The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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“She’s a nun, Robert. You can’t hit them, hmmmm.” Robert’s mother, Patricia, pursed her lips around a menthol 100 as she ended the sentence in her usual way. She had distilled the rhetorical “am I wrong?” into a monosyllabic case closing glottal tic that left no room for response under ordinary circumstances. These were dark hinterlands far beyond ordinary circumstances. Robert sat on his hands, one of which had in fact recently come into violent contact with the face of Sister Mary Roberta, and braced himself against the silence. He knew better than to trespass across the line drawn by that hmmmm and its nicotine finality. The “hit me first” defense rarely works even in intra-sibling disputes.  And of course she hit him first. No one hits a nun first.

“And where were we?”

“At the dentist, my mother just now dropped me off,” Robert had replied with a slight shake of the head; a subtle tremor inherited from his mother that was often misinterpreted as cocky.

“I suppose you have a note.” Sister Mary Roberta’s already terse tone had sharpened.

“I don’t have a note, but you can call my mother and ask her.” Other, more intentional elements of the boy’s affect read accurately as haughty.

Mary Roberta did not possess a disposition that lent itself to taking the word of shaggy haired ten year old boys. Sister Moose, as she was known only rarely within earshot, never showed evidence of any affection towards children whatsoever. Her aversion to children was superseded by an involuntary pull towards her vocation sometime in the previous 30 to 109 years. Her office smelled like poorly cooked meat and stale cigarettes. The cigarette smell was hardly noticeable. In 1966 most rooms in which adults spent time smelled like cigarettes to some extent. The meat smell was exclusive, however. It was familiar, but nondescript in a way that made identifying its source and identity completely impossible and too intriguing not to speculate on.

It was only after the slap that Sister Moose had moved to dial his mother’s telephone number. He had repeatedly pleaded for a call to verify his alibi for tardiness, but with the flick of a wrist the charge got bumped up to assault and was being kicked over to a harsher judge for sentencing. In the extended moment when the sister’s thick, squared off fingers squeezed into the seven numbers on the rotary he had prayed that his mother had not yet made it back to the house to receive the call.
            But, that was it. She didn’t even shoot a disapproving glance his way. She kept her focus on the road and occasionally ashed out of the barely open window. There was no lecture about brides of Christ or respect for elders, only cigarette ash carried off in the laminar flow around the car. 

Sister Moose

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