Supper at the convent that night wasn’t exactly delightful, but then again, it never was. Sr. Mary Gerard looked at the tasteless slop on her plate. She knew she should just “offer it up,” but she was a convert and really didn’t have a clue what that meant exactly. She was pretty convinced that Jesus’s death wasn’t going to suddenly be less painful because she ate food without much flavoring. She maintained custody of the eyes, however, and looked down at her plate while Sr. Jane Louise read to them all.
When she was a novice, the older sisters told Sr. Mary Gerard all about how things were done so long ago, when they were young. Seasonings on the table were merely decoration; you weren’t allowed to actually use them. Black coffee, food without salt and pepper, no small talk at the table — that was meal time. Recreation didn’t involve actual recreation at all. Rooms had funny names like the refectory. You were layered in heavy clothes and forced to pretend to outsiders that you were perfectly fine. The sisters then were not permitted to see their families at all from the day they arrived until they made Final Vows – in other words, they couldn’t see their families until it was too late to leave. Sr. Mary Gerard assumed that this was because they’d beg their families to help them escape.
It all seemed so barbaric, and out of synch with what a loving God would ask of His followers. Yet here they were now, totally regressed! If those Sisters were here now, this would all look so painfully familiar. How did this happen? Oh, the answer was so simple: Sr. Evangeline. Some how she managed to drag them all into the pit of fake piety through mortification. Well, Sr. Evangeline wasn’t here any more. Maybe there was hope. Otherwise, what would she do? She couldn’t exactly write to the Pope for exclaustration!
Every day, it got harder. She’d joined at a time when faith was very important to her. Yet now she was surrounded by supposedly holy people, yet they never once talked about God. They never talked about their lived experience of their faith, or doubts, or things they wondered about. Now it was all about the rules — which somehow become more important than The Rule, and often violated it! And now, they also never talked about the fact that one of them was a murderer. Murderess? Did women get their own word? No matter. One of them was a killer.
It didn’t matter, really, that no one actually liked Sr. Evangeline. Now that she was gone, was it really different? Or did anyone notice that others stepped in to fill the vacuum she created by dying? Sr. Mary Gerard thought about it, prayed about it to a God she was starting to suspect was still back at Earth. After enough time losing sleep, she decided she only had one choice: leaving. But where would she go? Would one of the families take her in? It wasn’t like at home, where she could just get an apartment and job and start over. This was a weird planet where she’d been isolated. She’d never been out of the human sector, and the two cops were really the first aliens she’d seen up close since the convent was built.
She would talk to one of the parents. Maybe they would help her! The problem was that she had very little unsupervised contact with the parents. On the plus side, Sr. Mary Gerard was pretty sharp. Although she didn’t personally know which parents would likely be more sympathetic to her, or how to contact those who left the school, she did note that the principal and Sr. Evangeline hovered around her a whole lot more often when Mrs. Argyoswami was around. Her son Joe was in Sr. Mary Gerard’s class, so that provided a great excuse to make contact.
Unfortunately, news traveled very quickly here. Mrs. Argyoswami was supportive, of course, but sometimes life is a race, and Sr. Mary Gerard lost. They found her the next morning, after Morning Prayer, and contacted the police once again. Had they still lived on Earth, had they still lived in the United States, it would’ve been quite easy to imply that Sr. Mary Gerard had committed suicide. One could imply that she was despondent over the death of Sr. Evangeline or, even more convenient, that she was the killer and remorse caused her to take her own life. This whole scenario would’ve been quite plausible on Earth.
The thing is, they weren’t on Earth. And if they hadn’t been so stubborn, if they hadn’t been isolationist snobs, they would’ve learned something about the culture surrounding them. They would’ve learned that suicide actually doesn’t exist here. It wasn’t shockingly unusual to the natives that someone killed another, as they are used to living in close quarters. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, and these things have happened. But another side effect of those close quarters is that no one is able to sustain long, drawn-out despondency to the point of suicide. And so the local constabulary wasn’t a bit fooled.