Thursday, November 01, 2012

Chapter 56 of Sister Mysteries: Teresa's in Trouble

By Claudia Ricci   

It seems much too real to be a dream. She is lying there in her bed at the convent, right where she's supposed to be, under a heap of quilts. She knows for certain that she fell asleep there, after an especially quiet dinner with Sister Teresa and the other nuns. Mother Yolla complimented Renata on the beet and apple and onion salad she had fixed. Teresa, looking a little pale, joked after dishes were cleared that "the salad was too too red," and it had given her a stomach ache and could she be excused from doing clean-up chores.

Later Renata brought Teresa a cup of tea, chamomile with honey, just the way she likes it. But Teresa was fast asleep when she pushed open the nun's door.

So why is Renata awake now, tossing and turning in her convent bed, feeling the familiar pinch of the straw on her back and across her shoulders. She is holding her rosary beads, which some nights she will do in order to fall asleep.

She keeps thinking of Señora. The old woman is pouring water into an old ceramic vase, the colorful dark blue vase that once sat on Antonie's kitchen table. It had come with Señora from Mexico so many years before.  It was hand painted in white calla lilies and Señora would fill it every morning with roses or whatever flower was growing in abundance. Antonie ignored the flowers and the vase; what Senora did in the kitchen was Señora's business. "The kitchen is hers," he would often say.

Now for some reason Señora's got the vase in both hands and she has filled the vase with white lilies. Fragrant lilies -- Renata has got the scent of them in her nose as she sleeps.

And then she sees Señora carrying the vase with a towel wrapped beneath it. Somehow, Señora is there in the convent, and she is setting the vase on a night table, right next to Sister Teresa's bed. Señora is speaking soothing words to Teresa. Señora sets a cool cloth over the nun's brow and takes Teresa's hand in both of hers. At just that moment, Teresa arches her back and pulls her hand out of Señora's. She thrashes side to side, and collapses into a fetal position. Her mouth falls open and she cries out. Her face is as white as goat's milk.

Mother Yolla is beside the bed and two or three other nuns have gathered too. They are kneeling around the bed and praying. No one is saying what's wrong with Teresa because apparently no one knows. The doctor is on the other side of the bed, and he has a stethoscope dangling from his neck. Mother Yolla and Señora each take one of Teresa's shoulders, preparing to hold her down while the doctor listens to the nun's chest.

"What? What? Teresa, my dear Teresa, what is wrong?" Renata is trying to wake herself up from the dream, and for a moment she seems to succeed. All she needs to do is wake up and walk down the narrow convent hall and she will be there with Teresa. So simple, so simple.

"She needs me, she needs me," Renata says, but for some reason she is having trouble waking up. She keeps trying to make herself sit up but the quilts are heavy and even when she pushes then aside, she can't get out of the convent bed, she is stuck there in the dark shivering, her head swimming.

But when she is finally sitting up, and she is finally awake, she is not at the convent at all; she sees the thick trees outside Arthur's porch, lit by the sliver of a moon. The night is perfectly still.

Renata pulls the blanket tightly around her shoulders. She is cold but sweating at the same time. Her heart is hammering and a ring of pain is circling her head just above her eyes.

She has only one thought: she will find her back to the convent. She must. This dream has to be a sign that Teresa is in trouble.

She hasn't any idea what time it is, but she gets off the mattress and walks into the cabin still wrapped in the blanket. She stands outside Arthur's door for a moment trying to decide if she should knock. Wake him up. Ask his help. She's going to need a wagon to make the trip.

Biting into her lip, she decides to wait. She goes back to the porch and lays awake until the sky takes its first color from the rising sun.

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