A Story by Terry Collett



Sister Charles tucks in the large white napkin into the neck of her black habit and gazes around the refectory. Odd seeing so many other women gathered and such silence. No tongues wagging; no gossip. Only the nun reading up on the platform above the tables drones on over the silence. There is only the knocking of water jugs and glasses and moving of chairs, she reminds herself, looking through her thick lenses. She lifts the spoon and gazes at her reflection in the back. Distorted her image stares back at her. She and her sister did that as children. She recalls sticking out her tongue and her father scolding her for bad manners at the table at home. She rubs the spoon with the napkin. She feels she wants to wash the spoon rather than lick it clean as they do after meals and place it with the knife and fork in the huge napkin and push it under her place at the table in the refectory. Father would not have liked that at all. Once a week all cutlery is steamed in the kitchen and clean ones handed out to start all over again. So one doesn’t get too possessive of property, she assumes putting the spoon down on the table top. She looks up to see which of the nuns are serving. Sister Joseph with her large white apron over her habit pushes the food trolley into the center of the refectory. Sister Bede stands beside it gazing at the abbess’s top table waiting for the nod from the abbess for the meal to begin. She saw Sister Bede once coming out of the shower with ginger hair of a few inches all over her head. Strange seeing another nun without her headdress on. When she first came and realized they were only permitted a bath or shower once a week she felt so unclean after a few days she imagined herself smelling. The luxury of a daily bath or shower is long gone now, she tells herself looking toward the abbess’s table, waiting for the nod of head. Her stomach rumbles gently. She waits for her glass to be filled by an obliging sister. It stands there empty. Nuns must not help themselves but await the charity of a sister. She looks around her hoping Sister Peter will oblige. Sister Peter sits with eyes closed. At prayer or tired, she assumes, looking at Sister James on the other side who smiles and lifts the water jug and pours water into the glass. Sister Charles smiles a thank you and pours water into the nun’s own glass. She sips the water; cold and clear. She runs it around her mouth with her tongue and then swallows it. Lovely. She needed it that. She holds the glass close to her lips and sips again. Never gulp, mother had said years ago, it so unladylike. She allows the water to slowly run over and over her tongue until she swallows it down. The abbess nods and taps on her table and the meal begins. The serving nuns start to serve up the portion for each table. There is a humbleness in their movement; any sense of the task being below them has long since been pushed away. Serve your sisters as if it was Christ Himself you serve; Him you wait on and provide for and serve, Sister of Novices had told her years before. Again her stomach rumbles. Soon be coming. The meal. Soup. Hot and beefy. The nun on her left pours ladlefuls of soup into Sister Charles’s large white bowl and then her own and passes the soup tureen along the table to the nun on Sister Charle's left. Sister Charles pours ladlefuls of soup into white bowl of the nun on her left and then lifts her spoon and just before she dips it in the soup she sees her reflected distorted image looking back her and smiles. She dips in the spoon and lifts the spoonful of soup to her lips and feels the warmness flow into her mouth and the rumbling stomach is silenced as she swallows and senses the warmness seep into her. Funny the silence of these women. Only the nun reading makes a sound; her voice drones on over the silence like a bee over summer flowers.

© 2010 Terry Collett

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Added on May 18, 2010
Last Updated on May 18, 2010


Terry Collett
Terry Collett

United Kingdom

Terry Collett has been writing since 1971 and published on and off since 1972. He has written poems, plays, and short stories. He is married with eight children and eight grandchildren. on January 27t.. more..