Friday, February 18, 2011

CHAPTER 36: "Castenata": I Collapse in the Courtroom, but Señora Comes with a Miracle!

NOTE TO READERS: This chapter of SISTER MYSTERIES is cross-posted with CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR of the nun tale, CASTENATA!!

Old Vallejo Jail
October 29, 1883

Dear Teresa,

Maybe it was the ghastly heat. Or the unrelenting sunlight. The courtroom baked me like an oven. The last thing I remember, I was standing before the bench and the judge was reciting my crime. And then I'm lying face down, my eyes closed. My tongue tasting the filth of dust and dirt on the wooden floor.

I could not move. I felt rough hands reaching beneath my shoulders and scooping me upright. I hung there like a bag of feed.

I remember being held. I remember seeing the lawyer, DeLuria, his ruffled blue shirt swirling before my eyes in a dizzying circle. I remember my stomach making circles too and then it leaped up and I was heaving. Out came the slop of gruel that I had eaten in the cell.

And then I hear someone yell, "Catch her," because I was falling forward once more.

And then when I next surface I am being swiftly carried arms and feet out of the courtroom, and I lay somewhere in the dark.

They had brought me to the courtroom, shackled, at 9 a.m. I know this was the time because there was a round clock on one wall. All I could think was, my life will be decided beneath the thin black hands of this big white clock.

My head was dizzy right from the start. My heart felt like it was pumping twice as fast as it normally does. I had placed my veil and wimple on my head. But my face was dirty, and I know -- I could smell myself -- that my habit was a disgrace.

I sat beside DeLuria and we didn't speak. I had already told him what to say. I was already playing lawyer, I'd told him weeks before the strategy that he should use in my defense. But would he?

We sat for ten or fifteen minutes before the judge arrived. In a dark robe. A head of white waves. As soon as the judge entered, my dizziness increased. I felt coated in sweat. I stood and could feel myself sway. DeLuria glanced my way. Frowned. I felt the blood drain from my face.

We sat. The two lawyers went to the bench. I set my face into my fingers. I saw you in my mind Teresa. And I saw Señora. I saw her face.

DeLuria returned to where I was seated and then it was time for me to stand and approach the bench. I looked to DeLuria, waiting for him to take my arm. He didn't. He simply looked at me as if I was a filthy dog. Too dirty to touch. I glared at him and my head grew even more loose.

I stood and with your face and Señora's in my mind, I walked forward.

And stood.

With my collapse, of course, the proceedings halted for the day. I was so weak that there was no way I could walk on my own power back to the jail.

I lay in the dark for who knows how long.

I dreamed. I went back to the stone grotto behind the hacienda. The one Antonie's father built for his mother. The one where my cousin and I used to go so long ago.

The grotto is low. It is tiny. It is surrounded in roses. There is a statue of the Virgin there.

I kneel before the statue. I look up. The stones are so close I could kiss them. I touch the smooth surface of the stone.

I close my eyes I hear. Señora praying. I hear her saying the Hail Mary in Spanish.

The whispering. The whispering grows louder. You are praying too. The two of you are kneeling with me in the grotto. We are beginning another Hail Mary.

We are saying the rosary.

Señora speaks. I know Teresa I know this isn't possible. I know. But I heard her so clearly, lying there in the dark.

"Mi'ja, mi'ja," she whispered. She stroked my brow.

This isn’t possible, I know.

The stones are smooth in the grotto. In places the stones are coated in dark scum and patches of bright green slime. Sometimes there is water dripping from the center stone. It passes right behind the Virgin’s head. It falls into the dirt and forms a muddy spot on the ground.

Antonie and me, we made up this old story about the water. We used to say that in the very old days the water used to fall into a little pool where babies were baptized. Sick people and crippled kids would come to the pool too. They would take silver cups and fill them with the holy water. They would drink the water and be healed. They would kneel in the pools and walk again.

I am talking out loud in the dark. And then the door opens.

I blink. Señora is there. I swear she was there. The old woman wore a shawl all covered in roses. She walked toward me and reached for my hand and placed something there. Something in beads.

And much later, when they finally moved me back to the cell, when I was well enough to walk very very slowly back to the jail, I knew I had not dreamed this.

Because you see, here, the rainbow rosary. Señora's own personal rosary beads were in my hand.

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