Sunday, April 17, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: Teresa and Señora to My Rescue!

What finally woke me: the smell of eucalyptus. And peppermint. And Señora humming something deeply familiar as she pressed a warm wet compress against my bare chest.

I thought I heard Teresa's voice. I thought I heard her telling the jailer, Jimmy Bean, "just stand aside, Mister Bean, just stand aside. We have a mighty sick woman to attend to here, my dear sir." Her familiar brogue was a sweet boost to my spirits. I lay there in such a sweat and a fever that I wasn't sure. I was deliriously happy to hear Teresa's voice, but was Teresa really here?

"I suggest that you just stand aside Mr. Bean," she said again. "We must let Señora Ramos prepare the poultices. Because this is a sick woman here."

In the end, Bean was assigned a job: he was to keep the fire boiling under Señora's copper kettle outside the jail, while Kitty, from the cafe nearby, volunteered to stir hot towels into Señora's mixture of herbs: eucalyptus and mint, thyme and hyssop and cardamon.

Teresa, meanwhile, forked one towel after another up and out of the boiling kettle and let them hang briefly over the jail's porch railing until they could be wrung out and carried inside. Then she would slip the hot towel between the bars and take away the one that Señora had removed from my chest.

Hour after hour Señora sat with me, humming, humming, that familiar something, the old flower song, placing one after another warm towel on my chest. And finally when it grew dark, she lifted my head to her generous lap, and circled us both with a blanket, and I slept that way, parked on her soft lap, into a second day, while Kitty took Teresa home and gave her a place to sleep.

On the second day, Señora applied the mustard poultice, which is not such a pleasant affair, not like the other herbs. Teresa gave Kitty the bag of black mustard seeds, and had her grind them in a coffee grinder, then she mixed the mustard powder with enough flour and hot water to form a yellow paste.

Kitty carried the paste in a bowl back to the jail. Señora spread the paste with a wooden spoon on a large square of soft muslin soaked in hot water. She lay that on my chest -- the skin between my breasts was by now pink and raw from all the wet plasters. She covered me with the mustard paste on the muslin and then covered that with a second piece of dry cloth.

At some point, I began coughing. The congestion was loosening a little, and Señora helped me sit upright and rubbed and patted my back and made circles and now I coughed and wheezed but I was awake. Teresa made me a parade of different teas and forced me to drink. Mint tea, then thyme tea, and even, Señora produced a lemon from her basket. Kitty supplied a teapot and Teresa filled the pot with hot water and lemon slices. Soon Señora was supervising me drinking cup after cup, each rich and fragrant in lemon and each with a dollop of honey and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

The second night, Señora went home with Kitty to sleep, and Teresa sat with me, holding my head in her lap. I sank deep and was dreaming of wagon wheels all night. Wheels turning and turning, wheels larger and larger. I was wheezing when I woke.

But I knew right away the fever had eased. My mind had cleared. I yawned. And coughed. And couldn't stop coughing and kept spitting up phlegm into the foul pail. When I sank back to the bench in exhaustion, Teresa mopped my brow.

"My dear Renata, how you have suffered. But my dear, I believe that you've got a wee bit of color in your cheeks this morning."

Soon Kitty appeared with Señora. They had fresh rolls and hard boiled eggs and a pot of steaming chamomile tea. After we ate and drank, Teresa said she had something "quite urgent" she needed to attend to. Little did I know she was about to work a small miracle.

She disappeared from the jail, and was gone for not more than half an hour.

And yes, I am accustomed to miracles with Teresa, like the shower she hammered together at the convent, but this miracle was truly a wonder considering that I am here, a prisoner in this godforsaken cell.

Teresa returned with Jimmy Bean and he unlocked the cell, and cuffed my wrists. Teresa helped me to my feet and held me by the shoulders. "Come along now, Renata," she said, as if it was perfectly normal that I would leave the cell in her company.

"But where...what...where are we going?"

Teresa said nothing to me. Without a word, Bean led us out of the jail into the sunlight. I was weak and tired, but Teresa and Señora were on either side, supporting me.

And if I tell you what happened, I wonder if you will believe it! We crossed the dusty courtyard to the tiny blue house, which has on the first floor, Kitty's cafe. But our destination was not the cafe, but the back staircase. We climbed the creaking wooden stairs, and at the top, was Kitty's place.

We entered, the three of us, and there was Kitty, and behind her, I faced, for the first time in almost exactly two months, a clawfoot tub filled with warm bathwater. Kitty smiled, and stood in an apron, holding up a large towel. Bean stood outside the door, as Teresa promised she would be "guard" inside.

Teresa helped me remove my habit. I had worn it for so long, that it had taken on a stiff and crusted look. I was so dirty and yet, I had stopped smelling my own odor.

But now, I was sinking into the most delicious bathwater. I was shoulder deep. I was up to my chin. I was in heaven. I smiled. Teresa smiled back and Señora clapped her fat hands together.

My body has never felt such complete and utter warmth. I kept thinking, I cannot ever leave this bathtub.

Kitty had some fresh lavender she dropped into the bath, and I lay there, and I said a prayer of thanks, and let the water and the smell of it restore my spirit.

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