Pamela York Klainer
Very discreetly Sister Loretta called in each of the girls on Dermott’s short list, leaving his steady, Claire, for last. Sister Loretta was calm and direct, not asking the girls if they were having sex with Dermott, but telling them she knew about their high risk behavior and was concerned. The younger girls were mortified, red-faced, teary, their attempts at denial crumpling before Sister Loretta’s steady gaze. They were remorseful. They promised to go to confession. They promised never to do it again, not with Dermott or anyone until they were married. They begged Sister Loretta not to tell their parents.
Only Claire, a senior like Dermott, was defiant.
“We’re in love. And we’re both eighteen. Dermott and I are going to get married. My parents say I have to wait until I graduate from college. But Dermott and I are applying to the same colleges and after freshman year we’re going to elope. My parents were married right out of high school. I don’t know why they’re being so bossy and old-fashioned with me.”
Sister Loretta outwardly gave no ground, but her surprise at Claire’s bold response lost her the upper hand. Seeking to get it back, Sister Loretta made her voice even more stern. “Your behavior is immoral and you and Dermott are committing a sin. What you’re doing is also very high risk.”
Claire smirked. “You mean that silly pill thing? Dermott tried that on me once. My mother takes the pill just like his mother, and I know how all of that works. I told him not to think I’m an idiot and that he has to use protection every time we have sex or he’s not getting any.”
Every time. This was not a one-time seduction, a quick grope in the car at the drive-in between a handsome young man and a love-sick younger girl. Sister Loretta paused, surprised to find Claire more sexually confident than expected, more assured in talking about sex than Sister Loretta herself.
“I assume your parents don’t know you and Dermott are sexually active?”
If Sister Loretta intended mention of Claire’s parents as a threat, Claire didn’t retreat.
“I think my mother suspects. She likes Dermott and thinks he would be a great catch. She told me she and my father turned themselves inside out to do everything together but have sex until they were actually married, and looking back she thinks they were stupid and missed out on a lot of fun. I think she wonders every time Dermott and I go out on a date, and if she finds out we’re doing it I don’t think she’ll care.”
Claire grinned. “I’m not sure she’d tell my father though. He tells my brothers all the time he’ll kill them with his bare hands if they get a girl knocked up, but he turns beet red if there’s any mention of sex with me or my sisters around. He thinks his daughters should be like the Virgin Mary, that’s why he’s sending us to Catholic school.”
Claire, Sister Loretta mused silently, has more experience with sex than I do. She felt her face coloring slightly, and she felt warm under the heavy black folds of her habit. She managed to keep her manner serene. But it was Claire who took the initiative to bring an end to the conversation.
“Look, Sister. You can get me in a lot of trouble, I know that. But there’s nothing wrong with what Dermott and I are doing. In the olden days a lot of girls were married and even had babies by the time they were eighteen. If Dermott didn’t get into college he could be drafted and shipped off to Vietnam and if we hurried up and got married before he went no one would think anything of it. My mother doesn’t care, I know it. If you want I’ll tell her and see what she says. The school can’t care more than my mother. Dermott and I are being careful. I’m not going to get pregnant. We know what we’re doing. I know you think sex is a sin. But that’s between me and God, right? Not between me and you?”
Sister Loretta frowned. “You know I can’t give you my approval for this behavior.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth Loretta realized how foolish they sounded. Claire wasn’t asking for her approval. Unbelievably, Loretta found herself saying the same words again.
“I can’t give you my approval. I’d like to think more about a next step, and then I would like to talk with you and perhaps with your mother as well.”
Claire left and went to find Dermott, confident that she’d bought some time, and Loretta moved to her low chair with the softer light.
Claire knew more about sex than Loretta did.
How unlike the conversation with Dermott, and with Regina, and with the three younger girls, who were so easily intimidated.
Claire knew exactly what she was doing.
She was doing it with relish.
She was having fun.
She didn’t care what Sister Loretta thought, only whether Sister was going to get her in trouble.
Loretta shifted in her chair, her body stiff and uncomfortable.
Thinking about sex wasn’t really part of her mindset when she thought about entering the convent. She’d never talked about it with Sister Joan, only about the desire to write poetry and have a life outside of home and family.
The nuns-in-training had one sex talk from a priest, not Father Leon, in their second year. That man talked in euphemisms, saying no earthly pleasure of the flesh could match the divine love they would be feeling every day of their consecrated lives.
Loretta didn’t come to the convent with much knowledge about sex. Her mother said it was something they’d talk about later, when Loretta was about to get married. The conversation never happened.
Loretta shifted again in her chair, her body being overtaken by an unaccustomed feeling.
She took a deep breathe, afraid to recognize longing.
Katie had felt longing, for Stephen.
Loretta suspected Father Leon felt longing, because he never mentioned that part in trying to help Katie through. He didn’t skip it because he didn’t know what longing was, but because he did.
Loretta got up, and locked her door. She opened the office window. She lit a cigarette, and took a deep draw.
She didn’t have anyone in mind. She thought you had to, to feel longing. She thought your body didn’t come on fire all on its own.
Her body was on fire.
She took another deep, harsh draw on the cigarette.
Not what her body wanted.
Having feelings was normal, the priest said. What you did with them was what mattered to God.
Not touch yourself, the priest said sternly. God thought that was a sin.
Loretta craved touching herself, to get some relief.
Instead she paced.
In a few minutes she would have to leave school to return to the convent, to have common fare with her Sisters, then evening prayer. Then they would have recreation in the Common Room, then she could go to her room to mark papers. Then she would pray again, silently and in her room. Then she would go to bed. In the dark. In her own room.
Surely routine would take over, and the feeling would subside.
Touching herself would be a sin.
God would see.
Maybe she wouldn’t still want to, by end of day.
Loretta began to gather up her books, her papers, and put them in the leather bag.
She wanted to.