Fabric

Oct. 3rd, 2010 01:12 am
chainofclovers: (Default)
[personal profile] chainofclovers
Title: Fabric
Fandom: Doubt (film)
Rating: R
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Doubt.
Note: I've been working on-and-off for a long time on a Doubt story for [personal profile] thelastgoodname, who bid on my [community profile] help_haiti auction. That story is still in progress (and I continue to thank [personal profile] thelastgoodname for her patience), but I've taken a bit of time away from it for various reasons. This story is a short, unbeta-ed piece that emerged from a failed iTunes meme I'd attempted to unblock my writing. (In short, I listened to a couple of songs over and over at the beginning of the writing of this story, then kept going from there in silence.) So, even if this isn't the "nun story," it's a story, and I enjoyed writing it.



I.

She and Sister Aloysius stopped talking to each other about God. They talked about books and newspapers instead, and when Sister James felt brave enough she read small snippets of stories out loud—passages she found compelling, words that reminded her of the vastness of the world beyond the windows in Aloysius’ office. Most afternoons, they sat on opposite sides of the same desk, letting phrases sink quietly in after days full of children and prayers and leather-soled shoes striking the halls over and over, days that married ritual and chaos. And yet, as they sat contentedly with the words of others, they did not name the Source.

God was relevant to these moments, James assumed privately, as relevant as He was to the lessons she delivered to her class every day. She brought Him into everything, muddled politics with the plan, kept God in the room like a candle burning on her desk. Her lessons were neater than history: she pruned its brambles and smoothed out the truth, and the children never seemed skeptical. If they wondered about the outside, it was because they wanted to stand gossiping on the street corners after school, and preferred to do so in the sun.

“I’m never going to feel like I’ve said enough,” James said one morning, having stopped in Aloysius’ office before the first period began, though she’d ordinarily wait to visit until the afternoon. “There isn’t much time left in the semester.”

“You’ll make up for it next year,” Aloysius said quickly. “There will always be more students.”

“But the students I have now will have gone on. They’ll be in high school. They won’t have heard…”

“Heard what?”

“I don’t know,” James admitted. She was distracted, for just one moment, by the unholy glimmer of light that struck down her spine whenever she entered this room. If she could just reach out and take Aloysius’ hand, talk to her that way. She knew why they were avoiding theology—only with each other—and saw in the fabric of their garments and the expression on Aloysius’ face how ridiculous it was, that words had made James want the warmth of skin within a theological life.


II.

Tonight was so different from last night. Tonight Aloysius was alone in her bed, quiet and still and anything but calm. Before last night happened, she’d assumed she was done with people. She’d assumed this quite willingly, in spite of all the children to teach, the sisters with whom she lived and worked, and the priests to hear and watch (even now, with Father Flynn gone, especially now). She supposed that the notion of being “done” was very naïve, considering her whole life revolved around a Parish full of souls, and realized now that what she’d actually assumed was that she was tangled only with God. At the end of every day, regardless of the hours she’d spent fighting with people and praying for people and suffering the truth, she was alone except for His presence.

She knew she’d been wrong about that. Last night James had appeared at her door, nervous in demeanor but undeniably determined. “Am I imagining things?” she’d asked quietly, and Aloysius had known exactly which things she meant. James had asked with her eyes if she could stay, and of course they kissed and touched (only breasts, through fabric, only a little, Aloysius wanted to think, but she knew there was no “only” in this world that could save them). Of course, even that little bit had faded their surroundings and drawn out their voices. They’d marveled at how novel it was to have to stay quiet, to feel enough that there was even a question of noise.

She was sorry, now, for herself and for Sister James. She hurt for them both. Even here alone as usual, her bed felt different. She could not imagine a place in which there could be adequate space for them, and yet she wanted to believe that tonight’s loneliness was temporary.


III.

Some nights they spent together; other nights, the possibility wasn’t even up for discussion. When James imagined this happening—so shameful, she thought, to have let her mind wander there—she had anticipated an initial discussion of logistics, and perhaps an acknowledgment of the sin. She thought she would be able to tell whether or not Aloysius truly wanted her life to change in this way. She thought she would be able to tell whether or not she herself wanted the same thing. But there was an exhausting unpredictability to their time spent together: sometimes, Aloysius seemed clammed-up with guilt, and sometimes James seemed to snap awake in the middle of a moment of weakness, full of nothing but the impulse to run. Sometimes, there was mutual joy. They were beyond fabric and boundary, and James knew herself enough to know she wouldn’t run too far.

In the fifteen nights since she first visited Aloysius in her room, they’d spent three nights in the same place, and she guessed that tonight, a Thursday in May, would be the fourth. James had spent part of the afternoon reading across from Aloysius at her desk—this remained her favorite custom, even now, as it was such a comfort—and looked up from her page to see a new sort of smile on Aloysius’ face. It was not devious, nor was it knowing. It was the smile of wondering what a person was going to say next, and James was that person, and God was the answer to the question of Aloysius’ lips.

“I don’t think—” James started, and cleared her throat. Aloysius’ smile had faded, but the curiosity was still there. “I don’t think we can keep God out of this. What I mean is, He isn’t out of this. We can pretend He is, but I don’t think that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Aloysius nodded in agreement. “Are you going to regret this?” she asked.

“No. Are you?”

“Yes. We both will.”


IV.

Aloysius kept thinking I’m too old to lose myself, but then she’d have her eyes closed again, and would feel James’ hands covering her own, again, and would hear James’ small, clear voice asking “Do you want to?” again, again, again.

Her mouth seemed to form the words of its own accord. “Yes,” she would hear herself say, and let a little more of herself rise up like vapor.

They started to move the desk in front of the bedroom door at night, lifting it together to avoid the dragging sounds. Moving the desk felt duplicitous, though it wasn’t God they were cheating. Nevertheless, it was an undeniable comfort to know the door couldn’t open from the outside, at least not without a significant effort that would serve in its way as a warning.

Summer came, and the temperature soared indoors and out. Heat altered the way they moved together. It made them more tired, and somehow more free. Tonight, before they touched each other they sat up in bed for awhile, together and still. James sat in front of Aloysius, so she had to crane her neck back in order to whisper what she had to say. “Don’t regret this,” she said.

Aloysius realized then that James was still hurt, at least in some places, by a conversation that happened over a month prior. James was younger and smaller, and, in this respect—in the way she could communicate when she was hurt, could state a need even when she wasn’t sure if that need could be met—stronger. Aloysius swallowed. “I’m sorry,” she forced herself to say, because she was.

“I pray more now,” James said. “And better.”

This did not surprise Aloysius, who prayed less, but not worse. “That’s not regrettable.”

“No,” James said, “And neither is this.” She kissed Aloysius hard.

It was delicious, like never being cold again. A regret, but warm, and neither wet nor dry.
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