Valerie had called around many nunneries, hoping to find one that would accept her. Unfortunately, many of them either did not take guests who hadn’t said their vows or came right out and said that they did not sympathise with her position once it had been explained. But she got lucky; one day she drove up to a nunnery close to where she was staying at the time. She was told right at the door by a very kind looking nun that Valerie could stay for as long as she liked.
A few days later, as Valerie drove up to the nunnery with all of her worldly belonging inside the boot, she wondered for the first time in a while just what had made her alight on the idea of staying with a group of nuns. She couldn’t recall, no matter how hard she tried to what had been the genesis of her thinking about it.
The nunnery was situated inside of a large, stone castle. The place had a haunted sensibility beyond what the rustic setting would automatically suggest anyhow; a sort of unfinished business hung in the air, as if someone or a group of people had been murdered there and the crime never solved. Valerie pulled up in front of the castle and entered through the front gate, suitcase in hand, to find a large, fat, middle aged nun she hadn’t seen on her initial visit sitting behind a large, stone desk. She gave Valerie a most stern, discouraging look as she entered.
“Hello, I’m here for the……”
The obese, forty-something nun cut Valerie off mid-sentence, rudely.
“Valerie Chambers. I was…”
And the nun cut her off sharply again.
“Purpose of your visit?”
“I’m here for a rest.”
The nun looked at Valerie with sarcasm.
“Here for a rest? I see.”
The nun wrote something on a piece of paper in front of her. Valerie couldn’t read the nun’s handwriting, but the bride of Jesus was kind of enough to read what she was scribbling aloud.
“I’m very clean living as it happens, and I…”
“You are to report to the Mother Superior immediately. Down the hall and to the left.”
Valerie was a little shaky by now, seriously considering just turning around and leaving. It was clear that this whole idea was almost certainly a mistake. But somehow, she just couldn’t leave.
“I would suggest you don’t dawdle,” the pudgy nun at the front desk barked at her, as Valerie made up her mind to at least meet the Mother Superior she had spoken to on the phone several days previous, a woman who had sounded as kind as the first nun she had met, the one who had informed Valerie that she could stay at the nunnery for as long as she cared for.
Entering the Mother Superior’s office, Valerie’s nerves were instantly soothed. The chief nun radiated from every pore on her perfectly ivory skin a sense of calm and happiness. She smiled brightly and infectiously at Valerie as the troubled divorcee entered her office.
“You must be Valerie Chambers.”
“That I am.”
“Trust you had a pleasant journey in, train ride wasn’t too bad?”
“I drove as it happens. Hope that’s okay?”
Valerie cursed herself inwardly for having asked this; obviously her mode of transport was all right, why would it not be.
“Whatever floats your boat, my dear.”
Valerie found herself fascinated by the Mother Superior and her use of bizarre colloquialisms; Valerie recalled her using them over the phone during their telephonic chat. She tried to remember one of them but just couldn’t while standing in front of her.
“So tell me, Mother Superior how long have you yourself been here at the nunnery?”
“It will be nigh on seventy-five years this spring.”
This comment threw Valerie for a complete loop: the Mother Superior looked as if she were in her late fifties at the very latest (she could indeed have easily passed for forty-five).
“I hope you don’t mind me asking Mother Superior but how old are you?”
“I’m ninety-five, my dear. It’s this Cornwall sunshine that does it for me. Come, let me show you to your quarters.”
Unfortunately, Valerie was instantly thrown back into the depths of despair and doubt when she laid eyes on the room she was to inhabit. It was tiny, made of crumbling,cold, uninviting stone. Even though it was the middle of a sunny day, it was still freezing in there. Valerie couldn’t imagine what it must be like during the night. The windows had no glass in them.
“It’s a little more……rustic than I had imagined.”
“They say the room is haunted you know,” Mother Superior told her, with a serious look on her face.
“No not really! I was just taking the mick! I’ll leave you to it.”
And with that, the Mother Superior left, leaving Valerie to examine the tiny room in solitude. There was a tiny dresser against one wall that looked as if it were designed for a toddler; above this dresser was a miniature mirror, about three inches tall and wide. At this point, Valerie started to feel very sorry for herself and wept, thinking about her ex-husband. Where had it all gone wrong for the two of them again? Valerie had still not come to terms with why exactly he had left her. She started to break down into one of her modes of pure self-pity she was privy towards.
She was quickly snapped out of this solemn feeling when she heard a male voice singing outside, a strong baritone. Valerie stuck her head out of her window and investigated. There she saw a shirtless, very attractive young man doing some work in the garden as he sang. Strangely he was singing the Welsh national anthem, “Land of my Fathers”. Valerie decided she wanted to get to know this shirtless, singing, presumably Welsh gardener.
As she approached him, Valerie could see that the gardener was much younger than she had anticipated and looked to be Mediterranean, perhaps Spanish. He looked to be in his early twenties, a mere boy in Valerie’s eyes. Oh well, she thought to herself, in for a penny, in for a pound. She said hello to the gardener. He acted awkward and didn’t say anything for a few seconds, before doffing his headgear, an old fashioned flat cap, towards her and saying:
“Buenos Dias, Senorita.”
“Valerie Chambers,” she said, extending her hand towards the gardener.
“Fernando Martinez,” he said without taking her up on the handshake. Valerie then turned to walk away, thinking he hadn’t appreciated her approach given his body language.
“Senorita, do you mind if I share some of my poetry with you?”
She stopped and turned back towards him.
“But I don’t speak Spanish I’m afraid. Or Welsh for that matter. Can I ask you, why were you singing ‘Land of My Fathers’?”
Fernando smiled and ignored Valerie’s last question.
“The poem is in English. It is how I have been learning the language.”
“All right then. That would be lovely.”
The gardener straightened himself out, getting his hair in place before pulling out a scrap of paper from his faded dungarees. Then he began.
“Aries was the God of war. Aries: God of Greek folklore. The mightiest warrior of all time. And I think that is fucking fine.”
“It was beautiful,” she just managed to say, heroically stifling a laugh.
“Thank you, Senorita.”
“I have to to go now, Fernando. Nice to meet you.”
She then turned around and fled the scene as quickly as she could without wanting to seem to Fernando as if she were running away from him.
As she stepped back inside the nunnery, Valerie did two things: she burst out into the laughter that Fernando’s terrible poem had induced but which she had held back from bursting into his face with, and simultaneously almost ran smack into the Mother Superior.
“Oh Valerie, there you are! What’s so funny?”
“Please come and meet the others.”
“Yes. Oh, I suppose you wouldn’t know that we have many young women who are in a similar situation to yours. Come through, come through.”
Mother Superior then took Valerie by the hand and led her into a large communal area where about half a dozen women who all appeared to be severely physically and/or mentally disabled were sat in a semi-circle, as if waiting for a presentation.
“Right, everyone this is Valerie. Say hello Valerie.”
A chorus of gibberish arose from the semi-circled bunch.
“Valerie, this is Spud,” the Mother Superior said, introducing Valerie to a woman who looked as if she’d just stepped out of a particularly long bout of electro-shock therapy. The Mother Superior then whispered in Valerie’s ear, her hand cupped to ensure no one else in the room could hear what she was saying.
“Took a shedload of opium.”
Mother Superior then introduced Valerie to the next invalid along.
“This is Dink.”
“I’m Dink, that’s right,” the woman managed to get out, grabbing Valerie’s hand and shaking it almost enough to make the poor woman fall over. Again, Mother Superior whispered in Valerie’s ear.
“Addicted to solvents.”
The next one along was apparently named “Clinky”. These can’t be these women’s real names surely, Valerie thought. Were they given these stupid sounding nicknames on arrival? Was she to get one as well?
“Right, I’ve got some things to attend to. I’m going to leave you here to get better acquainted with everyone,” Mother Superior said to Valerie.
“Hang on, you only introduced me to the first three; what about the rest?”
“Truth be told that lot are all so far gone as to not be worth bothering about. I think you four should bond together, become a real unit.”
And with that, Mother Superior left the room. Valerie figured again, she was here now, may as well make the best of it all. Perhaps these women would liven up a bit with the nun out of the room.
“Hi, Dink.” She picked Dink to speak to since she had been the only one of the three women that Valerie had been introduced to who had managed to actually say anything.
“Dink! That’s me!”
“So, what you in for?” Valerie asked her, jokingly, trying to strike up a rapport.
“Dink! Dink! Dink!”
It was clear now that the woman was wildly mentally ill. The other two, Spud and Clinky, simply sat staring at the wall in silence, each of them drooling slightly. Valerie couldn’t bear to even look at the other three, the ones Mother SUperior had written off. Again, she had serious thoughts of just getting up and leaving the nunnery.
But just then, the Mother Superior hurriedly entered the room again, out of breath, looking extremely worried about something or other.
“Valerie my dear, I must speak with you urgently in the next room.”
“Certainly, Mother Superior. Anything the matter?”
“The other room, dear, hurry!”
Once Mother Superior had gotten Valerie alone in the adjacent room, she started to interrogate the divorcee.
“What did you say to Fernando?”
“Fernando?” Valerie had to think for a moment. “Oh, the gardener! Um, well nothing really. Why?”
“Something terrible has happened.”
“What? Oh my, Fernando hasn’t gone and quit his job or something has he?”
“Fernando has decided to hang himself to death from a tree, just this very minute.”
Valerie took a split second to absorb this information. Then she promptly started screaming her head off. The Mother Superior roughly slapped her across the face as soon as she did. The nun then put her hand roughly over Valerie’s mouth.
“Silence, you fool! Do you want everyone to know?”
Mother Superior slowly drew her hand away from Valerie’s face.
“What are we going to do?” Valerie asked.
“You are going to go back into the sitting room and keep the others occupied until we can find someway of resolving the Fernando situation.”
“But surely the others have a right to know about this.”
Valerie had no idea why she was sticking up for the rights of the invalids in the next room out of the blue. She found it amusing and had to restrain a smile.
“Are you fucking kidding?” the Mother Superior shot back with, and the nun using foul language snapped Valerie back into touch. “Those deadbeats in there have done so much damage to their nervous systems through drug abuse that they can no longer take the slightest strain! A shock of this magnitude could kill them all!”
“You want me to keep them occupied until you can get the body out of the nunnery? Is that it?” Valerie asked this question sarcastically, shocked at the nun’s seeming callousness. But the Mother Superior clapped her hands together and looked pleased that she was finally getting through to Valerie.
“That would be bloody brilliant if you could be bothered. We’d only need you to keep them on ice for about fifteen minutes. Think of it as earning your keep.”
Valerie went back into the communal room to face her newfound friends anew. Fifteen minutes wasn’t a long period of time, but she knew it could quickly turn into eternity with this lot. Her first plan of action was to try and interact with the group.
“Right, everyone. So this is what I like to call story time. Now who wants to tell us a story, huh?
The half dozen lost souls simply stared back at Valerie with incomprehension.
“Anyone? Just something about their lives.”
“I’ve got a story,” Dink said.
“All right then. Good to see you talkative as ever.”
Valerie now regretted the course of action she had opted for. For it was probably going to be fifteen minutes of Dink now. Great.
“I once got very drunk by myself and listened to “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?” seventy three times in a row.”
Valerie waited for Dink to continue, but that appeared to be the end of her tale. It was then that Valerie decided to tell a story of her own, one that would fill the time gap that needed filling. Unfortunately, Valerie was fresh out of stories. So she decided to make one up off the top of her head.
“Right, slight change of plan, everyone: I’m going to tell you all a story. The story is called “Lesbian for a Day”. You ready? Then let us begin.”
Valerie took a deep breath. She had no idea what words were going to tumble out of her mouth next, but as she thought out in the garden, in for a penny, in for a pound. And so she began.
“Once upon a time, there lived two children, one named Peter and the other Olivia. One day their parents decided to take them on a wonderful trip to Ireland to see the green hills, the rolling hills of Ireland. They were both very excited about this as neither of them had been on a boat before.
“Unfortunately, the voyage was doomed as there was a mechanical fault with the boat that was only detected once it had pushed off from Britain. The captain of the ship managed to get it to within sighting distance of the Irish shore, but that was it. The boat sank. Everyone on board drowned, apart from Peter and Olivia, who somehow made it to shore on a makeshift raft they had made from parts of the sunken boat. Children can be very resourceful sometimes.”
Valerie had no idea how her story was going over so far. She was too afraid to look the invalids in the eye. She just looked at the ceiling and kept on talking.
“When they got to Ireland, they both fell asleep for a very long time, so long you might have thought that both of the children would snooze until the very end of time. They awoke at precisely the same moment, Olivia looking to her brother for guidance.
‘What are we going to do, Peter?’ Olivia asked her brother.
“There is only one thing to do, and that is to return to England at once,’ Peter returned. ‘It isn’t far.’
Peter pointed out towards the sea.
‘You can see the lights of Blackpool from here, see?’
And as the little girl looked closer, she found that indeed she could see the lights of Blackpool. England wasn’t all that far at all, her brother was right.”
Valerie finally had the courage to look up at her audience. They all seemed either gripped or comatose; with that group it was always going to be hard to differentiate. But whatever – they weren’t going anywhere in hurry and that was the main job at hand. She continued with her impromptu tale.
“So the children walked and walked using the lights of Blackpool as their beacon. But they never came to the bridge they had been expecting to find. There were several points along the way that Peter considered it narrow enough to swim for, but Olivia wasn’t a strong swimmer and Peter didn’t know if he could swim that far and carry his sister along with him. So the children kept walking. Until they came upon a very old man standing by the water’s edge. Peter approached him as he felt that the old man might be able to help them get to England.”
“The old man introduced himself as Sausage the ferryman. He got people to England and told Peter and Olivia to hop on board, which the children duly did. Once the journey was underway, Sausage revealed that he had more surprises in store for Peter and Olivia. He told them that he was no mere ferryman – he was also the granted of wishes. The children could have one each. Olivia knew what she wanted: a bar of chocolate. As soon as she told Sausage what she was after, BOOM…”
The invalids recoiled a little bit from Valerie’s sudden volume change. She decided to lower her voice as she continued on.
“..a bar of chocolate appeared in Olivia’s hand. Then it was Peter’s turn he decided…he decided…he told Sausage that he’d like to be a lesbian for a day.”
It had just come out of nowhere. Valerie winced as she realised the rather unfortunate turn her little off the cuff story had taken. She took a deep breath and carried on, sure she could pull it round again.
“So Peter then turned into a woman about thirty years of age. Buzz cut, leather jacket, fag in the mouth.”
Valerie winced again. She had resorted to cheap stereotype to add to her storytelling crimes. She was really struggling to bring this monster of an anecdote to an end. She looked up at the clock; it had been twelve minutes, meaning she only needed to spin it out for another three.
“So the bull dyke and the girl with the chocolate, whatever her name is…”
“Olivia!” Dink helpfully chipped in.
“…yes, Olivia, thank you, Dink, and Sausage the wizard-cum-ferryman, they all could see, well they could no longer quite see Blackpool anymore. Everything was real, real dark. And then Olivia said to Sausage that she’d like to change her wish, that she’d like for them all to be back in England, safe and sound. But Sausage just shook his head and told them it was too late, they had spent their one wish. And so the lesbian asked Sausage what happened next, and he told them they were all going to drown.”
Valerie looked up to see the horrified faces that looked upon her. She realized she had better make sure her story had a happy ending.
“But it turns out that the lesbian that Peter had been turned into was very strong in the water, and Olivia and Sausage clung to her back as they swam to England. And just as they arrived on the shores of Blackpool, Peter turned back into himself again, but that was fine because they were fine now, all safe. The end.”
The fifteen minutes had just elapsed. Valerie had done her bit.
“But what happened to Sausage after that?” asked one of the gathered women, one of those Valerie had not been introduced to.
“What?” Valerie asked, confused as she was already trying to erase the terrible parable she had invented on the spot from her brain, not to mention being asked what was a cogent question from someone she had assumed was brain dead.
“Sausage! The wizard with the ferry? Did he get back Ireland?” asked one of the other women Valerie hadn’t been introduced to. She seemed even more rational than the first question bearer. Valerie was filled with horror; she’d thought she was addressing a room full of the mentally incapacitated, but instead had just spun a weird yarn about children turning into stereotypical gay women while standing in a nunnery talking to women who it turns out were fully compos mentos. Valerie had to think fast.
“Sausage managed to get a job in Blackpool that allowed him to save up and buy a new raft. After that he started up his old route.”
“What did he get a job doing?”
“Why didn’t he just use one of his wishes on himself to get his raft back?”
The questions came thick and fast and soon an argument broke out amongst the assembled women as to the postscript, meaning and symbolism present in Valerie’s “Lesbian for a Day” story. None too soon, Mother Superior came charging back into the room looking a little harassed yet relieved.
“Hello, hello everyone! Ah Valerie, thank you for your help. The problem we discussed earlier has now been sorted.”
The nun winked at Valerie as she nodded her head for her to follow the Mother Superior out into the garden. As Valerie left the room, the argument over “Lesbian for a Day” was still raging on, getting more heated by the moment.
“Can I ask you something personal, Valerie?” Mother Superior asked once they were outside.
“Why did you come to stay with us?”
“I haven’t a clue, really.” And then Valerie had a moment of clarity. “ All I know is that whatever it was I was looking for, I think I’ve found it all of a sudden.”
“I don’t know exactly why you thought you came here. But I happen to know that you came to help others. And help you did. And that, my dear was the best thing you could have done for yourself.”
Valerie embraced the elderly nun.
“Good bye, Valerie.”
“Goodbye, Mother Superior.”
Valerie then walked away, got in her car, and carried on with her life.