Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Forgotten Outpost in the Outpost

Not too long after the arson, I met an elderly white woman who lived in IrishTown. She was a nun, like a Poor Clare, one of the orders dedicated to serving the poor. She invited me to tea.

“What are you doing, living in this outpost of the devil?” she chided me, as we walked to her house. “This is a place full of sin.”

She didn’t wait for an answer, just chatted about the arson, and told me about her order, and about St. Francis. She did not ask my religious affiliation. She said hello to a couple of people on the street, then switched to the evils of drugs.

Her house was not that far away, but on a tougher street. The space of the front room was, like most of the 100-year-old plus houses in RiverTown, beautifully proportioned. Like most of the old houses in RiverTown, there were few inner doors, a wood floor. The wallpaper was a faded rose, the original stuff. I could see it was stretched onto tacked linen and not the walls themselves: durable work. The only decoration left, and it was not clean anymore, the dust of ages.

She told me the house was donated to her use a long time ago.
“I let homeless people sleep in here,” she said. “God bless the poor.”

She fixed tea.  She was wearing a tan habit, a cross knotted around her waist. We stood in the kitchen—bare, uncluttered—and sipped from our mugs.  I asked her why she was alone. Shouldn’t she have a convent, or a community?

“I’m the last of my order here,” she said comfortably. “We used to have quite a few, you know, but they went on.” Went on where, I wondered. With some other poor people? New orders from the chapter house? Heaven? She did not elaborate.

“Anyway, the bishop forgot about me,” she said. “But I’m doing God’s work.”

Maybe I gave her five dollars. As soon as I write that, I think I remember she refused money, or gave me no opportunity to give it. I don’t remember for sure.

Maybe she was a volunteer nun as opposed to an official one. Maybe stuck in some private fantasy. But not a scam artist.

I would see her from time to time. She wore the same clean habit every time I saw her. She was always walking alone to somewhere, cheerfully. It always seemed odd that the bishop would forget her. Maybe she was also a ghost.

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