- Our Lady of the Roses
Mondays and thursdays, Hadley Walsh taught art at Our Lady of the Roses School. She was twenty-six years old. She didn’t need the money—her father gave her an allowance because he still felt guilty about leaving her mother. She had a black cat named Jezebel. On her days off, she lunched with friends or did some painting of her own, watercolors mostly. Weekends, Hadley dawdled with her boyfriend. This all took place late one winter in Mobile, Alabama.
The school was one story, flat roofed, brick, nothing much to look at inside or out, but the art room featured a bank of windows overlooking the parking lot and during second and third period, light streamed mercifully through the glass and over the painted cinder block, the scarred supply cabinets, the graffitied wooden stools, the battered sinks. Most of her students were Hispanic or black, only a few white faces mixed in. None of them knew what to make of art class. They seemed to consider it a sort of extra recess, especially the older kids. She had only fifty minutes a week with each grade, K–8, four classes on Monday, five on Thursday, and while Hadley had no illusions about her job, she wanted the students to leave her class knowing at least a little more than they had when they walked in. She had designed projects around the Mona Lisa and Starry Night, obvious choices. This week they were working on Jackson Pollock, dripping and flicking and spattering paint onto canvases on the floor—an exercise in silliness, the students seemed to think, and that was fine with Hadley, but she had always been intrigued by the way randomness could hint at meaning. Hadley paid for the canvases herself. Our Lady of the Roses had no real budget for art supplies.
Her favorite students were the second graders: miniature, untarnished versions of their future selves, old enough to be interested and to understand but still young enough that they weren’t bound up by self-consciousness and attitude. Third period. Monday. The sight of them buttoning each other into smocks, men’s dress shirts picked up at Goodwill and worn backward over their uniforms, was enough to buoy her through rest of the day. [End Page 157]
Hadley was circling the room, treading carefully between canvases, offering comments and encouragement—“Excellent, Regina. That’s it. Don’t think too much. Just paint the way you feel.”—when Sister Benedicta cleared her throat at the open door.
“May I have a word?”
Hadley instructed her second graders to keep painting, she’d be right back. The two women trailed their shadows into the hall.
“What’s up, Sister?”
“I wanted to remind you that this is a Catholic school.”
Because of her dark skin and the clipped, slightly foreign inflection in her voice, Hadley had at first believed that Sister Benedicta was Caribbean, maybe from Haiti—the church was always running can drives for Haitian refugees—but the math teacher, Annie Grayson, informed her that Sister had come to Mobile from a convent in Uganda. She’d arrived in November, a replacement for Sister Imogene, who’d been put out to pasture. Sister Benedicta’s age was difficult to guess. She might have been thirty-five or fifty. In her clogs, Hadley was a head taller than the nun, but Sister Benedicta was possessed of density. The hallway seemed to tilt in her direction. Hadley had the idea that if you set a marble on the floor it would roll toward Sister’s feet no matter where in the building she was standing.
“I’m not sure I follow,” Hadley said.
“Shouldn’t your students be making art of a more liturgical nature, an Easter project perhaps, something for their parents?”
“They will have something to take home. They’ll have these Jackson Pollock canvases. They’ll have all the work they’ve done since Christmas break. They’re very proud.”
Hung on the wall outside the classroom were the fruits of previous lessons, portraits and postimpressionist pieces, and Hadley aimed a finger to prove her point...