“Oh no, you’re wrong there. It’s the reason I came here. A woman like me, old, past her prime, won’t attract too many loving glances. Any I do will only be for my money.”
“What about children?” Meara always assumed if her mother lived that they would have had a happy life together. At least now, she could add a father to the faded fantasy life.
“I would have stayed if my son had lived, especially if I had grandchildren to dote on. I left and took all the wealth my husband left me and bequeathed it to the Church. I did that deliberately to prevent my husband’s shiftless brother, Birney, grabbing it all. I knew once the church got their hands on it no lawyer stood a chance.”
Untrustworthy brothers, greed, deceit made it sound like Cain and Abel. “What did you mean it would be different for me?”
“Ah,” the woman inhaled deeply again before letting loose a noisy sigh. “You’re young, pretty, and your innocence shows, which will attract the men, both young and old, good and bad. I hope you have some male relative to look out for you.”
“I do,” she answered somberly wondering if being out in the world was a scary proposition as Sister Stephen reminded her when she helped in the apothecary.
“Good. He’ll look out for you. He won’t let any oily sort court you.” Sister Thomas wove her fingers together over her stomach and bobbed her head, as if agreeing with herself.
“What is court? Why would a man want to court me?” The word puzzled her since she’d only heard it used to refer to the pace between the gardens and nunnery as a courtyard.
This time, Sister Thomas, swiveled her head to check out the passageways before speaking. “I’d heard you were born here, but truly you know nothing. You’ve must have heard from the scriptures that men take wives and have children.”
“Yes, I know.” It puzzled her why the woman would even explain it. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Hmm,” Sister Thomas hesitated and shuffled her feet, “I’m not the person to speak to you about this. You should have your mother or older sister.”
“I have none!” Her voice grew loud in her agitation. The last thing she needed was to attract attention to Sister Thomas, who didn’t have the option of leaving. She lowered her voice to a whisper, “Tell me.”
The woman worked her jaw back and forth before speaking. “There are several good things in the life outside the walls. I forgot about this as I ran to the nunnery to shelter me from Birney’s machinations. There are roses, delicious food, and laughter. Well, there used to be, a year or so ago. Right now, there’s a war happening.”
Meara’s eyes grew large. No one had ever mentioned a war, although conversational topics were limited. “A war?”
“Yes. The Germans have huge flying machines called zeppelins that drop bombs from the sky. If you ever see,” she stopped speaking to make an egg shape in the air, “one of these, run the opposite way it came.”
“Zeppelin,” she repeated the word thinking it sounded like a sky born monster.
The sound of footsteps had them both looking to the left hallway. Without speaking, they gave each other a quick nod, and then hurried off on their separate ways. Meara slipped into her cell to repair her tunic with the needle and thread she’d hid under her simple corn shuck mattress. This wasn’t her first tear.
If anyone found the needle in her room, she’d be charged with theft. Sister Peter kept a small stub of a candle when she asked for a new one. Someone told and she’d been forced to wear a sign with Glutton written on it. The discipline made no sense to her. If the woman waited until her candle was gone, then she’d be in the dark. Perhaps her thoughts meant she wouldn’t make an appropriate sister sailing through the halls with folded hands and a serene expression.
Meara knew she belonged out among the trees, open sky, and the elusive nature spirits. It energized her even if there were a large object, promising death traversing the skies. It had to be better than creeping around in the dark halls where every turn promised another horrific artistic image of a tortured man on a cross that somehow her sins put there several hundred years ago.
There had to be more than trying to earn her way into heaven, which from what she heard wasn’t that much different from the convent. If only she could taste some of the rich food, Sister Thomas spoke about. Her uncle might take her different places, maybe far away from where the zeppelins cruised the skies. Even though it frightened her a little, a sense of anticipation built up in her. Fourteen days, not long, when she considered how many years she’d spent keeping her voice low and her mind reasonably controlled.