Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chapter 69: A Miracle in the Court Room

The sky is a milky blue color when Renata and the others wake up.  Kitty has already been up an hour, feeding chickens, gathering eggs and then, baking muffins for the breakfast meal she will serve downstairs in the cafe, promptly at 8.

Renata is first into the kitchen. Kitty is spooning corn meal dough into a cast iron muffin tin. She puts the spoon down and wipes her hands on her apron. Then she takes hold of both of Renata's hands. "I can't believe you're back," Kitty says.

"Nor can I.  Sometimes I think that we may very well be making a giant mistake." Kitty turns back to her stove. Renata yawns, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. "But I can't live on the run. And I shouldn't have to, because I didn't kill my cousin."

Teresa appears in the kitchen. "Katy you still have that old coffee pot? I need a lift this morning."

"Of course." Kitty reaches into the pantry for the pot. "Coffee is in the decanter beside the sink."

She finishes filling the muffin tins and takes her bowl and spoon to the sink. "So what's the schedule this morning?

Renata settles into the rocking chair that Kitty keeps in the corner beside the stove. "I'm supposed to be there by nine, and the judge says he'll give me an hour to present the new evidence."

"And that evidence consists of the missing pages of your journal, right? The pages that lay out exactly how Antonie died."

"Yes." Renata rubs her forehead. "I know it's a longshot, but I've got to do it. I have to try."

Katy slides the muffins into the oven. "I don't  know much about the law, but I have my doubts that..."

"I know, Katy. I know." Renata pauses and then she whispers. "We can't be too hopeful but I have no choice. I cannot live my life on the run."

******
At exactly ten minutes to nine, Renata opens the door to the small courtroom. Teresa and Art follow her into the stuffy room. No judge. No sheriff.

"So where shall we sit?" Teresa asks.

Renata shrugs. "It makes no difference, does it?" Her face is pale and pinched. Teresa wraps an arm around Renata's shoulders.

"My dear sister, this is not the face we need today. You must stand up to them, find your voice, convince them that you deserve your freedom." Renata bites her lower lip. And nods.

Teresa whispers. "All you have to do is believe in your heart and soul what you know to be true. You didn't kill Antonie and you have proof now. Trust in yourself and in God. He will take care of the rest."

At that moment the judge and sheriff stride into the courtroom. The judge in his black robe takes a seat at a table that stands higher than the rest of the tables in the room.

"So I said we'd give you an hour," the judge says, folding his hands on the table. "So what magic tricks do you have up your sleeve to show me today?"

"To tell you the truth, Sir, I have the evidence hidden beneath my skirt. So if you don't mind turning away for a moment...." The judge, smirking, turns around to face the wall. The sheriff does the same.

Renata unties a piece of twine at her waist. A thin package, wrapped in brown paper, makes a soft thud as it lands at her feet. She reaches down for the package. "Alright, you can turn back," she says.

"'And what would that be inside the package?" The judge leans over the table, one covering the other.

Renata steps closer to the judge.  "Before I let you see what's in here, I think it's only fair that we reconstruct the evidence used against me in the trial."

The judge clears his throat. "We are not going to retry this case, if that's what you had in mind."

"No, of course not," Renata says, her voice strong and commanding. "I'm not looking to do that. I simply want to remind you that virtually every piece of evidence presented at the trial was in the form of writing: my journal entries, and my cousin's wild stories casting me as a dancer and worse, a seductress."

The judge folds his hands together.  "Yes, well, if you recall, no one ever established that those stories were the work of your cousin's pen. There was every reason to believe that those stories were ones that you composed."

"But that's foolish. Why in heavens name would I implicate myself in a murder I didn't commit?"

The judge slaps his hands on the table. "I said it before and I will say it again, we are not going to retry this case. So get to the point."

"My point is that there wasn't a single witness presented."

"And again, you are trying to reopen the case. I am quickly losing my patience!"

"All I am trying to establish is that all of the evidence was in writing, writing that I did, writing that I claim my cousin did. Some of that writing carefully lays out my cousin's last hour."

"So what is new about this? Yes, it was writing that prove the case, but how does..

"What I have here is just more writing. But it is the part of my journal that I would never before share with anyone. Tthree pages that I ripped out before I was tried. Pages that I vowed I would never make public."

"And why is that?"

Renata sets the three journal pages on the table. "Because they directly implicate...." Here, Renata's head drops forward. Teresa, standing to her right, puts an arm around Renata's waist and squeezes her arm.

"Go on."

"They reveal the truth about how Antonie died and they make clear that the person who..." She is trembling now and Teresa squeezes her tighter. "...the person who completed the act, finished the suicide that Antonie set in motion with his own razor...was..."

The sheriff stands. "Your honor, we've already established that her cousin was murdered. Where does she get the right to call  it a suicide. It's just her overactive imagination...."

The judge, ignoring the sheriff, takes his eyeglasses out of his breast pocket and picks up the journal pages and begins to read. Renata interrupts right away. "I guess I don't have to point out to you that the yellowed paper, the ink, the slant of the handwriting, perfectly match that of my journal."

Leaning back in his chair, the judge pauses. "No, ma'am, you don't need to point this out to me." He continues reading. When he comes to the third page, he reads and rereads it and then sits back in his chair. He places his hands together and rests them on his sizable stomach.

"And pray tell, how is it that we never saw these curious pages during the trial?"

Renata closes her eyes, inhales and then slowly releases her breath. When she speaks, it's in a whisper. "I refused to implicate Senora. I wanted to... protect her."

"Well, well, what we have here is a most interesting turn of events." The judge takes the journal pages and hands them over to the sheriff. The pages are lost on him because he doesn't know how to read.

"Please give me the full name of this woman you call Señora."

"Must I? Isn't it clear from what you read here that my cousin was hellbent on killing himself?"

"The name please..."

"Señora Maria Cuorocora de los Ramos."

"And where can this woman be found?"

Renata closes her eyes. "She is in her final moments of life, weak as a kitten, residing at the convent where she can get the care she...."

Suddenly Teresa gasps and lets go of Renata's shoulders.

Renata looks up and there at the back of the courtroom stands Señora, wrapped in a black shawl and leaning on a cane.

The two nuns are aghast. "Judge, this is...this is...this is Señora, but just hours ago I saw her so close to dying that she could not possibly appear here."

Sister Teresa flew to the back of the room and helped support the hold woman. Soon she is standing beside Renata. They embrace. Señora's face looks so thin and pale it has a purple cast. She reaches into a pocket and brings out a sheet of paper. "Una oracion," She whispers. She hands it to Renata and raises her hand to tell Renata to read it aloud.

Renata looks at the judge. "Part of it is a prayer she has written. Shall I go ahead?

"Don't ask my permission, this is your dog and pony show."

She begins, translating as she proceeds: Dio mio, madre mio, my God my holy mother Mary holy father and son and holy spirit to whom do I ask forgiveness? To whom do I confess? The priest, Father Ruby?  The last time I slid the little door in the confessional I saw the black screen between me and the priest and I lost heart. I wanted so desperately to unload myself, I wanted to scream 'I have sinned in the worst possible way, I have sinned by taking the last bit of life from a man I knew and raised from childhood.' But I lost heart. I left the confessional and I visited Renata at the jail; I begged her to tell the world the truth, but once again she refused."

Renata raised her head.

"Please continue," the judge said. "Dear God help me. Help me help my dear Renata to go free. No one but me can help her. I kneel here and beg you to hear me, from my humble position on this cold floor in the kitchen. I ask not for me not on my behalf but for her, she who faces hanging. I am determined to find a way to tell the world the truth, that I was the one responsible, I pressed the blade and severed his throat. I only continued with what Antonie started but of course I could have tried to get help for him rather than hasten his death. What I did was unforgivable. I dared to take the place of God, deciding whether a man was going to live or die. Please God please forgive me for what I did!"

There was perfect silence in the courtroom. The judge stood and gazed long and hard at Señora -- she seemed to shrink in his gaze. "I am afraid that you leave me no alternative but to take the old woman to the jail."

Renata protested. "She is close to 85 years old. She rose from her death bed to speak her truth. She only finished what Antonie set out to do. He wanted to die. She raised him from the time his mother -- my aunt Eliza -- died from small pox -- he wasn't even walking. Can't you see that arresting this woman makes no sense?"

Before the judge could answer, the sheriff stepped forward and put Señora into handcuffs. She offered no resistance. "Are we through here Judge? Can I take her away?"

"I would like to ask the nun one more question." He turned to Renata. "Why for God's sake didn't you make it clear what happened? Why this long drawn out affair when you knew there was a killer and that killer wasn't you?"

"I wanted to protect the woman who raised me. She is my mother, my grandmother, my savior. I couldn't forgive myself if I lived and she was put to death."

The judge shook his head. "Let's go, Frank, there is no point in sitting here any longer."

All of a sudden the sheriff screamed. He lifted the handcuffs into the air. Señora was no longer in the cuffs. Nor was she anywhere to be seen.

The judge roared. "What the blazing hell is going on here?"

Renata looked at Teresa. Art stood back and shook his head.

"I expect an explanation," the judge said, slamming the table, but even as he said it, the command sounded foolish.

"We have seen the hand of God at work here," Renata said in a whisper. "The work of God and the work of the Virgin Mary, to whom we pray every day."

"Well I don't give a damn about any of your foolish religion," the Sheriff said. "Stupid magic."

Renata smiled at the Sheriff. "Well then I invite you to find the old woman using whatever magic you happen to muster." She smiled at the judge. "May we leave now?"

"Don't leave town until we have gotten to the bottom of this foolishness," the judge said.

Art and Teresa and Renata were soon on the wagon heading back to Kitty's. Renata and Teresa held hands and prayed the whole way.










Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Chapter 68: She's Back, Facing the Cell and the Gallows

The wagon pulls up in front of the small wooden building that houses the jail and the tiny courtroom. Arthur helps Renata down from the wagon.

She pulls herself up straighter. Taking in one long breath, she climbs the three wooden steps. Teresa follows.

Renata pauses at the door and turns to Teresa. "No matter what happens, I am ready now to accept my fate. I surrender to God's will.  I will be sheltered beneath Mary's veil."

A strong gust of wind blows up against the two women, lifting their skirts and sending dust and grit into their eyes. Renata cups her eyes and turns to open the door.

"Renata, wait!" It's Arthur. "Can I please go in with you?"

She studies him. She shrugs. "I guess there will be no harm in that."

He's up the stairs before before she opens the door.  He guides her gently by the elbow.

As they step inside, Renata's stomach squeezes and a shiver goes up her back. The pitiful cell where she spent so many many weeks is now occupied by a man with dark skin and long black straight hair. He has a single braid hanging beside his face.

Renata stares at the jailer, who is asleep, his feet propped on the wooden table.

"Hello," she says. He doesn't respond. She approaches the table and sets her hand on his leg and shakes him awake. He's disoriented, rubbing his eyes. His first instinct is to reach for his keys dangling from his belt. The sound of the keys jangling sparks another horrible memory in Renata's mind.

In a moment he is on his feet and leaning forward over the desk. "What....what the hell,  it's you, YOU! You came back!"

His breath is sour with liquor. She turns away, then faces him in silence. Her eyes are wide open. Art is at one side, Teresa on the other.

"I hope you know that we're gonna you right back in the cell," he says. "And then you're cooked." He cackles. He jangles his keys. "Hurray up now, I gotta go tell the judge and the sheriff."

Renata stood her ground. "You don't have to put me in the cell," she says. "After all, I came here of my own free will. I am not going anywhere. I am here to prove to all of you once and for all that I am innocent."

The jailer cackles again and shakes his head. "You're dreaming lady," he says, "But whatever. Take a seat on the bench there, and I'll be right back."

Renata remains standing, as do Art and Teresa.  All of them are staring at the man in the cell. He sits with his face down, staring between his knees.

The jailer returns in a few minutes, followed by the sheriff. He stands face to face with Renata.

"You do realize that we have every intention of carrying out the hanging," he says. He has his thumbs hooked on his suspenders. Renata sees what looks to be a gleam in the man's eye, and a smile on his bearded face.

"I am fully aware of that," Renata says. "I am prepared to hang."
"But I would ask one thing beforehand: the chance to present new evidence, evidence that is certain to exonerate me."

The sheriff is shaking his head no. "I'm afraid we can't go back into trial," he said, "there is no precedent for..."

Suddenly the judge, wearing a black suit, appears at the door. He places one hand on the sheriff's arm, and the sheriff repeats Renata's request.

"Jed," says the judge, "let me handle this."

The judge studies Renata, and glances at Teresa and Art. "I am willing to allow you one more hour in the courtroom," he says. The sheriff begins to protest, but the judge raises his hand, signaling silence, and then continues, "Be at the courthouse at 9 a.m. sharp tomorrow and we will let you have one more chance to speak." He turns to the sheriff, whose face is pinched with anger. "Jed, really, what difference does one hour make after all this time?"

He faces Renata. "I am assuming," he says, "that you have another witness?"

Renata nods. "No, but we have a sworn affidavit -- a very important document that wasn't available in the trial."

The judge shakes his head. "It's unlikely to help. But whatever you've got, bring it with you tomorrow, I will give you an hour, tops. Do you understand?"

"Yes sir," she says. "Thank you for doing this."

The judge turns and he and the sheriff walk out the door.

"You sure you don't want even one more night here in this nice cell?" The jailer leers. He takes a step closer toward Renata, who smells even stronger of whiskey.

"Let's get going ladies," Art says, taking Renata and Teresa by the hand. The three of them head out the door into the late afternoon sunshine.

"We've got to find couple of rooms," Art says.

"No, that won't be necessary," Teresa replies. "We have a dear friend here, a woman named Kitty, who has put us up before. She runs a terrific little cafe and has a couple of extra rooms. I know she will be glad to open her door to us again."

And with that they climb into the wagon and head for the sky blue house where Kitty lives.











Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Come on, Just Write It!

I am sitting here at the meditation table, staring into the never ending burning candle, and wondering why can't I just write it?

The ending to this Sister Mysteries story, that is.

Why am I procrastinating? Why can't I just write the scene where Sister Renata returns to the jail to face her accusers? She is armed with proof -- Senora's confession -- that she didn't kill Antonie. The journal will prove she should go free.

Are you kidding? You're procrastinating for good reason -- her proof is as solid as burning candle wax. And as soon as she gets there (to the court, a few steps from the gallows) she's going to get thrown back in jail. And maybe get hung from a rope. 

True. But I've always known that the nun would go free, so it's time to discover how exactly that happens. (The candle just went out but I dumped the liquid wax out and relit the wick.)

The ending is tricky because something out of this world (as in magic realism) is going to happen and I'm not sure exactly what that magic is. I know one thing, it has something to do with the Virgin Mary.

I'm on the verge of writing it, but these things (chapters, scenes, novels, books, stories) can't be forced. For me, the best scenes emerge out of visions, vivid images in my head. In my first novel, Dreaming Maples, I didn't write any scene until I had seen it first in my mind! It was as if I had a movie going in my mind and all I had to do was write down what was happening.

A lot of this book emerged the same way.

So maybe the key here is simple: just sit at your meditation table and see if you're able to see something. And if you aren't, so be it, just sit outside and stare at the daffodils and get your work done and enjoy your day and sooner or later something will happen. And hopefully, Renata will go free.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chapter 67: Renata, You Have to Go Back to Jail to Before You Can Go Free !




It is mid-day, beastly hot, the sky a warm resilient blue. Arthur has not been able to push the horse faster than a walk. The wagon's slow pace is making Renata impatient. Her face is flushed and warm and the thermos of lemonade that Teresa made for her is almost empty. There are three canteens of water which ought to last the trip.

At one point Renata reaches over and takes Teresa's hand. That's when Renata finds the black rosary beads clutched in Teresa's hand. "May I pray with you?" Renata whispers and Teresa nods her head and smiles. She takes Renata's fingers and closes them around the beads. The two nuns pray silently for the next hour.

Teresa is praying that the lawyer, DeLuria, will have some idea how to introduce the missing journal pages to the court so that Renata's new evidence will convince the judge that the case should be reopened and the verdict overturned. Unfortunately, Renata is right about DeLuria, he's never had a bit of imagination or inspiration before, so it's hard to imagine that given one more chance to prove himself, he's likely to rise to the occasion.  

Arthur pulls up the reins, stopping the horse. "We are almost at the crest of the hill where it dips down into town," he says. "Are we headed straight to the courthouse and jail or..."

"Before we go there we want to visit with Renata's lawyer, a fellow named DeLuria," Teresa explains. Renata clucks her tongue. "His office is half-way down the hill, before the store and the church." 

He snaps up the reins and pushes the horse forward, at the same slow pace that he's followed all morning. "I see a creek running down the hill there," Arthur says gesturing with his chin. "I ought to stop as soon as we can get closer in, give the horse some water, and a good rest."

Which they do in the next few minutes. He unhitches the horse from the wagon while Renata and Teresa descend to the stream next to a grassy knoll.  Renata drops to her knees by the creek, bends over and splashes cold water on her flushed face. Then she cups her two hands together to drink.  When she stands she has muddied her calico dress with two large wet spots at the knees.

"Please tell me you brought something else to wear in court," Teresa says, eyeing the mud. "You could lose your appeal if they feel you are disrespecting the judge or the legal system."

"I'm not trying to win a fashion contest," Renata says. "I have only this one dress."

"If only I could have loaned you a habit," Teresa said, her face sad.

"Don't trouble yourself about things you cannot fix, my dear girl. We will have to make do with a muddy dress."

Soon the three of them are back in the wagon and the horse is leading them slowly into town. Teresa points to the General store and tells Arthur to pull up there. Teresa drops down first. "Assuming he's even there," she says, "I will explain the situation to him, and see what he has to offer." She inhales and drops the rosary beads into her pocket.  "We won't get our hopes up yet."

Renata smirks. "We won't get our hopes up that's for sure."

Teresa ignores the comment and enters the wooden building, where DeLuria occupies an office on the second floor.  The office building was once a small two-story house, so she climbs a winding staircase to reach his door. She knocks.

"Come in."

Teresa's heart bumps inside her chest. She opens the door. "Hello, I am sorry to barge in on you without any warning, but something extraordinary has happened with Sister Renata's case."

DeLuria's face is lacking the least bit of emotion, while Teresa's face and voice are flooded with urgency and passion.  Tenting his long bony fingers together over his white frocked shirt, De Luria looks bored.  "To what do we own this extraordinary development?"

Teresa moves into the office and without asking, takes a seat beside DeLuria's mahogany desk. It is absent of any papers, or file folders, or books, which Teresa finds surprising.

"Do you remember Señora Ramos, Antonie's Mexican housekeeper?"

Still holding his fingers tented and resting against his closed lips, De Luria nods.  "Yes, I guess I remember seeing her a few times in court and making regular trips to the jail to bring Renata a guitar and foods in baskets and other such things."

"Yes, well, if you recall we have always made a big point of saying that Renata's journal was missing some crucial pages, pages that described the way in which Antonie died.  Until now, Renata has refused to produce those pages and wouldn't even explain why."

"Of course I remember the missing pages." DeLuria now looks impatient, and even a little disgusted. "I told Renata time and again that she had to produce those pages if she wanted a prayer of a chance to go free. I told her that she had to have an alibi and she consistently and completely ignored me.  Now what's she up to? It's a little late for whatever it is she's got up her nun's sleeve." DeLuria has a know-it-all sneer on his face.  Suddenly Teresa wants to be done with him and this place. It gives her the creeps.

"Well, Mr. DeLuria, it seems as though Señora Ramos has fallen into a coma, or some kind of deep sleep, but before she did, she begged Sister Renata to produce those missing pages and to turn them in to prove her innocence. And voila, Renata was finally convinced to do what she's got to do. We have them with us in the wagon."

DeLuria drops his hands to his desk. "We? What do you mean 'we'? She's back? She actually had the audacity to come strutting back to town, to the court that ordered her hanged? Is she crazy? She must be to walk back into the jail and straight to the gallows."

He stands, and so does Teresa. "I know you are surprised. Just as we were in the convent when she turned up. But she is so certain that she can prove her innocence that she insisted on coming back today." Before Teresa can say anymore, DeLuria is out of the office and heading downstairs and outside.

His face breaks into a shrewd grin. "Well if it isn't the nun on the run," he says, his eyes glued to Renata. "You've got gumption my girl, that's for sure. That someone in your situation, facing the gallows, would walk right back into jail, where the rope is swinging, that is downright astonishing."

Renata dismisses his tone. "I wish you would keep all of your comments to yourself," she says dryly. "It wasn't my idea to stop here. But Teresa insisted that if I was turning myself in, I would do better to have you at my side."

"Glad you decided to heed Teresa's advice," DeLuria says, slipping his thumbs under each of his suspenders. His hair has grown longer, and curlier and it rests on the back of his collar now.

"Well then are you ready to help?" Renata crosses her arms in defiance.

"I will indeed accompany you to the court. But if you think for a moment that we can just waltz in, you are a fool. That's not how things are done. No one is sitting there waiting. I will send word to the Judge immediately that you are prepared to turn yourself in. Knowing Judge Perkins, and the urgency of this case, he will see you this afternoon. I would recommend you come in and freshen up before you go to court."

Renata finds her heart beating beneath her crossed arms. She uncrosses her arms and takes a drink of water from one of the canteens. Teresa is standing by the wagon to help Renata step down.  Which she does, not because she wants to talk to DeLuria, but because she really has no other practical way of turning herself in.

"Will she be able to ask for leniency?" Teresa asks.

"Of course not," De Luria practically spits out the words. "She's been on the lamb for months. She'll be lucky if they don't hang her on the spot."

"Look," Renata says, stopping in her tracks, "I'm only going back because Antonie's housekeeper, Señora Ramos told me that I must, she insisted that I..."

"How nice of her, Renata. Now a question: since when have you been taking legal advice from a housekeeper?" DeLuria's words always come out sounding like a snarl.

Renata bites down hard into her lower lip, to keep from responding. She locks eyes with Teresa. "I am going it alone," she announces. "I don't need his help. Come on Teresa, Arthur, we have a job to do and we aren't going to get it done hanging around here."

Teresa turns to Renata and takes hold of her by both shoulders. "Don't do this Renata. You've got to let DeLuria help, he can introduce the new evidence, he can do it the right way and maybe make them see that you are..."

"NO!" Renata is trembling from head to foot and her mouth is dry like cotton. She pushes Teresa's arms away. "I don't care if I die in the gallows, I'm not putting myself at the mercy of this man ever again. I can present the evidence myself and when I do I will have the spirit of the Virgin Mary there to support me. That's what Señora told me would happen and that's exactly what I am going to do."

DeLuria gestures a hand in disgust and returns to his office. "Good luck," he says as he climbs the stairs to the second floor. "You'll need all you can get that's for sure!"

Nothing Teresa says persuades Renata to come down from the wagon to talk to DeLuria. A half hour passes before Teresa reluctantly climbs back to her seat beside Renata on the wagon. Arthur quietly takes up the reins and pushes the horse into a walk down the long hill to the courtroom and jail.  As they grow near they can see the gallows still in place, the rope shaped like a single teardrop falling from the crosspole, waiting to hang Renata.


.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chapter 66: "Please Don't Let Me Hang"


When I open my eyes, Teresa is standing beside my bed in the convent. My mouth is as dry as the sheet that covers my straw mattress, the mattress that prickles the skin of my back.



Teresa is crying, her face as wet and pink as a ham. 

Sniffling, she turns away so that I won't see her cry but of course I know full well because she is using the bottom half of her white apron to wipe her eyes.

"Will you come with me today?" I whisper out of my cottony mouth. My heart drums inside my chest.

Teresa nods. "Of course." She sets one hand against my cheek. Her own cheeks are glistening in tears.  "It's all his fault," Teresa says, sniffling, wiping her eyes again with the apron. "If it weren't for Father Ruby, Mother Yolla would let you stay here, and she would protect you I just know sh..."

"Shhhhh," I lift one finger to my lips to stop her speaking.  "It's too late for that, much too late." I push the covers back, 

and sit on the bed for a moment.  "My dear Teresa, I have no choice but to go back."

I get up from the bed, my stomach quaking. Señora told me to take the missing pages of my journal to the authorities so I will.

"What can I fix you for breakfast," Teresa asks.  "I baked corn muffins but I'll make you..."

"No food, I couldn't possibly eat." I shudder. My eyes meet Teresa's. "I am so..." I am about to say frightened but if I say the word, then it will just hang there in the air scaring me further.

"You have to eat something! Otherwise you will go faint later today. Please let me make you something."

"Fix me a cup of oatmeal please?"

She nods and leaves the room and I sit back down on the bed. Somehow I have to dress I have to
I must get in the wagon and go back to jail.

I slip the dress that Arthur bought me over my head. Soft calico with little blue flowers red hearts. Soft cotton sleeves cover my elbows. Ever since I was arrested, I haven't been allowed to wear the habit I once wore every day. I didn't adore it, especially in summer, but it bound me to Teresa and the other nuns. 



Soon I am in the kitchen where Teresa is stirring oatmeal on the wood stove. The corn muffins she baked earlier smell so pleasing that I lift one to my mouth and take a small bite.  Teresa fills a bowl with  oatmeal, and adds a tablespoon of honey. I sit down at the table and stare into oatmeal. "This is far more than a cup, this is a whole bowl, I feel I may throw up if..."

"Just hush and eat," Teresa says setting a cup of coffee in front of me. 

Arthur enters the kitchen, clutching the brim of his hat. "Good morning ma'am," he says, his dark eyes opened wide. "I was hoping I'd find you here in the kitchen."

I nod. "Yes," I say trying for a smile, but not succeeding.

Clearing his throat, Arthur drops his gaze to the floor. "You know that..." he starts, and stops and starts again... "Please if you would, let me take you in my wagon, I beg you just to let me do this one thing."

I study his weathered face, his frown. This is a good face he is a good man but one that I could never marry. I am devoted to doing holy work no matter if the nun's life is over for me forever.

"Alright," I say, inhaling and pushing the bowl of oatmeal across the table. "Alright. But let's just go." 

Teresa unties her apron. "I'm ready, I'll be outside."

Arthur fingers his hat, the brim stained. "The horses and the wagon are ready."

Teresa turns to me. at the sink. "I think we should stop by the lawyer's office first, he should be there to escort you."

"I'm not sure that is necessary." I take another small bite of the corn muffin.

"Please Renata, you've got to listen to me on this." Teresa's expression is fierce.

I inhale. "It won't make any difference, he is so ineffectual I don't see..."

"PLEASE RENATA." Teresa steadies her gaze on me. "We've got to. We will need all the help we can get."

I stand and leave the kitchen without another word.  In my room I kneel beside my bed. I lift the mattress and dig deep into the straw where the missing journal pages CHAPTER 65 are hidden. I hid them, so many months ago so that I could protect Señora because she wasn't going to get any trial at all, being a Mexican woman who could speak hardly any English.

Señora begged me when she woke from the coma to turn them in.  CHAPTER 64 

When she spoke to me, she poke in Spanish: 

Tome la revista páginas tomar ellos les muestran a las autoridades por favor, Renata que todos conocemos, se me que terminó Antonie, he mantenido la hoja hice el final cut y él venció en un charco de sangre en mi regazo,

["Take the journal pages take them show them to the authorities please Renata let them show the whole world so they know that it was me who finished Antonie, I held the blade I made the final cut and he expired in a pool of blood in my lap]

I get up from the floor and head for Senora's room down the hall. When I push the door open, Sister Camille is reading to Senora from the Gospels. Senora lies there, perfectly still.

"Please, Sister Camille, may I have a moment with her? I will be leaving shortly."

"Of course." Camille closes the book and leaves the room.

I lean over Senora's coffee brown face and then I kneel. "I don't know if you can hear me now," I whisper. "But I know you came awake last night. Please know that I am doing exactly what you said I should do. I am bringing the journal pages back to the courtroom." I take Senora's limp hand and expect her to squeeze mine. But no, her hand remains soft and damp.

I stand. "You will be with me in my heart," I say and kiss her cool forehead. At the door, I take one last look at this woman I adore. I leave the room and grab my traveling bag. I exit from the kitchen door, where I see Mother Yolla standing in the courtyard. She seems frozen, a dozen feet away. As Arthur helps me up into the wagon, she is as still as a statue, she looks so tired, so sad, her face is pale, she looks so much older than she is.

She just stands there watching, she doesn't wave and we don't wave back as we climb into the wagon. I can see now how difficult it was for her. She would have protected me had Father Ruby not forbid her from letting me hide in the convent.

Arthur snaps the reins and the horse bolts forward. The three of us, me sitting in between Arthur and Teresa bounce down the rutted path leading to the dusty road.

We are headed back to the jail, to the courthouse to deliver me, to deliver the missing pages of the journal to try to convince them some
HOW? SOME WAY BUT
HOW I AM NOT SURE HOW CAN WE POSSIBLY?
WHAT CAN ANYONE SAY TO CONVINCE THEM
that I
don't deserve to hang.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Chapter 65: The Mystery is Finally Solved, THE MISSING JOURNAL PAGES FINALLY WE LEARN WHO KILLED ANTONIE


These are the missing pages from Renata's diary, the pages that hold the key to who really killed Antonie.



Renata’s Diary
September 17, 1883
If I write it all down, will it feel more real? Will I begin to accept the fact that it happened? I sit here staring into the darkness, my fingers trembling as I push the pen. If I keep my eyes on the page, I can almost pretend that I am back in my room at the convent. I can almost ignore the dank walls of the cell, and the chill, and the atrocious smell. And the swill of that dreadfully foul pail. When the sun rises, I will have to look up and see. Daylight reveals the walls, and all I can think is that they are going to close in and crush me.
Thanks be to God for Señora’s visit yesterday. Thanks be to God that she brought the sky blue shawl. All those roses, all those beautiful red flowers. It isn’t altogether warm, but it is some comfort during these sleepless nights. And thanks too that she brought this white candle, and the pewter candle holder, for otherwise, I would have no light by which to write. And God knows, I must write. As frightened as I am, as desperate as I feel, I must write. I must fight the temptation to give up.
I will go back four days. Will I ever forget the date? It was September 13th. It will always be, because time stopped that day. Life for me will never be the way it was before that day.
We had been back from San Francisco for exactly one month. It had taken me weeks to recuperate. I slept for the first two weeks, and showered in Teresa’s shower as often as I could. But still I felt my soul sinking. I would open my eyes each the morning and before I was fully awake I would think about my cousin wasting away, and poor Señora caring for him. I would cringe at the thought that I had abandoned her, that I no longer would consider even visiting my cousin. But I could not begin to think about him, or his illness. Or Señora. I could barely raise my head from the pillow.
September 13th came. It was a Sunday, and I was up early. I finally had enough strength back to attend Mass at sunrise. When I emerged from the chapel, there was Señora waiting for me in the wagon, her brow knit in torment and worry. I hurried to her side. Her eyes begged me. She patted the seat beside her. No words passed between us. I knew what was happening. I knew what I had to do. As I hoisted myself onto the wagon, Mother Yolla emerged from chapel. She called out to me.
“Where are you off to now, Sister Renata?” 
“I’m sorry, Mother Superior,” I said, bowing my head. “My cousin is dying. I have no choice but to go.”
Señora whipped the horse smartly, and we were on our way. The roads were a rough surface at her speed. But we needed to get there. When we turned, finally, down the long dusty drive leading to the hacienda, I heard Señora whisper, “Gracias a Dios.”  I too said a prayer, that whatever awaited me would not be more than I could endure. I wasn’t sure if Antonie would still be alive.
It was just before noon. A brilliantly beautiful day. I will never forget the sky: it looked as though it had been washed clean. I lowered myself down from the wagon and turned to give Señora a hand. 
I had been away from the hacienda for almost a month. This was my first visit to see Antonie since we had traveled to San Francisco for his disastrous mercury treatment.
I followed Señora into the hacienda. She led me straight to his room.The gloom and the smell surrounding his bed is hard to describe. He looked so shriveled it was hard to believe that he was still living!
 When I approached his bed, he raised his face to me. He looked ghastly, a purple glaze clung to his skin, and when he spoke, his breath was as foul as the chicken coop back at the convent.
“Dear Renata, finally, you’ve come.” His gravelly tone made me shudder. “Do you know…how happy I am to see you?” He raised his bony hand and I gasped. His skin had begun to rot right before my eyes.
At that moment, I recalled the day a month before when we had arrived back from San Francisco. It had taken the three of us, Señora and Tango and me, to carry Antonie inside the house. I remember how we moved him, knotting the sheet on which he lay at all four corners.
Tango took two corners, Señora and I each had a corner, and in that way we carried him –a remarkably light load in the sagging sheet—through the monstrous front door and up the polished staircase and into the bedroom. We laid him out on the bed -- a shriveled bag of bones and skin -- and a long orange shaft of light illuminated his body. I turned to open the window and the breeze swept inside and immediately his eyes went wide and he stared into nothingness as if he were entranced. He lifted his arms as if he might take flight, and then he cried out.
“I am home, dear God, I must be, I must be home, there is only one place in the world with this exceptional fragrance.”
About that he was right. Everywhere at Antonie’s, there is a remarkable scent of eucalyptus, owing to two giant trees that tower over the hacienda, planted ever so long ago as tiny saplings, a gift to Antonie’s father presented by the first Australian family to set foot on Californian soil.
Now, a month later, Antonie was clearly on the verge of death. I watched Señora leave the room to fill a washbasin. When she returned, I stood beside Antonie’s bed and swabbed his face with a cloth. Antonie appeared to fall asleep, and so Señora and I prayed for a short while in silence.
And then Señora made her mistake. She told me, within Antonie’s earshot, that I was welcome to stay the night. Or that I was free to go, that she would be happy to take me back to the convent herself, or if I preferred, she would have Tango bring me back in the morning.
All of a sudden, Antonie’s eyes snapped opened. He had heard those words of Señora’s, and they sent him into a tailspin. He sat up straight in bed. His eyes bulged, glazed black and bulbous, in those gaping grey bowls. Without the benefit of flesh in his cheeks, his nose stood out in an oddly prominent hook. And the whole of his face was locked in by his gaunt cheekbones, giving him a distinctly skeletal look.
“No, no, you cannot leave me again,” he cried, grabbing my veil in two hands and twisting it between his fingers. Thus followed a pathetic scene in which I tried to disengage my veil from his grasp.
“But my dear cousin," I replied, "I must go. I cannot linger a moment longer.  As it is, I was away from the convent for almost four weeks. Who knows what punishment is in store for me if I stay away some more? Who knows what is to become of me should Mother Yolla decide to dismiss me from the order?”
I yanked the veil away, and Antonie sank to the bed, but still he kept reaching for me. He took hold of my little finger and tenderly he brought it to his chin and his lips and it was pathetic. He was an infant again the way he suckled at my hand. “You know full well that Father Ruby will tell Mother Yolla what to do, he will explain that you have been with me, helping me to get well.” At that moment, his breathing became more labored, and he launched into a cough that sounded as though it came from the bottom of a deep and very congested chasm.
When the awful sound finally stopped, he spoke, but ever so slowly, and with a heavy wheeze separating each word. “There…is…no…no…reason to leave. No…reason at …all.”
I studied his horrifying face, his pale purple pallor, and I thought, oh but there is every reason to go, I must leave this house right away because if I spend one more day here, attached to you, a dying man, it will be my end as well as yours.
He began whimpering then, and again he grabbed my veil. Señora helped me wrench it from his grasp. I told him that I would wait until he fell asleep for the night before I left, hoping that he would drop off well before the sunlight disappeared.
Señora proceeded downstairs to fix some soup for his dinner. I remained in the chair beside Antonie’s bed. His eyes remained open, and he stared at me with a curious mix of sadness, as well as resentment and anger. His eyes bore into me, as if they were drills. Finally I had to look away.
“Renata, bring me my blue journal,” he commanded, gesturing to his desk. “Bring my journal and the pen as well.”
I did, I brought the journal, and as I passed the book and pen to him, and helped to prop his bony back against two pillows, it never occurred to me that I was enabling him to make his last grand written attack. As he set work writing on those thin blue pages, it never occurred to me to ask him what he intended to write. Why would I think to ask? Here, after all, was a man hovering on the very edge of the canyon of death. What did it matter what he wrote? What did it matter whether he wrote at all?
He scrawled slowly and in a lopsided hand, his head hanging low over his journal, stopping frequently because his fingers shook so that he could barely grasp the pen. At times, too, he would stop just to glare at me, and that look, while it scared me, still did not alert me to his intentions. How could I possibly know that he was weaving the last bit of his elaborate web, setting me up to appear to be his murderer?
After nearly an hour of scribbling, he sank into the pillows, spent.
“Enough of this,” he said. But when I went to take the journal away, he clutched the book tighter to his chest. “I am not finished,” he moaned, his lids closing. “I’ve got more to say and it is not something you may read.”
“Well, then, just keep writing,” I said.
“But I have to know something,” he murmured. “You say you will stay until I fall asleep for the night. But then, when will you return?”
I bowed my head, and felt dizziness overwhelm me. I realized that I had to get out of this sickroom, now, because otherwise, I would be sick.
“I…I will be helping Señora in the kitchen,” I said, and I turned and was about to hurry out the door, when I stopped once more and said to him in an even tone, “God bless you, Antonie,” I whispered. And to myself, I continued, “God bless you and may your rest soul in peace for all eternity.”
“Oh don’t go away,” he muttered. By then I had hurried out the door and down the hall. God forgive me, I whispered. 
Señora was in the kitchen warming broth on the woodstove. She turned to me, and I sank to the chair, and began to sob. Señora placed a hand on my shoulder. It was at that moment we heard the ghastly sound.
It reached into my chest and squeezed my heart and roped it tight. And then an agonizing howl followed, a howl and a kind of unearthly gurgle.
It seemed to drown even as it found its mark piercing straight toward my stomach.
Señora and I were upstairs and back in the bedroom in seconds, and there he lay on the floor. He had the razor in his hand, and he was still jabbing and clawing at his throat. Already there was so much more blood than I had ever thought possible from one human being. How could one man bleed so much? I split the air with my own screams, over and over again I yelled, pleading alternately between Spanish and English, between God and Señora, in my desperation and panic. The next few minutes seemed to go on for all eternity.
I raced to his side, and fighting all instincts, I dropped to the floor, into the gore where he lay. “I’ve got to, I’ve got to...” that’s what I kept thinking, and telling myself, but I had no idea what I had to do, all my body wanted to do was run away, run so far that I could never possibly come back. Instead, though, I forced myself to stay, my stomach threatening to disgorge. The puddle, the blood, was so red, so thick, there was such a flooding of it from the ragged gash at his neck that I grew dizzy.
There was blood everywhere, blood flooding me, warm and sticky, blood puddling and pooling on the floor, blood seeping under my knees, blood rivering around my ankles, “oh please Dear God help him please,” I screamed but it just kept coming and coming, soaking the floor, “we’ve got to do something,” I screamed at Señora, I held my apron to the gash in his throat, but still the blood coated my hands, and Señora’s too, and the two of us sat there, helpless, slick and sliding in Antonie’s gore until… I had the choice then, I could be cowardly and run away, or I could stay. Feeling myself grow woozy, I chose to kneel, to stay and the gore was slippery under my knees, and in short order I could feel the warm blood squeeze through my habit. I was awash in the ooze.
“Please God,” I screamed, “Please God, help us!” and by then, Señora was screaming in Spanish. She laid one hand on my shoulder and I looked up and grabbed her fingers in mine. Then she kneeled too, and the two of us were a statue together, weeping and whimpering, staring into the worst nightmare there ever was, a man with a razor still in his hand, a man still intent on killing himself despite the fact he was barely alive. His lips were bubbling bloody words that could not be heard, his throat gurgled and rapidly disgorged the last drops of his dwindling pool of life.
I bent forward, and holding my breath, I touched his forehead, which was by now about the only part of his face that wasn’t smeared in blood. Feeling his cold skin I began bawling anew and howling, too, wailing for help, wailing at Señora, or who knows who, “Oh do something oh God please do something do something please do something end this ghastly mess!"
For a moment I was overcome by a fresh wave of certainty that I would black out or retch or worse yet, actually get up and flee the room. But then Antonie turned his agonized gaze on me, and in a fit of caring, and desperate to do something, I used my two trembling hands to lift his head, and in that moment, dreading that it might just roll off, I took the greatest care to prop the back of his head against my thigh. A fresh spurt of blood started out of his wound, pulsing like a bib at his neck, and quickly oozing another thickness of blood onto my leg.
Soon the slide of blood creamed both my hands and pooled in my apron, and I turned to Señora and cried out, “What can we do?” With his last bit of energy, Antonie answered the question. He opened his mouth and guzzling his own blood, cried out, “Finish, Renata, oh please, finish me now.”
I glanced at the razor still locked within his curled hand. But how could I do what he asked?
“No, no, I cannot,” I screamed, and shaking my head, I lifted my hands in the air, and there, there was blood now everywhere, up and down my arms, all over my face and veil. I froze there, staring, shrieking, unable to speak, to think.
As I crumbled to one side, I saw Señora move.  She had found some kind of power to act. I was hardly aware of what she was doing until she was there, doing it. She came forward on her knees, sliding in the bloody sleeze. Without a word, and with an other worldly look on her face, she took the razor from Antonie’s hand and lifted and pressed and she put her entire body into the action. She set the razor between her body and his wound and she went full forward, grunting as she did. And I heard a sound like bone breaking, or cartilage cracking.
And then. I looked up. And standing in the doorway was Tango, his eyes as wide as pails. “Sangre de Cristo,” he whispered, falling to his knees and making the sign of the cross.
I grew more dizzy and must have blacked out.
When I came to, Antonie was a few feet away from me. He lay with his eyes gaping upward, his head wrenched to one side, his face practically white. There was blood so far and wide that it was indeed a new Red Sea around me. I was drenched through and through. I could do nothing but sob, my head just bobbing side to side. I just lay there. I wondered where Señora was. But then I knew.
Because I heard her in the hallway, bawling, and speaking in low tones to Tango, and he too was crying, and trying to comfort her.
“Ven aquí, ven aqu,” I cried, and when the two of them came into the room, I cried out, “Señor Antonie es muerto, es muerto,” and she and Tango joined in my howling and the three of us clung to each other on the bloody floor. Finally, I told them that I had to pray over his body.
“Sí, sí, señorita,” Tango said, and he helped me up to a sitting position, but in that position I thought for sure I would black out once more.  Drawing on my last shred of inner strength, I crawled to where Antonie lay. I lifted my hand over his face and trembling, I said some kind of a prayer, all I know is that there were words, and I spoke them from my heart, and I started and ended with God and what happened in between I cannot say. At least I did something, said something, because I knew if there had been a priest present, he would do the last rites, and so this might not be the rites, but it was something come from God just the same.
That’s when Señora came to my side, and she whispered to me that it was important that I return to the convent immediately. She was most concerned, she said, that I needed to protect my reputation. And I agreed to go, I didn’t know what I was saying or doing, but the minute I tried to sit up, I realized that it was all too much for me, this vision I faced was so overwhelming that I didn’t know if I could move. There before me lay Antonie, now a grotesquely flayed slab of flesh, a cousin to me no more.
I set to crying anew, my head swimming: Oh Señora, I cried, how could he do something this horrible to himself? And how could he impose this horror on you and me, when we gave him every last shred, every single thing of ourselves we devoted, when we have worked so almighty hard the last weeks and months to see to his every need, to ensure his health, to prevent his death?
Señora sobbed along with me, but soon she pulled herself to standing and took hold of my hands -- both of us still bloody -- and said that Tango must take me home immediately. She promised that she would tend to Antonie’s body, with the utmost care, and that she would alert the authorities.
“But there may be questions,” I said. Señora waved my concerns away, certain that she would convince the Sheriff that Antonie had taken his own life. I was reluctant to leave, but finally I did, because Señora insisted, and promised that she would call on me if she needed anything at all. She covered me with a long black shawl, and walked me to the wagon.
Tango helped me up, and we set off just, the sky still looking like it had been washed. At the horizon though, where I set my eyes, the sky looked glittery, it had the most ethereal silvery blue color. A full moon was rising as we drove, and I kept my eyes glued to the giant golden plate as it made its way above the dark rim of trees.
When we reached the convent, I went inside the chicken coop and cried. And cried. And finally, I shed my bloody habit there, and wearing the long shawl to cover me, I hurried into the convent and found Teresa. When darkness finally came, Teresa helped me up the hillside to the shower, and I stayed in there, praying and praying, until the moonlight was full upon me.When I finally stepped outside the sheet, I was bathed in full in the bluish light. I said a silent prayer, and wrapped myself in the long black shawl. I made my way barefoot down the hill, with Teresa at my side, picking my way between the sage and thorns. Holding my breath, I crept through the hallway, until I reached my room. Teresa tucked me into bed, and I fell into a listless sleep, bouncing awake every few minutes, my mind endlessly remaking the horrifying images of him, there on the floor.
The next morning, as I was kneading a batch of bread, and about to weed the garden with Teresa, two tall men in pale blue shirts and black jackets and tall hats arrived at the convent door with a warrant. One had an oversized German Shepard on a leash, and in the arms of the other man there lay my bloody habit, the one I had worn home, the one I had so carefully hidden the night before under a large rock behind the shower. I had covered it with brush and two boughs of live oak, but no matter. That dog had sniffed it out.
Without giving details, they informed Mother Yolla that I was under arrest for the murder of my cousin. Yes, they said, they had every reason to believe I was the murderer as they found a blue journal -- the last entry described exactly the way the murder happened -- the nun had slit his throat.
And no, they said in answer to her question, as they put handcuffs on me, I would not be returning to the convent any time soon.