“We must call for the priest,” Sister Agnes said, her eyes sad. Marie nodded almost imperceptibly. She felt numbness and sadness and peace and confusion all at once. The months of illness had worn on all of them. Visiting her dear Celine almost daily at the convent infirmary was all of those; now, Celine’s sudden turn for the worse only intensified them. Celine, hardly aware of her surroundings, coughed and shifted in her bed. Sister Agnes left the room. Marie watched her leave. The door closed softly. Marie turned back to Celine and touched her hand. Words were unnecessary; everything had already been said.
Sister Agnes returned with three other sisters. They were Celine’s most frequent visitors, save for Marie.
“How is she?” Sister Anne asked. Marie shrugged her shoulders. She was afraid to speak.
Sister Agnes rescued her from speaking. “Her fever just increased and the cough is back. I called for Father Guerin. He should be here soon.”
“We will miss her. Such a precious flower,” Sister Anne said. Her gaze was wistful and reminiscent of happier times. Marie felt her mouth quirk at one corner, remembering all the times Sister Anne had scolded Celine for inattention during study or for causing the other students to laugh in class. She always knew that Sister Anne had had a soft spot for Celine; nothing reaffirmed that more than Sister Anne’s daily vigil by Celine’s bed. For most of her illness, Celine had been cheerful and accepting of visitors. That is, until the past two days, during which time she had drifted in and out of consciousness.
Disrupting Marie’s musings, the priest came hurrying into the room. He set a black briefcase on the table next to Celine’s bed. Marie stood from her chair, offering it to Father Guerin and stepping back to stand by the four sisters. He anointed her solemnly and a hush pressed against the walls of the tiny infirmary. After a few moments of silence, he rose and collected his briefcase.
Offering the women a smile of comfort, he said, “I think she is not long for this world. May her soul rest in peace.” With that, he left the room. Mass would begin in merely fifteen minutes, Marie realized. If he was fetched so urgently, then Celine’s end must be approaching. Marie shuddered, and wearily made her way back to the chair. She replaced Celine’s hand in hers and continued her watch. Sister Anne left the room momentarily to fetch chairs for the three other women.
Soon after, sometime mid-afternoon, Celine’s breathing, which had previously been punctuated by coughing fits, slowed to a ragged drawing of air. Marie began to cry – her one friend in the world was about to leave her. She prayed. For strength, for courage, for Celine.
Finally, after some minutes of harsh breathing, Celine calmed. Her face smoothed and with a gentle exhale, Celine expired. Marie tightened her hand around Celine’s and clenched her teeth. The sisters began to pray in unison, and Marie held onto the familiar pattern of their chant as firmly as she clutched Celine’s hand. There they sat until the bell for prayer rang, mourning the loss of Celine.