Bill Todd -- BOLLINGER: A Novel of the Prairie
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 Chapter 32

A Partial Resolution

The Bowen home, revealed by the moonlight and some floodlights focused on the gateway, was directly on the lake front. But it wasn't extraordinarily large. Mrs. Bowen said to Howie,

"This is one of the smaller houses in the neighborhood. Bob doesn't believe in putting too much into property that doesn't produce an income."

When they woke Margaret, she said,

"I feel terrible."

Oddly enough, it was an encouraging report. Margaret spoke in a nearly normal tone of voice, very much as if she had awoken with a hangover. Mrs. Bowen replied,

"I'm sure you do, but we'll make you comfortable in bed with tea and cookies. That ought to help a bit."

As Mrs. Bowen took Margaret upstairs, her husband, who had just appeared, invited Howie to join him for coffee. When the others were out of earshot, he said with some show of amusement,

"I understand you got left with a crazy woman on your hands."

"Yeah. I was pretty scared. At one point she even grabbed the steering wheel."

Mr. Bowen shook his head and replied,

"I can never understand this kind of thing. Okay, if you want to escape from a convent, fine. But why keep going back? Once you've made a decision, you have to stick with it. I always have."

"Well, I guess I have, too."

"The trouble is that women, even the nicest ones like Ann, are awash in emotions. They've got so many, some of them going in opposite directions, that even a genius couldn't sort them out."

"Your wife did say something about getting a doctor, I guess a psychiatrist, to help Margaret if she doesn't come to on her own."

"That would be Cliff Manning, a friend of ours who lives down the road. He's okay, a nice guy with a good sense of humor and lots of funny stories about his patients. I doubt that he really helps very many people very much, but we can call him if she sets fire to the bed or anything like that."

Howie found himself more relaxed than he would have expected to be in the circumstances. He replied,

"I'm feeling pretty relieved myself. I could have taken her to the hospital in Bollinger, but I probably would've had to carry her in kicking and screaming. They might've thought that I'd raped her."

"The main thing is not to get near someone like that in the first place. How did it happen?"

It turned out that his wife had given Mr. Bowen only the briefest account as she rushed off, and Howie told him about the near encounter with Sister Rose. Mr. Bowen replied,

"It certainly doesn't take much to set her off. I guess it's Barbara's fault, really. She used to bring home stray animals, and I wish she still did instead of stray nuns. I guess she'll outgrow it eventually."

Mrs. Bowen then returned, and said,

"She's gone to sleep now. I don't think there's any need to call anyone tonight. I will if she needs it in the morning."

They talked casually for a while over coffee, and then decided to go to bed. Howie was placed in a room the likes of which he had never seen.

The Bowen household arose a good deal earlier than did Howie, and, when he came down, Mr. Bowen was already gone. Margaret was sitting at the breakfast table with Mrs. Bowen, and, when she saw Howie, she began to apologize profusely. Howie was always embarrassed when people apologized to him, and he managed to cut it short by remarking enthusiastically on her improved appearance. She replied,

"I spent hours last night thinking it out. What I decided was that I really am a Catholic, and a nun, too. Otherwise, I wouldn't have gone haywire when I saw Sister Rose."

"Are you going back?"

"At the end of the school year. I've got to finish what I started. I think even Sister Rose would tell me that. But the nice thing about being Catholic is that you can always confess and go back."

Mrs. Bowen replied,

"Sometimes we do try to do things that we can't, and our bodies just rebel. That may have been what happened to you."

"I guess so. Now that I've decided, I feel okay."

When Mrs. Bowen drove Howie to the station, she said,

"Barbara called late last night. Your friend picked her up and told her a little, but she was alarmed and wanted to know more. I told her that I thought Margaret would eventually go back to St. Monica's."

"Was she upset?"

"She wasn't happy, but she seems willing to leave it to me at this point. I've been afraid all along that Margaret did it because she thought Barbara was glamorous and exciting and wanted to be more like her."

"I don't think she had any illusions on that score. It seems to have been Mrs. Badgett's example that inspired her. But, in her quiet way, Mrs. Badgett is an unusual woman, perhaps an extraordinary one."

"I haven't met her, but I've heard about her. It sounds as if she has a very strong character. It would take one to leave Catholicism flat and master the feelings of guilt. Margaret's main problem is that she had bad parents who ignored her. What attention she got was from nuns and priests. So, in a very real sense, the church is her family. It's no wonder that she can't abandon it."

"Yes. I wonder if she's better or worse off for having attempted it."

"I have no idea."

As they approached the station, Mrs. Bowen said,

"I did talk with Barbara about your stomach. I hope you don't mind."

Howie laughed and replied,

"I knew you would. What did she say?"

"We're both convinced that something can be done about it. You may have had every test at Harvard, but the fact that they have Nobel prize winners there doesn't necessarily mean that the doctors at the student health service are competent."

"Well, I guess that is possible. I went to one when I had an itching in the groin area. He was an older man who'd go up and down the halls singing, 'A pretty girl is like a melody.' After he examined me, he shouted out, 'Boy, you got crickets!.' I was embarrassed because everyone could hear. He also wanted me to wash my sheets in boiling water and all sorts of things. It turned out that it was only a fungus infection. He just liked telling people they had vermin."

"Was that the doctor you consulted about your stomach problems?"

"No. Those were younger and seemed more professional, but they might not really have been any better I guess."

"You can't imagine how many people I've known who've baffled doctors with their ailments. It's usually just a matter of going from one to another until you find one who knows what he's doing. I've had that experience myself."

"Well, I did think that Torgeson might be right, but now I'm not so sure."

"Barbara may try to persuade you to come here at Christmas time and get checked. We'd love to have you stay with us."

Howie thanked her for the invitation without definitely committing himself, and alighted at the station. He hoped devoutly that the Mendota police hadn't towed away his car.

Bill Todd -- BOLLINGER: A Novel of the Prairie
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