Thursday, January 20, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: Facing the Gallows, Sister Shouts Her Diary Out Loud!!

Sister Renata's Diary
Old Vallejo Jail
DEAR GOD What Day is It?

Teresa I'm losing track of time. Maybe it's because I cannot eat a bite of food, or because of this heat wave,
driving up from hell itself. All I know is that the dust blows endlessly through the bars of the window and I'm coated and crusted in fine yellow powder!

I don't know what day it is anymore. I wake up in such confusion that I find myself wondering if I am even alive. I run my hands around my muddy face and up and down my arms to remind myself that I have skin and that I am in it!

I keep the journal, such a treasure you gave me -- surely you spent half your little life savings on this chiseled leather beauty -- anyway, I keep the diary in my hands when I sleep. Lately, in the mornings, in a wash of confusion, I begin reading what I have written. Because rereading my diaries helps me feel alive.

Because without hearing the words I wrote, I am not me, I am not anything anymore.

I keep going back to the opening page.

Over and over, I read my own words -- "And now, how to begin. And why, why am I about to pour myself onto paper? Pure and simply, I wrote now because I don't trust my cousin anymore. I need a record of events..."

My eyes pass over these words and I know for certain that I wrote them and I know I wrote them when I still had hope, when I still thought life made sense, when I used to wash my face and hands and arms and when I went to chapel each day. When I cooked Friday lunch in the convent on Fridays at noon, when I would stand at the sink, humming a little Spanish melody, the ones Señora would teach me.

I remember you and me together, standing by the laundry sink. We washed Father Ruby's sheets, side by side.

I still thought life made sense.

I still thought. Teresa I still felt I still was in the world. That's it. I still was in the world and now I am not. Now I am not alive, not really, at least I've got to keep convincing myself by talking out loud by singing when I can. By shouting out.

But then I tire of shouting and my voice gives way and sometimes the old jailer comes by and tells me to shut up because I am driving him crazy.

I sink back onto the moldy wall and I have all I can do to take another breath.

I sit here in this cage with nothing but the gallows outside my window.

I have thoughts now but how can I write them, they are all so frightening and it is hard sometimes even to keep writing when I cannot stay focused, when I cannot pray, when God and Mary have slipped away then...

When that happens Teresa I pick up the guitar and I play. Or I don't. I lay down and try to sleep. But today what did I do?

I screamed Teresa! I woke up from a nap and I thought it had happened, that they had hung me and I sprung up and shouted NO NO and looked around and realized, oh, I am still here.

I grabbed the journal and started reading my own words right out loud, the jailer yelled at me telling me to shut up and I yelled back NO NO NO NO and then I yelled louder, I began screaming my words, my diary writing, I read the whole first entry in a screeching voice, at least that's how I started, and then by the end, it had become something of a chant.

The jailer took a crowbar and slammed and banged it across the bars, he made quite the racket and then he poked it between the bars, I dodged him at each poke, he threatened to unlock the cell and beat me but I just laughed, I laughed Teresa, I said to him "Go ahead sir beat me if you wish to, go ahead if you dare, but I am going to read, to shout until I have not a shred of voice left!"

I know full well that I am verging on madness tempting him to hit me. And when I'm shouting I am shouting to a world that for certain isn't listening.

I am this thing that was Sister Renata, face of crud and crusted yellow sweat, hair of chopped straw. Ha, the jailer brought an ancient fragment of mirror here the other day, and shoved it between the bars and cackling his vicious laugh, said, "have a look Sister."

I saw I saw. But all that doesn't matter.

I won't let anyone take my dignity away. My dignity, like my words, are what is here in my mind, mine. I cannot allow anyone to take that inner voice, my divine connection, away from me.

As you are wont to say, Teresa, I must have faith that my words, this diary, will somehow, in some miracle that I pray for, help to clear my name.

I can only tell the world one thing: the true story. That I am innocent of any crime. That I did not murder Antonie. Some day the world will see it!

I am about to start reading now Teresa, and my hands are trembling, my hands are trembling so badly that I can barely write, I AM SHOUTING now here here is a passage I AM SHOWERING REMEMBER THAT? REMEMBER THE DAY THE WAY YOU HAMMERED THAT BLESSEDLY SILLY SHOWER OUT OF a pail, a washtub and a pail? RECALL ALL THE SISTERS GATHERED FOR MY FIRST SHOWER?

August 7, 1883, CAN YOU HEAR ME TERESA? I hear you I hear you listening!

"I hold my face in this fine mist of water falling from the holes in the bottom of the pail, and let the water run over my lips and onto my tongue. The clear water and the sunlight cleanse me and silently I mouth a prayer of thanks to my dear Sister Teresa for this purifying gift and silently too I thank the Lord for sending this good woman to us, but particularly, to me. In all eternity no one has ever had a better friend than Teresa!

I hold the washrag in my clasped hands, I bow my head, allow the water to thoroughly soak my short ruff of hair while I stand there giving thanks and prayer, thinking He knew, yes, He knew, but how does He KNOW? How dear God do YOU that?

How does the Good Lord always know exactly what we need?

Lifting my face, I gently pass the washrag across my brow. How good this feels. No, how heavenly. That’s the word Teresa used. How good it is to be back from San Francisco, too, every cell in my body is grateful. I could stand here, water raining down, drowning out a host of thoughts that I would rather go away.

Again I pray, I say a Hail Mary, two, most of all I ask Him how He knew to send Teresa here?

How He knew that she would come and that she would be my only ally, she would give me some bit of advice to begin and end each day, and our friendship would grow and grow, and more than that, she would give me now the clearest water to cleanse the heat and dust and dirt and sins away.

She brings this gift to me at the very moment I am most in need of cleansing – my body and no less my spirit. I arrived back here from San Francisco -- where I had to go with Antonie because he forced me -- in such a dreadful condition, I hate to think what I looked like when I arrived back at the convent, my clothes crusted, my soul in the worst state it’s ever been. I hid in my room that first morning after Señora pulled up to the convent with the wagon, Antonie lying in the back beneath a heap of blankets. The mercury treatment for the syphilis, it sank him into such a horrifying condition!

How hateful that long journey was, how long and miserable the stay at the hotel, but worst of all, Antonie was NOT HELPED A BIT BY THAT CRUEL Dr. Astorga. What a vicious man, what a vicious "cure" he inflicted on Antonie -- the mercury is far far worse than is the illness!

We carried Antonie home in a state far worse than he left.

Señora kissed me once on the forehead and then I climbed off the wagon without even a word of goodbye.

Weary is not the word for what I was. Too tired to eat. To sleep.

And that very next day, dearest Teresa completed the shower that has now come to deliver me my rescue...."

To continue reading about the shower that Teresa built out of a pail and a washtub, go to RENATA'S August 7th 1883 diary, part of "Castenata."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: The Jail Makes Me See Myself: "A Nun Swingin' by a Rope!"

September 29, 1883
Old Vallejo Jail
My Dearest Teresa,

I sit in this cell -- an animal in a cage. One thing saves me: my mind making these pictures. I see you and me walking through the fields near the convent. Do you see the sky? Such a glorious purple and blue.
Remember that sunset, that night we walked together so many miles?

Your letters are my only comfort. In the moments when I am so frightened I cannot even whisper a prayer, I clutch my rosary beads and reread your words. Sometimes I repeat them over and over like a soothing chant. Tears pour out when I hear your voice echo. My greatest terror is that there may come a day when I cannot hear you!

Oh Teresa. I could always count on you to make me laugh. Each morning before prayers there you would be, solemn, straight-faced, imitating our pie-eyed Mother Yolla. Her scowl. Her waddle, how like a cow she walks. And then I would dissolve into tears, all the while praying, “God, please forgive me for laughing.”

Believe me, I am laughing no more. For I am certain now that I will die, as that hopeless lawyer Deluria appeared with me in court a week ago and he was abominably bad. You could barely hear what he said. The judge asked him three or four times to speak up!
And when he did say something, he made a few dreadfully weak statements and that was that. I sat with my wrists handcuffed and my head bowed, ashamed that I even agreed to let the foolish lawyer -- his impeccable ruffled shirt -- speak for me!

After they led me back to the cell, I sat for hours staring through the bars out the window into the courtyard. As the afternoon wore on, the sun got hotter and hotter and brighter and I grew more and more weak and dizzy. Fearing that I might faint, I finally did the unthinkable, Teresa, I tore off my wimple and veil. My hair lies now like dry matted straw.

Is this then the end of me, then, Renata the nun? I have begun to think so! Even as I am playing my guitar, my heart is as heavy as a lead stove lid! Forgive me, Teresa, but I have more and more moments lately when I've begun to doubt that there is any Divine order at all, or any loving presence above.

Occasionally as I sat staring out the window, a wagon would come into view, the wheels throwing up thick clouds of yellow dust. Finally, the jailer brought dinner – a cold, grey mass of greasy potatoes he called stew – and I couldn’t think to eat it. In a perverse mood, both he and I were, and maybe because it was so hot, he wasn't cackling for a change and I was desperate to talk, so I asked him if he thought the hanging would be good theater.

"Er, watcha say there sister?" he asked, as I suppose he didn't know the meaning of the word "theater."

"What I mean, Mr. Pie, is when I hang outside there in the courtyard, will it attract a large crowd?"

His eyes lit up. "Oh course it will, Lordy, to see a nun swingin' by a rope, hell, it'll be a real good un," he said, nodding his head. “Criminy sakes how often do ya hang a sister?"
His eyes widened and took on a gleam. He stood there jangling his ring of keys, smoothing his hand over that impossible stubble on his chin. Then, when I said nothing, he silently pushed back his soiled hat. I saw that stitched flap of skin where his eye is missing. This is the first time I ever really looked at it.

I ought not to have asked the next question. "Have you seen...a lot of hangings?" I whispered, my throat knotting up over my words.

"Oh in my day I'd say I seen a dozen or so," he said, smiling. He has only three crooked teeth where there should be a top row. "But ma'am, not to say I'm gonna look or nothin' but hell, this one beats all the rest. I mean, I never seen anybody hang who was wearin' a dress." He slapped his thigh and shook his head. And then he clanged the keys against the bars and turned and left.

What a beast. What a dreadful dreadful man. How could he possibly be so cold-hearted, telling me this? Making me see myself spinning by the neck at the end of a rope, my gown open at the bottom for all to see?

I sat staring at the cold stew. In the last few days, my stomach has taken on new waves of nausea -- I dry heave even at the sight of food and would rather he just didn't leave it at all.
I called out to the jailer and told him to take the bowl away.

The day seemed to last forever. The sun sank lower and lower, and with it went my spirits. In the perverse spirit that I was, I kept riveted on that spot
out in the courtyard where my body will dangle from a rope. I tried to pray, Teresa, but honestly, I have begun to wonder, why bother? Is there anyone listening? Would a merciful Being permit all this to happen?
Oh I shouldn't even write this down here, I shouldn't think this. But I do.
At some point during the night, I must have fallen asleep. I dreamed I was swinging from a rope that hung from a crucifix. I had been hanged, but somehow because I was on the cross, I didn’t die. I woke up with a start, collapsed into the slimy wall of my cell. Oh Teresa, this is hell on earth.
And did I tell you, they now have wrapped a chain around my ankle, as if it were needed? As if there would be any way I could move from this pen!
My skin at the ankle grows raw, and it has begun bleeding and the blood mixes with the rust of the chain.

In your last letter you said the newspaper intends to publish all those stories that Antonie wrote, starting with his first one, "Renata Dancing." Dear God is there no justice? All that rubbish, the filth and lies Antonie wrote about me.

If they do, if they do, dear Teresa, is there a way to bring my diary forward? Will my words carry any weight at all?

I am desperate to show the world that I am innocent. I committed no crime.

At least I can die knowing you will try to clear my name.

The jailer comes now with a cup of tea. He leaves it. But dear God Teresa, it is lukewarm and has an oily film and there is, a hair from that mangy dog floating on top.

I cannot bring myself to eat a bite, or drink either. The jailer says I might die of starvation. And I say, that might be the best way.

Whatever God wills.

Your loving sister,


Friday, January 7, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY: Señora Comes, Singing in the Key of Eternity!

September 29 Old Vallejo Jail

Oh Teresa, how can I explain what happened here, this miracle last night?

I felt myself waking during the night, the light was murky in the cell, and there she was --

I am writing this in my journal, I am writing this all down to ensure that it really did happen, I swear it did, I swear that my eyes came open, and the light in the cell was greenish white, but there above me, I swear it was Señora right there, standing above me. I gasped and was overwhelmed by the smell of the fresh roses. "Mi'ja," she whispered, and there in her arms was a giant bouquet of the most magnificent yellow roses I have ever seen. Each of them is tipped in red, as if they have lips!

“Si, si, mi’ja, for you," she whispered. I sat up and she laid them in my lap.
I don't think I ever felt happy the way I did sitting there with the roses in my lap.
"But how did did you get in?"
She shrugged and looked up at me with the most beautiful mystery in her brown face.
Without another word, she opened the basket she was carrying and brought out a fresh loaf of bread, and a hunk of cheese, and two fresh apples.
"Espero que tu tengas hambre," she said, and I laughed, happily. Me, hungry? Of course, and especially now, here in the cell.
I felt happier even than before.
She sliced the apple -- "but how did you get a knife by the jailer I cried?" -- but she eyed me and continued in silence. I watched her, recalling all the meals she fixed for Antonie and me when we were children.
When she and I finished our snack, she picked up the guitar and sat here beside me on the bench and took me so many years back to the music she used to play for me, including those sad old tientos when I first arrived at Antonie's hacienda as a child.
Her lips part. Her cheeks wobble ever so slightly as she begins humming and then I am singing the words I heard at her knee as a child:
"What kind of bird is that
Singing in the olive tree?
Go tell it to be still,
Its song makes me so sad!"
And then she switches to one that is so much sadder, a siguiriya:
"A la luna le pio
la del alto cielo
come le pio que saque a mi pare
de onde está preso."
I implore the moon
up there in the sky,
Implore it to help my father
Escape from his prison cell.
I am crying now. I don't know how she got here, but I know how much I want her to stay.
Now she sees my tears and changes gear. Now he is singing a gay and witty sort of palo which has a never ending number of poetic verses.
She sings:
Just imagine. What I. Did. Just imagine. Where I fled to.
Only the stars can tell you. Only the sky can guess.
So now sit down and I will try to tell you.
You will see it all come clear.
When the water goes still as a mirror,
And we peer inside.
Do you see now, why I appeared here?
Do you see now, why you must
Tell the world my story? Yes, tell the world
Just sing it, shout it out,
how we turned the past. Together,
We moved her story, Renata’s,
and his false history, Antonie’s,
She is just about to start into a second verse when there is commotion in the hallway. The jailer is screaming it seems and all of a sudden the outside door to the prison swings open.
It is Antonie. And he looks just terrible. His normally long black wavy hair has been chopped off. In spikes. Wet and matted. His eyes are dark and empty. And he has lost a lot of weight. Her black pants are baggy.
But now, now how DID I MISS THIS HE HE IS HE IS BLEEDING AT THE NECK, his throat is gashed, Dear God, his head, his head is hanging, his head is
swinginggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg back and forth
And then, blink, he is gone and Señora is holding the guitar and singing softly to me here again, she sings the carcelera, again, and again, she sings:
"Ya van tres días que no como
má que lágrimas y pan:
estos son los alimentos
que mis carceleros me dan."
I lay my head in her lap. Señora tells me to sleep and she gently rubs my back. She keeps singing and singing, and as I fall asleep, I think, she will sing into eternity.
I wake up and my cheek is resting on the sleek curve of the guitar's body. Suddenly, I smell roses.
When I open my eyes, Teresa, as God is my witness, there was a single rose -- yellow with bloody red tips -- on the floor beside the door to the cell.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

CHAPTER NINETEEN: DeLuria Delivers More Bad News!

September 19, 1883
Old Vallejo Jail

Dear Teresa,

Why is it that if a newspaper delivers up lies in print, people are so willing to believe them, no matter how wild they may sound?

Why is that no one, Teresa, not even my own lawyer, Steven DeLuria, can allow for the possibility that I was framed by my delusional cousin Antonie, whose great gift was to tell a believable story?

DeLuria came to see me today, and honestly, he seems to be as twisted as his pencil-thin mustache that curls in elaborate waxed spirals on either side of his narrow face!

I welcomed his visit, at least at first I did, as this was the first time I had seen him since they threw me into this hellish cell well over two weeks ago! But it took only moments for me to see that he was miserably uninterested in my case.

He sat on the bench, close enough for me to smell his pomade, and he kept shuffling through papers in his satchel. What in God's name was he looking for?

Ah, then his hand landed on that damnable newspaper, the Examiner, and he shook it at me, and then shook his head and said, "I am afraid that this isn't going to help you one bit."

As if I didn't know it! What a laugh. I was holding onto my guitar, thankfully, and I squeezed the body of the beauty then, because I would have had a hard time holding myself back. I wanted to slap his face. My heart started racing and I felt a sweat start up.

"Of course it isn't going to help, sir," I said. "Do you think for a minute that it was my choice?" I blinked back tears, which felt hot on the rims of my eyes. "Maybe you hadn't guessed this, Mr. DeLuria, but I would just as soon not be here." By then I was sniffling out loud.

He cleared his throat and straightening up, he handed me his embroidered hanky -- lace on a man's hanky? Then he stood -- he is so tall that his head grazes the slimy yellow ceiling of the cell. And he dresses well, at least he has more ruffles on the front of his shirt than a chicken has feathers on her behind.

"I am wondering how you plan to defend me?" I said, giving him a hard steady look.

He took hold of his narrow chin -- in addition to the mustache twirled and waxed at both ends, he has one of those excessively pointy goatees.

"I think before I can possibly develop a defense, I will have to spend more time learning about your situation."

"My situation? You mean how is that I am sitting in this foul place accused of murder?"

"Well, I will want to know how it is that you have come to believe that you are a victim of what you call...this complicated conspiracy?"

"Believe?" I wrapped my arms around the guitar and squeezed. "Mr. DeLuria, let me be clear about one thing here before we start." I felt my heart slamming against my chest. "I am innocent of all wrongdoing here. My cousin framed me with his ludicrous tales about me."

He kept rubbing his chin. "I see," he said.

I stood up. I held onto the guitar. "No, I"m not sure you do see!" I picked up my diary. "So if you want to know my side of the story, here, it's all here, day by day, exactly the way things really happened."

At first he wouldn't take the journal. "My day is very full," he said, "and I'm afraid that I won't have a chance to get to this for at least a couple more days."

I shook my head. "A couple more days? But my first court appearance is at the end of this week, on Friday morning, or at least that's what they said." I whispered. I was horrified by this...bad excuse for an attorney.

"I know full well what the court schedule is, my dear," he said. "But there are two other cases besides yours that I must attend to. So now, if you will excuse me," he took a magnificent gold watch out of his pocket. "I am scheduled for an important lunch engagement shortly."

The word lunch set me into a rage. I dropped back on the bench. "Oh, please, please don't let me stop you from your lunch," I said, angry enough to spit. "And what is it that they are serving today? Leg of lamb perhaps? Consommé? Fricasee of chicken?" My eyes narrowed, my voice rose. "And what for dessert sir? Apple pie? Berry cobbler? Will there be a large scoop of ice cream on the cobbler?"

He studied me curiously as if I were slightly mad. "I will be back," he mumbled, "and when I return, I will consider your journal." He nodded his head in the direction of my diary.

"Oh never fear, I will be right here waiting," I said.

He left the cell and I tell you if it weren't for the guitar...well...

I see now how this will go, nobody but you, and Señora know the truth. Nobody will believe my side of things.

Why Teresa? Could it be simply as you said, that my cousin, with all his money, and his reputation, stands solid here?

I fear that's why.

But I know the truth, and the truth is that he was ill with the syphilis, and as he was descending into madness and delusion, he was writing. As he went, down, down, down, he cast that net of horrifying words around me, he created another Renata, one fashioned entirely out of words, words that he heard in the depth of fevered hallucination, words that poured out of his mind as pure fantasy.

And now those words? Teresa, I am staring out there into the courtyard now, and there, there is the gallows where they will hang me!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Whiskey and Guitars!

September 17, 1883
Old Vallejo Jail
Dear Teresa,

I am living again Teresa. I am breathing once more. If I ever doubted there was a God, or that Mary listened to me, that she responded to my pleas and prayers, I could not possibly doubt anymore.
There was this miracle the other day: dear old Señora Ramos delivered me my guitar!
Before, there was just me, lying here, withering and dying in this cell, but now? Now there is me and my beloved instrument and this song, this carcelero that frees me!
Are you listening as I play Teresa? Do you hear me when I sing?
Do you hear the carcelero, just listen to these words:
“In three days I’ve eaten
Only bread and tears:
That is the food
That my jailers give.”
I sit and I play and I sit and I sing, and I keep singing no matter how much the jailer screams at me to stop! I sing until my voice gives up to gravel, and my fingers have bloody tips.
But I am alive and free and remarkably, I am happy!
I have not a thing other than my playing and my writing and my praying, but now I see, that is enough for me! Teresa I am free!
I must stop a moment and say a prayer of thanks, to God and to Mary and especially, to Señora. She is the one who saved me! My cousin's old housekeeper had the courage and she had the wisdom too, what I now call the wisdom of whiskey!
She came to the prison last week, my guitar bundled in a blanket in the back of the old grey wagon. She is so small -- all of four or five feet tall but wide enough to make up for it --but she stood up to the horrible old jailer. She marched into the jail carrying and told the jailer she wanted to see me.
He laughed, but he stopped laughing after she pulled out a tall bottle of Antonie's most expensive bourbon!
When he saw that bottle, the cackling jailer (his name is Jack Pie, can you imagine a stranger name?!) whistled and clapped!
Pie broke open the bottle and drank the whiskey on the spot. But not before dear Señora had gotten the key and delivered the guitar to me. And the blanket. And a basket of the most sumptous foods! (I am eating once more dear Teresa, I am eating once more!)
Before she left, before Pie ended up as a pile of whiskers and whiskey-soaked flesh on the floor, Señora assured him in her broken English that he would have "more weesky" every week if he let me keep the guitar!
Are you listening to me, Mary, when I kneel now on this miserable mud-packed floor, when I say thank you for this miracle you have delivered me here?
Sitting here singing and playing, I can feel blood running through my arms and legs again.
My heart has started to beat again. And yes, I am eating like a queen. I have started with the spinach empanadas.
Dear Teresa, when you visit me in this foul place, soon? Soon? I will swoon you with my music, just the way I used to play for you in the old happy days, when we laid on the blanket under the arms of the live oak!
One thing Teresa, will you bring me a canteen of your perfect lemonade?
NOTE TO READERS: A carcelero is a form of flamenco that specifically refers to prison and jail life. According to "The Art of Flamenco," by Donn Pohren, gypsy prisoners used to sing to relatives and friends outside the prison walls.
No jail here.
Not anymore.
The only bars
are those of the guitar!
The instrument
brings Renata and me
such relief from our suffering!
Utter the words,
play the strings,
and we are free!
Ah, Señora, bless you for
your courage, bless you for your
great great wisdom, knowing
that to bring
Sister Renata
her guitar
inside this dank dark hole
of an unholy prison
Music has returned her to life,
and to
visions of
blue skies and
the blanket where she and
Teresa once sank
beneath the
arms of the live oaks,
where she and Teresa
played and drank
sweet and sour

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Sister Renata is Going to HANG!

September 13, 1883
Old Vallejo Jail

My Dear Teresa,

Can you see me here, trembling as I write? Can you see what I see? This newspaper in my hand that paints me as Antonie's killer? This newspaper that spells my doom? This newspaper that assumes all of my cousin's horrific stories are true?

All around me, Teresa, I stare at
yellow slime that looks and smells like urine dripping from the walls. I am caged in a cell that is barely large enough to hold my frame lying down.

This narrow metal cot here, this is bed and bench and my world. There is a tiny window that is shoulder high, but I dare not look outside. There is nothing more out there than the choking yellow dust of the courtyard and the gallows...and the dangling rope!


Can you see me here my dear Teresa?

How is that I have landed in this hellish place?Sometimes I wish my cousin had sliced not his own throat, but mine!

That word food, it has no place here. And with the smell, is it any wonder that I haven’t the least bit of appetite?

I pray night and day. I ask Mary that there may be some miracle. Because I need one here. A few minutes ago, the jailer, smelling of whiskey, threw the newspaper with the story between the bars. He was cackling again. "Read this, princess," he said.

Reading these words: "
I promise you, she will hang" -- a warm flood of fear spills through me. I think my dizziness is going to sink me to the floor.

I may die here before they hang me. I may decide not to drink another sip of that water that tastes like the rust of these bars. I may stop eating and drinking altogether, and I may just pray for a quick demise.

I apologize my dear Teresa. I realize that my giving up all hope like this is just so hopeless…

I close my eyes now and say another prayer.

I so look forward to your coming Teresa. And now, just thinking of you, I feel so much better.

I can see you in my mind, my dear Sister, I see your cheerful face and your eyes that match the blue of the sky and suddenly, now, here, I feel my spirits lifting.

Yes, Teresa, I feel that you are here beside me in this hellish cell.

I am so so thankful that you brought me the diary and I thank God and Mary too that you argued, and that they allowed me, finally, after all your arguing, to keep it.

Perhaps this is after all, the miracle, that I can sit here and write my own words.

Words that are even stronger than the words of this hateful newspaper. (All lies, all because of the hateful stories my cousin Antonie told!)

But now, I see, I see you and me together, and I realize that I have the power to spin my own tales.

I have the power of words that lift me out of this hellish cell, I can tell my own story that takes me up the hillside there
behind the convent,

do you see us there beneath the branches of the oak?

I do Teresa, I do. I see you and I see me, I see us together again, I see it all, the blue sky, and the trees, I feel the warm dry breeze on my face, I feel the blanket on my back, and now, yes, the two of us, we just sank down there in the shade

and yes, now we are laughing and telling jokes again about Father Ruby, and now I taste the sweet and sour lemonade that you have made

This is bliss these pictures I have made.

So yes, you know that I will keep writing here, have no fear about that, and I will keep the faith too, as you told me, because what else can I do except pray and sob and write and write and hold onto some hope for a miracle?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: So here is Antonie's murder, FROM HIS POINT OF VIEW!


She didn't expect Antonie to summon her to the hacienda that morning and she certainly didn't expect to kill him in his bedroom that night. Even an hour before she sank the blade into his throat, she would have denied it possible that she, Sister Renata, could end her cousin's life, that she, a nun, could cast aside the sixth commandment and perform the frightening and horrendous criminal act that occurred.

But she did cast aside the sixth commandment, THOU SHALL NOT KILL, and she did kill him."

If a prophet had approached her as the sun was getting low, as it was sinking like a glowing orange orb into the milky western sky, if the seer had said, 'My dear Renata, you ought to know that before the evening star appears, you will murder your cousin Antonie right here in the bedroom. Very, very shortly you will bring a flood from his throat, a flood that will coat his ruffled shirt like a bib of warm sticky blood.'

If Renata had heard those words, she would have been distraught. She would have dismissed the prediction as absurd. 'Ridiculous, an impossibility, the most preposperous thing I have ever heard. I love my cousin and always have and always will. I have cared for him religiously all these many months that he has been ill. I am his nurse and certainly not his murderer. I can't imagine hurting him. Your words and vision apply to someone else, and that someone had better stay away from me.'

Ah, but she was wrong.

It all started in the evening when she arrived at Antonie's hacienda, courtesy of Tango, the wagon driver. She rode in the carriage bundled under two wool shawls and with a bear skin tucked around her feet. September had brought a fierce and unseasonable chill to the evening air and the wind was up and it was getting dark earlier.

By the time the wagon pulled up before the house, the first diamonds were twinkling in the dark sky, and the trees were nothing more than black silhouettes against the navy blue of the horizon.

Señora was waiting at the front door, more anxious than Renata had ever seen her before. "He wants you upstairs," she whispered, her large eyes wide and her hands twisted around each other.

"Has he eaten?" Renata asked as she removed one shawl. The older woman, who looked smaller than usual, almost child-sized, shook her head briskly.

"Soup is all," she said, and then, in Spanish, she proceeded to describe Antonie's supper in detail. That afternoon, Señora had prepared him chicken broth and a slice of boiled tongue and the sweet red pepper paste that he loved so much to spread on tortillas and bread. She cooked the plump peppers to a pulp, then mashed them so smooth that he didn't have to chew at all. Still, he had eaten practically nothing off his plate, Señora said, sadly shaking her head.

"Come como ave," she whispered. "He eats like a bird."

Renata mounted the stairs and knocked on Antonie's door. She waited no more than a few seconds before proceeding inside. Thick white candles burned on either side of his majestic bed. He lay there, mouth wide, his head tipped back so far that candlelight played on the profile of his chin and throat.

"Antonie?" she whispered, leaning close to his face. "Antonie, do you hear me?" He slept on, and she settled in the leather chair there beside the bed. His chest rose and fell in an easy rhythm.

Eying the guitar that leaned, as always, against the wall to the left of his bed, she picked the instrument up and began to strum. A bulería first, and then a favorite sigiriya -- the death march from Catalonia -- the one she had written herself. She let each note ring out on the strings, but he slept through even the loudest playing. It was only after three folk songs, that she began the first long strokes of the malagueña that he woke with a start.

"Buenas noches," she said, putting aside the guitar. His eyes fluttered and when he was finally fully awake, he sat up on his elbows and reached for her hand.

"Thank you my cousin," he whispered. "Thank you for coming." He lingered over the kiss he placed on the back of her hand. "I've been waiting for so many days."

She blushed and pulled her hand away.

"Please lay back down," she insisted. "And if you do, I'll play for you."

He shook his head. "No," he said in a pleading voice. "I want you to dance tonight. In fact, I insist on it. Please."

She got up from the chair, leaned over him, and pulled the covers up to his chin. "Can I make you tea?" she asked, ignoring his request. She stroked his forehead lightly.

"No," he said, pushing the covers -- and the suggestion of tea -- away with his hand. His voice came out high and thin, a reedy whisper, as if he was speaking through a very thin tube. "I am not interested in tea. You know very well what I want Renata. I want you to dance. Now hurry. Go into the next room, please and get dressed in the red satin that you know I prefer for you."

She sat back down. She was frowning. So many times before she had simply yielded to him, quietly submitting to his authority. He would command her to dance and she would retire to the next room, the one with the oak chest and the round mirror, and she would proceed to remove her black habit and don the ruffled red satin dress.

As she put the dress on, she would also don the identity he loved, that of the Spanish dancer. Tonight, though, she was in no mood for that.

"Oh Antonie," she said, yawning, "I am so tired this evening." She sighed. "I am not sure that I'm up to the dance."

Antonie's face crumpled. He fell back on his pillow. "But I was counting on you," he begged. "I was looking forward to this more than you know. It's been weeks and weeks and you promised that the next time you came that you would..."

"Hush!" Renata commanded and placed her fingertips over his purplish lips. "Things happen my cousin to change what we promise. Isn't it enough that I've come here tonight?"

She looked up and saw on a small table across the room something startling. She noticed now a slender silver vase holding a single yellow rose, a rose with red tips. The tips were blood red in color.

Renata stood and walked to the vase and lifted the rose to her nose. She inhaled the fragrance.

"But what things have happened Renata? I know something has changed and I am determined to know what it is."

She stared at him from across the room, still holding the magnificent rose. She spoke slowly. And softly. "Just today, I am afraid that Father Ruby called me into his private chamber."

Antonie sat up straighter. "Yes? Yes? What did he say?"

She sighed a bored sigh. "He questioned me closely on your condition and..." She looked away.

"And what? What did he say?" Antonie's voice trembled.

Renata let her glance fall. And she went silent. Pushing aside the sheets, Antonie crawled across the bed, reached out for her. She walked slowly to the bed and calmly set the blood-tipped rose in the palm of his hand. A thorn in the stem pricked his skin and instantly, blood erupted.

She was frowning, but he was silent, until he began pleading.

"Please tell me," he whispered. "I've got a right to know my darling."

She shook her head. "Why are you continuing to insist that I am your 'darling?'" she said. She turned to face the other direction. "So if you must know, Ruby asked me how often I was visiting you. And he asked me very directly, 'And so my child, what is his pleasure? What is it he has you do when you visit?'"

"And how did you reply to his question, cousin? What did you tell the priest that you do here?"

Renata pivoted and glared at Antonie. "I told him nothing too specific," she whispered. "I told him that I wait on you, nurse you, shave you, sing to you, play the guitar and..."


She blinked, and he was thinking now he saw a greedy smile form on her lips.

"I told him that I meet your every need." Her smile turned into a leering grin. "And he said only this, 'Remember Renata that God is your Witness, and that Hell is forever and it burns, it burns and it burns for eternity." As she spoke, her grin disappeared and tears started up in both eyes.

"What? He knows better than to say that to you, my darling, or at least he should, for all the money I have donated to the convent, maybe if he doesn't get his next monthly payment he..."

"SILENCE ANTONIE!" Renata screeched it as loud as she had ever yelled. "And what did I tell you about calling me YOUR DARLING!" Her eyes went as wide as a dinner plate. "I am NOT your darling!"

Antonie had always had a firm understanding with Father Ruby: Antonie donated to the priest in gold ostensibly to support the convent. In return, Renata was to visit Antonie regularly to provide her "service." Part of the agreement was that neither the priest not the other nuns, or Mother Yolla, would ever question Renata's comings or goings, nor would they interfere with her visits to Antonie.

That was the understanding. But every so often, the greedy priest wanted more money. He never dared ask Antonie for it directly. No, instead his way of communicating his need was simply to harrass Renata: whenever the priest lectured to the nun about Hell and burning, it was code, it was his way of informing her to inform Antonie that he the priest wanted a higher fee for Renata's services.

Evidently the greedy priest was at it again. But tonight Renata was not herself. Not at all. In the past she would pass on the priest's remarks and that would be it. Tonight it was clear that the Devil himself was doing something evil to his cousin.

Once again, as he watched her, he saw that her mood was shifting. Now she was laughing at him, at first in silence and then out loud. Her laughter grew louder and louder and more raucous. Who was this woman he faced? Who had erased his darling cousin, Renata, and replaced her with this vicious demon?

He dropped back to the pillows. "I see that...that you are mocking me," he whispered. "I see that tonight for some seem to...enjoy mocking me."

She nodded. "Oh God yes I do indeed," she said.

And then her face turned gravely serious. "Ah but don't you worry Antonie, your dirty little secrets remain secrets with me. Father Ruby remains in the dark so to speak. I did nothing to reveal to the fat old priest that you have soiled me repeatedly here in this room, repeatedly abusing me in all the ways you have."

Antonie shook his head. "I did no such thing," he said. "I have loved and adored you more than my own self, Renata. As God is my witness, I have never touched you in a way that ..."

"Silence!" Renata commanded. She walked to the mirrored dresser and picked up my razor. "Silence or I myself will silence you!"

Her eyes gleamed in a dark and eery way.

"Renata, please, my cousin, I am feverish and weak, I am..."

She lifted the razor, and the way she was holding it over the candle, the light of the flame glinted off the steel blade. "I told you Antonie not to speak, or I would stop your speaking for all time. And I'm not joking."

Antonie pulled the covers up to his chin. He had never observed Renata in this condition before. What had happened to her? Where had his sweet cousin disappeared to?

"I want you to know something Antonie." Her eyes narrowed. "All this time you have "donated" money to the convent, in exchange for..." here she paused and her face grew red and wild with hatred... "for my services," she nodded, and lifted the razor and set one of her delicate fingertips against the sharp blade, "all this time you have done this, you have made me feel so...low. So much like chattel, like chicken or cattle, something that has been purchased, sold, as though I am the meat you buy for the evening meal."

Her eyes were full of fury now. "For this, Antonie, I will never ever forgive you as long as I live." She had the razor in two hands now.

He was crying now, and he was frightened. "I...I am so so sorry Renata, my dear cousin," he said, his purple lips trembling. "You know it was simply because I loved you so much. I will...I will take care of the priest, I promise, I always do, you know that..."

She grabbed him by the throat. "I know you do, you always take care of Ruby, but who for the love of God takes care of ME?" She scratched his throat and slapped his face.

And then perhaps frightened of what she had done, she moved away from the bed. They remained like that for a few moments. "Oh dear cousin," he whispered, holding his hand to his bleeding neck, "I hope...I hope that...maybe you will stay the night here. You won't go running off now will you?"

His face was small and childlike. His voice craven and trembling.

She was filled with disgust for him. She ignored his pleading and dropped the razor to the floor. Then she picked up the guitar. She finished the malagueña and then she followed it with an andante, a slow wandering study. He kept his eyes closed and pretended that the song, her serenade would never end.

"I so love it when you play," he whispered when she had finished. "Maybe you could try an alegria?"

"No more." She eyed him.

"So now, maybe, you will dance?" He said this under the covers. But still loud enough so that she could hear.

"Have you heard anything I've said to you?" she screamed. "I am not dancing anymore. I am done dancing. And I am done with this filth that passes for your romance. Your fantastic fantasies. Father Ruby finally has made me see me for what I've become. I do your bidding, and his, and I am nothing but a...a.." The word wouldn't come. Finally, "sinner" emerged in a whisper. And then one more word.


"No, no, not that, not that at all," he called out, and it took every last ounce of his energy to speak. "Please my dear cousin don't do this to yourself, or to me, please, it brings me such pain to hear you speak like that. Why listen to that greedy old man, you don't need to listen to him, he nothing more than..."

"Than what?" screeched Renata rushing up to the bed and setting herself down beside her cousin. "He is my priest Antonie. At least acknowledge that much, that he is my priest, MY priest. I can't get away from the judgement he makes. At least for my sake try to see that you and he have destroyed me!" She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

If he could have, at that moment, he would have taken her in his arms and covered her with kisses. He would have whispered, "My darling, my darling, please don't cry. I will take care of the priest." He would have taken her into his bed, as he had so often before, and they would have stayed together embracing. They would have fallen asleep together, and woken up the same way.

But that was not what happened. Instead, he decided just to touch her, with two fingers.

And that thing he did, touching her with two fingers, would be the thing that would bring him to his sorry ending.

He lifted his hand and ever so gently, much more gently than he had ever caressed his cousin before, he set his hand upon her shoulder. He wanted only to console her. He wanted only to hold her, to help shoulder the pain he knew she felt, and that he knew he had caused.

That was the final blow. She shuddered and then she went berserk and he honestly didn't know what hit him. She socked him in the jaw so hard that two teeth broke. The jawbone -- punished by the disease -- cracked, and his head went tipping back.

And that's when she saw the Adam's apple, protruding so grotesquely from his throat. That is when she got the idea. Something about that Adam's apple TEMPTED her. Something EVE-il struck her.

Instantly she knew. She knew exactly how she had to do what had to be done. She knew exactly how do end all this misery, his and hers, all the humiliation of this intolerable situation with her cousin.

In the end, she would be able to forgive herself this one gruesome act because, she reasoned, it was Antonie's -- and Father Ruby's -- fault that she had fallen. It was Antonie who stood between her and her God, between her shame and her life as a devoted nun, the life she had chosen when she first came to the convent.

She bent quickly to the floor and picked up the razor and as he lay there on the bed, his head tipped backward, she gored his Adam's apple. His eyes popped open and froze in a perpetual stare, a permanent question asking her "how could you do this to me, to me, your beloved Antonie?"

His questioning stare would go forever unanswered, because it was at that very moment that she buried the razor blade deep into his throat. With sure fingers, and with distinct evidence of intent, and with only limited regret, she let the razor slide under and around the Adam's apple, as if she meant to core out the peculiar lump of cartilage, as if she meant somehow to remove it altogether from his throat, and hold it for her own. Perhaps her goring his throat would remove forever Eve's supposed sin of tempting Adam with the apple to begin with.

As Renata gored him, he tried to utter a sound like "NO!" or maybe "HELP!" or possibly even "DON'T!" But who can say? Certainly not Antonie. If he could have screamed, it is possible that Señora Ramos might have heard, it is possible that she might have saved his life that night.

But Renata cut that possibility and his vocal cords, in two. She sawed his scream away, and his voice faded into a deep and bloody gurgle, his voice drowned in the blood that was already filling his scissored throat.

In short order, he was coated: first his ruffled bed shirt sprouted a heart-shaped bib of blood and soon after, he was awash bathing in his own warm gore.

Renata sat numb, staring at the bloody man in her lap. She was empty-minded. She heaved the lifeless head aside and studied the lavish puddle that was already beginning to cool and congeal on the bedclothes and on the floor. Blood dripped from her wrists, her fingertips, the backs of her hands. Her black habit was slippery, the bed soaked. Her shoes, the floor, her face and hair -- nowhere it seemed was there a surface that was blood-free.

In the next moment, Renata's ears were ringing. She closed her eyes, her face grew hot and her head light. She thought for sure that she would faint or vomit or both. But a moment passed, and she did neither. Unsteadily, she lifted herself from the bed, and took a step or two away. She caught sight of herself in Antonie's mirror, was horrified by what she saw. She took one step more, and she slipped on the blood and fell. She screamed. Eyes to the floor, the blood became a Red Sea, rolling in every direction. Was she free? Would she ever be?

Slowly, she pushed herself to her knees and began to crawl. She froze. It hit her: she had no change of clothing. Slowly she continued to crawl toward the door to the next room, the one with the oak chest and small round mirror. The room where she had so many times thrown her habit to the floor.

In that room certainly there was something clean that she could wear. She had promised herself that she would never enter that room again. And she had promised herself that she would never ever wear the red satin dress again. But now if she was going to return to the convent clean, in clothes that were free of blood, she would have to, just once more, dress like what she had been.

The whore.