ISTER MARY DISMAS WAS DEAD, about this there can be no doubt. Her heart had stopped in the cold winter's night, the blood had congealed in her veins, and as the clock tick-tocked, her temperature dropped ever closer to the room's which she kept at sixty degrees. She was not one to waste energy.
Sr. Mary Dismas was as dead as, well, St. Dismas himself who back in the thirteenth century had confronted a powerful miller who was producing tainted Communion hosts. The miller's response was to stab and quarter Dismas, then grind him to dust under the massive millstone. Dismas was then incorporated into a new brand of host called “Holy Pumpernickel”, which became quite popular with the local communicants due to its speckled appearance and nutty taste. A disapproving Vatican, however, soon stepped in and after canonizing the hapless Dismas, had the miller slathered in lard and thrown into a dungeon full of Shih Tzus, where he was licked to death.
Principal Withers was talking to a tall, angular man with a badge who abruptly turned and stared right at her. Sr. Mary Dismas did not like the way the man looked at her, not one bit, and she hurried on down the hallway...
In life, Sr. Mary Dismas was much like her namesake: brave, strong-willed, and
uncompromising. She would not look away from evil, could not be swayed from the course of her duties, and preferred her hosts just as Dismas did: pure, white, and papery. But now she was dead in her bed, and this must be clearly understood or nothing wonderful can come of this story.
After cardiac arrest, the brain dies slowly, discrete pockets of neurons continuing to fire hours after the heart has ceased to beat. At six a.m. sharp, the morning after Sr. Mary Dismas's demise, an undamaged shred of the nun's cortex ordered her to rise, and she opened her eyes. She clumsily climbed out of bed, knelt down on the hard wood floor, and began her morning devotion. As she prayed, she felt numb and extremely sluggish but this concerned her little. Sr. Mary Dismas had taught fifth grade for fifty-two years, never once missing a day, and she was not about to start now.
After washing up, she carefully put on her habit and soon her tall frame was draped in flowing black robes and veil, her face and neck encircled by stiff white cardboard, a distaff Darth Vader. If she'd looked in a mirror, she would have noticed her ashen cheeks and fixed pupils. But there was no mirror in her little cell for she abhorred vanity.
At breakfast, Sr. Mary Dismas found she had absolutely no appetite so she used the time to mentally review the day's lesson plan. The other nuns at her table might have noticed her unusual pallor or unsullied plate, but they were all quite old and senile to varying degrees.
We're a dying breed, thought Sr. Mary Dismas, looking around at the other nuns' ancient, furrowed faces. There'd been no new sisters at the convent for more than a decade, and sadly, there were none on the way. To girls today, poverty and chastity meant driving a used Audi and waiting on sex till they were seventeen. The school affiliated with the convent, Virgin Birth Elementary School, was now staffed almost entirely by lay teachers and except for Sr. Mary Dismas, the nuns had been relegated to non-essential subjects such as art, music, and religion.
At seven-fifteen on the dot, the dead nun left the dining room, donned her old wool coat, and walked the short distance from the convent to the school, a squat brick building which was perfectly square and perfectly ugly. The structure's only saving grace was a huge stained-glass window over the entrance depicting the Holy Family: beautiful Mary holding sweet baby Jesus, their heads ensconced in golden halos, and behind them, a glum bearded Joseph.
As she neared the school, Sr. Mary Dismas gazed up at Mary, at her long, strong arms enfolding her infant Son. This sight never failed to inspire the nun and resonate with her devotion to her fifth-grade pupils. In their year with her, they would learn and grow in a safe and orderly environment, and not just some students, by God, but every last one of them.
Today her left foot dragged a little as Sr. Mary Dismas slowly climbed the front steps and entered the building. Perhaps it's time for a cane, she thought as she came to the principal's office and peeked through the small window in the door.
Principal Withers was talking to a tall, angular man with a badge who abruptly turned and stared right at her. Sr. Mary Dismas did not like the way the man looked at her, not one bit, and she hurried on down the hallway as fast as her imbalanced gait would allow.
A Nun's Tale continues...