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Jul/Aug 2004 fiction

The Belles of St. Mary's

by Christopher Orlet


Martin and me were accused of heresy by some of the nuns at school. We were locked in their basement, chained to a post next to their ping-pong table, and allowed to make one phone call. I could hear the nuns listening in, their breath heavy on the upstairs line.

My little sister Meg answered the phone. I told her to get mom. She said, call back later. I told her I only got one call. She said, whatever, call back later, mom's on the potty, and hung up. That was my only call. I overheard the nuns giggling, which sounded eerie, like cats making love.

Martin said I could have his call. He didn't think it would do any good to call his folks. I knew Martin's folks and knew he was right.

Meg again answered the phone. This angered me. "Meg, what are you doing? You know you're not supposed to answer the phone!"

"Oops," said Meg, hanging up. Upstairs the giggling spread like a flesh-eating disease.

 

Sometimes late at night, a team of nuns would come downstairs and play ping pong. Sister John Eudes was the convent champion with 123 wins and 45 losses. This was to torture us, I suppose, knowing how much we would have loved to play. Martin and I argued over who was the better player, with Martin insisting Sister Etienne used an unfair English technique that should have disqualified her. Sometimes we'd come to blows, bloodying each other's noses and gouging each other's eyes. The nuns would separate us by throwing cold water on us.

 

Once the paperboy came, I think on a Friday afternoon. Martin recognized the paperboy's voice as his brother Harry's. Harry was trying to collect the weekly paper money, but there was a dispute over the amount due. Martin whispered upstairs to Harry, "Hey, Harry, that you?"

"Martin?"

"Yeah. Edward's down here with me."

Harry was silent. He didn't like me because I picked on him. Harry was one of those kids who always had a runny nose. He was hard not to pick on.

"Harry, the nuns got us locked up down here. Can you do something?"

"Do something? I can't even get them to pay their paper bill," said Harry. "Martin, where've you been? Mom's been worried."

"We've been down here, dipshit," I said.

"Oh," said Harry. "How come they got you locked up?"

"They say we're heretics."

"Ouch," said Harry. "I can't get involved with no harry-ticks."

"C'mon Harry.

"Sorry, I got papers to deliver," said Harry. He rode away whistling "The Bells of St. Mary's."

 

At the trial, we were asked to recant. So we recanted. We recanted anything and everything. The nuns said we weren't sincere. This presented a problem. What to do with heretics who recant but don't really mean it, who actually couldn't care less one way or the other? Mother Superior said the law was clear. Death without the shedding of blood. This meant drowning us. One of the nuns proposed filling the basement with water.

Martin asked for a chance to rebut. He said he wanted to say something about the Bill of Rights, the Rights of Man, the First Amendment, only when he started to open his mouth, he realized he didn't know anything about these topics. We wouldn't actually cover them till the fourth grade.

The nuns said a prayer for our souls and folded the legs of the ping-pong table and carried it up to the dining room. Sister John Eudes turned on the water spigot and wearily climbed the stairs. The gray stream ran down the drain and oozed out the cracks. Upstairs, over the splash of water, we could just make out the pock-pock of another exciting match just beginning.

 

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