Sunday, November 21, 2010

CHAPTER THREE: Antonie Writes His SECOND Tale, "Roseblade"




"ROSEBLADE"


Renata rose early to go to him, and when she arrived, Antonie was waiting in the bedroom, as he always was, sitting before the silver mirror at the dressing table, idly gazing at a book. Always in the morning, she looked so fresh, she wore a full-length white apron over her trailing habit. It was the apron she wore for convent chores, an apron with blousy sleeves and long ties that she brought into a tight bow at the back of her waist. So that she arrived covered in many layers, white on top of black on top of white again, and she was veiled thoroughly head to foot, and the bottom edge of the apron was coated in fine red road dust, and her heavy black shoes were scuffed and coated too. Her forehead was bound tightly in its white linen wrap.

That she was covered so well, that he could see so little of her, just the shy half moon of her clear face, was thrilling to him, maybe because she looked so clean, so crisp and efficient and orderly at this early hour of the day, so much the sweet-smelling, hard-working novititiate, a sister, a mother to all men, a woman in white who would be ever present to attend to daily care – his and that of others. But perhaps too he was thrilled because of the promise of what was to come, the promise of how she would be transformed before the sun descended into its afternoon arc. He wanted what she would become as he wanted nothing else, but he w anted to wait for it, to hold it off as long as possible, to extend the inevitable as one might try to preserve the life of a flower. She was for him, in the peachy morning light, a rose anticipating full bloom. Indeed, each morning that he greeted her there in the bedroom, he held out to her a single rose, of an exceptional color. It was lined in yellow, but dipped deeply in red, so that the inside of the rose petals looked to be soaked in human blood.

What thrilled him about the rose, and about Renata herself, was the notion that he would watch them both unfold, that he would witness the opening of their soft petals, that he would be present at the moment when each of the flowers became full and whole. Antonie’s greatest intoxication lay in inhaling the fragrance of the rose, and in thinking about what would happen to Renata under his influence, in comparing what she was when she arrived with what she would become through his coaxing, through the driving, unrelenting force of his emotions and his passion for her. Indeed, if the truth be known, he believed it was the very act of his gazing on her, his breathing on her, his being near and touching her, that opened her to the possibility of her transformation. For as long as possible, he put off her change, and was thoroughly aroused by its contemplation. Certainly he put it off for as long as it took her to shave his face with the straight blade, and for the time it took to apply cologne with her cool palms, which she pressed with gentle certainty against his face and neck.

Antonie smiled shyly when he heard Renata knocking softly at the ornate oak door. Like most everything at the hacienda, the door had its own elaborate story. Built and carved by her grandfather and his, Gabrielo Lopez Ruiz, the door had been chiseled from a prized stand of live oak. But before the old man could build the door, he had to hack down the monstrous oak tree himself. He did, but when he tied the felled oak to the back of his mule, the animal refused to budge, the tree being much too heavy. Gabrielo’s strength was legendary and according to the story, he ended up dragging the oak to the hacienda with tree balanced over his his own shoulders. He built and carved the door in a fine manner with the same determination that had produced the magnificent Spanish house between 1838 and 1844.


“Please, come in,” Antonie said, and Renata appeared in the open door, where she paused and gazed briefly at her cousin. For just that instant, she was double-framed, once by the heavy door, and a second time by the mirror into which Antonie caught her reflection. Almost instantly, she dropped her eyes demurely to the floor. Demurely, though, only from his point of view. Had she the freedom of description, surely she would have used another word, one that captured the modesty, the sincere reserve she felt as she averted her eyes. But then she wasn’t free to choose the word, because she was, as we have said, framed entirely by his gaze. Thus, he would do with the language, and with her appearance in it, much as he pleased, and he would attempt the best interpretation he knew. But in the end, it was his word, imperfectly matched against her feeling, that held sway. Had she heard the word spoken aloud, she would have at the very least colored an embarrassed red. But she would have forgiven him just the same, of that he was sure. Because she would know that he was doing the best a man could do to describe the subtle interior hue of a woman.

“So you came. Sometimes I worry that…and especially after the other night, too, I wanted to…I must tell you, Renata, I must apologize for…for…” But she was shaking her head and holding her finger first to his lips and then to her own and then closing the door.

“No, no, don’t, I don’t want you to apologize. I won’t in fact hear of it. I won’t have you speak of…any of that. And if you insist, then I too will have to insist, that is, on leaving.” And so they eyed each other across the space of the room, each gazing at the other in the silver mirror they now shared, the mirror with the hammered silver frame. The mirror in which they were reflected belonged to the grandmother they also shared, Gabrielo’s wife, one Magdalena Sanchez y Quiero, a woman of blue eyes and black hair, a Castilian, who, despite her fair skin, was said to be part gypsy.

And so they began always in the same way, speaking to one another in hushed tones, in something of a ritual manner, dancing in words before they actually proceeded to dance with their feet. In the next few minutes, Renata prepared to lather Antonie from the small silver bowl, a bowl she heated slightly with the light of a candle set underneath. All the while the candle glowed, Renata sought to distract Antonie, to call his attention away from herself. She spoke of Father Ruby or Mother Yolla or Sister Theresa, laughing when she mentioned the latter’s name, because in the same breath she spoke of Theresa she had also to tell one of Theresa’s jokes, because Theresa would do that too, making up some harmless but ribald tale about Father Ruby or even Mother Yolla. Theresa was known for the way she could spin a farfetched tale about any one of the nuns at the convent.

And all the while Renata spoke, she continued with the elaborate preparations, readying Antonie for a shave he didn’t need. Indeed, the truth be told, his face was as smooth and hairless as that of a young woman, save for the downy shadow of hair that grew above his fully-defined lips in the form of a vague mustache.

“Wash me,” Antonie whispered, his eyes closed, and Renata laid a large towel on his chest and tucked it around his neck, and proceeded to dip a smaller hand towel – una toalleta—embroidered at both edges, into a bowl of warm water. Wringing the towel dry, she laid it on his face. She then ran the fingers of both her hands through his hair, gently lifting back into place a strand or two that had come loose from the leather tie at the nape of his neck. Then her fingers moved deftly across his forehead and temples and neck, massaging him lightly, left to right, her fingers fluttering like the legs of one of the colorful birds that Antonie kept in a large cage swinging from the center beam in the dining room. Had they been in that room now, the birds would be heard in a raucous outpouring, starting up as they always did when Renata visited, almost as if they were connected to Antonie’s pulse, his very heart.

“Close your eyes,” she whispered, and that Antonie slumped slightly in the large chair, leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and inhaled her. Without a sound, she began to apply the lathered soap to his chin, dipping the brush repeatedly into the bowl. Soon the foaming soap covered all but his upper lip, masking cheekbones and jaw, grazing his earlobes and the Adam’s apple protruding sharply from the front of his throat. She set the bowl down, and laid in the brush, and with one of her little fingers, she caught a long curl of hair at his temple and laid it behind his ear. In that moment, he reached out, caught her free hand, and kissed it, coating it with shaving soap. Swiftly she pulled back her hand.

“And how many times have I scolded you before, and how many times, my dear cousin, must I scold you again? I have told you time and time and time again that you must never distract a hand that holds a blade.” She whispered thus into his ear, and the sound of the words, and the warm breath that brought the words forth sent chills clear through the center of his back. And when he opened his eyes, she had taken up the razor, and her eyes had the slightly dazed look they always got. That was the first signal, the clue that Antonie knew so well. He knew it wouldn’t be long now, that she was beginning to undergo the metamorphosis inevitably imposed by the task.

So he relaxed, and let her drag the blade slowly and purposely across the front of his chin, and into his dimple that lay there, and onto his cheeks and the sharply curved edges of his jaw. The skin of his face tingled in the razor’s wake, and he kept his eyes closed, imagining how her face looked above his, serious at her work, her dark eyebrows poised in a slightly knit brow. He imagined too the swift movement her hand would make as she snapped the excess soap from the blade into the ceramic bowl.

At one time, he had believed that magic lay in the way she moved the razor, the way she swept it over the contour of his face. But gradually he knew the magic was simply in the way she focused her concentration on a completely unessential task. Yes, the magic lay in the fact that she was caring so intently for him, for his face, erasing a mustache he barely showed, and a totally non-existent beard. The thought of it never failed to thrill him, never failed to make him feel new and whole and reawakened to himself. It sent chills down his arms to know that at least for the moments Renata shaved him, there was someone who gave herself over to him, truly cared for him, someone who was present to a task that was completely a necessary whim.

By then she had finished skimming off the soap, and now she had indeed been transformed by her work. Moving silently, Renata unwrapped the towel from Antonie’s neck, and loosened his collar, pulling the two sides of it apart so that a triangular area of his hairless chest was exposed, down to the center of his breastbone. A small circular depression, the size of a gold coin, lay at the center of his chest. Around that point his rib cage swelled, filled with air, fell, swelled again, over and over, with the regular insistence of an ocean wave, or the boat rocking on that wave.

Renata leaned across his heaving chest and reached for a crystal bottle from the dressing table. She shook a liquid balm, sweet with the fragrance of jasmine, into one cupped palm, and slowly she applied the tingling liquid against his face and neck, refreshing his heated body with her two open hands. The liquid evaporated as soon as it touched his skin. She moved progressively lower and lower, going in circles. Finally, she unbuttoned his shirt completely and pulled it apart, so that his shoulders lay exposed, and his head hung back, his eyes closed and his mouth limp and slightly open.

A third person watching in the mirror would see Renata’s hands fluttering across Antonie’s slightly protruding breasts, his hardened nipples, while Antonie’s own hands were lifeless, his arms draped across the elaborately carved wooden arms of the chair. The third person might decide then to look away, or say a prayer, particularly if that person were a God-fearing Christian, because Renata at that point lifted Antonie’s limp hand close to her lips, and folding his hand into a fist, she laid the fist to her mouth and kissed it, and then she unfolded the fist and kissed each finger in turn along its length, leaving no skin untouched.

By the time she finished with the hand, Antonie looked to be barely breathing. Moving swiftly, Renata tore the gold cuff link from Antonie’s sleeve, and threw it aside. Pushing the sleeve of his shirt away, she kneeled on the floor, as if she too were going to pray. But instead, she set her delicate lips, and the tip of her tongue, gently, gently, gently, to the soft white skin that lay along the inside of his wrist.

Renata prepared to lather Antonie from a small silver bowl, a bowl she heated slightly with the light of a candle set underneath. All the while the candle glowed, Renata sought to distract Antonie, to call his attention away from herself. She spoke of Father Ruby or Mother Yolla or Sister Theresa, laughing when she mentioned the latter’s name, because in the same breath she spoke of Theresa she had also to tell one of Theresa’s jokes, because Theresa would do that too, make up some harmless but ribald tale about Father Ruby or even Mother Yolla. Theresa's gift was spinning a farfetched tale about any one of the nuns at the convent.

All the while Renata spoke, she continued with the elaborate preparations, readying Antonie for a shave he needed, specifically, from her.

“Wash me,” Antonie whispered, his eyes closed. Renata proceeded to lay a large towel on his chest. She tucked it gingerly around his neck, and dipped a smaller hand towel into the bowl of warm water. Wringing the towel dry, she laid it on his face and ran her hands lightly through his hair, gently lifting back into place a strand or two that had come loose from the leather tie at the nape of his neck.

Her fingers continued deftly across his forehead and temples and neck, left to right, her fingers fluttering like the legs of one of the colorful birds that Antonie kept in a large cage swinging from the center beam in the dining room.

“Close your eyes,” she whispered, and at that command, Antonie slumped slightly in the large chair, leaned his head back and inhaled her. She applied the lathered soap to his chin, dipping the brush repeatedly into the bowl. Soon the foam covered all but his upper lip, masking cheekbones and jaw, grazing his earlobes and the Adam’s apple protruding sharply from the front of his throat.

She set the bowl down, and laid in the brush, and with one of her little fingers, she caught a long curl of hair at his temple and laid it behind his ear. In that moment, he reached out, caught her free hand, and kissed it, coating it with shaving soap. Swiftly she pulled back her hand.

“And how many times have I scolded you before, and how many times, my dear cousin, must I scold you again? You must never distract a hand that holds a blade.” She whispered thus into his ear, and the sound of the words, and her warm breath sent chills through the center of his back.

When he opened his eyes, she had taken up the razor, and her eyes had the slightly dazed look they always got. That was the first signal, the clue that Antonie knew so well. He knew it wouldn’t be long now, that she was beginning to undergo the metamorphosis inevitably imposed by the task.

So he relaxed, and let her drag the blade


slowly and purposely across the front of his chin, and into his dimple that lay there, and onto his cheeks and the sharply curved edges of his jaw. And all the while she saw the Adam's apple at the center of his throat.

The skin of his face tingled in the razor’s wake, and he kept his eyes closed, imagining how her face looked above his, serious at her work, her dark eyebrows poised in a slightly knit brow. He imagined too the swift movement her hand would make as she snapped the excess soap from the blade into the ceramic bowl.

At one time, he had believed that magic lay in the way she moved the razor, the way she swept it over the contour of his face. But gradually he knew the magic was simply in the way she focused her concentration on a completely unessential task. Yes, the magic lay in the fact that she was caring so intently for him, for his face, erasing a mustache he barely showed, a practically non-existent beard.
The thought of it never failed to thrill him, never failed to make him feel new and whole and reawakened to himself. It sent chills down his arms to know that at least for the moments Renata shaved him, there was someone who gave herself over to him, truly cared for him, someone who was present to a task that was completely a necessary whim.

By then she had finished skimming off the soap, and now she had indeed been transformed by her work. Moving silently, Renata unwrapped the towel from Antonie’s neck, and loosened his collar, pulling the two sides of it apart so that a triangular area of his hairless chest was exposed, down to the center of his breastbone.

A small circular depression, the size of a gold coin, lay at the center of his chest. Around that point his rib cage swelled, filled with air, fell, swelled again, over and over, with the regular insistence of an ocean wave, or the boat rocking on that wave.

Renata leaned across his heaving chest and reached for an ornate crystal bottle from the dressing table. She shook a liquid balm, sweet with the fragrance of jasmine, into one cupped palm, and slowly she applied the tingling liquid against his face and neck, refreshing his heated body with her two open hands. The liquid evaporated as soon as it touched his skin. She moved progressively lower and lower, going in circles. Finally, she unbuttoned his shirt completely and pulled it apart, so that his shoulders lay exposed, and his head hung back, his eyes closed and his mouth limp and slightly open.

A third person watching in the mirror would see Renata’s hands fluttering across Antonie’s slightly protruding breasts, his hardened nipples, while Antonie’s own hands were lifeless, his arms draped across the elaborately carved wooden arms of the chair. The third person might decide then to look away, or say a prayer, particularly if that person were a God-fearing Christian, because Renata at that point lifted Antonie’s limp hand close to her lips, and folding his hand into a fist, she laid the fist to her mouth and kissed it, and then she unfolded the fist and kissed each finger in turn along its length, leaving no skin untouched.

By the time she finished with the hand, Antonie looked to be barely breathing. Moving swiftly, Renata tore the gold cuff links from Antonie’s sleeves, and threw them aside. Pushing one shirt sleeve off his arm, she kneeled on the floor, as if she too were going to pray. But instead, she set her delicate lips, and the tip of her tongue, gently, gently, gently, to the soft white skin that lay along the inside of his wrist.

"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 the next diary entry, go to  Chapter Four.

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