Without a sound, Sister Dana closed her Bible's leather cover. She dimmed the light. The room took on a cozy ambiance, so sweet, so coveted—Marcy close and lovely (enveloped by the patchwork quilt she had made for her), fast asleep. The nun would speak at such idyllic times, use her prayer voice, bare her soul. She had been so lonely before this precious girl had come! Her covenant with God had failed to bring the ecstasies once envisioned, those of the Saints whose wondrous lives had touched her own, as a child, through stories told to her and read to her over and over by her father. She had betrayed him. Not on the surface (proud father, rejoicing in his daughter's final vows, had actually knelt and kissed her stockinged feet), but rather in her heart-of-hearts, where she harbored certain doubts, and where she feared she would forever prove unworthy. And now she had truly fallen, lavishing the love pledged to God onto someone else, plotting in the dark, nourishing thoughts and feelings she knew to be sinful. She removed her wimple. The badge of her devotion mirrored the pate of her beloved—shaved for Marcy, sacrificed for Marcy; not, as she had tried and tried to convince herself, for Him. And this had been a terrible admission. It made her daily ritual with the razor almost vile, a shameless demonstration of depravity. Yet she dared persist, seduced by the thrill of union she felt with her ward.

"Nothing, Marcy, nothing will compel me to forsake thee."

Tenderly she tucked the quilt around the girlish body.

"How radiant you are, my sweet. The hair that strangely will not grow could scarcely make your countenance more beautiful."

She lightly fondled a fold in the pillow, then thought to slip her fingers underneath her habit. But this she knew was apostasy and she resisted—though the tides of love that ebbed and flowed through every passage of her being had persuaded her (at times) to set them free. (And were not certain states, to which this profanation lifted her, higher than any ever known through prayer?)

Marcy stirred. The nun recoiled with guilt. She had sinned again—in thought, if not in deed. The precepts of her faith felt like a noose, a shrinking collar, that kept choking off her happiness, garroting her conscience. With condemnatory fervor she drew her hand up to her breast and forced her fingernails to clutch, sink in, and squeeze.

Marcy's eyelids opened. The nun recovered.

"Still awake? You've had a trying day, my sweet. It's time to sleep, to dream. A dream can take you anywhere, remember. It can wrap you up in loving arms and carry you to Ithaca, or Katmandu, or Rome. Sleep. Close your pretty eyes, my love, and sleep."

Suspended in the murky void between fact and unreality, Marcy allowed her wits to re-submerge.



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