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
that I
don't deserve to hang.

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