Mother Josephine dead. It's hard to believe, Sister Teresa muses to herself as she leaves the church after Sext. So long ago now since I first saw her. Thirty years ago, yes, thirty years ago. And as she walks along the cloister towards the refectory, she thinks over the many years of their relationship. The sun shines into the cloister and warms the ground beneath her feet. She passes the bell rope hanging like a tail in the cloister outside the refectory door. It was here, she says to herself as she enters the refectory, it was here that Mother Josephine first spoke to me all those years ago. And entering the refectory she bows towards the crucifix on the wall above Mother Abbess's table and goes to the old table where the bread is laid out for the sisters. She cuts herself two slices of brown bread and takes her place at the table where she has sat for the last six months. Yes, here, she repeats to herself, it was here that Mother Josephine first spoke to me that late evening that I arrived on my first visit to the convent. She stands by the table and awaits the arrival of Mother Abbess through the door. It seems years now since that evening. Thirty years. God. How time has flown. And seeing Mother Abbess enter, Sister Teresa bows towards her and waits for the signal to begin the grace. Tap tap and the grace begins and she recites the grace that she has said so many times now, that it seems like an eternity since she first said it way back in 1968. That long ago? Yes, I suppose it is, she thinks, sitting down at her place as the grace ends. And Mother Josephine was even then like a mother hen towards me that late evening I arrived. What did I ask her? Hard to recall now. Something about what qualifications I might need to enter the community, I think. And Mother Josephine said, returning from the kitchen where she had been to fetch me some warm food, only your willingness to serve and love of God. And I felt her wanting me to be there so much. Sister Teresa waits for the food to be brought to the table by one of the younger nuns. She looks across at the table opposite and sees Sister Martha pick up a glass and fill it with water from a glass jug on the table. So many have left or died over the years, she sighs looking away from Sister Martha. She waits until one of the young ones places a tray of meat and vegetables on the table and then offers it to her sisters on the right and left of her. They help themselves and then she, indifferently, takes a portion of each onto her plate and begins to eat. Mother Josephine has died, Mother Abbess had said that morning after Mass in the chapter house. And the community had not been that surprised but it had shocked Sister Teresa. It seemed as if old Mother Josephine would last forever but of course she didn't. Silly to think she would. Not think so much as wished it probably, she muses eating a portion and looking at the window up above her opposite. And Lucia not long gone either. It seems so many have gone recently. Lucia so suddenly last year. Shocked me that did and pained me terribly, she muses darkly putting down her fork and pushing food around the plate. Mother Josephine dead. Just like that. No more to know her about the house as such. No more to see her enter the church for Lauds or Vespers and Mass as she did those final weeks with effort. I wonder if she ever knew about Lucia and me. She may I think. When Lucia went to Rome way back in 1971 and I had problems settling down she had me sent home for a few weeks to recover. Breakdown of sorts. But she knew about us I'm sure. She said nothing but knew. Kind and gentle. Different from some that were here. Sister Teresa sips from the glass of water in front of her and gazes across at Sister Maria who was eating slowly from her plate. And then she looks up towards Mother Abbess who waits for the reader to finish the given text of the day. She cleans her knife, fork and spoon with her napkins and puts it away beneath the table ready for the next meal. Mother Abbess has finally settled down, Sister Teresa muses to herself. So sudden after Lucia's death. And Mother Josephine was always there then to guide the new Abbess. The tap tap from the Abbess and the reader stops in mid-sentence. All rise and the grace after the meal begins. After the Abbess has departed, the other nuns depart in whatever fashion and Sister Teresa walks out from the refectory and along the cloister in the sunshine. So alone now, Sister Teresa thinks, since Lucia went. Now even more so. The young are unfamiliar. The old too locked in their own world. Thirty years since I entered, she says to herself, as she walks along the cloister looking into the garth surrounded by flowers. And she remembers the time Mother Josephine came to the common room when she stayed that time in 1968 and said, “Mother Abbess says you can enter in the autumn.” But in fact she had entered in December because of other commitments and hence the late evening arrival, she thinks walking down the steps that lead into the grounds. Cold that year. Never known it so. But it was all part of the sacrifice I thought then, she tells herself as she walks slowly down the path leading to the beach. Now I take things in my stride, she muses smiling to herself and letting the sunshine warm her face. Never use to walk alone so much as I do now, she sighs, placing her hands inside her habit, there were usually others to walk with: Martha, Lucia, and of course Mother Josephine. Sometimes Martha comes and we walk along here but it's not the same. Years have given us little to talk about apart from the rumours and gossip. Mother Josephine is eighty-seven you know; Martha had said a few weeks back, I remember, Sister Teresa informs herself. Been a professed nun for seventy years. That's some time, Martha had added as we conversed along the cloister during our recreation period. Seventy years. I thought my thirty years was good, Sister Teresa muses. She looks up at the bright warm sunlight filtering through the trees above her head. She stands still for a few minutes and looks up and then around her. We use to walk here during our recreation with Mother Josephine those early years as novices. Georgina, Geraldine, Young Sister Henry and I. Never did quite take to Sister Henry. Gone now. Left years ago and married. Georgina and Geraldine left also after a year or so. Many called, few chosen, so the saying goes. And Mother would take us along here and down onto the private beach. We never sunbathed of course or anything like that. Just sat on the beach and watched the tide come in and out and talked and talked and occasionally in our youthfulness threw stones along the water. And Mother would join in too. So long ago, Sister Teresa says just above a whisper, so long ago. And she walks down onto the beach and stands looking out to sea. Sometimes Sister Lucy and I would come down here and just stand here. Sometimes we would hold hands and walk along the whole private stretch of beach. Once we saw Mother and quickly dropped our hands. She may have seen us but she never said or mentioned it. She never even tried to keep us apart as some may have done had they seen us so much together. But she never did. I can see her now standing here, her warm friendly eyes through narrow-wired glasses looking at me. Sister Teresa walks along the beach and hides her hands in her habit. She feels the salt from the sea on her tongue and in her nose. She closes her eyes and stands still again. Only the sound of the waves and the cry of far off seagulls now. I remember that time I went to see her because I had a falling out with Sister Henry. Yes, even here one can have falling outs, though one tries to resolve things not let them fester or become difficult. That is part of the test, Teresa. We all have our funny ways that may annoy another. We are all human. We may find others not to our taste or not those whom we would choose as friends. But we are bound by our vows and love of Christ to see Christ in all our sisters not just those whom we like or love, Mother had said. She may have been hinting about Lucy and me but she never said anything about names or such. Try to make an effort to see Christ especially in Sister Henry, Mother added looking at me through her glasses. I said I'd try. I did try and it made a difference. But we never really liked each other deep down, Sister Henry and I. Don't know why. Strange. But can you love someone whom you don't like? Possibly. I mean you may not always like those whom you love but you love them all the same. And others you like but not necessarily love. Well so I thought. Now I'm not sure. Mother was wise. She, who had been a nun for seventy years, knew human nature better than I. Sister Teresa opens her eyes again and looks out to sea. Sometimes, I remember, Sister James would come along on our walks. She was our assistant novice-mistress. I liked her. She had a great sense of humour and could throw stones along the waves better than any of us way back then. She too has left now. Mother Josephine was indeed like a mother hen to us who came into her care. Once she had retired, she was allowed to take things easy but she rarely did. She hated to be unoccupied. I bet even now she's asking Our Lord for things to do. People to pray for. Rest in peace, Mother, Sister Teresa says over the incoming tide. Now a bell rings. Recreation is over. Better return to the house, she says to herself as she turns back along the beach. And as she enters the cloister she senses that maybe Mother isn't far away. Just there. Watching. Listening. Smiling.
A NUN RECALLS THE MOTHERLY NUN WHO HAD DIED.