Sister Paul stops by the door of her office, and halts Anne as she crutches herself along the passage of the nursing home.
I need to have a word with you, Anne, Sister Paul says, eyeing the twelve year old girl as she rests on her crutches.
What have I done now? Anne says, gazing at the nun with a sour face.
Nothing that I am aware of, the nun says, unless you have done anything I need to know about.
Anne shakes her head, of course not, you know me Sister, butter wouldn't melt in my mouth, Anne says.
The nun holds her tongue, after the meeting with Anne a few weeks back she had come to understand Anne better, if that was possible, and came to view Anne more of an imagined daughter, than a mere child come to the nursing home to recover from the amputation, but a daughter she was glad she didn't have in reality.
Will it take long? Anne says impatiently, putting her head to one side like a bird awaiting an early morning worm.
No not long, the nun says, gazing at the girl with as much patience as she can. The nun opens her door for Anne to enter, and the the girl crutches her way past her into the small room, and sits on a chair by the desk. The nun closes the door, and sits opposite Anne.
The girl studies the nun casually. What's it about then? Anne says, sitting back in the chair, rubbing her leg stump, trying to ease away the pain.
Doctor Maggee needs to see you, Sister Paul says.
What for? The girl says, her fingers rubbing along the stump.
About your leg, the nun says.
What about my leg? And which leg? Anne says, leaning forward, eyeing the nun.
The amputated leg, the nun says.
How can he see my leg when it isn't there no more, Anne says.
Sister Paul sits stiffly, and locks her fingers together as if to form a finger church. The doctor needs to see how the stump is healing, the nun says.
I don't want no doctor to touch my leg stump, Anne says, they’ve done enough with it as it is.
He needs to examine your leg, the nun says, to make sure it is healing.
I'm not letting a male doctor touch my stump, Anne says moodily, eyeing the nun.
You will not be on your own, myself or one of the other sisters will be with you, Sister Paul says.
Anne pulls her skirt over her stump, and puts her hands in her lap. I want the Kid with me, Anne says.
The nun frowns. What Kid is this? The nun says.
Benny, my friend, my only friend in this dump, Anne says gazing at the nun.
I'm not sure that would be allowed, the nun says, flexing her fingers, staring at the girl.
Then I don't see no fecking doctor, Anne says, rising up from the chair, grabbing her crutches.
Sister Paul closes her eyes, pushing the word from her mind. Language, Anne, please, no words like that.
They both sit in a moment's silence.
I'll see what the doctor says, and if he is happy for Benny to be with you while he examines your leg, then so be it, the nun says.
Anne sits down on the chair again, puts the crutches beside her.
Are you sure Benny would want to see your leg stump? The nun says, unlocking her fingers, and putting her hands flat on the table, palms downwards.
He's seen my stump many times, Anne says.
When has he seen your stump? The nun asks.
He sees it most days, sometimes he touches it, Anne says, defiantly.
The nun reddens, and sits up straight, and stares at the girl. Why would he want to see your leg stump and touch it? Sister Paul asks, trying to ease away the redness of her face.
I said he could; he likes to see it, and touch it; after all, he is my friend, Anne says, pulling a face, as the pain tightens in her stump.
Is it painful? Your stump? The nun asks, seeing the girl wince.
Yes most of the time, Anne says, and sometimes my feet itch, and when I go to scratch them they're not there.
It is called a phantom leg, the nun says, the nerves think the leg is still there and tells the hand to scratch.
Anne sighs. Well can he? Can Benny come with me when the quack sees my leg stump?
The nun raises her eyebrows. She studies the girl, the way she sits, the way she looks, and stares. A defiant child, she muses, one who would need a good bit of discipline if she were a child at the Catholic school, but here in the nursing home, different rules apply. I will have to see what the doctor says, the nun says.
No Benny, he don't see my stump, the quack, Anne says.
Sister Paul sighs softly, looks at the crucifix on the wall to her left, at the Christ hanging there, hands nailed to the wooden cross. Our Lord bore His pain for us, the nun says, it is thought to be an honour to share in His suffering, and pain, the nun adds gently.
I'd rather not share in any pain, I have enough of my own, Anne says, eyeing the old plaster Christ on a wooden cross.
Perhaps the pain you have already, is sharing in our Lord's suffering, Sister Paul says.
I don't want to share His pain or suffering, Anne says angrily, I want my leg back, and no fecking pain.
The nun closes her eyes, pushes the word away from her mind. We will see what the doctor says about you having Benny with you, and I will explain to the doctor how you feel, the nun says.
Anne reaches out and touches the nun's hand. It is soft, and warm, thin and clean. All right, Anne says, let me know. She stands up, and grabs her crutches, and begins to go, releasing sister Paul’s hand.
All right, the nun says, watching the girl crutch away, eyeing the sturdiness of the child, the strength in each movement away.
The door opens, and closes.
The child has gone. Sister Paul sighs, and inwardly, softly cries.
A TWELVE YEAR OLD GIRL AND A NUN IN A NURSING HOME IN 1959.