This week's story ideas came from my grandmother. She suggested a sibling story about a flying nun with an automobile in Philadelphia.
Wanda’s brother looked at her out of the corner of his eye, then refocused on the road ahead of them. The other cars on the other side of the interstate whizzed past, becoming swaths of color. Wanda shifted her hands on the wheel and stared out the front windshield at the small break lights in the distance. There were only a few cars on their side of the road. Many more people seemed to be heading into the city as they ventured north. As they left the city far behind them, the buildings gave way to grasslands, then hills and mountains. It was peaceful here, but that didn’t stop her heart from trying to escape her chest. She was filled with an ecstatic anxiety that plagued every nerve inside her.
She jumped. She’d almost forgotten where she was. “Sorry, Lucas. I was just…thinking.”
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“Just thinking about the last time we saw each other,” she lied, knowing it would stop further questions and she was right, but it also brought up memories of Harry.
Harry Bruckner had walked into Wanda’s life as an annoying best friend of her older brother and she had hated him on sight. She was a good, Christian girl and he was a troublemaker. It would take at least a decade before she would give him the time of day, but once she did, her fate was sealed. Lucas’ best friend and sister were married only two years after Wanda’s graduation from high school. She never dreamed she could be so happy.
Then Martin Southers decided to drive after having a few beers at a local pub.
When the police came to tell Wanda that her husband had suffered a fatal accident, she didn’t speak. She closed the door and went directly to the kitchen where she downed a bottle of Merlot; sans glass. Lucas appeared sometime later, his eyes raw and red from crying. He held her, but she stayed silent and catatonic. She felt as though her heart had been crushed right along with her husband’s body. She wouldn’t go down to the coroner’s to identify the body; she couldn’t. Lucas did it for her. When he came back, he tried to talk to her about Harry, but she refused to hear him. When he pressed the matter, she spoke for the first time, ordering him out of the house.
Only when he was gone did she cry.
It was a week later, at Harry’s funeral, when she announced her decision to enter the convent. Her family was shocked, but none more so than Lucas. He tried to talk her out of it, saying she was overreacting, but she said that she had already lost the human love of her life. She would never feel again about a person the way she had felt about Harry, but she had decided to go back to her first love: Jesus. She would be married once more – to Christ.
Lucas told her that that was not what Harry would have wanted and she shouted back that he had no clue what Harry wanted. Offended, he told her to do whatever the hell he wanted to do, but that he wouldn’t come to see her. She hollered back that she would have plenty of family and wouldn’t need her. He was wounded, she could see, but the words to apologize were stuck in her throat. Lucas walked away and she did nothing to call him back.
She entered the convent and became Sister Hestia, choosing the name to symbolize her new home. She renounced her former life, choosing to devote herself to her new identity. The sisterhood was ever so much more than she had bargained for. Over five years, she learned to make friends, to find joy again, to reinvent herself. She used her teaching background to instruct students in the teachings of Christ. Her spirits began to lift, especially during the weekly sermons. The sermons often focused on the miracles of heaven and the divine love of God.
Unable to reconcile the death of her husband with a deity’s love, she spent a lot of time in the convent library, reading up on the workings of the Lord and the miracles throughout the ages. At every turn, she came across the idea of a sacrifice. In the course of her learning, she developed her own subset of understanding. In order to truly devote oneself to the teachings of Jesus Christ, she thought, a person must give up a part of themselves. In return, they will reap the rewards of the Kingdom of Heaven. There could be no failure if one’s faith was sound. Failure was a human construct.
Wanda’s beliefs grew stronger with every piece of evidence she found. She took copious notes and soon compiled them into a personal notebook. Her devotions to the church took on a more personal bent and it was said among the sisters that Sister Hestia walked her own path. One nun, Sister Marie, was bold enough to ask her about it. Once the floodgates were opened, Wanda began to speak of her self-made catechism to the other sisters and to her students, reveling in the glory of God, but after time, she received a visit from the Mother Superior. The woman told her that a love of Christ was a wonderful thing, but to preach of it to others was not her calling. Far from squashing her faith, it only served to make Wanda more certain that she was chosen to spread the word. After all, not everyone believed Jesus when he spoke to the people. I am just like Jesus, Wanda thought. Still, in spite of her best efforts, only a handful of other nuns believed her ideas, and none shared her passion.
As time passed, Wanda’s passion grew more fervent. The belief that she was chosen by the Lord to teach the intricacies of Christianity was deeply ingrained within her. She worked it into her lessons, albeit in subtle ways that would not raise any alarms to her superiors. She had sacrificed her earthly love for a divine love that would never die, never let her down. Wanda knew that anyone who did the same would be chosen just like her.
Her attempts to stay below the radar failed once more; Mother Superior caught wind of what she was doing and spoke to her once again about the dangers of aggrandizing herself above all others. She spoke of the sins of pride, but Wanda was no longer listening.
Then Lucas showed up at the convent.
Shock rolled through Wanda’s system when she saw him for the first time in five years. She knew that Mother Superior had called him, but there was nothing to be done about it now. He was standing there, before her; still the same brother she had always known and yet, he was not the same. He was bearded, and his hair was starting to thin, but it was his eyes that showed the most change. He peered at her with eyes weighted by sadness, but his humor wasn’t completely gone. “Black suits you,” he said.
She didn’t smile. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“What are you doing here, Wanda?”
“It’s Sister Hestia now,” she corrected him.
“You were my sister before you were theirs,” he said, “so I’ll call you whatever I like.”
“I’m Sister Hestia,” Wanda insisted, “and I am God’s chosen.”
“What are you talking about?”
Wanda lowered her voice. “God chose me, Lucas. He chose me to be His vessel.”
“So you’re a ship?” Lucas scoffed.
She frowned and turned away. “I don’t have time for this.”
He laid a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off. “Actually, you do have time for this. I asked the Mother Superior to have a day with you and she agreed. We even have permission to take the convent car.” He sighed when she didn’t turn around. “Come on, Wanda. It’s been five years. I’m sorry for what happened. Besides, aren’t you supposed to be all about forgiveness?”
“Forgiveness comes from the Divine,” Wanda responded, facing him.
“Just like you being chosen?” Lucas asked. He saw her frown and quickly continued, “Look, you’re still my sister and I know this stuff all comes easy for you, but it doesn’t for me, okay? I want to believe you, but I need more than just your say-so.”
Wanda considered. “If I show you, you’ll believe me and support me?”
“Then let’s go,” said Wanda as she led him in the direction of the convent car.
And now, here they were, almost two and a half hours north of the city, mountains rising high above them, stretching to the sky. Lucas whistled as he looked out the window. The two siblings had barely spoken during the trip, both lost in their memories. Now, Wanda parked the car and, without a word, starting hiking up a mountain.
“Wanda, what are we doing here?”
“Giving you the proof you need,” she responded.
They made their way up toward the peak. Lucas, unprepared for such a physical adventure, was huffing and puffing before they were halfway there. Wanda had kept herself in excellent shape, but even she was sweating by the time she called a halt. She had seen what she was seeking approximately three-quarters of the way up the mountain – a jutting outcropping that stood watch over a sharp drop. Lucas collapsed on the ground, breathing heavily, but Wanda stayed standing. When Lucas had his breath back, he rasped out, “So now what?”
“Now, I jump,” Wanda responded.
“What?!” Lucas exclaimed. Wanda gave no response. “Wanda, you can’t jump. You’ll fall. You’ll die.”
“I won’t. He won’t let me fall.” Wanda walked over to the outcropping before Lucas could recover his strength and grab her. She stood on the edge and looked down. The colors blurred at first, but her eyes focused and they sharpened into trees and road far below.
“Wanda,” Lucas’s voice took on a hysterical edge, “there’s already been a flying nun and she wasn’t real!”
“I am real,” Wanda told him.
“Step away from the edge! Please, Wanda!” Lucas stood and stepped toward her, but she moved slightly and he stopped, afraid he would actually drive her over the edge.
“Lucas, I know how crazy it sounds. I know that the Mother Superior called you because she wanted you to help me.”
“Don’t bother to deny it. I can see it all over your face. Still, it’s a good thing. You should know who I am, what I’ve become. I am an agent of the Lord and my faith in Him will keep me safe. I promise.” She spoke without looking at him. She stood with her arms out and her chin raised, eyes raking the sky.
Wanda took in the bright blue of the sky, the feathering of the clouds, the warmth of the sun’s rays on her face. She slowly closed her eyes and let herself fall forward.
The wind rushed through her robes, roaring in her ears. Her heart was racing, blood pumping; exhilaration exploded through her brain and as she opened her eyes, for the first time since Harry’s death, she began to laugh.
Her laughter echoed back across the mountains.