We nuns were failed actresses. We had the wrong bodies, or voices, or faces. Were chosen for group-oriented roles. As always, we ‘just missed’ the speaking parts we studied for, were cast as elves, or nuns, or dogs, or talking trees. This time, Randall the Artistic Director, said it was the problem with having curvy hips.
You’re too rounded for the role you wanted. Aside from the hips, I felt you were perfect. Too bad about that, he said.
Are you sure it wasn’t something else? I said.
He, with his pot belly and fuzzy gray hair, assured me the nuns were important. This was The Sound of Music after all. Do you know how many lives the sisters saved? he said.
How many of us will there be?
There will be 12 of you darling, but you will be one of the most sparkly, he winked. I could smell his tuna fish lunch.
Can’t wait, I told him, knowing that if I had slept with him at the cast party he would have cast me in the role of Brigitta.
In my mind, nuns play the guitar, sister Francia said. She was prettier than me. She too had also been cast as a group elf in the last production. Her breasts were so small and kind they made me have emotions. I’d look at the sad young actresses, most of them taller than me, with skinnier hips, more evolved acting skills, and I’d envy them so much it hurt. And sometimes, it felt as if I wanted something else.
I have never played the guitar, I said.
Neither have I, Francia said, lighting a cigarette.
We walked outside into the drizzle and stood against the outer wall of the practice room, inhaling the smelly air. There was cow manure nearby. This town stinks, she said. I knew it was true. But sometimes the smell of the sad place we were stuck in embarrassed me. I felt at one with it.
As part of the Stanislavky acting method, and to get into our roles, we nuns walked casually over to a local cemetery where dead people lived. It was as close to a nunnery as we could get. All 12 of us walked around silently. We smoked and we tried not to get depressed. We sat near the tombstones and bonded with dead people. I sat near the stone of a woman named Angela Mary Jones, who died at age 43. I imagined myself at age 43, alive yet dead, married to someone who loved me precisely for having failed.
I decided to sleep with Randall. Next cast party, I would raise my habit, let him in. I would say, oh Randall, you really are the best. I would allow my rounded hips to glow their way into his powerful heart. I had 2 years left in the conservatory. I didn’t want to keep playing elves, or a family dogs. I was so good at the family dog role that it left me feeling too human. I had played a golden retriever in one production so convincingly that I ended up in a review of the show.
“The dog was something different!” a local reviewer said. “Kudos to the actor who played Sunshine, the dog.”
We were smoking, and this time we were standing very close to each other. The glow of Francia’s cigarette was like a hearth I wanted to sit near. We might have held hands. I don’t remember that part, but it felt as if we did.
Did you sleep with Randall? she asked.
Nope, I said, which is why I’m a nun.
I kind of like being part of an order, she said.
In a way, Francia and I were inner nuns. That afternoon at rehearsal, our Latin lyrics flowed. I looked at the flower of her face and she looked at mine. I felt the petals of resistance blooming in my body. I felt that being a nun had something to do with telling the world to fuck off. I followed sister Francia and the Latin words that made no sense to me and they warbled out of my throat.
I told Francia that she meant more to me than a fellow nun. How do you know nuns aren’t more to each other too? she said. I don’t know anything, I said. We kissed each other in the rain with our cigarette lips. There was a dot of toothpaste stuck to her chin. We kissed so long we missed the next rehearsal. She told me she didn’t want to hate her life. I told her it was probably too late for that. We walked away from the conservatory, swinging our hips. We walked away from that place, excited about biscuits at Denny’s. We wanted to become very large.
I never want to be tempted again, I said.
I might miss being a nun, she confessed.
That day, my inner-nun died. Often, I think about Sister Francia while walking resolutely behind other failed actresses, singing my way into all the wrong abbeys.