April 1, 1883 And now, how to begin? And why? I write because I must. I write because I cannot trust memory anymore. I certainly cannot trust my cousin Antonie and those bizarre stories he has been writing these last months, scratching them out in a wobbly hand, in black ink on thin white paper. He wrote the first, "Renata Dancing," and left it under the pillow. I know he left it for me; he knew that I was coming in that afternoon to change his bedsheets.
I stood, the soiled sheets in my arms, the words he wrote hard to absorb.
I sank to the bed in horror. His poetry had turned me into a Spanish dancer in a flame-colored dress!
The man is sick and daft. I see now how his illness is ruining his mind, and now, after what happened tonight, I see how that he fully intends to ruin me.
Dear God, I am at a loss about what to do.
When I close my eyes, I still see the wretched way he looked at me as I brought a cup of tea to his bedside. That peculiar horror clouded his eyes once again. I know not exactly what goes through that scheming lustful mind of his at those moments, I just know that I am afraid.
And so tonight, I begin. I write this diary because I need a careful record. My dearest friend here at the convent, Sister Teresa, insisted that I write.
The first time I spoke about Antonie's growing madness to her, some months back, I recall the way Teresa recoiled. We were standing side by side at the laundry sink, scrubbing altar cloths. I told her about the first story Antonie wrote, some months ago now, the one he called "Renata Dancing."
I saw Teresa's smile drain away. She stopped and for a moment, she gazed into the grey soapy water. Then she raised her eyes and looked straight at me. I could see dark clouds in those clear eyes of hers, eyes that normally are the color of a summer sky.
"Renata, this is..." she shook her head. It took her a moment to continue. "You've got to be more careful," she whispered.
“Careful?” I replied. "But what am I to do?"
Well so, she tried to tell me to stop going to my cousin's bedside.
I laughed. "Do you really think I have the power to decide?" I reminded her that Father Ruby has warned me over and over again. "I expect that you will be a steady source of support to your poor cousin," he said.
Naturally he would say that, as he so values Antonie. My wealthy cousin is a steady financial "support" to the convent.
Teresa resumed scrubbing the altar cloth, but the stain of red wine was fixed forever in the linen.
"Then you must write it all down, Renata," Teresa said, keeping her head focused on her work. "Writing will protect you."
And so now I do. I write. I guard myself safely in the tabernacle of my own words.
Here is Chapter Two of Castenata, called "Renata Dancing."