The initial seeds of doubt crept into Susan Softbottom's thoughts when she least expected it. It was after vespers on a quiet Sunday evening when she came to the startling realization that she was unhappy in her vocation as a devoted servant of the Lord. Not that she had anything against the Lord or the church for that matter. It was just that she had a feeling of "spinning her wheels" in the daily routine of prayer and hard work. Susan didn't mind sacrificing to the greater good in just about every respect but the last decree from the mother superior prohibiting the viewing of any television programs that included reference to physical contact between a man and a woman was senseless. It was such a stupid ordinance because except for the most innocuous of children's shows, every program was now restricted.
She had been at the convent almost nine years now and still was quite young at only twenty-six. Most of the other nuns were well over forty and some were even ready for retirement. In fact, besides Susan there were only two other girls under the age of thirty. In the past few years, the convent had received no new novitiates and there was a notable lack of enthusiasm for recruiting any new members to the order.
It was Sister Carmelita that told her in all seriousness,
"You are so pretty, Sister Susan, that I wonder why you have hidden your light here inside these walls?"
Susan laughed and tried not to let the compliment go to her head. She did pride herself on the fact that she exercised twice a day and managed to keep her mortal body in good shape for an older person. She was the most industrious worker in the garden and the sight of her bent over working the ground with her heart-shaped hips swaying like a moving target made the other nuns shake their head in disapproval even though the only thing on Susan's mind was the production of vegetables for the group.
The loss of her favorite programs was the last straw in Susan's mind. She started to scan the newspapers for listings of suitable accommodations for a respectable young female. At the same time, she started to compile a list of available positions for female applicants. She had no particular training for a specific position, so she looked just for those entry level spots that were only looking for individuals to fill a slot requiring the donation of time and not for a specific skill. There seemed to be quite a lot of them and she didn't think it would be difficult to find a job if she decided to leave the convent.
It was obvious to her from the outset that finding a private accommodation would be far too expensive so she concentrated her efforts on those locations that offered either a room inside a residence that included an evening meal at a reasonable price. She found several interesting ads but the one that intrigued her most was one in the Sunday paper.
"Room to let with meal included. Sitting room with television. Must have reference. Low rate. Contact Mrs. Gates between 8am and 6pm."
The first Monday of the next month, Sister Susan took her letter of withdrawal to the mother superior and informed her of her departure. The much older woman made absolutely no attempt to talk her out of her decision because she had anticipated it for some time.
The stoop in front of 27 Hillside Path was clean and had seen better days just like most of the other houses on the quiet street. Susan was shown into the sitting room and filled out the resident form for Mrs. Gates. She had a reference from a Doctor and a family attorney who handled the financial affairs of her parent's estate and the small income she received in monthly stipends. The house was orderly and well-maintained. Her room was facing the little park across the street and she had a nice view of the playground next to a large daycare center.
She paid the first month in advance and arranged for her rent to be paid from the bank on the first working day of each month. Mrs. Gates was a kindly mature lady of considerable girth and accommodating nature. The other residents were only three in number and were comprised of two young women who worked in the nearby umbrella factory and a gentleman who was employed by the district council as a scheduler of road repairs and enforcement of building code violations. The females went by the names of Maggie and Myrtle and the gentleman was called simply Mr. Jim.
Susan luxuriated in the glow of being freed from the constraints of the convent. She enjoyed taking long walks into the downtown area and up to the church on the hill. She hesitated about going inside the church because she was afraid of being marked as a deserter or something even worse. Susan felt at peace with herself in a way that she had not experienced for a very long time. She knew that most people assumed that when a nun leaves a convent it was due to her sexual urges but that was really never a consideration in her case. The simple truth was that Susan had no way of determining what she was missing because she had yet to enter into carnal relations with a male and had no way to judge if she would be better off as an experienced female or remain as an untested maid. She had no particular opinion in the matter except for the repressed feeling of anticipation drawn out by the sex oriented programs on television and the titillating advertisements in the local newspaper.
Mr. Jim noticed her looking again at the ads in the paper for suitable employment and suggested she try the council office to see if they needed a clerk or a girl to answer the telephones. It seemed like a good idea to her because it was more respectable than working in a restaurant or a clothing stall at the mercy of nasty-mouthed young lads looking for only one thing.
The office was a dreary place but Susan found it to be relaxing and restful to her system. It reminded her of the meditation room in the convent where she was able to have the most interesting thoughts and dreams about like on the outside. There was only one other young person. His name was Gregory Mc Gregor and he was only interest in football and nothing else. She thought it didn't even register on his brain that she was a female and available for conversation as long as it did not relate to football.
Mr. Jim did a lot of odd jobs for the council and he seemed to know everyone quite well. Whenever there was some sort of crisis, the first person they looked for was Mr. Jim to fix it.