Thursday, March 20, 2008

Switch!! Chapter Two, How Renata Begins

Renata’s Diary

April 1, 1883 And now, how to begin? And why? I write because I must. I write because I cannot trust memory anymore. I certainly cannot trust my cousin Antonie. When I close my eyes, I still see the wretched way he looked at me tonight. What is the peculiar horror that clouds his eyes? Hatred? Lechery? Lust? I know not what goes through that scheming mind of his, but I am afraid. So I write because I need a careful record. Who else do I dare tell about the strange events of late with Antonie?

My dear Sister Theresa tries to listen. But often when I speak, I see her smile drain away, and then, her gaze drops. She pares the potatoes more rapidly. Or scrubbing laundry, she looks away, nervously, and stares into the grey soapy water. The other day she looked straight at me. I could see dark clouds forming in those clear eyes of hers, eyes the color of the sky. “My dear Renata, are you being careful?”

“Careful?” I replied.

I squirmed beneath the pinch of black wool that is my habit.

Ah, there is so much I need to tell her, and so much --regarding him-- that I simply cannot. Well so, if I write it all here I will not have to fear Theresa’s or anyone else’s censure. Writing my diary, I will have someone, if only me, to listen, an ear that hears everything, a mind that understands completely.

So here, now, hear me commit myself to paper. So I can see myself. So I can guard myself safely in the tabernacle of my own words. I need my own hard and fast version of events, for, after what happened tonight, I fear that Antonie is orchestrating me in a distinctly murky light.

It was after midnight. I woke in a black well of darkness and the familiar music rose up. I heard the guitar and immediately it drew me to the window. I crossed the wooden floor, barefoot, and I peered down into the dark soup of night. Senora Ramos was holding the candle. Only the top half of her brown face was clear in the scanty light. Her eyes were stark and sober. From her invisible mouth, there rose an urgent whisper.

“Por favor senorita, please, you must come. He needs you now, Senor Antonie needs you so badly, he needs you right away tonight.”

The candle shifted, throwing her face into angles of yellow light. My heart responded, pumping faster.

“But my dear lady, I cannot possibly leave the convent now. Certainly not at this unseemly hour.”

“Oh but he is calling for you,” she insisted, her speech falling into a fast rattle of Spanish. She reached one hand up toward me. “I believe he has some fever" --she said "fiebre, fiebre" over and over again. "At least he sweats and sweats profusely, his face is slick, his color a sickly green, and his bed clothing drenched. When I left him, he was thrashing. He says you cannot keep him waiting any longer, that he is losing strength, but more important, he is losing his mind, he keeps wringing the sheets, tying them into a noose, he rips and tears and claws his own clothes, he cries out all kind of foul and impossible things, and he makes dark and ghastly threats, even at me, at me, and you know I am practically his mother! I hear him and his threats and I cover my ears, I cry in fear to my Dear Lord, because I know not from where it all comes, and what drives him to do this.”

I leaned further over the sill. It was never easy to refuse Senora, and tonight was no exception. Still, my head was full of reasons that I shouldn’t go. No one to escort me properly, and no one to make Father Ruby’s early morning bowl of coffee. No one to shake Mother Yolla out of sleep at six a.m. I would be expected in the kitchen at five. And in chapel by seven.

And yet, as I gazed down at Senora, I knew I couldn’t refuse her. She was a mother to me in childhood. And here she was more distraught than I had ever seen her. I worried for the old woman’s health.

“Senora, please come inside, will you?”

In the amount of time it takes to strike a match, Senora was beside me in my convent room. She settled onto my bed and I beside her. She spoke in a fast rattle of Spanish.

"I will escort you there and have you back here before the morning sun cracks over the horizon. I will vouch for your whereabouts, too, I will tell the good Father Ruby what I asked of you tonight. Please do this thing for me, or if not for me, for him, or if not for him, then for your dear uncle, for his memory. Please Renata, PLEASE! Because I fear if I return to him tonight without you, he may take his life.”

Reaching beneath her blue shawl, she took out a single rose. She held it out to me. The yellow flower looked as though it had been dipped in blood. At first I refused it.

“Ah, Senorita, ayudame, por favor,” the old woman said. She kept the rose there, her eyes pleading. So finally, I took it.

“Ahora, ven conmigo,” she whispered. “Rapidamente.”

I dressed quickly. Just as I was reaching for my black traveling cloak, Senora grabbed my hand. Instead, she took the sky blue flowered shawl from her own shoulders and dropped it to my own. I tried to protest, but Senora was already leading me by the hand out the door. As we crossed the courtyard behind the convent, I looked up. I saw the smallest sliver of moon, a silver whip curled up in the inky sky. Something in that peaceful thin line, curving like an open cup, reassured me, made my spirits rise. I hoisted myself up onto the gray wagon, and turned to help Senora.

She handed me the lantern and we set off. We rode silently together for the next hour, the dark sky a black platter for the sparkling stars. We rode close, my leg pinned into her fleshy hip. The draft horse moved slowly, hooves clop-clopping into the hard red mud of the rutted road. Soon there came the first screech of the coyotes. I tensed, and Senora sensed my fear. “No tengas miedo,” she whispered. She handed me the reins, and reached back into the wagon for the guitar. As I guided the wagon, she strummed, and soon, she was humming, and then wailing the way she does. As I heard the song rise up from childhood, and settle and dance around my heart, I knew that in the end it was the music that lured me here. It was the music that took me to my cousin's bedside, and music that would turn me into the woman I so dreaded to be.

Stay tuned for Chapter Three of Switch!!coming shortly, and a new website where the novel will reside!!!!Meanwhile, the novel is at:

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