Thus far, no one had noticed. Marcy had checked the mirror after each of her morning classes to verify that her hair was really there. It was. So why was everyone so blind? True, she had not seen Sister Zoe or Sister Dana yet, but there were others who might have marked the change. Maybe people failed to look at those labeled "different." Maybe people's habit of pretending (through politeness, or compassion, or their own embarrassment) that everything—even hairlessness—was normal, prevented them from actually seeing.

After her initial disappointment, Marcy had begun to watch. Sure enough the eyes she had met were, more often than not, averted—at least when she tried to engage them. Those with whom she had stopped to talk would look in her direction, but their vision somehow failed to take her in. She had to laugh at all the times she had fretted over stares. People gawk, but now she knew they seldom see.

So, by the time she arrived for chess class, Marcy had renounced her expectations.

His door was open. Julian waited at the table. The problem he had assigned her was set on the board. He stood this time as Marcy entered.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Papp."

He smiled (that nasty smirk of his).

"I see."

She hated that she had failed to solve the problem (almost as much as admitting it to him).

"I tried."

"I'm sure you did."

His condescension galled her even more. She took her seat.

He pointed head-ward.

"Been watering up there?"

She blushed crimson—not from bashfulness, but from joy. He had noticed! Somebody had noticed! For that one minute, she loved him with all her heart. She felt he was sincerely glad for her—despite the wryness of his quip—because his second smile was not a smirk at all. It was warm and friendly and therefore worthy of sharing this remarkable event.

Huffing and puffing, Sister Dana hurriedly marched in. Julian resumed his seat.

"Sister! What are you doing here?"

The nun looked around self-consciously. Both chairs being taken, there was nowhere left to sit except the bed. She held her ground.

"Didn't he tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

Julian explained.

"She's to be your bodyguard whenever you cross the threshold of my lair. Welcome, Ms. Dana, pull up a chair—sounds rather lyric—oh, but there isn't a spare. The bed, my bed, my lonely bed, beckons if you dare."

"I didn't come here to be ridiculed, Julian."

"Mr. Papp."

"Sister Dana."

Noting the stress in Marcy's face, Julian changed his tone.

"Well, now that we're all reacquainted, won't you please sit down?"

The room had been rearranged to put as much space as was possible between the bed and chairs.

4. b4............

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4.
b4
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.

15.
16.
17.
*
1e5         
2Nc6
3Bc5
4
5
6
7
8
9
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0

Having little choice, Sister Dana took the seat offered.

4............Bxb4

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.

15.
16.
17.
*
1e5         
2Nc6
3Bc5
4Bxb4
5
6
7
8
9
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0

Satisfied (for the moment) with the relative positions, Julian proceeded with his lesson. He asked that Marcy show him how she had worked toward the solution, checking the precision of her moves. She knew the pieces well enough. "En passant" was what she had forgotten. He reviewed it for her, then left the problem unsolved.

"But what's the answer?"

"You'll get it now. But do it later."

"Same deal?"

"My name, you mean?"

She nodded.

"Sure, same deal."

They moved on to various mating exercises whereby Marcy was to trap his King with hers plus one or two other pieces. She thought these drills great fun and lost herself to the rigors of the chase,

Meanwhile Sister Dana brooded. Julian's reformed behavior seemingly neutralized her role, made it look superfluous, even silly. Her presence was an imposition—or so she felt it was perceived. And her gnawing pain of isolation was worsened by the exclusivity of Marcy's concentration.

As the nun observed, the afternoon sun poured in through the bedroom window, framing the couple, enshrining their heads in a pair of fuzzy halos.

Marcy's head! The nun almost cried out. Her skin flushed hot, yet at the same time she felt cold. The time to spontaneously express her joy for Marcy quickly lapsed. Now the words were paralyzed (if, indeed, they had ever formed).

Sister Zoe. She must report to Sister Zoe. Unsteadily the young nun found her feet.

"Check."

He moved away.

"Check."

He moved again.

"Check!"

Again he eluded her.

Marcy puffed out her cheeks in consternation.

"I don't have enough material."

"That's right."

She cocked her head sideways and threw him a petulant look.

"Then why have you let me chase you all over the place, knowing I couldn't mate you?"

"Because I listed for you on Tuesday the minimum forces needed for a win. Had you recalled, you would have known ten minutes ago that two Knights and a King were insufficient."

"You expect me to remember everything."

"That's my goal."

"I think that's unfair. Besides, I was nervous last time."

"Oh?"

"What do you mean, 'Oh'? Weren't you?"

"No."

"Well, I was. And I don't remember good when I'm nervous."

"Remember well."

"Remember well."

"You're doing all right—better than I expected."

"Because you thought I was stupid."

"I denied that before, I deny it again."

"Don't underestimate me, Mr. Papp. If you teach me 'well,' I'll beat you at this game some day."

"You'll never beat me, Marcy."

He said it as simply and with as much conviction as one might assert that the sky was blue.

She looked at his face, toward his eyes, trying to pierce the darkness that concealed them.

"Why do you wear those?"

"My eyes are hypersensitive to the light."

"You wear them at night, too."

"I wear them as night, too."

"Why?"

"Who's the Miniature Man?"

With this question her eyes refocused—and in the polished black of his impenetrable lenses she saw her own reflection. It gave her an odd feeling, a sort of hum at the base of her skull, a deep vibration that was at once pleasurable and frightening. For a moment she let herself indulge it. Its lulling frequency seemed to open an unfamiliar channel through which reverberated a sort of tingly drone along with his question. Who was the Miniature Man? By a wrenching dint of will, she broke the spell.

"I don't think I want to tell you."

"I don't think you know."

He was right; she did not. Perhaps she did not want to know, not yet. But what could Julian know about it? She considered his presumptuousness rather insulting.

"Let's stick to chess."

"It wasn't I who changed the subject."

"Well it certainly wasn't…"

He indicated his glasses.

"Oh, it was… Sorry." She looked away. "Hey, where's Sister Dana? I forgot she was even here."

"Thus is no longer—quite a knack you have."

"Huh?"

"Nothing."

"Where do you suppose she went?"

"To take a leak, perhaps. Or don't nuns pee?"

She glowered at him.

"I don't blame her for leaving. You weren't very nice to her."

"Why should I be nice to the opposition's emissary?"

"The what? Whose?"

"Ms. Zoe's."

"Why do you call her that?"

"The opposition?"

"No, 'Ms.'"

"Oh, just a token of disrespect. While feminism hasn't cracked the 'God-fearing' mentalities, one does one's best to promulgate the cause."

Marcy was unsure if he was kidding or sincere.

"But Sister Zoe is a nun."

"And that's her problem. When ultimately women see that sexism infests religion, they'll move to halt the bunk's proliferation."

This was a bit abstruse for Marcy, although she caught his drift.

"I don't understand then what you're doing here. At St. Francis, I mean."

"Ask my mother."

"She made you come?"

"Let's say she pressed a dutiful advantage. I wasn't thinking very clearly at the time. And when one shows weakness, the initiative is quickly seized by others—thus depositing me here."

"You mean against your will?"

"Well, no."

The truth was, no one at St. Francis was under obligation to remain (except for Marcy, whose status as a minor raised a legal issue). This noncompulsory policy afforded the Order considerable leeway in such things as acceptance of its patients, methods of their treatment, and the circumstances determining their release. Belligerents and malcontents were seldom tolerated. If such predispositions were detected on admission, or if they surfaced later, a patient was rejected or removed. Exceptions could be made, of course, and were. But contrary behaviors had to improve (improve significantly) if their authors hoped to guarantee their stay. And if a patient left without permission, reentry was forever barred. It was generally understood, then, that one responded to treatment positively at St. Francis, or one sought treatment elsewhere.

Julian was readily aware of this contingency and knew his abusive attitude, his contempt for regulations, and his outspoken irreverence for the nuns put him at risk. He likewise was aware the sanitarium did have benefits to offer. Tangibly, the natural setting, the peaceful isolation, the relative anonymity he enjoyed, were all considerations. Intangibly (and thus harder to articulate), a vague impression had somewhere dawned that things—fundamentally significant things—were in the offing.

He looked intently at the girl before him: fuzzy crown, lively eyes, fair skin tones, lollipop lips—intelligent features wed in a conspiracy of youth and guilelessness. No, it was not against his will that he was here, not any longer.

"Does your mother visit you?"

"Not allowed."

"Really? That doesn't sound right. The other patients…"

"I forbade her."

"Oh… Don't you get along?"

"My mother suffers from the lifelong delusion that the two of us get along famously. Nothing short of matricide would change her mind. I, on the other hand, view our present arrangement—'pals' with a countrywide buffer—as immeasurably agreeable. Which isn't to say I dislike the woman. She's supported me unselfishly from the day I was born, making, I might add, a most remarkable transition from parent to patron. Had she not kept me sheltered from a mercenary world, my talent never would have been developed. Owing her that, I owe her everything. But gratitude, at times, deserves a rest."

Marcy paused to take this in, for sometimes his vocabulary stumped her. She wondered at understanding him at all. And yet she did. Despite the unfamiliar words, the convoluted sentences, despite her slight suspicion that he wanted to confuse her, she nonetheless believed she understood him. And she appreciated the fact the he did not talk down to her.

"What about your father?"

"Officially a Missing Person. What about yours?"

She faltered.

"I—he's…"

"Dead?"

"No!"

She tried to think. Who were her parents? Why did they have no names, no faces? How could "mother," "father," "sister," "brother" be empty terms?

Her eyes grown wide, she gaped at Julian, his glasses again twin mirrors. 'No, not dead,' she mouthed the words. But what then?

"Lost?"

No answers came. Only Marcy's tears—as much from frustration as from despair.

"Stop it!"

His command so startled her she ceased crying.

"What gives you the right to yell at me?"

"Only your self-pity. It's maudlin. Your faulty memory is what's made you an orphan. Jar that and I'm sure you'll find a pair of doting parents waiting."

"You think so? You really do?"

"Of course. Do you think you were brought here by the stork, dropped down from its beak all bald and bawling, a helpless babe at age 'fourteen'? Grow up, kid. Your hair is."

"But I honestly don't remember certain things."

"I know."

"Then how is it my fault?"

"I said 'faulty memory,' not that the forgetting was your fault."

"I've tried remembering."

He looked unimpressed.

"I have! Sister Zoe even hypnotized me."

"And didn't get past your Miniature Man."

Marcy suddenly was angry.

"How do you know? What do you know about anything anyway? If Sister can't make me remember, you sure won't be able to."

"Not against your will."

"That's right!"

She was almost shouting at him. He waited, allowing her to grasp the irony in what she had just let slip. But she was much too busy hating him to stop and think of anything beyond retaliation. A flash of intuition came. It galvanized Marcy's hand. With a well-aimed flick she toppled Julian's King.

Neither made a move.

Marcy sensed his awful, unseen eyes bore into her. His face remained unnervingly composed. Then, with a motion made so slowly she felt it as a mortal threat, Julian reached and righted the fallen King.

"Class dismissed."

 

"Is she aware?...

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