Short fiction by Debra Moolenaar
“Tomorrow I shall have to tell them.” Glancing down at my hands, I wince and stuff my wedding ring in my jean’s pocket. After shuffling across the room, I practice silent arpeggios before the well-stoked fire. A week before Christmas and even Marseilles is cold and damp as a grave. With increased circulation comes unexpected hope. “What shall I tell them in London, Mother? What shall I tell them when I go home?”
“The truth, child.” Mother Superior hands me a cup of strong china tea. “Understand that your anger is that of all the wronged women since the beginning of time. There’s no disgrace in that.”
“I am not angry.”
“I’ve something that may help.” With polished confidence, the nun glides across the crimson carpet to her ebony bookcase. She selects a thin volume. “This is one of my alternative Christian texts, some of which have come down from ancient Mesopotamia.”
“The Secret Book of John?” I flip gold embossed, parchment pages and wonder what in hell kind of sacred treasure I’m holding in my unclean hands.
“The bishop believes it heresy.” She flashes a seductive wink. “I prefer to think of it as wisdom from the time when man had direct discourse with his gods.”
I nod. Best I understood, heresy was wisdom, just in disguise.
“I prefer a humanist god to one who dishes out hell and damnation for every mistake,” continues the mother with the hint of a smile.
The Mother is progressive. That’s why I chose The Sisters of Saint Joseph for my little er, um, retreat. But as I prepare to leave France, I’m now thinking she’s too progressive, too focused on sweetness and light. Maybe her sheltered life is like that. Mine isn’t.
“Like me, Hannah, you search for truth.” The mother bows her head. “Yet when you fail to find it, like most of us you will accept the lies. In this case anger is justified. It signals something deep within you is wrong. This Gnostic text explains much about what I believe it means to be a woman and why we all share the same anger. What would you say if I told you that it was man, and not woman, who was responsible for original sin?”
“I’d be extremely pleased.” I sip hot tea and find it satisfying as my favourite Belgian crème chocolate. Finally, this nun is saying something that makes sense.
“According to the story, original sin resulted not from Eve’s encounter with the snake, but from God’s arrogance. The Old Testament god was very selfish. He didn’t hesitate to steal light from the Mother Sophia to give life to his human creations, Adam and Eve. Understandably, Eve thought this unjust and it was while trying to return the light to the Mother, that she first tasted the fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.”
I flip pages again.
“Let’s suppose it were true,” she continues. “Can you imagine how Eve must have felt to be eternally damned for doing something so noble?”
“She’d be angry.”
“Yes.” Although near my own mother’s age, Mother Superior suppresses a girlish giggle. “Might it be possible that if, as the Church teaches women are burdened with Eve’s original sin, we might also be burdened with her anger?”
“I’m confused.” Sometimes the mother talks in circles like my psychoanalyst in Golders Green.
“Confusion comes when you’re unable to see things for what they are. “ The mother glances at my blossoming belly. Her mood slips. “But anger, Hannah, anger comes when you refuse to accept things as you know they are. Eve couldn’t change her situation but imagine how miserable she’d have been if she’d not accepted it. Each of us must embrace her reality.”
“Not everyone…” I stop horrified at my accusatory tone. “I didn’t mean to say that.”
“But you did say it, Hannah.” She watches a pair of jet-black starlings scrounge for berries, their yellow beaks bobbing against an abundance of pine green. “And you had every right to do so. If I’m not honest with you, how can you be so with me?”
“That’s not all that happened to Eve, is it?” The softness in my voice frightens me. Without anger, I feel naked. Without pain, I’m alone.
“Eve was raped.” Her blue eyes go rheumy.
Mine glued to the floor I nod my understanding. The mother’s life hasn’t been sweetness and light. She’s just like me.
“John reminds us wrong lurks around every corner, even when we think ourselves safe.” She squeezes my hand. “But while John believed deliverance comes from outside, Eve demonstrated it comes from within.”
“Tomorrow I shall tell them the truth,” say I. Rubbing my tummy, I shrug away tears. “Although I was betrayed by a man I trusted, me and his child will be OK.”