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A Sister Mary Grammatica Adventure
--That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompense. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity . . .
"GIMME MY FAGS, YA SLACK DIVVY!"
Sighing heavily, Sister Mary Grammatica closed her Norton Anthology of English Literature. The rowdy inmate rushed past her small table in the common area of G-Wing with murder in her eyes, intent upon retrieving her purloined cigarettes.
Grammatica closed her eyes and sat back in her chair, looking for all the world as if she were deep in prayer.
"Not exactly the Christian Science Reading Room, is it?" came the smoky voice of the tall, dark-haired woman as she sat opposite the ostensibly meditating nun.
"Oh, hello, Nikki," smiled Sister Grammatica. "Heavens, no! It's more like Dante's seventh circle of Hell."
"Hey, now, I didn't mean to interrupt your prayers," Nikki said as she made as if to rise.
"Not at all, dear," smiled the older woman. Grammatica thought it best to keep to herself the fact that she'd been imagining the perfect murder of her obnoxious cellmate. The image that the lifer had interrupted involved strangulation with a bed sheet. This little sin of omission wouldn't hurtjust this once. "I was just thinking . . . ."
"Hmmph. Not much else to do in here." Nikki lit up a cigarette and leaned against the wall, crossing her legs and looking out over the general population of G-Wing.
The two women observed the tall, wavy-haired guard as he descended the stairs scowling.
"Fenner," muttered Nikki. "Looks like he's been up to Dockley's cell again."
She grew silent as he stalked by them, throwing Nikki a look that seemed a cross between a sneer and a leer.
"Oh, my," said Grammatica as he exited the commons. "He looks like he struck out."
"He came a cropper."
"He's all boots and no cattle."
"He's all mouth and no trousers."
"He bought a pig in a poke."
"He bought a cock and bull story."
"He was out of that cell in a New York minute."
"He over-egged the pudding."
"Ah, there you are!" The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the wing governor.
"Miss Stewart!" Nikki gulped, stubbing out her cigarette and brightening.
"Hullo, Nikki," Helen Stewart smiled a prim smile at the dark-haired prisoner. She turned to Sister Grammatica. "It's time for your induction interview."
"Oh," squeaked the nun. "Is this absolutely necessary?"
"I'm afraid so," Miss Stewart replied with a slight smirk. "All prisoners must meet with the wing governor for their induction interviews. We get everyone sorted out that way."
"'Sorted out?' I'm not sure I like the sound of that," murmured Grammatica as she clutched her Norton to her and rose. "After you, Miss Chatelaine."
"Miss Stewart will be fine," replied the wing governor smoothly over her shoulder.
"Of course, Miss Stewart," Sister murmured, following demurely behind the wing governor.
After closing her office door, Helen Stewart gestured to the chair in front of her desk as she moved to sit behind it. Sister Mary Grammatica smoothed the skirt of her long habit over her lap, still clutching her Norton.
Helen opened the manila file folder and scanned the information it contained about the nun.
She looked up at the anxious face of the woman across from her. "Assaulting a subject of the realm. Tsk, tsk, tsk. You must have a bit of a temper."
"He asked for it!" Grammatica shot back.
"Oh, come now, Sister. I'm sure he did no such thing!"
"Well, I thought he had. As I told the officers, it was all just a misunderstanding. I really shouldn't be in here at all."
"Mmmhmmm," murmured the wing governor. "Nevertheless, you did strike the man with a large object in your bag."
Sister Grammatica clutched the Norton even more tightly to herself. "Well, I guess I sort of over-reacted."
"Yes," Miss Stewart confirmed. "And you will remain here at her Majesty's pleasure for a short while. I want your time with us to be productive, Sister." She glanced down at a sheet in the nun's file. "I see that you're a teacher."
"Yes, Miss Stewart, I am," replied Sister Grammatica, drawing herself up.
"Well, how would you feel about helping out with our adult literacy program here at Larkhall? Your years of experience could be put to good use with us."
Grammatica blanched at the thought. "Good heavens, Miss Stewart, I'm an English teacher, not an ESL specialist!"
Helen Stewart frowned. "'ESL'?"
Grammatica hesitated a moment, realizing her gaff. "English as a second language," she explained in a small voice.
Miss Stewart's face took on a lovely rose shade as her green eyes flashed. "We may not all speak the Queen's English here, Sister, but we do manage to communicate!"
"Barely," muttered Sister.
Helen closed the file angrily, stood up, and walked around to the front of her desk. "I can't force you to teach in the literacy program," she ground out, her Scottish brogue becoming more pronounced, "but I can assign you to less savory duty." She paused and glanced up toward the ceiling for a moment. Smiling, she looked down at the nun, her arms folded over her chest. "How does being a charwoman sound? We need someone to clean the toilets."
"Oh, no! Not potty patrol!" Sister cried. "Oh, Miss Stewart! You wouldn't dare! I'm, I'm--," she blustered. "I'm an American citizen!"
Helen Stewart smiled. "Oh, I assure you, we're most democratic, here, Sister. We'll let anyone clean our toilets."
Sister Grammatica slumped in her chair. "So," she asked weakly, "when's the first day of school?"
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