o where are you now?"
"And you can't get through?"
"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
"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 fivethree two eight eight."
"No, I think it's clear for the moment."
"Later this afternoon, then?"
"How about two o'clock?"
Yes, I promise. One of us for certain will return
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.
"On her way if she could be. She's snowed in, thank God."
"Why do you say that?"
"It gives us timeI hope enough timeto 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
"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."
"And that he is one of the most insolent, ill-mannered,
irreverent, uncouth, exasperating individuals it has ever been my solemn duty to
"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
He un-pocketed his bandaged hand and held it up.
"Oh? You told Sister Agatha you had been bitten by the Holy
"Just trying to raise their spirits at the morgue."
He grinned. She did not.
"So you were hunting; may I ask what?"
"Rabbitthe 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."
"And closes today. Another seizure, Julian?"
"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 vulnerabledangerously
A silence fell between them, which they both respected.
Finally the nun began.
"Your mother phoned. She wants to come and see you."
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
"Isn't your mother more persuasive?"
He broke off.
"Yes, go on
Julian, you haven't told me how you feel about
"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."
The move was made in spite of himselfa 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
The dictates of The Game appeased, he let his mind sink back into its
"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
homeI'll be here at twobut 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 himthen hug him, for he needed that more. He
looked smaller, somehow, slouching in the corner of her couch. He was not very bigno
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 himof 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.
"Had you intended otherwise?
"'All that dies is our reflection'; isn't that a quote from
"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 diesthe 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
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
"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 unscathedrelativelyto
ponder fate's ironic sense of humor. Like it?"
"No. You're avoiding the
"How about: his life in a shambles at his feetactually at my
waist, since the glass fell into the sinkhe 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 theorythe I of my I survives."
"The difference is one of conviction. You don't believe the things
"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.
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