In 1995, I began writing a book for a friend with cancer. It was 1883. A nun, Sister Renata, had a crazy cousin writing stories about her being a flamenco dancer. My friend got better but then I got cancer and put the book away. Sister Renata's story would not be ignored. One day, an old woman -- Señora Ramos -- reached across time, begging me to tell the world how Renata was framed for her cousin's murder. Here's Renata's tale and my own healing story too -- they're linked through and through.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Chapter Twenty-One: Here is How Antonie Died
By Claudia Ricci
The time has come. That last chapter, and the one before, they unlocked the floodgates. There is blood on the floor, more blood than I have ever seen before. And there is more to come because, words,
words are like blood now, that dream, that last chapter, seems to have turned on a faucet, the truth comes pouring out of me. I see the words I have written, I read them here, they bleed onto the white page and work their magic, the words make it all come back. IT CANNOT BE STOPPED, THE WARM FLOOD, THE BLOOD, I am a flood and THE BLOOD is all around me.
Here we are, Señora and me, kneeling, screaming, crying, our knees sliding in gore, our aprons soaked scarlet red. And poor Antonie, he lies here limp on the floor. Flooded in his own blood. His face is drained almost as white as this piece of paper. His head drapes back at the horrific gash, Dear Mother of God, my cousin's throat is ripped one side to the other! His lips are bloody, his eyes wide and black and bugged out. He is gone. Gone. What have we done here? What have we done?
I wrote this chapter so many years ago I honestly can’t remember when. It’s been years -- 128 years since Antonie died, and a dozen or more years since I wrote this chapter. I know how it all happened. I know AS GOD IS MY WITNESS THAT I'M not to blame. I know THERE WAS NO CRIME. NO CRIME. None at all. I know how desperately we, Señora and me, tried to save him. I know too that I’m trapped here, inside this prison, chained at the ankle. Drained of energy. Staring out of that tiny barred window into the courtyard at the gallows where they plan to hang me in exactly 33 days.
Teresa visited me again last night, begged me once again to hand over to her this diary entry I hold in a pouch at my waist, right beside my rosary. It is the only diary entry that has never come to light. The only one I refused to give up.
“Please, Renata,” she begged. “It’s your only hope. Just give it to me. She wants you to. Señora sent me here directly, she told me, just the way she told you, it’s time, it’s time. She cannot stand by, and let you hang for a crime that you didn’t commit.”
I sat here staring at Teresa. I felt the hard cold stone of this bench. I bit into my cracked lip. I tipped my head – no veil, no veil, no more nun's veil, I have just a brush of hair -- hacked short, cut away by that whiskey-drenched, toothless old jailer the other day – I tipped my head back to the clammy wall.
“All you need to do is give it to me, my dear dear heart,” Teresa whispered. She was standing now, now reaching her fingers through the bars, just the way my mother used to when I was a child, so many years ago, when I had pneumonia, and I was feverish and dreaming MACHINE DREAMS in the crib. “I will go immediately to see your lawyer, Deluria, I will bring him the diary. I KNOW that he will help you Renata. I know he will bring it to the court, he will file a last-minute appeal. I'll will stay until he does. But first you have got to give it to me. You must! Because if you don't Renata, you will..." Shaking her head slowly, she whispers. "Just give it to me, please.”
I stared at Teresa through the bars.
“If I do what you ask," I whispered, "what then will happen, what will be my dear Señora’s fate?"
“She is prepared,” Teresa said, stamping her foot. “She has her faith in God and in Mary. She is not going to stand by to see you hang.” I stared at Teresa through the bars. I shook my head.
I could not yield up the diary entry that might save me. Sure it would give me my freedom. But knowing what would happen afterward, how would I live with myself?
NOTE: Chapter 21 of Sister Mysteries is identical to Chapter 15 of Castenata. Both are on-line books, and occasionally, like today, they converge.