going through the basement. Deep in the body of the church, she could hear the homeless people moaning. Some of them were mentally ill. They sang to themselves all night long, and sometimes they screamed. There was this much she had to charge to the credit of the Sisters of Divine Grace. When it was necessary, they would sit for hours with these people,
women as well as men, nonwhite as well as white, soothing them.
When she got to the big double doors that led into the church proper, she stopped and looked inside. None of the nuns were present this morning, but none of the homeless people were agitated, either. Some of the homeless people seemed to be asleep, sacked out on pews. She went to the church's front doors and looked out. Across the street, St. Stephen's was lit up like a stage, but nobody seemed to be going in or out.
“Ah,” Father Healy said. “Sister. Were you thinking of coming to Mass for a change this morning?”
Harriet took her mind off St. Stephen's. Father Healy was young enough to be her son, but he was an unpleasant martinet just the same. It was as if the last fifty years of history had never happened.
“You're not dressed,” Harriet said. “Doesn't Mass start any minute now?”
“The first Mass of the morning is at seven. That makes it a little more than an hour away. Mary hasn't even picked these people up to take them out to breakfast.”
Harriet went back to looking at St. Stephen's. She did not go to Mass at St. Anselm's unless she had to. She preferred to go two parishes away, where they had a Eucharistic minister who was a woman.
“What's happening across the street?” she asked. “They're never lit up like that at this hour of the morning. Especially on a weekday.”
“Vigil for a funeral service. That young man, the one who took cocaine. Scott Boardman.”
“Oh. Yes. Another victim of the patriarchal church.”
“I've talked to Father Burdock. He seems to think there's some danger of a demonstration. By the Reverend Phipps and that sort of person. He's very concerned.”
“Isn't Roy Phipps very convenient?” Harriet said. “He's so extreme, he makes you look like a moderate.”
“I'm not a moderate,” Father Healy said. “I'm a Catholic. I wish you were.”
“The people are the Church,” Harriet said, automatically.
“You may be the Church, but you're not this Church. And I don't understand why you bother. Why call yourself a Catholic
at all? If you no longer believe what the Church teaches, why not just leave?”
“It's my Church as much as it is yours.”
“It's Christ's Church. It belongs to neither one of us.”
“Then it's really strange that you get to run it and keep me out. The Church has to change. You think it won't, but you're wrong.”
“The Church changes all the time, it just doesn't change at the core. And you won't change it. I want you to move into the convent with the other sisters. And I want you to wear something, some article of clothing, that will clearly identify you as a nun.”
“The sisters are not sisters of my order. I don't belong in their convent.”
“You don't belong in the rectory.”
“I do wear something to identify me as a nun. I wear this.” She tapped her Eucharistic pin. “I've been in this parish for fifteen years. I was here when you were still in the seminary. I've been doing it this way all that time.”
“I'm sure. But you're going to stop doing it this way, Sister, or you are going to leave. I've been patient as a saint for the last three years. I've had enough. You have forty-eight hours to get into some kind of habit. I don't care if it's a sweat suit and a veil, as long as it is a veil, and as long as you've got some Christian symbol on you larger than a Kennedy half dollar, displayed where the public can see it.”
“You can't give me orders like this. Only the archbishop can make these kinds of decisions, and he's—”
“—willing to call you into his office and make it clear that he is supporting me in this in every way possible. I'll arrange it for later this afternoon.”
“Sisters in my order—
“The sisters in your order,” Father Healy said, “amount to nine women, all of them older than you, and you must be—what?—sixty? Your order is dying. It has no new vocations. It has no young nuns. When you go, it will go with you. If it doesn't go before. Go buy a veil, Sister. Because if you don't, you'll be out of that rectory apartment by the end of next week, and I'll have an ordained deacon in the slot for parish coordinator before you've gotten off the train at your motherhouse.”
“Marvelous,” Harriet said. “The dead hand of the patriarchy strikes again.”
“If the dead hand of the patriarchy had been running things around here, you would have been out on your ass years ago. Go buy a veil. Don't think I'm bluffing.”
BOOK: True Believers
11.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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