Escape

The girl lay in bed, listening to her roommates’ heavy breathing; listening to Sister Jean Raphael slowly pacing the hall to the beat of the Hail Mary; listening to the outside world, the world beyond her bedroom window, the world so frightening and so delightful when drizzled in moonlight – unlike tonight. Tonight, all was still. The birds hid their heads under their wings. The wind left the leaves alone.

Perhaps tonight was not the right night. Perhaps she needed to wait for the moon – the blessed, beckoning moon that called to her outside. Not tonight. Tonight, the moon slept … maybe she would sleep too …

There was one faint whistle in the darkness, a whistle almost too far to hear – but she heard the call. It was the 440 train, from Aix-en-Provence to Lyons, traveling north. The girl heard the call. And she came.

The girl slid out from under her covers and noiselessly pulled on a contraband pair of jeans and an olive-green sweater she had stuffed under her bed. She pulled out her backpack and scooped her toothbrush and pajamas into it – everything else of necessity was already smuggled in there. Everything, that is, except –

She could hear Sr Jean Raphael roll off the balls of her feet as she came to the end of the hall. There was a clink of beads and a rustle of a veil as (the girl knew without seeing) Sister threw it over her shoulder impatiently and turned on her heel and continued down the hall in the opposite direction. When the nun had passed the landing at the top of the grand staircase (the girl could hear the three distinct creaks as Sister passed) the girl drew in a deep breath, opened the bedroom door, and crossed the hall in a sudden move.

Across the hall was Sister’s room. Cell might have been a better term; it was hardly big enough to fit a narrow bed and even narrower priedieu, but it was plenty big enough to hold a very important cupboard, which the girl now sidled up to. She took a bobby pin from her hair (stuck there for the purpose), bent it, and deliberately inserted it into the cupboard lock. Quietly, carefully, oh-so-patiently, the girl twisted the pin until it clicked, and the little wooden door swung open. There, inside, the cupboard held all the treasures of the class of seconde: confiscated jewelry and makeup (held until the parents returned), secret stashes of candy, a pack of cigarettes, a cheap romance novel or two (those would be the key talking points for some parents next holiday weekend). The girl reached in with two fingers and pulled out two items: a slim leather wallet and a well worn American passport. She slipped both into her pocket, closed the cupboard door, and retreated across the hall.

Once back in her room with her still sleeping roommates she took a deep breath. Now for the difficult part. She slung the backpack over her shoulders, opened the window, pushed back the shutters (gently, since they squeaked), and looked outside into the vast darkness.

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