Sunday, November 21, 2010


Renata’s Diary

April 13, 1883 This time when I arrive at Antonie's, he is sitting up. His face has that ghastly purple hue, but it is one I am getting used to. He reaches out a bony hand. "I beg you, sweet cousin, to shave me."

I recoil. I have never in all my life shaved a man and certainly not Antonie!

"I see no reason why I should do that," I say, moving out of the way of his grasp.

"Oh but my dear cousin, you know that Father Ruby would approve." He leers at me. "And so would my physician. If you shave my face, I am told by the good doctor, it will hurry my cure." He closes his eyes but manages a sleepy smile.

"Surely you don't expect me to believe that," I say. "Your doctor is an intelligent man, and to my knowledge, he is well grounded in science. And I am an equally intelligent woman. Shaving your face will have no influence whatsoever on your syphilis..." I feel my cousin's forehead. Damp, and feverish again.

This much I know: when Antonie's temperature rises, his mind begins to spin the most perverse fantasies about me.

Still, I agree to shave him. Together with señora, I heat the shaving cream in the metal bowl and we scrape his face clean. And because it is so late when we finish, señora prepares the guest room for me, and I sleep at the hacienda. The next morning, before breakfast, I go to his room to check his temperature. His eyes open when I place my hand on his forehead. He asks me to change his sheet, so I do.

This is when I find it. I lift the mattress and I discover the pile of pale white pages, all in Antonie's slanted handwriting. There, at the top of the pile is another story he wrote about me, the one called "Roseblade."

Once again he's made me into the seductress he wants me to be. When I threaten to burn the white pages, he musters all his strength and rises out of the bed and into a rage. His eyes are demonic as he demands that I hand over the pages.

Dear Mary in heaven, help me to know what to do!

Later in the afternoon, when I got back to the convent after shaving Antonie's face, Teresa and I escaped to the shade of the grape arbor where I let her read Antonie’s tale, "Roseblade." It made me tremble to see those dark words on the thin white pages. What he had written was evil, but what was I to do about it?

When Teresa finished, those normally cheerful blue eyes of hers were muddied and solemn.

“Oh my poor Renata.” She took my hand. “He…your cousin will destroy you for sure.”

“Yes, I fear that he will. But what am I to do?”

She gazed out to the golden hillside, still holding onto my hand. And slowly she shook her head.

“I don’t know that there is anything that can possibly help. But one thing you must absolutely do.” The sky color sailed back into her eyes. “Record everything that happens. Write it all down. Leave out nothing, not a single detail.”

I nodded. “God knows, I am writing in the diary every blessed day.”

“Yes, yes. You must continue.” She stood. “And one other thing you could do. Remember I told you to write the story of how things were when the two of you were growing up?”

“Yes. I remember. And I have considered it. But how is writing such a history going to help?”

“You will see for yourself, and show others too, how the past, your past with Antonie, has shaped things. You will see how things have come to be the way they are.”

I considered her. Usually such a jolly soul, Teresa was wholly serious today.

“Yes, I suppose it can’t hurt,” I said.

“And now Renata, I’ve got to head back. Mother Yolla instructed me at lunch to attend to the henhouse today and I dare not show p to supper without having done it, or I will pay dearly.”

“Oh yes, of course, and I’ll come, I’ll help,” I said, standing. But she stopped me.

“NO.” She held up one hand in commandment. “You my dear sister, you are going to sit down and write.”

“But it might wait, I could…”

“NO.” Another hand up. “Go fetch the diary now. Go straight to a clean page. And begin. Write about your cousin and you. In the old days, when you first came. Maybe buried in your words you will see, if there were clues, already, back then.”

So I do. I take my diary and a blanket up the golden hillside and decide which live oak I will sit under. And then I close my eyes and try to remember everything. Soon I am writing down all my early memories of my cousin.

"Castenata" is a murder mystery featuring a nun, Sister Renata. In 1883 the nun was falsely accused of murdering her cousin Antonie. Renata's version of the story is contained within her diaries. To read her next diary entry, go to Chapter Five.

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