The new routine required Julian to take his medication in Sister Zoe's presence. This brought him to her office every day at nine o'clock. Usually the nun was waiting, tablets in hand. He would saunter in, thrust a few irreverent jabs at psychiatry or religion, spurn the proffered water, raise an empty glass, and, proposing some scatological toast, gulp the pills down dry. Today, however, though the pills, the glass, and the water jug were there, Sister Zoe was not.

Immediately he seized his opportunity—the files! Having had his requests for information categorically denied, his thoughts had turned toward surreptitious means. Short of contriving elaborate plots, there seemed two possibilities: that either the records cabinet itself, or the desk drawer where its key was kept, would be open. Either demanded only the old nun's temporary absence (though the longer the better, for he dared not steal the folder outright).

The files were locked.

The drawer?

Locked, too.

Remembering a trick for opening teachers' desks at school, he pulled out a lower drawer then tried again. Open! And the key was there! Now his enemy was time, the indomitable adversary. In seconds the files were breached, his fingers rifling through the alphabet to "M." No Marcy. Of course. He kicked himself at the oversight. What was the girl's last name? He could hardly expect to have the leisure to canvass case by case. But what else could he do? Time, like damp breath, panted down his neck. He cursed its wretched doggedness. Back or front? A or Z? Z, then. Empty folders. Blank, blank, blank, more blanks, blank, blank, blank, Marcy! Marcy———? No last name? Hastily he pulled her file and read.

 

 

At 10:15 Sister Zoe returned to find her office as she had left it, with the exception that the pills set out for Julian were gone. Had he taken them, she wondered? For five straight days he had done so, and had not suffered a single seizure; at least he had reported none. Perhaps the daily grimaces she was forced to watch (as Julian made taking medicine a martyrdom) were paying off. Once it was demonstrated that, with the drugs, he could maintain control, she hoped his damaged self-esteem would mend; for control seemed what he valued most, command of every situation, mastery—oblique and total.

But to have a patient whose status quo depended on the reinstatement of a decidedly ruthless sense of power presented a dilemma. Certainly mental health would not be served. Or would it? Could someone leading an amoral or even an immoral life be healthy? Whose standards should be used? When a person expressed belief in a given moral code, the Christian code for example, it was reasonable to judge him in accordance. But what about the atheist? What about the man whose conduct went ungoverned by a canonical restraint? Of course the mores of his social context might be used. But what if even these had been supplanted by a nonconforming lifestyle, a lifestyle such as Julian's? What was right and wrong for a youth like him? What was healthy?

This brand of query had visited Sister Zoe throughout her long career, but seldom with such vehemence. She acknowledged the necessity of doubt for building a durable faith—which hers had proven to be. Still, doubt shook things. Her bones, sometimes, felt brittle.

Faith was better based, perhaps, on all those things she knew she did not know.

 

Being the only...

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