Part 1: A Life In Pieces (click here) Part 2 Another Life In Pieces (click here), part 3 A Life in Anguished Pieces (click here), Part 4 A Life in Mobile Words, Part 5 A Life in Coffee and Part 6 A Life in Loneliness
A LIFE IN RAGS
Why the hell did I have to ask the man round? asked Saphie of herself as she turned a fried egg onto a slice of bread and made a sandwich for her tea. It’s not as if I owed him anything, not really. So he found my mobile phone and returned it. So what? If I’d have found his I’d probably have done the same, and I certainly wouldn’t have expected a reward … but then, it was me who invited him… maybe he’d have been happy without a reward as well. Maybe I should put him off, ring him and tell him I’ve got a prior engagement … but wouldn’t that sound false? He probably knows I don’t have any prior engagements … he probably wonders when I get my hair done and if a hairdresser calls,, and simply washing it is no excuse… I’m so daft I can hardly believe myself sometimes…
The front doorbell rang and she clucked to herself.
And why’s the doorbell ringing? He won’t be here for ages unless he’s come to put me off, and I’m not expecting anyone else … I’ve not expected anyone in the evening since I don’t know when…
She opened the front door.
The figure that stood there looked pathetic. A small woman, slightly hunched, wearing a raincoat despite the brilliance of the early evening summer sun and with a headscarf that had seen both better and cleaner days.
“Yes?” she asked.
“It is Saphie, isn’t it?” said the woman softly. “I think I can recognise you…”
Then after a puzzled few moments recognition dawned on Saphie.
“Sister Isabel!” she exclaimed. “In civvies,” she added.
The woman, Sister Isabel or whoever it was, stood there, mute.
“What on Earth are you doing here?” Saphie asked.
“I needed to find you,” murmured the woman, “It’s take me ages searching here and there and everywhere… I needed to see you … Things ended badly…”
“They couldn’t have ended any other way. Not in a convent doing the things we liked doing,” sighed Saphie, remembering.
“You do recall, then?”
“Who could forget. But come in Isabel, if you’ve got a moment… for old time’s sake”
At least it’ll take my mind off Rusty and recollections of mortality… but Isabel’s in a state! She doesn’t look as if she’s washed in a month and I’m sure that smell isn’t any perfume I’ve ever heard of … what is going on?
“What’s going on?” she asked, putting her thoughts into words.
“Do you have a cup of anything warm?” asked Isabel.
“Tea or coffee?” asked Saphie.
Isabel nodded. It was as if choice didn’t matter. Anything would be better than the nothing she had: that seemed to be the message in the nod.
“Tea, then,” said Saphie.
Isabel nodded again and Saphie went to put the kettle on.
“Fancy you popping up out of the blue,” called Saphie from her little kitchen.
“I know… It took me ages to find you…”
“It isn’t easy, when all you’ve got is a Christian name. Though you’re the only Saphie anyone’s ever heard of round here… but it still took me ages.”
“Why have you been looking for me?”
Saphie appeared carrying a tray with two teas and a small plate of biscuits. She looked at Isabel, and frowned.
“You don’t seem …” she began.
“I suppose I don’t.” The other woman looked as if she might be on the brink of tears. “I wasn’t in the Convent for long when I got shown the door,” muttered Isabel. “Once you were gone I got … lonely … and began to question things. I asked myself what I was doing there, and I couldn’t find an answer that made sense. Bride of Christ? I couldn’t be that, surely, because a bride implies love, real love and not the pretend stuff of convents and prayers and the like. Love is what we had, Saphie..”
“I understand,” sighed Saphie.
“And then Cotrice joined the order,” breathed Isabel.
“That’s what she called herself. She was lovely, fresh, like a breath of spring on an autumn day. And for the first time since you’d been … discharged … I found myself looking at another human being and finding her wonderful. I only had to look at her and I wanted to move closer. I needed to breathe the air she breathed, feel the warmth of her next to me … and I wanted to touch her… and I did touch her…”
“It’s good to like someone,” murmured Saphie, non-commitedly.
“It’s good to love…” sighed Isabel. “The only trouble was she didn’t see things that way. She became angry, the wonderful expression on her face warped and twisted and became truly ugly. She reported my advances to the Mother Superior and I was dragged in front of her.
“It was horrible, and you were mentioned. Remember how we were caught together? Remember the things we did when we hoped nobody was looking? She reminded me, and I suppose it was just as well she didn’t know the whole of it! Anyway, I had to leave. She even suggested that it had been me corrupting you…”
“That was wrong,” put in Saphie. “I don’t remember anyone corrupting anyone.”
“Anyway, I set out to search for you once I’d found lodgings. And that wasn’t easy. I ended up in a hostel for lost souls! And my life became a nightmare. I was prayed at daily by a drunken preacher, mauled by half a dozen lecherous old men and tried to end it all more than once. But I wasn’t successful. Nothing ever worked for me.”
“Oh dear.” Saphie didn’t know what else to say. Isabel might have been a younger woman, but she looked older.
Then she plucked up her courage and said what was on her mind. “What you need is a bath and a change of clothes,” she said. “The truth is, Isabel, I think you smell a bit.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll go, then.” It was as if Isabel had heard a completely different set of words.
“I said you need a bath,” said Saphie firmly. “And you can have one here if you like. And I’m sure I’ve got some clothes that no longer fir me. You can have some of them. And when you’re clean and respectable, we’ll talk if you like.”
“I’ll never be respectable again,” almost wept Isabel.
“Come on. I’ll show you the bathroom and put some spare clothes outside the door,” said Isabel in her best “no nonsense” voice.
She heard the bath water start running and she sorted through her old clothes until she found a few things that looked as if they might fit Isabel.
“I’ve left the things outside the door,” she called.
The bathroom door opened.
Isabel stood there, naked and still soiled, and she looked at Saphie with huge eyes.
“I still love you…” she muttered huskily.
And the front doorbell rang again.
© Peter Rogerson 13.03.14