Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Puritan

You're a Puritan.” The girls had teased just as other girls had teased Lise in Rumer Godden's novel.
It was true as just like Lise, she didn't like to use perfume; 'she had never wanted her hair or her skin impregnated, no matter how good the scent was, how expensive.' But Gabrielle went further. Nothing passed her lips or touched her skin which she deemed unnatural. She was puritanical. Governed by her natural preference for abstinence and purity. She wasn't religious, but she still like to finger her Gran's and her Great-Gran's rosary, which she had learnt was actually a chaplet: a single strand of fifty beads with a tiny cross in silver. Five decades told bead by bead, three times over. Five ones sorrowful, five joyous and five glorious. She wondered when she would reach the glorious, but she didn't believe in repentance. Being pure, she had nothing to regret, but she was very good at being disapproving.
She disapproved of almost everything. She didn't impose her beliefs, but her lip slightly curled and her tone became condescending. Her family and friends always knew when she didn't approve, which was often. She followed her own strict code, although in her youth she had dabbled briefly with boys, meat and alcohol, but this she said was essential exploring. “If I hadn't, I wouldn't now know what I didn't like.”
She didn't want to inspire, but wanted to be free to live her life, as she saw fit, as she chose, but she was pushing her already-strict boundaries to extremes. At first it had been abstinence from red meat, then chicken, fish, and alcohol, and then she became uncomfortable in revealing clothes; she just didn't have the bust to fill low-cut tops. Her figure was more ballet, than burlesque, and besides she preferred a more covered silhouette. She'd never been one for pampering, and the make-up she wore was toned down, so that instead of painting a mask, she showed more bare skin. Any cosmetics she used were made from natural ingredients. She was what others would call a 'Plain Jane,' and prim. There was no gadding about; her idea of fun was not that kind of fun.
But these sacrifices only made her want more; she still did not feel pure, so soon she avoided wheat, yeast and dairy, but occasionally broke the rules she set for herself. Eggs, honey and Goat's cheese were okay if she fancied it, but there were other things she was scrupulous about. She must start the day with a mug of hot water and she must have quiet reading time. As it was to Lise, to Gabrielle peace was balm, and indulging in the silence she would often recite Lise's words: 'The days get richer and richer,' ending each recitation with a contented sigh. She had created her own cloistered prison in order to obtain spiritual growth.
Yet, despite her increasing devotion, Gabrielle could find conflict where others would find none. She was a Martha, but wondered at times if she became a Mary, would she love life more? She had nothing to atone for, aside from the harm she caused to herself regularly. The blasphemous curses and sacrifices; the self-denial. She imagined the nuns, the Sisters of Béthanie discussing her, as Lise had known them to: 'Has she a vocation?' 'Only time can tell, she is searching.' She would have been in their beam, the full light upon her. Could these Sisters have saved her? Gabrielle, the Puritan? Hope came from the rosary and Father Père Lataste's words: 'It's not what you were, but what you are now and what you want to be...'

*Inspired by Rumer Godden's Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy.