Renata rose early to go to him, and when she arrived, Antonie was waiting in the bedroom, as he always was, sitting before the silver mirror at the dressing table, idly gazing at a book. Always in the morning, she looked so fresh, a full-length white apron over her trailing habit. This was the apron she wore for convent chores, an apron with blousy sleeves and long ties that she brought into a tight bow at the back of her waist. So that she arrived covered in many layers, white on top of black on top of white again, and she was veiled thoroughly head to foot, and the bottom edge of the apron was coated in fine red road dust, and her heavy black shoes were scuffed and coated too. Her forehead was bound tightly in its white linen wrap.
That she was covered so well, that he could see so little of her, just the shy half moon of her clear face, was thrilling to him, maybe because she looked so clean, so crisp and efficient and orderly at this early hour of the day, so much the sweet-smelling, hard-working novititiate, a woman among sisters, a woman he couldn't possibly resist, Renata the nun and his lover all in one, someone who would be there endlessly patient and attentive to his every need.
But perhaps too he was thrilled because of the promise of what was to come, the promise of how she would be transformed before the sun descended into its afternoon arc. He wanted what she would become as he wanted nothing else, but he wanted to wait for it, to hold it off as long as possible, to extend the inevitable as one might try to preserve the life of a flower. She was for him, in the peachy morning light, a rose anticipating full bloom. Indeed, each morning that he greeted her there in the bedroom, he held out to her a single rose, of an exceptional color. It was yellow but also red, as if first it had been dipped into sunlight, and then, washed right away in human blood.
What thrilled him about the rose, and about Renata herself, was the notion that he would watch them both unfold, that he would witness the opening of their soft petals, that he would be present at the moment when each of the flowers became full and whole.
Antonie’s greatest intoxication lay in inhaling the fragrance of the rose, and in thinking about what would happen to Renata under his influence, in comparing what she was when she arrived with what she would become through his coaxing, through the driving, unrelenting force of his passion for her.
If the truth be known, he believed it was the very act of his gazing on her, his breathing on her, his being near and touching her, that opened her to the possibility of her transformation. For as long as possible, he put off her change, and was thoroughly aroused by its contemplation. Certainly he put it off for as long as it took her to shave his face with the straight blade, and for the time it took to apply lavender cologne with her cool palms, which she pressed with gentle certainty against his face and neck.
Antonie smiled shyly when he heard Renata knocking softly at the ornate oak door. Like most everything at the hacienda, the door had its own elaborate story. Built and carved by her grandfather and his, Gabriel Lopez de Ruiz, the door had been chiseled from a prized stand of live oak. But before the old man could build the door, he had to hack down the monstrous oak tree himself. He did, but when he tied the felled oak to the back of his mule, the animal refused to budge, the tree being much too heavy.
Gabriel’s strength was legendary and according to the story, he ended up dragging the oak to the hacienda with tree balanced over his his own shoulders. He built and carved the door with the same determination that had produced the magnificent Spanish house between 1838 and 1844.
“Please, come in,” Antonie said, and Renata appeared in the open door, where she paused and gazed briefly at her cousin. For just that instant, she was double-framed, once by the heavy door, and a second time by the mirror into which Antonie caught her reflection. Almost instantly, she dropped her eyes demurely to the floor. Demurely, though, only from his point of view. Had she the freedom of description, surely she would have used another word, one that captured the modesty, the sincere reserve she felt as she averted her eyes. But then she wasn’t free to choose the word, because she was, as we have said, framed entirely by his gaze. Thus, he would do with the language, and with her appearance in it, much as he pleased, and he would attempt the best interpretation he knew.
In the end, it was his word, imperfectly matched against her feeling, that held sway. Had she heard the word spoken aloud, she would have at the very least colored an embarrassed red. But she would have forgiven him just the same, of that he was sure. Because she would know that he was doing the best a man could do to describe the subtle interior hue of a woman.
“I worried after the other night, you wouldn't come. Renata, I apologize for...for...” But she was shaking her head and holding her finger first to his lips and then to her own and then closing the door.
“No no, don’t, I don’t want you to apologize. I won’t in fact hear of it. I won’t have you speak of…any of that. And if you insist, then I too will have to insist, that is, on leaving.” And so they eyed each other across the space of the room, each gazing at the other in the silver mirror they now shared, the mirror with the hammered silver frame.
The mirror in which they were reflected belonged to the grandmother they also shared, Gabriel’s wife, one Magdalena Sanchez y Quiero, a woman of blue eyes and black hair, a Castilian, who, despite her fair skin, was said to be part gypsy.
And so they began always in the same way, speaking to one another in hushed tones, in something of a ritual manner, dancing in words before they actually proceeded to dance with their feet.