Summer 2016 — THE POTOMAC

Ever this day be at my side

  Roger Netzer

A nun shuffled in, dressed for 1953. She looked old enough to have begun her novitiate that year, which happens to be the one I was born in sixty–two birthdays ago.

A muscled male keeper towered over but did not dominate her tiny personhood. Home health aide, I figured.

Without showing her caregiver any familiarity, the old girl sat down next to me, the crowded room offering no alternative.

Pale fingers, not misshapen by arthritis or manual labor, settled on the curved handle of a thick black cane. Held between her knees perpendicular to the floor, it anchored a posture solid as a fireplug, well suited for a wait in this particular purgatory. Eyes faced front.

Yet she was not immobile entirely. There was action in her jaw and cheek. Lips politely shut, she was working on a mint or some Gavascon. The doctor we were hoping to see was a gastroenterologist.

The minutes piled up. Within her mouth the sounds of sucking and muffled knocking did not abate, a set of clues you would think was all I had to puzzle over. Surely a mint would have dissolved by now, yet she had not slipped a fresh one in. Could she be rolling a small ball bearing against her palate? Rosary bead?

A prayer not said in fifty years entered my head, that begins Angel of God, my guardian dear . . .

Leaning over with a friendly smile I asked, "How are you today, Sister?"

She looked me in the eye. "Excuse me?" She spoke without an accent, but with some difficulty hard to pinpoint. Not a small talker. Vow of silence? To light and guard, to rule and guide.

Her dark eyes had not warmed. I am not the sweet altar boy I once was.

"How are you today, Sister?"

"That's what I thought you said."

In the dark tent of her garments a gastric transit rumbled distantly. Her stare refocused on the opposite wall.

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