Erotic Notion #38: Inside the Nun's Dormitory
By Hapax Legomenon
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"I shall die of happiness."
( Final Line, "Longing for Worldly Pleasures," by SSu Fan)

I always slowed down by the nuns' dormitory. When I was thirteen, a story spread around the neighborhood that no male had ever entered the building. All the nuns, according to the story, roamed the buildings naked. Now that I'm older and significantly more mature (I'm 22), I regard such stories as nonsense. But I wonder sometimes. Every so often I'd see a few nuns at the supermarket, plainly-dressed, waiting with grocery carts and debit cards in hand. Except for the crucifixes hanging from their necks, they looked and acted like normal people.

The nun's dormitory came in the middle of my morning jog. The building was nondescript enough: a plain-bricked three story temple of ugliness with not a window above the third floor. Sometimes, when the lobby curtains were drawn open, I'd see shadows of female bodies moving back and forth. Of course, nothing could be seen from the sidewalk. What did I expect to see anyway-- a dozen nuns dancing naked in a circle? But I couldn't overcome curiosity. The very second I came around the corner, my eyes would dart to the lobby window. Usually the curtains were closed, and perhaps that was for the best. It preserved the mystery and kept my eyes from wandering needlessly.

I met my first nun by a van parked outside the dormitory. Two woman, one older and one younger, were trying to lift a couch out of its back seat.

"Is it stuck?" said the older one, a short stocky woman with glasses. She was on the curb gripping the front end, trying hard to keep it from slipping.

"Wait," said the second nun still in the van. "Let me get a better grip." She was dark-skinned and spoke with an African-sounding accent. They repositioned their fingers and tried again.

I slowed my pace, watching their clumsy efforts.

"Got it?" said the nun in the van. The older stocky nun on the curb tried moving backwards, eventually staggering under the couch's weight. Before she lost her grip, I ran to her side and prevented the couch from falling.

"Wow!," the older nun exclaimed, wiping sweat off her brow. "Where did you come from?"

"I was just passing by."

"Good timing, don't you think?" said the African woman in the van, peeking her head over the couch.

"Here's what we should do," I suggested. "Let me take this side and the two of you take the other." The nuns repositioned themselves, and we maneuvered it carefully off the van. The couch weighed a ton. I was having a hard time keeping up my end, but the two nuns now seemed quite at ease sharing the same side.

"That's what we needed all along," the older nun said. "A man's strong muscles." We approached the building, stopping briefly to prop open the door. By the time we were midway through the doorway, four or five nuns of varying ages stood around me, waiting to get through. The way they stared at me with polite curiosity made me nervous.

"Sister Jane, where's the couch going?" one of them asked. She reminded me of a girl I knew from high school.

"The lounge," answered the older one (apparently Sister Jane). "Clear a path please." We made our way into the lobby, setting the couch down by the window. "Can you spare a few minutes?" she said to me. "We're a little short-handed today. It won't take long — maybe ten or fifteen minutes."


"Great," she said. "Let me call the Mother Superior." One nun receptionist worked the front desk, and Sister Jane picked up a phone. I sat on the sofa with the African nun, face-to-face with portraits of Jesus and Pope John Paul II on the wall. I was the only other male in the room, and by far the most shabbily-dressed. My T-shirt and jogging shorts were soaked in sweat.

I looked over at the African nun. She was smiling and tapping her feet. Was she conscious of my body odor? "It's a good thing that you came along," she said. "It would have taken forever for the two of us to bring up the sofa."

"Nuns are not known for lifting furniture," I said, distracted by the steady stream of nuns passing through a door that opened at the push of a button. Behind the desk was a big board listing residents and using magnets to indicate who was in. On the desk was a sign in book and an intercom for paging residents. A neat and efficient system, I thought. Just like a brothel. No, did I think that? No.

The African nun and I rose when the Mother Superior entered the lobby. She was a short, authoritative-looking woman, careful to maintain the dignity of her position as she stooped to examine a tear in the couch's upholstery. "That's fine," she told Sister Jane. "Put it in the third floor lounge."

We lifted the couch again, pausing as the receptionist pushed the button that opened the hallway door. I pushed back the door and shuffled slowly backwards with the couch, glancing at the wall portraits, all male saints with halos or hands reaching forward in careful instructive gestures.

"Turn left," Sister Jane said, and we made a wide angle turn around the corner.

"Careful," said the Mother Superior, who was bringing up the rear. "Don't scratch the walls."

"You're about ten feet away from the elevator," Sister Jane told me. My grip was failing, but when I tried to recover, the couch started sliding from my fingers. "Wait," I said, "put it down." The couch fell to the ground, and the three of us massaged our reddened hands. "Let's switch sides," I said, stepping into the elevator and pulling the Door Open switch. "It's best if I get out first."

Guided by the Mother Superior (who was glad to offer assistance so long as no lifting was involved), Sister Jane and the African nun lifted the front of the couch into the elevator. Once the couch was tilted vertically inside, sounds of scuffling feet came behind me, then a young woman's voice: "Hold the elevator please." Behind me stood five nuns, young and out of uniform. At the sight of me, they froze, hesitating to advance any further.

"Come on, come on," Sister Jane said, "We don't have all day. There's room." The five of them silently packed into the elevator while I moved to give them space. When everybody was in and I was facing the back of the elevator, another soft female voice said, "Is there room for one more?" Everyone crammed more tightly together until arms and legs and backs of nuns pressed against me from all sides. Pushing away impure thoughts while aware of the female presence on all sides of me, I wondered what it was like to be a nun, to live a life so unthreatened by desire.

Everyone in the elevator stood quietly for a few seconds without the door closing. "Oh," I said, reaching over one of the nun's shoulder's to deactivate the Door Open switch. The elevator began moving, and I avoided the nun's stares by looking at the floor. "Are they working you hard?" asked a smiling red-haired nun who looked like one of my older sister's friends.

"Yeah," I said. If she weren't a nun, I'd swear she was flirting. No, that's ridiculous. She's just being friendly. The slow elevator jerked to a stop at the third floor, knocking the body of two nuns against me. As a matter of politeness, I scooted aside for the nuns on my left to exit, only to realize that I'd inadvertently leaned my sweat-slippery back against the bosom of a sad-eyed Vietnamese nun behind me. "Sorry," I muttered, but the sad-eyed nun (who was not at all bad-looking, though a bit above my age bracket) walked away quickly, refusing even to acknowledge my apology.

The elevator emptied, and I pulled the Door Open switch. The moving crew quickly took their positions and edged the couch out, plopping it beside a TV in an open lounge. I sat on the couch while Sister Jane and the Mother Superior debated its exact positioning. "Is that the mover?" said a delicate voice that made me turn my head. A young Hispanic woman with long dark hair was hurrying in our direction. She smiled at me and said to Sister Jane, "Can I borrow him for a minute? I'd like to get that dresser moved."

"What dresser?" the Mother Superior asked.

"Just wait," Sister Jane said, half-annoyed. "We haven't finished moving the couch."

"No, that's okay," said the Mother Superior. "The couch is fine where it is. What's wrong with Belinda's dresser?"

"Nothing's wrong with it," Belinda said. "I need it moved away from the electric outlet, that's all."

The Mother Superior, seeing she was expected to make a decision, glanced at me and said, "Could you do that?"

I was about to speak up, not to object, just to point out that my services shouldn't be taken for granted. And then I thought, what the hell. It isn't every day you get to help the nuns. "No problem," I said. "It's only a dresser."

"Yes, it won't take long," Belinda said, leading me down another hallway. I glanced behind me, surprised the other two nuns weren't following. Finally she opened a door marked GARCIA. Inside was a small bedroom smelling of fresh laundry. The room was simple and nice: a bed, fifteen books on a shelf and potted plants adorning the window sill. Classical music played from a small radio.

"Mozart," I noted, walking inside.

"Yes, his early sonatas are wonderful," she said. "The dresser is over here." She turned to an old oak dresser and started removing knickknacks and putting them on the bed. I helped her.

"How long have you been a nun?" I asked, picking up a framed picture of her family.

She laughed. "I'm not a nun yet. That's a long way off. I'm just a pre-novice while I do my ministries." She walked over to the opposite wall. "Here is where the dresser needs to go," she said. She bent down and pointed to an electric outlet. "Do you know anything about electricity?"


"This outlet is the problem," she explained. "Something's wrong with the circuitry or the connections. But then again, I'm no electrician. What do you think?"

I stared futilely into Belinda's beautiful eyes. She wore a conservative blue blouse, and her long dark hair had a part I wanted to run my fingers over. I could be dating that girl. How do you treat a nun just as a nun and not a woman? How do you convince yourself a woman is more than her sexuality, that she is still worth knowing without romance looming as a possibility? How do you separate the woman from the sexuality she projects? Or was I the one projecting sexuality onto her? Who was projecting what onto whom?

She awaited my opinion. So I started fiddling with the outlet, trying to hide my own ignorance. "I don't see anything unusual, "I said. "It's probably just a burnt-out wire. You should talk to an electrician."

"I was going to do just that," she agreed. "But until then I need access to the outlet behind the dresser."

I nodded without listening. A white speck of paper was lodged in her hair. Here she was, looking neat and religious, all this time with a tiny piece of paper embedded in her hair. I wanted to reach forward and brush it off, but I didn't want to do anything inappropriate or embarrass her. She kept talking. The more I tried ignoring the piece of paper in her hair, the more it bugged me. "Do you have an extension chord?" I said. The door to the room began closing slowly.

"I can get one," she said, moving to the door to prop it open.

"Wait," I said, coming up and brushing my hand quickly over her hair. "There's a piece of paper lodged in your hair."

"What? Oh," she said, and I extracted it like an expert, inhaling that marveling scent of diligent shampooing. I showed her the paper to prove I wasn't lying. "That's strange," she said. "Wonder where that came from." She patted her head a few times. "Are there any more?"

"I don't see any," I said, realizing her room had no mirrors.

"Good, let's move the dresser." We grabbed opposite sides. But the dresser wouldn't budge, no matter how hard we pushed. Its position flush against the wall made it impossible to grip firmly. I leaned it forward to get a better grip, but the top drawer fell open, full of brassieres and panties and a box of unopened tampons. "Wait," she said, releasing her grips and shoving it back in.

"Whoops," I said.

Belinda smiled in embarrassment, causing me to smile also. "Actually, that gives me an idea. Let's take out the drawers before moving the dresser."

"Okay," she said in a flustered but cooperative voice. I removed the top two drawers and lay them on the bed. She took the bottom two and placed them atop the other two, careful to cover the undergarment drawer completely. One drawer was full of jeans; the other contained stationery and photos.

The dresser frame lifted easily without the drawers. I moved it to the opposite wall in seconds, and Belinda reinserted the drawers. "Dostoevsky," I said, glancing at the books on her shelf. "Strange book for a nun to be reading."

"Have you read the Idiot?"

"For a class last semester."

"We're still allowed to read books, "she said in a slightly teasing voice. "Why do call it strange? There's nothing wrong with it."

"Nothing's wrong. It's just--" I was having trouble phrasing it tactfully. "I know the main character is supposed to be a Christ figure, and there's a lot of religious themes. But it also has a lot of passion and romance."

"Dostoevsky is interesting on a religious level," she said, "but he has a keen understanding of humanity, with all its passions and shortcomings. Anyway, I haven't started it yet. I bought it last week at Lowry's used bookstore."

"You go to Lowry's also?" I said with surprise. If this were any other woman, I might have invited her on my next book hunting expedition. But I refrained. "I thought nuns had a vow of poverty."

"Yes, but that doesn't mean we're supposed to be ignorant. Besides, it sometimes gets so boring around here."

"It's good they let you out once in a while."

"Don't be silly. This isn't a prison. I came here of my own free will. A nun's life is dedicated to service and bringing hope to our fellow man. Man and woman, I mean."

I wish I'd never made those remarks. It is so hard to talk with a nun without saying something wrong. But she didn't seem to mind and even welcomed the new company.

I went to the lamp on the nightstand and unplugged it. "Let's be sure this outlet actually works before I leave." I plugged it in, and the room lit up.

"Good job," she said, "I appreciate your help."

"Nice meeting you, " I said. "By the way, I'm Chris."

"Thanks, Chris," she said a little nervously. "I'm Belinda."

"Wait," I said, smiling again. "There's another scrap of paper in your hair."


I pointed to the nape of my neck, and she started patting the corresponding place on hers. "Is it gone?"

"No, let me get it." I raised my hand. She turned her shoulder to me unresistingly.

Written, Summer, 1992

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How do you separate the woman from the sexuality she projects? Or was I the one projecting sexuality onto her? Who was projecting what onto whom?
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