by Phyllis Souza
She wants me to get sick; I know she does. Mother Superior is a merciless woman. Why else would she turn down the heat after I turned it up?
It was another cold morning, and Sister Mary Lillian grumbled to herself that a chill would soon invade her bones. But the school bell had rung, and she couldn't ignore her duties. She closed the back door of the convent, grabbed onto a handrail, determined not to fall, she carefully stepped down the steps. Heaven could wait. Forgive me, Father; I may be eighty-two. However, I still have more life left in me.–She tottered to the playground.
Girls dressed in plaid skirts put down jump ropes. Boys, wearing corduroy trousers, stopped throwing basketballs, and the students scrambled to form parallel lines on the asphalt. They too heard the bell.
Sister Mary Lillian stood with her arms crossed. Looking for warmth, she placed her hands into the full sleeves of her habit. Through her wire-rimmed glasses, she squinted at her third-grade class.
First grade through eighth, standing at attention, children set their hands over their hearts and pledged allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America. Ritual completed, they followed their teachers, The Sisters of Immaculate Heart, down a long outdoor corridor to their classrooms.
Sister Mary Lillian faced her students. Her black shoes peeked from the hem of her habit. The wooden rosary beads clipped onto her belt hung down at her side.
These days, she had a terrible time remembering names. With a trembling finger, she pointed to a girl in the front row, "Lead us in morning prayer."
The eight-year-old, her hair tied in pigtails, gazed angelically at a crucifix hanging high on the wall. "Our Father— Hail Mary— Glory be—"
Afterwards, since Sister Mary Lillian was obsessed with cleanliness, she said, "Take out your handkerchiefs and sit."
The children put clean, folded hankies on top of their desks.
"I'm checking your fingernails. There had better be no dirt under them."
Swatting a ruler in her palm, she ambled up and down the aisles. Every so often, she stopped and frowned, "Humph." Sometimes, she smiled and sighed, "Ah."
Mother Superior flew into the room, and bellowed, "What's going on in here!" She narrowed her brows. "Stop this nonsense. Take out your catechisms.”
Needless to say, in went the hankies—out came Baltimore catechisms.
Mother Superior zeroed in on a shy-looking boy sitting in the back. "Stand up. Who made you?"
"My… my parents did."
"Wrong. God made you. Do you know why?"
Tears welling his eyes trickled down his cheeks.
"Oh, never mind. You're a sissy."
Another boy, a self-assured sort of kid, got out of his seat. Holding a yellow pencil, he intended to use the sharpener mounted on the wall next to the blackboard. He strutted to the front. He could. Sister Mary Lillian allowed it. A stupid move on his part, since Mother Superior, like a cat on a mouse, pounced on him. She clasped his arm, turned him around, and slapped his face. "That'll teach to sharpen your pencil without permission."
The boy rubbed the reddened sting on his face and, sauntered back to his desk.
"I've had enough of this place. I need air," Mother Superior said loudly. "And as for you, sister, you'll have no dessert tonight. You can watch the rest of the sisters and me eating chocolate cake."
She stormed out of the classroom.
Sister Mary Lillian hobbled to comfort the boy. She reached to embrace him. He pushed her away.
"I'm fine. Leave me alone."
She slowly walked to her desk, eased herself into a chair behind it, and cupped her face in her hands. What more could I do? Like a Thanksgiving goose, she was cooked.
Befuddled. Puzzled. Confused. The children thought nuns were supposed to be kind. Sister Mary Lillian always tried to be, and show love—but Mother Superior went out of her way to be cruel.
That night, after dinner, without dessert, Sister Mary Lillian retired to her room. She knocked on Heaven’s door. The Almighty answered. She asked if he would grant her one wish. "Turn Mother Superior into a Toad." Why not? God could move mountains, couldn't he?
The next day for some unexplainable reason, Mother Superior, a disgrace to her order, croaked!
Sister Mary Lillian gave silent thanks.