When Aunt Jeanine came to visit she liked to sit in this Queen Anne chair near the front door, by the south-facing window, in the sun. She would lay her head back and as she fell asleep, her mouth opened slightly. She slept in the chair for hours until the sun fell below the sill. This morning as every morning, I felt surprise as I passed the chair and Jeanine was not sitting in it. After I fed the dogs, I went over and sat in it. After a little while, I brought out my phone and played Fruit Ninja for too long. Then I put the phone away and just sat, looking into the livingroom where the dogs were sprawled on the rug and on their beds. "Tranquil," Jeanine would say.
Out the window four trees were still bare and one tree was covered, it seemed, in black leaves on one side and yellow leaves on the side facing the sun.
Jeanine is back in Montreal now, in her corner apartment above the St. Lawrence River. "Mon-ree-al," she'd say. She had been a swinger in the 60s and was still a lovely still badass woman with a cynical yet hopeful sense of humor. Maybe hopeful isn't the right word. Surprised is a better word, maybe. She laughed at something funny as if surprised that anything could make her laugh.
The sun warmed my face and hands. My feet were cold in the shadow of the chair. My body felt warm and cold at once, as Jeanine must have felt as she sat here. The floor in this part of the house is wood above a crawl space and frozen ground. Just a few feet away, the livingroom boards are insulated, but Jeanine chose to sit here.
Jeanine had become a postulant in a community of cloistered nuns when she was eighteen. The eldest sister of seven girls raised on a farm in Quebec, she was the only one who tried the convent but had left after one year. She went on to have affairs and marriages all over the world. No matter where, she stubbornly spoke only French Canadian.
One evening at dinner, she said that everyone should have a "grande passion," and that she had had one, but now all she wanted was to have some sanctity. The sanctity of sensations, such as tranquility. La sainteté de sensations, comme la tranquillité.
It is a deeply interior sensation, this sanctity. I understood it, having worked in prisons where windows are placed high to deny prisoners a view.
I had wanted to join a convent myself in Malaysia, when I was a child. Instead, like Jeanine, I'd gone across the world. But, she had gone back to where her life had begun and now lived in an apartment only several floors from her sister, Lucille.
Returning to the womb is a kind of sanctity, and if I believed in god, he would be the nourishment there.
I suppose our home isn't unlike a cloister, despite the warm sun, the married man and woman in it, the sweetness and energy of two old dogs and the puppy maybe, and earthy carnival colors on the walls.