This is a sequel to my story: "Shelagh Mannion: Life in Vignettes". Definitely read that one first!
It had been weeks now – perhaps months, time had been flying by so fast – since Dr Turner had brought to Sister Julienne's attention a medical conference a five hours' drive north that he planned to attend and that he expected the midwives might find enlightening. Sister Julienne had elected Sister Bernadette to attend, knowing that the young nurse would be the most studious and be best able to teach the rest of staff everything that she learned. When Dr. Turner had confirmed that Sister Bernadette would accompany him for the long morning drive, he had at first been more pleased by the choice than he perhaps should have been.
But just two days before their trip, Sister Bernadette had seemed… odd. She'd been reserved, but not in her quiet, nun-ish way – an upset way. She had asked for her own cigarette – so unlike her – and smoked the entire thing without another word passing between them.
Dr Turner had supposed that she'd had an unusually difficult case or exceptionally long day, and he had hoped she would shake it off the next day. But in the few times he had bumped into her since, she still seemed withdrawn and distracted.
The day before the conference, he pulled up to Nonnatus House around 10 in the morning. She was waiting for him on the steps; however, she didn't notice him at first, as if her mind had been somewhere else. She greeted him quietly and, after she'd taken her seat in his car, had already started staring out into the road. He left her alone for the first hour, hoping that eventually the silence would get the better of her and she might reveal her mind to him.
But he should have realized that silence would never overcome a nun and rapidly both his concern and his curiosity were getting the better of him.
"Timothy says hello."
His words pulled her attention away from the passing scenery. She even flashed him a small smile. "He's very sweet."
After a pause, he said, "Even he mentioned that you seem quiet recently."
He realized when she looked away from him that he may have miscalculated in speaking. He frowned and settled back into the drive, ready for another four hours of sullen quiet, when suddenly she sighed. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her leaning against the car door, eyes scanning the horizon.
In the quiet of the car, Sister Bernadette's soft voice said, nearly a whisper, "If I could understand precisely what I feel, I would talk to you." She was quiet again; he glanced at her, trying to gauge whether that was all she would say for the moment. He wanted to say something, to urge her to try to explain herself, to open up to him, but he had learned recently that she revealed her thoughts slowly and so he bit down his urge to speak and waited.
"I try to meditate on these thoughts – emotions really," she said unexpectedly. He glanced at her; she was staring down at her hands clasped tightly in her lap. "But every time I do, every time I try, I feel as if Sister Bernadette is standing over my shoulder, judging my every thought, so that I can't even get to the bottom of the cause."
He felt her looking at him and took his eyes off the road just long enough to meet hers. He wanted to say something, but what could he say in response to that admission.
She wet her bottom lip, a slow movement. He nearly forgot to look back at the road. He wished they weren't in a car for this conversation so he could study her face, her inflections, while she spoke. He wished more that she would look at him and not the window when she said, "I just wish I could take a day off. A holiday from being a nun. Just for a day – a part of a day – so I could think without feeling guilty for my own thoughts."
They settle back into silence. Sister Bernadette alternates between watching her fingers and watching the grass out the window.
But her words – the word: guilty – hangs a heavy weight inside the car.
They listen to the radio for a little while. Dr Turner tells her a few stories about Timothy. One – about a new interest in insects – makes her smile.
They arrived in town in the late afternoon. After they parked and checked into their rooms, they both agreed they could use a nice walk to stretch their legs.
They walked a few short blocks, speaking only in directions, as they searched for the main road. The day was winding to an end and they could feel it in the low hum of activity peaking with end-of-the-day errands and men getting out of work.
The warm scent of chips wafted up a side street. Dr Turner looked down at the nun. "Fancy some fish and chips for dinner? My treat."
He was also thoughtful, so generous, Sister Bernadette thought. She nodded and they crossed the road towards the smell.
The Sister hung back a little as Dr Turner walked up and placed their orders.
The spring had finally arrived and the afternoon had a lovely, kind warmth to it. She tipped her face up towards the sun and felt it kiss her skin. When she dropped her chin, her eyes caught on the display in the shop window before her. A mannequin in a simple blouse, with gentle blue and green flower prints. A blue skirt – almost the color of the RAF, but more feminine.
"One fish supper." Dr Turner's voice startled her. She looked up at him, smiled, then took the offered food.
He seemed to realize that he had startled her because his brows dropped and the corners of his lips pulled down. Then he looked over his shoulder at the window display. His eyes scanned over the mannequin, then returned to Sister Bernadette's.
"Admiring the display?"
He knew at once that he'd said both the right and wrong thing. The tips of her cheeks blushed a delicate pink, and he knew he was right. But she also turned and began walking, her dinner untouched, and he knew he'd embarrassed her.
But almost immediately she redirected and brought them to a bench, where they could sit and eat.
Once they started eating, she began chatting, almost as if back to her normal self, telling him the latest drama about Sister Monica Joan and the latest antics of the young nurses.
But as he chewed on a lava hot chip, he couldn't help dwell on her words in the car: I just wish I could take a day off. A holiday from being a nun.