Our Lady of the Bared Souls of Continuing Education

Three nuns enroll in my continuing education writing class because they believe the soul is a blank page waiting to be filled with their truth. The first nun, the one with wispy brown hair tucked tightly behind her pale ears and who always takes a delicate sip from her water bottle before she reads, has another revision of a chapter from her novel to share. But it’s the same every week: a nervous astrologer loses his way in the desert, wrestles with snakes and angels, but keeps forging on until he discovers the holy grail – a suitcase of dry priestly bones in the sand. Then he drinks a bitter elixir from a chalice which gives him the power to save mankind from doom and fall in love with a forensic archeologist, a lady with damp strawberry scented armpits, who happens to be conveniently traveling the same path.

The second nun is peculiar, yet seductive because she always leaves extra buttons on her blouse unbuttoned and is a prolific writer of strangely erotic vignettes. Usually, they’re about a vagabond couple, Gabriel and Mary, who spend their days traveling the interstates in a luxury RV making fried baloney sandwiches and rogue love. And their nights? Well, she spends pages and pages where they’re forever arguing about either one of two questions:why are we here and what if the swirling mystery of life holds no meaning? After she reads, there’s always at least one person in the workshop who claims he can’t follow the narrative arc of her story because eternity is bullshit, nothing is forever and all of her metaphors are mistaken because how can a baloney sandwich be a metaphor for religion or driving on the interstate signal repentance?

On the last day of class, it’s raining and the evening traffic going home will be horrendous, the roads slick and we want nothing more than to end this silly pursuit of writing for publication because even though a few of the stories we’ve workshopped are okay, the truth is, none of us have the talent of even one Updike fingernail. So when the shy nun, the one who wears her fuzzy sweaters buttoned up over every inch of her collarbones and has never spoken, raises her small hand for the first time and asks if she can please read her story to us, there’s a collective groan of despair.

I’ve been working on it all semester, she says and when more than a few people roll their eyes, she offers a quiet secret to seduce us: this is true. And because she hasn’t ever uttered a word and we’ve all wondered and speculated about her, we lean back in our chairs curious.

She begins by saying: This is about another soft world that’s hidden under this one. Maybe you’ll remember?

Her voice is gentle and it’s clear from the faces of the other nuns that they’ve heard her story before: the one about that sky, those clouds, these trees, his face, but it’s unfamiliar to me and it isn’t long before I’m lulled by the melody of her words. The classroom fades and the summer when I was six unfolds and I’m on my knees again, in a field of cool grass, waiting to play ball with a flock of angels – the happy ones who never bother counting homeruns under the falling stars or warn me I have to go home before it gets dark and when they toss me a ball it’s easy to catch because it’s made of light.