"I'm afraid that she has suffered a stroke," Dr. Thacker declared, taking off his wire-rimmed glasses and rubbing his eyes. "It looks to me as though she has slipped into a coma."
A collective groan rose up from the group of us at the door.
"Can you do something?" I begged.
He shook his head. "I'm afraid there is nothing possible," he said. "She may wake up, or she may not. It's out of my hands. For now, I suggest that you keep her company around the clock. Sit with her, make her comfortable, sing to her, and pray that she may get better."
"But how do we feed her?" I said. I know that in a modern hospital, full of the latest equipment, Señora would have a feeding tube to provide her nourishment. And intravenous fluid to keep her hydrated. But this is 1884, and there is no hospital except in San Francisco, a three-day ride away. Even if we got her to the hospital they wouldn't have the equipment to feed her.
Dr. Thacker pressed his lips together and stared me straight in the eye. "She has to wake up to take fluids and food," he said quietly. "There is no other way to feed her." He turned to Mother Yolla, and set one hand on the older nun's elbow.
"I know very little about prayer," Dr. Thacker said, his face pale and sad. "But I would highly recommend it in this case. And I will be happy to return tomorrow to check in on her again."
He turned to face Teresa. "Would you be so kind as to drive me back to town?"
As the two of them went downstairs, Mother Yolla gathered us in the hallway. "We will take turns sitting by her side," she announced simply. "Who will be first?"
Five hands went up including my own. Mother Yolla chose two of the other nuns, who promptly opened the bedroom door and disappeared inside.
"Oh but please let me stay too," I begged, pressing my hands together over my chest. "I might as well be with Señora since I won't be able to stop thinking about her for even a moment."
"No my child," Mother Yolla replied. "You'll have your turn. But first, I need to speak to you in private." She eyed me carefully, and there was something so direct and piercing about her facial expression that it triggered a flush of anxiety in my stomach. I felt my mouth go cotton dry.
"Of course," I mumbled.
She motioned for me to follow her downstairs. We passed through the dining hall and out the door to the backyard. I thought we'd sit beside the hummingbird feeder, but she kept walking. We ended up in the very small chapel where the nuns are free to go for private meditation. I so loved this precious chapel, as it was built entirely of stone. Like the other nuns, I had helped to lay the floor, which was no more than California palm fronds covered over by heavy blankets. There was room for two small chairs but many of us chose to sit cross-legged in meditation.
Mother Yolla, a tiny woman, could enter the chapel without bending, but I had my father's height.
I followed her inside. She took the chair on the right. I sat in the left hand chair.
"Please my dear, face me if you will," she said quietly. As I lifted the chair and swiveled it around to face her, I felt my heart hammering in my chest. Our knees were almost touching. The air in the chapel was fragrant with a mixture of mint and sage, as we regularly brought those plants into the meditation space.
Mother Yolla looked into her lap where she had one hand resting on another. She cleared her throat and looked up at me.
"Renata you know that I couldn't be more pleased to see you. We were all so worried when you disappeared." I nodded, nervously squeezing my hands together. What was she about to say?
"I...I am so sorry I caused you and the others so much distress," I said, my voice shaky. "I didn't mean to make my escape, it just kind of happened. And then there was no way to reach you or the oth..."
"Please," Mother Yolla said. She held up one hand to quiet me. "I understand that you did what you had to do."
"Yes, that's true," I mumbled.
"Sometimes we are forced to do things that we would rather not do," she said, gazing at me steadily.
I blinked. What was she coming to? What was she trying to say?
Again she cleared her throat. "This isn't easy for me. But I am going to have to turn you into the authorities. I cannot jeopardize the rest of us here at the convent. If they were to find you here, we would stand guilty of harboring a known criminal."
I blinked again. My chin dropped to my chest. Tears welled up in the corners of my eyes. I sniffled.
"I am so sorry Renata, you know how I feel about each and every one of my novitiates. It kills me to do this but Father Ruby insists."
I lifted my head. My face bleached red. "So that's it, he's the one insisting." Mother Yolla stared into her hands.
"I should have known. He's the one who let Antonie take advantage of me. He's the one who insisted that Antonie was family, that I owed it to my cousin to do whatev..."
"PLEASE, no more!" Mother Yolla's voice was sharp and unforgiving. "I insist that you show respect for Father Ruby. He is simply abiding by the law of California."
I so desperately wanted to say more. But Mother Yolla was already standing. I stared into the large rosary beads hanging at her waist. "As you well know, Renata, I am not the final arbiter here. Father Ruby is in charge. And we must do what we must do, even if we are desperately unhappy doing it. So please please, please forgive me." She lifted one sleeve to cover her eyes. Her head fell forward and the edge of her veil brushed against my cheek. It had been almost a year since I'd felt the veil.
The next thing I knew Mother Yolla turned and rushed out of the chapel. I thought I heard her muffled cries as she fled.