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Sisters of the Divine Apparatus

Sisters of the Divine Apparatus

Sisters of the Divine Apparatus

by Charlotte Bruckner

Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext. The satellite BLFM-IV completes another rotation. Nones, Vespers, Compline—not that it matters. In the cool hush of space the sun does not rise: it looms, eternal blister in the corner of the eye. The day does not conclude with the gentle exhale of the earth, but with Mother Superior flipping the hourglass over, again.

Between our duties we take turns at the window, fishbowling the planet below us bulbous and alien. We peer down as if we have never seen the earth before, where, foamed by clouds and ridged by topographical battlements, the structure that was once our convent stands lonesome and spiderwebbed. To be condemned to orbit, perpetually in view of that place where we can never return, is to be Tantalus up to our knees in stagnant water, gazing up at a dripping, succulent plum. We crane our necks. We salivate.

Mother Superior says she can feel God’s touch even here, He who created each star that studs our windowpane, each nebula fizzing indigo and aubergine. Here where we have become another speck in the firmament. Sometimes I feel Him too, his breath ghosting my neck, his hand over my hand.

Come Easter, it will be three years since our exile. When they looked upon our gift and called it blasphemy.

The bell rings for Mass, and we drift away from the window. Some linger for a moment longer. Sisters Patience and Temperance breeze past us arm in arm, twined together like fingers crossed behind a back. Sister Angora crinkles her nose like she is gutting a fish. Gossipy Sister Thea prays privately for another satellite to float by, tear-shaped and silvery like a minnow, so she can spend the next fortnight telling everyone within earshot who she imagined peered back at her from inside, a murderer’s colony or a scientific outpost, heretics or treasonists. Homesick Sister Agathe prays for the keen eyes of a hawk, to look down at the planet and see stained-glass bright the rolling hills and green-grey lake of the village where she was born.

Mother Superior would tell us to hold strong to our faith, to not let flights of fancy carry us away from our purpose. In chambers lit by artificial beacons of sunlight we grow potatoes, cabbage, rutabagas and parsnips, so that we, like the resilient vegetables, might grow hardy and strong. Mint leaf, tarragon, and myrrh, smuggled from the old convent under the hem of Mother Superior’s scapular. We keep our rooms spotless, our minds sharp as scythes.

Mother Superior answers to no authority but God, no pope or bishop or king. When the uniformed men stormed the abbey, when with their hammering footsteps they cracked our thousand-year-old foundation, when they tore away the curtains cloaking our greatest treasure, Mother Superior kept her head bowed. Some may believe she was crying, begging for repentance. But we knew she was merely thinking. Planning how best to rebuild.

We huddle into our makeshift cathedral for Mass. Mother Superior gives the rites, the liturgy, scripture dripping from her tongue like melted caramel. The aluminum pews are cold beneath our tunics, the crucifix is roughly hewn from white plastic, bubbles of refracted light pooling on its surface. But we need no fine oak wood or gilded idols when we have our treasure.

There it is, at the altar, its contours fitting like a key in a lock inside the gently arching ceiling. As Mother Superior speaks, mechanical tone whirring against her words, our eyes are fixed in rapture on our miracle—inside an ovular glass case, gently pulsing with life, a pillar of flesh. For Mother Superior was a scientist before she was a woman of God, driven to the cloth by visions of this sacred mechanism.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist. We rise to take communion from her cupped hands. I am first in line. The case yawns open with a depressurizing hiss. Frostbitten air. The smell of a butcher’s shop at rosy dawn. Her ornamental blade glints under the fluorescence. First, she plunges the instrument into the flesh. A stream of blood laces down the skin like a river from a tributary. Lightheaded, I lean forward in anticipation of the sacrament rich and heavy on my tongue. Silver edge of the knife already gleaming with scarlet rivulets, she carves a perfect oval of skin. It drops into her hand like fruit fallen from a tree. Immaculate, clean. I close my eyes, and open my mouth.

Charlotte Bruckner is a writer and student based in Santa Cruz, California. His work has appeared in Broken Antler MagazineVagabond City LitTOWER Magazine, and elsewhere. They edit Chinquapin Literary Magazine.