"So where are you now?"

 

"And you can't get through?"

 

"Who won't?"

 

"Mesa? But that's almost back to Phoenix."

 

"The lines went dead late Sunday in the second storm."

 

"Oh, I am sorry, Mrs. Papp. If you had only waited. I phoned you back the minute I knew that Julian was safe. It couldn't have been an hour after your call."

 

"Of course, I understand."

Sister Dana entered. Sister Zoe motioned to her to sit and serve herself some tea.

"The plows are out. All you really can do is wait. I don't think it will take too long."

She mouthed, 'Julian's mother.'

"He's probably in his room. I can ask him to return your call. What's your number?"

She signaled Sister Dana to take down the number.

"Yes. Five five five—three two eight eight."

 

"No, I think it's clear for the moment."

 

"Later this afternoon, then?"

 

"How about two o'clock?"

 

"I'll make… Yes, I promise. One of us for certain will return your call."

 

"Goodbye."

The old nun sighed and slumped back in her chair.

"That was Filomena Papp. Calling us from Payson."

"Payson? You mean she's here in Arizona, on her way to St. Francis?"

"On her way if she could be. She's snowed in, thank God."

"Why do you say that?"

"It gives us time—I hope enough time—to dissuade her. I fear she is going to petition us for Julian's release."

 

Good riddance. The young nun only thought the remark, yet Sister Zoe reacted otherwise.

"What is this animosity I sense between you and Julian Papp? What has he done to you, Sister Dana, to earn this hardness in your heart?"

It was an unfair question, the young nun felt. She was disinclined to answer. There were people one just did not take to, and for her "Mr. Papp" was one. Maybe it was his arrogance, or his snide sarcastic quips. Or maybe it was the way he stared at a person, psychologically undressing her. He seemed to know a person's secret weaknesses. Worse, he seemed to know how to exploit them. And worst of all, he was an evil influence on her ward. But before Sister Dana could revise her hatred in terms of the need to safeguard Melanie, a knock resounded mightily on the outer door.

"Good morning, Sister Zoe, Sister Dana. Excuse my interrupting."

"Sister Agatha. What a pleasant surprise. Come in, sit down."

"No, I'm sorry, I can't stay. I only came to tell you that I just sewed eleven stitches into Julian Papp's right hand."

"Oh, dear."

"And that he is one of the most insolent, ill-mannered, irreverent, uncouth, exasperating individuals it has ever been my solemn duty to treat!"

"Oh, dear, oh, dear. What happened?"

The irate nurse proceeded with a blow-by-blow account (after which Sister Dana felt quite justified in resting her case).

Within half an hour, Julian was standing on the very spot from whence he had been defamed.

 

 

 

 

"I have just been informed that you paid a call on our infirmary."

He un-pocketed his bandaged hand and held it up.

"Hunting accident."

"Oh? You told Sister Agatha you had been bitten by the Holy Ghost."

"Just trying to raise their spirits at the morgue."

He grinned. She did not.

"So you were hunting; may I ask what?"

"Rabbit—the elusive snowshoe hare. I saw one this morning, nose twitching, crouching in my bathroom mirror. I approached on tiptoe, froze him with a stare, and dispatched him with a shattering karate chop."

"I see. I was unaware that rabbit was in season."

"Opened yesterday."

"And closes today. Another seizure, Julian?"

He nodded.

"Severe?"

"I don't think so. How did you know?"

"I expected as much when I heard how 'charming' you had been to Sister Agatha. Please, sit down."

Dropping his jacket on the chair, he broke precedent and sat down on the couch. The nun came from behind her desk and joined him. She was concerned. His mood was dark. The humor with which he guarded himself was stretched conspicuously thin. And for the first time since he had been admitted, Julian seemed vulnerable—dangerously so.

A silence fell between them, which they both respected.

Finally the nun began.

"Your mother phoned. She wants to come and see you."

12............Qxe5

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9. Nxc3
10. Nd5!
11. exd5
12. Nxe5
13.
14. 
15. 
16. 
17. 
0e5          
0Nc6
0Bc5
0Bxb4
0Ba5
0exd4
0dxc3
0Qe7
0Nf6?
0Nxd5
0Ne5
0
Qxe5
0
0
0
0
0

This, of course, he had expected. His answer was prepared. But his interest in the phantom Game momentarily flagged.

He simply nodded.

"I have promised her that we would return her call. At two. Would you please be here?"

He did not respond.

"She didn't learn that you were safe until this morning. Perhaps you'll fill her in on where you went."

"When even you couldn't grill it out of me? Not likely."

"Isn't your mother more persuasive?"

"My mother…"

He broke off.

"Yes, go on… Julian, you haven't told me how you feel about her coming."

"Indifferently."

"Will you tell her about this latest seizure?"

"Afraid I'll smear your reputation?"

"You sound angry."

"Of course I'm angry. I haven't slept, I look like hell, my playing hand's been maimed, and to top things off I've had another goddamn fit! If Mother Dear were to get one look at me, I'm gone."

"So you're worried she might ask for your release?"

"Demand, Ms. Zoe, demand. My mother may be wishy-washy where her life is concerned, but when it comes to mine the woman is tough as nails. I'd be out of here in a matter of hours, mark my words."

13. Bb2............

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9. Nxc3
10. Nd5!
11. exd5
12. Nxe5
13.
Bb2
14. 
15. 
16. 
17. 
0e5          
0Nc6
0Bc5
0Bxb4
0Ba5
0exd4
0dxc3
0Qe7
0Nf6?
0Nxd5
0Ne5
0Qxe5
0
0
0
0
0

The move was made in spite of himself—a reflex. The Queen's threat had to be removed. Sister Zoe obliged.

"Julian, I promise, the decision to go or stay rests entirely with you. Even if your mother were to insist, I don't want you to feel you're under any pressure."

13............Qg5

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9. Nxc3
10. Nd5!
11. exd5
12. Nxe5
13. Bb2
14.
15. 
16. 
17. 
0e5          
0Nc6
0Bc5
0Bxb4
0Ba5
0exd4
0dxc3
0Qe7
0Nf6?
0Nxd5
0Ne5
0Qxe5
0
Qg5
0
0
0
0

The dictates of The Game appeased, he let his mind sink back into its depression.

"I don't think it will happen, though. Your mother has put her trust in our approach. I doubt she would change her mind."

He stirred himself.

"In the face of all the progress that we've made?"

"Yes, we've made. I'm glad you said it. That's evidence enough. All I've heard since you first came is 'I' and 'They'—Julian versus The World. You've been treating us like opponents. But I believe that may be changing. I believe you've come to realize that people here are on your side, not only willing but capable of helping you."

"All that, from a slip of the tongue? Amazing."

"I'm wrong, then? You would rather leave?"

"I didn't say that. I admit I need a little break from hearth and home—I'll be here at two—but allow me some integrity. I have to play this game out on my own."

Game! Sister Zoe knew that this game business was precisely the problem. He insisted on perceiving things in terms of competition. She wanted to take Julian by the shoulders and shake him—then hug him, for he needed that more. He looked smaller, somehow, slouching in the corner of her couch. He was not very big—no more than 5 feet 6, slight of build.

Seeing him so closely, however, the nun could well imagine how, in ancient times, albinos (and suchlike) were revered. Often looked upon as holy men, oracles, or seers, they were worshipfully pampered in the courts of emperors and kings. She had a sudden urge to touch him—of which she felt immediately ashamed, for it seemed to spring from some remote and dusky superstition.

Then all that seemed quite silly. His injured hand was resting near. Surely there was nothing that prevented her from examining it, casually. Yet as she reached, he flinched, as though he sensed the root of her intention. He was glaring at her, or rather, his coal-black lenses were. How their blind expressionlessness framed such vivid import she had no idea, but she felt distinctly indicted by their stare.

"Is it painful? Our nurse said that the cut was fairly deep."

He expelled a hollow laugh.

"I'll live."

"Had you intended otherwise?… Julian?"

"'All that dies is our reflection'; isn't that a quote from something?"

"I don't know. Will you tell me what it means?"

"You're the immortality buff. How would you explain it?"

"I would say it meant our shell is all that dies—the ego we have mistaken for our essence."

"And I suppose this 'essence,' once its envelope drops dead, wings its way to Heaven or goes plummeting to Hell."

"Those are not the terms that I would use."

"They're the terms that getup represents."

"This 'getup,' as you call it, represents a lot of things, of which the Bible and its teachings are important parts. But not everyone of Faith accepts the Gospel as the literal Word of God. Many Catholics, no less devout, appreciate the Word as metaphor. Therein lies its greatest beauty, and its everlasting relevance, since each of us must answer for him or herself the questions of existence. So when you speak of Heaven and Hell, I have to look within, knowing that the meanings at which I arrive may differ from those embraced by former times and cultures, or even by my peers. Faith is not a static institution, Julian. It has to breathe. And breathing, it is subject to the rule by which all life proves it 'is'—the rule of change."

"I think you're an odd duck, Ms. Zoe."

"That may be true. So, give me your interpretation."

"All right. When a man puts his fist through a mirror, he cuts his hand."

She had to laugh. His matter-of-factness undercut her sermon. There was, however, no denying the gravity of his conduct. He had attacked himself. A mock suicide, to be sure, but a definite warning that Julian's thoughts were once more self-destructive.

"My tribulations must be particularly comical today. You're the second person I've had laughing."

"I really shouldn't be. It is rather serious, you know."

"Merely a superficial wound. 'Maimed' was for effect."

"It was to the act itself I was referring."

"Ah well, look at it this way: during a fleeting twinge of inner-loathing, mistaking a facsimile, the patient hauled off and slugged himself, whereupon the illusion shattered, leaving the original unscathed—relatively—to ponder fate's ironic sense of humor. Like it?"

"No. You're avoiding the…"

"How about: his life in a shambles at his feet—actually at my waist, since the glass fell into the sink—he realized that Man was far less fragile than his image?"

"I wish you would use that mind of yours for something more productive than repartee."

"Oh? I thought that second one was pretty close to your ego vs. essence theory—the I of my I survives."

"The difference is one of conviction. You don't believe the things you say."

"Now she shows her colors! Faith makes truth. The moon is made of cheese."

"You leap before you look, Julian. If you're truly interested in understanding, don't criticize so perfunctorily. Of course believing a thing does not make it true, just as disbelieving a truth does not make it false. The point is, you have an exaggerated skepticism, and that won't lead any closer to the truth than would credulity. Of what are you afraid?"

"'Of what'; don't you ever end in prepositions? Of losing, Ms. Zoe, my life, for instance. Like everybody else, I'm afraid of dying."

"Then why are you pursuing death so hotly?"

Snatching his jacket, he jumped to his feet and stomped across the room, then turned to face her.

"You call that therapy!?"

As he exited, slamming the door behind him.

 

Julian's door...

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