Fiction by Dan Nielsen
It was 1952. It was 7:35 on a Wednesday morning. Sister Digna sat at her desk correcting sentence diagrams. If the student’s work did not precisely match that in her Teacher’s Manual, it received a red check. That was all she knew, or needed to know, about diagramming sentences. Sister Digna was from Poland. All the nuns at Saint Stanislaus Parochial School were from Poland.
Kamira Kochanski entered the convent at age eleven. At fourteen she vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience, which meant that everything would remain exactly as it was, but now it would be that way forever, until she died and went to heaven. Everything remained the same, except her name, her name had changed. She was now Sister Digna.
At the convent school, Sister Digna studied English, received a passing grade, and was awarded a teaching certificate. At eighteen she boarded a boat for America.
Edward Tiles had his head on his desk. It was turned to the side so he could look out the window while the other kids ate their Twinkies, Suzy Q’s, Ding Dongs, and Snowballs.
“Edward, did you forget to bring your breakfast?”
“I ate at home, Sister.” That came out as a sob. Edward’s head was still down. He was crying.
“Did you receive Communion at mass just now, Edward?” Sister Digna stood. “Don’t lie to me, I saw you.”
“Edward, what sin have you committed?”
Edward remained silent.
“Class, what sin has Edward committed?”
A dozen hands shot up.
Gregory Grover never raised his hand. He never spoke. This was a special moment. Sister Digna moved to the front of her desk. She leaned back against it, her thumb absentmindedly stroking the body of Christ writhing in agony on the oversized crucifix attached to the giant rosary she wore like a belt around her waist.
“Gregory, what sin has Edward committed?”
“Eating,” Gregory said.
Priscilla Kowalski choked on her Ding Dong. John Cendrowski slapped her on the back and felt her bra strap. Priscilla was the only girl in the seventh grade who needed a bra. All the boys were in love with Priscilla.
“Gregory, could you be more specific?”
Gregory lowered his hand. He never raised it again. He never said another word.
“Edward ate food before Communion which is a mortal sin and if he dies without confessing he’ll burn in hell for all eternity!” Marylou Potoski shouted. Marylou didn’t believe in God. Neither did her parents. She had Cocoa Puffs every morning before leaving for school. She went to Communion solely for the snack cakes.
“Yes, Marylou, that is correct,” Sister Digna said, “And please, sit up like a lady with your knees together.”
Thomas Potoski raised his hand.
“Confession isn’t until Saturday, Sister. And Saturday isn’t until tomorrow. What if Edward gets run over by a truck?”
Edward lifted his head. “I don’t want to go to hell! When I woke up this morning I thought it was Saturday already so I had a bowl of Sugar Pops!”
“Sugar Pops are tops!” Thomas interjected.
Edward continued, “And then I remembered it was Friday so I went to school and then we were at Mass and I forgot about the Sugar Pops and took Communion!”
“Mortal sin!” Marylou hollered.
“Very well, Edward,” Sister Digna said. “Come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“We’re going to the rectory, Edward. I’ll explain the situation to Father Adrian and he’ll hear your confession.”
“The rectory is across the street!” Marylou screamed. “What about trucks!”
Father Adrian was annoyed when the doorbell rang at eight in the morning. He’d have ignored it, but Mrs. Wilson, his housekeeper, would not.
“It’s Sister Digna.”
“What does she want?”
“Something about an emergency confession.”
“Tell Sister Digna that whatever it is, all is forgiven, and say five Our Fathers.”
Edward was relieved to get off so easy. He knelt beside his desk and said Our Fathers aloud while his classmates counted.
That afternoon, walking home from school, Edward was run over by a truck.
Dan Nielsen drinks bourbon and plays ping pong. Old credits include Random House and University of Iowa Press anthologies. Recent work in: Jellyfish Review, Bird’s Thumb, Minor Literature[s], Storm Cellar, Cheap Pop, and Pidgeonholes. Dan has a website: Preponderous and you can follow him on Twitter @DanNielsenFIVES