Sunday, January 2, 2011

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

"Roseblood"

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..."

"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 reason...you 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.

Whore.

"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.


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