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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
There's nothing like a good guilt trip, especially if you're in the business.
Sister Levi al-Chaim has been doing penances of one sort or another for the last five decades, and that's only in her official capacity. Even before she became a nun she enjoyed (if that's the correct word) offering sacrifices up to the Lord. A fast here, a litany there, a rosary or two mumbled under the breath while the rest of the world was wearing bobby sox and fainting at the sight of Frank Sinatra at the Paramount. One does not embrace a spiritual vocation lightly, and Sister Levi did not take her vows because she wished to become a hootchy kootchy dancer. So after all this time she has become good at it. And after the Blessed Moly, Sister Levi has reason to want to be good at it.
She doesn't know what came over her. She has been in this activity for as long as she can remember, and she has dealt with other coaches for as long as she can remember, and never once before has she lost her temper. For that matter, she doesn't really believe she lost her temper this time. But she lost something. There was a point at which she simply could not accept the existence of Alida Devins on the face of the earth, and not one drop of the religion coursing through her blood could stop that feeling.
She dips her brush into the bucket. She is on her hands and knees, washing the floor of the chapel now that services are over. This is a good place for her to be. It will probably take four or five hours for her to finish the job. If she is not all that fast on her feet anymore, on her knees she is the embodiment of inertia. But she is in no rush. Suffering for one's sins is not something you try to rush.
Father Melius, when she had confessed to him, had given her a penance of mediation. Meditation! She didn't need meditation, she needed work. Not that she didn't perform the prescribed penance, but every time she sat down and tried to concentrate, she fell asleep. To concentrate on the grace of God and sharing the grace with others, which is what the priest had told her to do, was all well and good, provided it was allowable in bits and pieces, but it didn't take the horror out of her mind, the horror of having caused physical harm to another human being.
And it didn't keep her awake, either.
How could she have done it? What had she been thinking? It was as if she had been taken over by the devil himself, possessed by Satan to do his work, rather than the work of the Lord.
She edges forward, covering maybe six inches, pulling her bucket up with her. Then she dips her brush in again, gets a good head of foam, and starts scrubbing.
The word is that Alida Devins's arm was broken in the melee. True physical damage. She could have had her neck broken.
And it would have been Sister Levi al-Chaim's fault.
So what if Hannah and Hughes were cheating? Was it Sister's job to defend them, or confront them?
But how could you call that cheating? One little phrase? The piece wouldn't have made sense without it.
But the rules are the rules, and you've known the rules all of your adult life.
But the rules change from venue to venue. NFL says one thing, CFL says another thing, this tournament allows this and that tournament allows that.
But right is right and wrong is wrong. And pushing Alida Devins off the stage and breaking her arm was wrong.
The image of her rival is vivid in Sister's mind. And she savors that image, enjoying it, until she catches herself, and squeezes her eyes shut.
It is for reveling in the pain of others that she must now perform the penance that pains her.
She dips the brush into the bucket again. She ought to be finished in time for evening prayers.
After which she can do it all over again.
If every action you take is defined by the difficulty of taking that action, you might begin to define yourself as existing in a sea of difficulty. And if your difficulties are real (many people merely imagine their difficulties, which adds the additional difficulty of not being able to get anyone to sympathize with them), and if your difficulties are many (nobody lives a life of complete ease, although a few come close), then life itself is the ultimate difficulty, and virtually every action is a battle. With grave enough difficulties, some battles cannot be fought at all.
Some times you don't know how well off you are.
Mr. Lo Pat has no use of his legs, only one of his hands completely under his full control, although the other one comes and goes if the moon is full and the tea leaves are reading well, and his neck and head are permanently tilted to the left, although he can turn them slightly in a sort of off-kilter maneuver involving a lot of shoulder and a skoosh of hip. He sleeps on his back because he is virtually incapable of rolling over on to his stomach without aid, and there is no one in his small apartment to aid him. To get into bed he pulls himself from his wheelchair toward the bottom of the bed, which gets his rear end onto the mattress while his feet are still hanging over. Then he pulls himself back toward the top of the bed, dragging his feet up until the are off the floor, at which point his head is usually on the pillow. He then covers himself with the bedclothes. He does not toss and turn in his sleep, because he cannot toss and turn. He can only lie there, staring at the ceiling. Fortunately, one of the few ailments he doesn't suffer from is insomnia, which would make his immobility not only physically but mentally painful.
Rising in the morning is an easier business, requiring swinging his legs off the bed, which he does by revolving his top half in the direction away from the wheelchair. Then he pushes himself up with his good arm, at which point he is usually sitting with the wheelchair directly in front of him. Around his bed there are metal bars he can grab to hoist himself up and down into the chair. At which point the first thing he usually does is whirr himself into the bathroom which is designed with rails for him to monkey his way from tub to sink to toilet as easily as possible. It is getting dressed that is perhaps the hardest thing of all, because his legs are impossible to get into pants and pants are impossible to get on his legs. But somehow he does it, every day, and he does it alone. The calico cat with which he shares his apartment has the perfect amount of stoicism, knowing in its feline way that it will get fed sooner or later, and that its main job is to sit in his master's lap and purr, but only those times when his master is not otherwise engaged.
It takes Mr. Lo Pat approximately two hours a day to get up and dressed, and he has nothing to show for those two hours except his presence in the kitchen, where he can now begin preparing his breakfast.
In a life lived with this much attention to the details of what would otherwise be simple activities, it is mostly the body that is occupied in solving the problems of getting from here to there, while the mind takes on a zenlike concentration mixing cosmic nothingness with the thingness of the thing being done. Mr. Lo Pat, in performing the chores that mark his complex everyday existence, concentrates on doing those chores, but at the same time he has plenty of thought available for a sort of freeform meditation on anything but fulfilling those chores. This morning, as he opens the door of his apartment and faces the task of reaching down for the blue plastic bag containing his New York Times, he is thinking of both how he will operate the pincers he carries around his apartment for just this sort of operation, and how he is in no way responsible for the injury to John Melvish.
John Melvish. Quilty Prep.
Mr. Lo Pat neatly collects his bag of Times and reenters his apartment, whirring toward the kitchen table. Strawberry PopTarts are ready to be lowered into the toaster, and the coffee is ready in the machine that has been set by his housekeeper (the latest in a series of foreign nationals whose place of origin depends on from what country the US is currently accepting shore-huddling refuse, she comes by daily to straighten things up, prepare Mr. Lo Pat's meals, and, just in case, to check up on him to make sure that in his way he is still functioning). He pours himself a cup, black, and begins to read the paper.
But his mind is on Melvish.
He does not feel guilty for the accident that sent the novice tumbling down the stairs. It was an accident, there was no mistake about that, and by definition an accident is something that is not deliberate. Additionally, some accidents are non-preventable, making them even blameless on face. The result of drunk driving, for instance, may be an accident, but the drunk driver is hardly blameless, while the result of swerving to avoid a deer may also be an accident, for which the driver could hardly be considered culpable, even though he was responsible. Unless, of course, he paid more attention to where he was going.
Should Mr. Lo Pat have been paying more attention to where he was going? That is the logical extension of that argument.
But no, by that analysis Melvish would be as much to blame as Mr. Lo Pat. So either they're equally to blame and their blames cancel each other out, or they are equally blameless, and carrying no weight of guilt that needs alleviating.
Feh! Mr. Lo Pat shakes his head and takes a sip of coffee. The front page of the main section of the Sunday newspaper is packed with reporting of the upcoming election. Hardly earth-shattering material. Hardly anything to catch his attention. The PopTarts arise, and he takes one and puts it on a small plate to cool. He starts turning the pages of the newspaper.
The real thing for which he feels shame, the stepchild of guilt, is for not admitting to his offense. If it was an accident, even a preventable accident, he should have at least had the courage to acknowledge his fault. The tacit lie of not admitting the truth will now haunt him for as long as the image of Melvish bouncing down the stairs stays fresh in his mind.
None of this would have happened if Quilty had adult supervision, Mr. Lo Pat thinks, biting into the sweet stickiness of his PopTart. Too sweet. He gently dunks the next bite into his coffee, mixing bitter with the sugar, breeding lilacs out of the dust, or something….
An idea occurs to him. He has been planning to merely boycott the Quiltonians, and to do his best to have his colleagues do likewise, but he is struck by an alternative that is much better. He has no desire to punish the school for its trespasses, especially after the Melvish incident, which might be construed to prove that the worst thing that could happen to a Melvish student is Mr. Lo Pat himself. No, he is perfectly willing to let the Quiltonians continue competing, and this idea might allow them to compete efficiently and safely. And at the same time, it would be beneficial to one of his own protégées.
What more can he ask for?
Except, of course, to do something about this niggling sense of shame over not having the courage to own up to his responsibilities.
He pushes aside the news and begins to scan the Styles section of the paper, the latest in fashion and the au courant. The hell with responsibilities, he thinks, biting into another coffee-soaked dunk of PopTart.
There is guilt, and there is guilt. And then there is Cartier Diamond.
Of the three -- Sister Levi al-Chaim, Mr. Lo Pat and Cartier -- it is Cartier whose act was the most deliberate. Sister Levi acted in the heat of the moment, and Mr. Lo Pat merely shied away from acknowledging a legitimate accident, while Cartier planned and executed not only the crime of grand theft larceny, but also its aftereffects. For that matter, it was the aftereffects that were her driving force.
Aftereffects, it should be pointed out, that she has mostly slept through. Cartier can sleep with, if not a clear conscience, at least an unbothersome one, no matter what. She doesn't get insomnia, although she may be a carrier. After Harry Truman gave the order to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, he went to bed and had, he claims, a good night's sleep. Going old Give-Em-Hell one better, Cartier could conceivably set off nuclear winter and destroy all life on the planet, and not only get a good night's sleep, but wake up feeling refreshed and raring to go the morning after.
Except, of course, it is no longer morning when she opens her eyes. The clock on her bedside table reads 2:42.
She sighs. It was a long night, after all.
She lies on the bed, staring at the ceiling, allowing herself to come awake gradually. No point rushing to get up. It's not as if Mrs. Bridges will have breakfast waiting or anything. The best Cartier can hope for is that the cook might throw together some scrambled eggs for her. And coffee. A nice cup of Mrs. Bridges' coffee.
Cartier smiles. She would definitely like a nice cup of Mrs. Bridges' coffee. She closes her eyes and imagines what it would be like to have that coffee right now.
She gives no thought to the Boxster that she drove off a cliff the night before. She has no idea that the police called the house late in the night -- Cartier could sleep through the Apocalypse. She has no idea that, on getting no answer, they had tracked down her father in his city apartment and talked to him there, telling him that his car had been found totally destroyed under suspicious circumstances, and that there appeared to be no casualties.
No idea that he had rushed home to find that Margaret was not in the house at three o'clock in the morning.
No idea that he had checked on Cartier, and found her sleeping like a little angel.
No idea that when Margaret had returned home at seven in the morning, driven by Braun Saxon, that Cartier's father had been waiting.
No idea that there was no point in Margaret even attempting to lie.
No idea that Margaret had packed a small overnight case, called a taxicab and disappeared from Cartier's life forever.
No idea that not only had Cartier ended Margaret's relationship with her father, but she had also ended Margaret's relationship with Braun.
No idea that there was only one violet-eyed blonde in her father's life from now on.
No idea whatsoever.
But it can be assumed that when she found all this out, she wouldn't exactly be upset.
And she certainly wouldn't feel any guilt about it.
Which is the difference between nuns, Asian gentlemen, and American princesses. They all process guilt entirely differently. If, that is, they bother to process it at all.
Welcome to the Bahamas.
Will God accept Sister Levi al-Chaim's penance?
Will Mr. Lo Pat's plan put his mind at ease?
Will Cartier Diamond ever rue the day?
Will anyone ever watch this year's Olympics?
Will Nader beat Buchanan?
Find out which fork to use with which mollusk in our next episode: "Spoonerisms; or, Bife's a litch."
Go to the next episode due Oct 4, 2000.