mouth was wrong. The nose was a bit too big. She had even misplaced the two tiny moles.
But the resemblance, for Melanie's purpose, was accurate enough. With the charcoal's edge,
she began the kinky swirls, a wonderfully thick corona this time. If it would only grow as
fast as she could draw it! The face took on a whole new character as its outlines were
adorned. She let the ringlets run right off the page. A mane! With flowers! She crushed in
petals with her chalk.
She held the pad toward the mirror, her face beside it, comparing. The
reversed image tended to accentuate the drawing's flaws, but not her own. Her
three-dimensional features were unquestionably prettier. And when her crown of stubbly
hair matured, she knew she would be beautiful. Would it come in straight or wavy, in
graceful strands or undulating curls? She had tried out possibilities on paper, reserving
the latter pages of her sketchbook to that end. It was Sister Morgan's nearly finding
these the day before that had caused the girl such heart-pounding alarm. Maybe they were
vain, but doing them gave Melanie special pleasure.
Rather than risk their discovery again, she carefully detached all six
self-portraits from the pad, and laid them out across the bed to see which one she liked
There was a knock at the door.
She hastily gathered them up.
"Just a minute."
She hid them in her dresser drawer, face down beneath her panties, then
grabbed the pad and flipped back through its pages.
As she began reworking the sketch she had done the previous day in
class, Sister Dana entered with a package.
"Don't tell me you're actually working on something besides those
silly chess problems."
Melanie closed the sketchbook altogether, hoping to avoid a similar
comment on her drawing's subject matter. She did spend inordinate amounts of time
on solving Julian's riddles. Novice though she was, the poeticism he had ascribed to
certain attributes of the game had made a strong impression. An affinity was there, as was
a desire to please her teacherplease, impress, or show him up, in accordance with
her ever-changing moods.
He did not coddle her. She respected that.
The latest problem, for example, was even harder than the firsta
real mind-ticklerand had consumed many hours of trial and error already. But, oddly,
she was not discouraged. Something in the nature of these challenges enticed her.
The package caught her eye.
The Sister nodded, pleased at having aroused some curiosity.
"Can I open
"May I open it?"
"Not with those hands!"
Her hands were absolutely black with charcoal, as was the streak, from
a well-scratched itch, along her nose. Melanie excused herself to wash.
The nun glanced down at the abandoned sketchbook. A fleeting sense of
tact repressed her impulse to peruse it. The book somehow looked personalthus all
the more alluring. She heard a water-tinkling sound beyond the bathroom door.
The temptation was irresistible. With affected nonchalance, she flicked
open the cover, revealing a smudgy image of
herself. Multiple emotions stirred:
gladness at the sentiment, guilt at having peeked, fear lest she be caught, and then, on
looking closer, a stinging indignation, for Sister Dana thought the portrait was brazenly
unflattering. To her, the soot-filled eyes betrayed licentiousness, the mouth was
unmistakably embittered, and the chin receded with nothing shy of truculence. She clapped
the cover closed. So that was how she was viewed! Her fingers tightened on the
package as Melanie returned.
"Now may I?"
She displayed her hands for inspection.
The nun's resentment softened.
In two quick rips the wrapping fell away, disclosing Sister Dana's
"But this is yours, Sister."
"I want you to have it."
"But your father gave it to you the day you became a nun. You told
me so. No, I couldn't."
Melanie was genuinely moved. Commensurately, Sister Dana's pique
"Please. Were he alive I know he wouldn't mind. I've written you a
dedication just inside the cover."
Melanie found it.
Watching Melanie read the
vulnerable inscription, the nun relived the moments of its writing. She had been alone,
locked inside her room, curtains drawn, lampshades taken from the bulbs to intensify the
light. She had faced the mirror naked, gazing at the spectacle of a sinner. At her feet
had lain her Bible opened to the lines her father's prideful hand had penned. Beneath
these she had scrawled her own to Melanie. In her fist was her father's razor.
It had been the night the girl had briefly disappeared, the night the
nun had almost lost her mind, and worse, her soul. Had her thoughts been less distraught,
she would have recognized that the act she had stood contemplating would have damned her
for eternity to Hell. And yet her hand had nearly carried out the fatal deed, was poised,
in fact, above the vein when a voice called out from deep inside the mirror. "Ring
the bell," it said, "the bell." She had stopped, her body trembling, her
wits straining to decipher the phrase's meaning. Then it dawned; the girl was merely lost,
not run away!
Melanie recalled her to the present.
"Yes, my sweet?"
"You're not going away, are you?"
She reached up and laid her palm on the young nun's cheek.
"Thank you, Sister. I'll treasure it. Always."
The nun was overwhelmed by this unprecedented gesture (never before had
the girl initiated contact). She stammered a confused goodbye, and, rejoicing inwardly,
Melanie returned to the inscription. Above the one to her was its
predecessor (in paler, faded ink):