The pearl earring glimmered up at Anne from the bottom of the font. She hastily dropped her pitcher and glanced around the sanctuary. Empty. With a deft flick of her fingers she scooped out the earring. How did it even get there? Who did it belong to? The pearl was a part of the world outside the heavy cathedral doors, one she had left behind nearly ten years ago now. The metal fastening gleamed gold while the pearl was silky to the touch. The whole piece was no bigger than her pinky nail and reflected a rainbow in the light streaming into the sanctuary.
The bell in the tower chimed the ten-o-clock hour, and Anne slipped the earring into the pocket of her habit and stuffed the curiosity away in a cobwebbed corner of her mind. There was no room for it among her morning chores. She began to scoop up the water in the pitcher - particularly pertinent now that she had found the lost jewelry - and was careful to not slosh any over the sides of the basin. She carried the now full pitcher to the front of the sanctuary, where she disposed the of the holy water in the sacrarium. She continued this practice with the smaller stoups built into the walls on either side of the main sanctuary, then carefully washed the pitcher in the sink set beside the sacrarium. Father James and Sister Catherine would refill the the main font and stoups before the evening mass.
Anne left the echoing sanctuary behind with a sigh of relief. Whenever she had to dispose of the old holy water, it left her shaky and tense, as if she was unable to reconcile something that was simultaneously mundane and sacred as it swirled down the drain. A simple meal had been left out for her and the others in the kitchen once they finished their chores. She grabbed a plate set with a chicken salad sandwich, carrot sticks, and multigrain crackers and took her meal in the courtyard. It had been her favorite place since her first week joining the order.
The courtyard was tucked on the left side of the main sanctuary, with open air walkways lining the other three sides. The grounds within had been carefully maintained, a jungle artfully tamed. Several fountains burbled and thick trees offered shade in the afternoon. Honeysuckle hung from the eaves of the walkways and lined a trellis that arched over the entrance to the walking labyrinth. Anne took a seat on a stone bench at the base of a maple tree and offered a silent prayer for her meal. She found her hand idly reaching for the pearl earring in her pocket instead of the rosary beads at her waist. The curiosity returned full force.
In her mind’s eye Anne watched the sanctuary fill up with congregants, all those she could remember. Most were families, many older, all relatively poor. Very few wore the latest fashionable clothing or jewelry. Most likely it had been a one-time visitor, but how did they lose their earring in the font? And would they return to search for it? Anne knew she should take the pearl to Sister Catherine, but the mystery of its very existence was too captivating to ignore. She let her imagination wander, building up the image and backstory of the earring’s owner.
When the noon bell rang, Anne had only finished half her sandwich. She jolted to attention and returned the unfinished plate to the kitchen. Prayers would be starting in a few minutes. She walked the hallways with her hand still on the pearl in her pocket, trying to wrestle her wayward thoughts into a more proper state for prayers. She had just walked into the foyer when one of the sets of main doors opened and a visitor walked in. The woman was aglow with the afternoon sun that followed her. She wore a sleek blue dress and a chic white overcoat. Her high heels clacked against the marble tiles and she glanced around the foyer with a detached air, only accentuated by her high cheekbones and pale blue eyes that skipped right over Anne as if she was not there.
Still, Anne recognized that beautifully etched face and tumble of golden curls. It was a face that had stared down at her from the white sheet they used for Friday movie nights in the dining hall many times. It was the actress, Marguerite Mays. And she wore a single pearl earring.