SISTER ELIZABETH SITS IN THE DARK
Sister Elizabeth sits in the dark. Bell from the cloister chimes. Nightgown smells of night. She fidgets. Brings hands together. Prayer on her lips. Ave Maria. But not yet said. Thought about. Dawn chill bites flesh. She rubs her arms with her hands. Up and down over cloth. She can hear the other nuns moving with mumble of prayers being said. Falling to knees on floors. She gets off the bed. Kneels down on the wooden floor. She closes her eyes. Begins an Ave. Hard floorboards pain her kneecaps. An offering up for souls in Purgatory. Mother had along ago suggested. Dante’s imagery in mind no doubt. She coughs. Puts hand to mouth. Prayer said. She kneels and waits. Senses pain move along her thigh. Cramp. Offer it up a voice suggests. Not Mother. Long since dead. All suffering is a gift Sister Agnes had told her. Crucified on His cross. Sharing such. She opens her eyes. Sees light through shutters. Dawn light. She gets up. Rubs her knees with her hands. She pours cold water into washbowl. Washes face and neck and hands. Dries all on white towel by washstand. Removes her nightgown. Washes lower down and dries. Mother would have wanted grandchildren had you married a voice says in her ear. That Henry Ardwater would have done the job no doubt. She dresses into her religious cloth. Her fingers arrange and pull and brush off. She pulls on her stiff black stockings and slips into her heavy black shoes. No mirror. She hasn’t seen herself in a mirror since she left home. No reflection. No idea what she looks like now. No vanity. No wondering about beauty or lack of such. She picks up her rosary and fingers the black beads. She places it in her pocket. Out of sight. She opens the door of her cell. Looks up and down the passageway. No one. The other sisters have either gone down to church or are still in their cells. She closes her door gently. No unnecessary noise. No words. Grand silence. She makes her way to the stairs and lifting her habit she descends purposely but without haste or slothfulness. She enters the cloister. Morning air. Dawn chorus of birds. She brushes her fingers along the top of the wall by the cloister garth. Roughness on skin. Breathes in air. Matins soon to begin. She enters the church. Puts two fingers into the stoup. Makes the sign of the cross on her forehead. She walks along between choir stalls. The Crucified hangs from his cross above the altar. Candles are lit. Incense fills her nose. She sits in her place in the choir stalls. Opens the book. Finds the page. Her finger moves along the black print following the words of Latin. Her knees ache. She can sense the pain move along her thigh. Not to rub. Not to ease pain. An offering up. Gift offered up. Mother’s soul in Purgatory. Sip from the painful cup. The Crucified hangs in silence. Nails hammered in. Agnus Dei taking away sin.