Sunday, December 7, 2014

CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR: "FINALE"


Picture it: a bright hot day.

The three of them -- Renata and Teresa and Art -- are sitting in the wagon pulling up to the convent in a cloud of red dust.

Dust and grime coat the face of each nun.


Teresa dismounts first and turns to help Renata down.  Renata wears a simple sky blue dress that hangs just below her ankles

Sister Gabriella, the nun thinning carrots in the convent's front garden, cries out,

"Renata -- Teresa -- they're here! They're here!" She jumps to her feet and soon all the nuns are outside. They crowd around Renata and Teresa like a flock of black crows. Everyone is asking, everyone wants to know what happened what happened.

Teresa raises one arm into the air. She wolf whistles as only Teresa can.  "If you all will quiet down," she says and the nuns fall silent.

She clears her throat. "Renata has been freed," Teresa announces. Cheers rise up. Goosebumps rise up Renata's arms and legs.

"Tell us," says Mother Yolla, "how did this miracle come to pass?"

Teresa turns to Renata: "You explain." So Renata recalls the miracle in the courtroom. Señora materializing to confound the judge and the Sheriff. Renata finally showing the judge the four pages so long missing from her journal. The pages that made it very clear that she was not the one who ended Antonie's life.

So now, both Teresa and Renata ask at precisely the same time: "Where is Señora?"

All of the nuns fall silent.

Mother Yolla speaks up. "She passed from this earth three days ago."

Teresa and Renata turn to each other. Then Renata calls out loud. "So this is truly a great miracle, because three days ago, she appeared in the courtroom. Señora is the reason I was allowed to go free."

No one speaks. Renata asks in a whisper. "Please, take us to her grave."

Mother Yolla leads the way. Behind the convent is the small cemetery, surrounded by a picket fence.

She points to the corner beneath a live oak tree.  "She is over there, at least that is where we buried her remains. But her spirit lives on, who knows where else she will appear?"

Renata crosses the cemetery, and kneels before Señora's grave. Her hands come up to her chest in prayer. "I have so much to thank you for." She drops her head to her fingertips and tears flood her eyes.  "May you rest in peace. And please know that you will be sorely sorely missed." She remains there, praying in silence. The other nuns remain outside the fence.

No one makes a sound.

And in time, Renata rises from the ground. She sighs and turns to join the other nuns.

"Mother Yolla, may I return to wearing the habit?"

"Of course my child. We have a set of clothing waiting just for you."

Renata inhales slowly. "Just so you know," she says, "it is so so good to be back here, where I clearly belong."

That night Mother Yolla gives permission for the nuns to stay up late into the night. Renata plays the guitar and the nuns are delighted to sing song after song. Renata hopes that Señora will make an appearance but no, the revered old woman is nowhere to be seen.

And so Renata is free and clear and she remains here at the convent for four decades. After Mother Yolla passes, Renata takes her role. Mother Renata. And she never forgets Señora -- indeed she visits the grave for a few minutes every day for the rest of her life.

And now we say amen amen, this book about the nun, is FINALLY done.






Tuesday, November 11, 2014

CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE: A Miracle in the Court Room


The sky is a milky blue color when Renata and the others wake up.  Kitty has already been up an hour, feeding chickens, gathering eggs and then, baking muffins for the breakfast meal she will serve downstairs in the cafe, promptly at eight.

Renata is first into the kitchen. Kitty is spooning corn meal dough into a cast iron muffin tin. She puts the spoon down and wipes her hands on her apron. Then she takes hold of both of Renata's hands. "I can't believe you're back," Kitty says.

"Nor can I.  Sometimes I think that we may very well be making a giant mistake." Kitty turns back to her stove. Renata yawns, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. "But I can't live on the run. And I shouldn't have to, because I didn't kill my cousin."

Teresa appears in the kitchen. "Katy you still have that old coffee pot? I need a lift this morning."

"Of course." Kitty reaches into the pantry for the pot. "Coffee is in the decanter beside the sink."

She finishes filling the muffin tins and takes her bowl and spoon to the sink. "So what's the schedule this morning?

Renata settles into the rocking chair that Kitty keeps in the corner beside the stove. "I'm supposed to be there by nine, and the judge says he'll give me an hour to present the new evidence."

"And that evidence consists of the missing pages of your journal, right? The pages that lay out exactly how Antonie died."

"Yes." Renata rubs her forehead. "I know it's a longshot, but I've got to do it. I have to try."

Katy slides the muffins into the oven. "I don't  know much about the law, but I have my doubts that..."

"I know, Katy. I know." Renata pauses and then she whispers. "We can't be too hopeful but I have no choice. I cannot live my life on the run."

******
At exactly ten minutes to nine, Renata opens the door to the small courtroom. Teresa and Art follow her into the stuffy room. No judge. No sheriff.

"So where shall we sit?" Teresa asks.

Renata shrugs. "It makes no difference, does it?" Her face is pale and pinched. Teresa wraps an arm around Renata's shoulders.

"My dear sister, this is not the face we need today. You must stand up to them, find your voice, convince them that you deserve your freedom." Renata bites her lower lip. And nods.

Teresa whispers. "All you have to do is believe in your heart and soul what you know to be true. You didn't kill Antonie and you have proof now. Trust in yourself and in God. He will take care of the rest."

At that moment the judge and sheriff stride into the courtroom. The judge in his black robe takes a seat at a table that stands higher than the rest of the tables in the room.

"So I said we'd give you an hour," the judge says, folding his hands on the table. "So what magic tricks do you have up your sleeve to show me today?"

"To tell you the truth, Sir, I have the evidence hidden beneath my skirt. So if you don't mind turning away for a moment...." The judge, smirking, turns around to face the wall. The sheriff does the same.

Renata unties a piece of twine at her waist. A thin package, wrapped in brown paper, makes a soft thud as it lands at her feet. She reaches down for the package. "Alright, you can turn back," she says.

"'And what would that be inside the package?" The judge leans over the table, leering one hand covering the other.

Renata steps closer to the judge.  "Before I let you see what's in here, I think it's only fair that we reconstruct the evidence used against me in the trial."

The judge clears his throat. "We are not going to retry this case, if that's what you had in mind."

"No, of course not," Renata says, her voice strong and commanding. "I'm not looking to do that. I simply want to remind you that virtually every piece of evidence presented at the trial was in the form of writing: my journal entries, and my cousin's wild stories casting me as a dancer and worse, a seductress."

The judge folds his hands together.  "Yes, well, if you recall, no one ever established that those stories were the work of your cousin's pen. There was every reason to believe that those stories were ones that you composed."

"But that's foolish. Why in heavens name would I implicate myself in a murder I didn't commit?"

The judge slaps his hands on the table. "I said it before and I will say it again, we are not going to retry this case. So get to the point."

"My point is that you never produced a single witness to the so-called murder."

"And again, you are trying to reopen the case. I am quickly losing my patience!"

"All I am trying to do is establish that there was a witness."

He stands and slams the table again. "If you knew there was a witness why the hell didn't you bring him forward?" His face suddenly looks like it's sunburned.

"I wrote about her in my journal, but..."

"Oh for God's sake, are you trying to make a fool of me?"

Renata lowers her gaze and hands the judge pages from her journal. "No, not at all, your honor, I would encourage you to read my journal pages, pages that I ripped out of the journal, pages that I vowed I would never make public.  Then I think you will understand. That writing carefully lays out my cousin's last hour."

"So who is this witness?"

"Please just read."

"I am not going to read any damn new pages. Tell me what is contained here."

Renata sets the three journal pages on the table. "These pages directly implicate...." Here, Renata's head drops forward. Teresa, standing to her right, puts an arm around Renata's waist and squeezes her arm.

"Go on."

"They reveal the truth about how Antonie died and they make clear that the person who..." She is trembling now and Teresa squeezes her tighter. "...the person who completed the act, finished the suicide that Antonie set in motion with his own razor...was..."

The sheriff stands. "Your honor, we've already established that her cousin was murdered. Where does she get the right to call  it a suicide. It's just her overactive imagination...."

"Give me those damn pages," the judge says, scooping them off the table.

The judge, ignoring the sheriff, takes his eyeglasses out of his breast pocket and picks up the journal pages and begins to read. Renata interrupts right away. "I guess I don't have to point out to you that the yellowed paper, the ink, the slant of the handwriting, perfectly match that of my journal."

Leaning back in his chair, the judge pauses. "No, ma'am, you don't need to point this out to me." He continues reading. When he comes to the third page, he reads and rereads it and then sits back in his chair. He places his hands together and rests them on his sizable stomach.

"And pray tell, how is it that we never saw these curious pages during the trial?"

Renata closes her eyes, inhales and then slowly releases her breath. When she speaks, it's in a whisper. "I refused to implicate Señora. I wanted to... protect her."

"Well, well, what we have here is a most interesting turn of events." The judge takes the journal pages and hands them over to the sheriff. The pages are lost on him because he doesn't know how to read.

"Please give me the full name of this woman you call Señora."

"Must I? Isn't it clear from what you read here that my cousin was hellbent on killing himself?"

"The name please..."

"Señora Maria Cuorocora de los Ramos."

"And where can this woman be found?"

Renata closes her eyes. "She is in her final moments of life, weak as a kitten, residing at the convent where she can get the care she...."

Suddenly Teresa gasps and lets go of Renata's shoulders.

Renata looks up and there at the back of the courtroom stands Señora, wrapped in a black shawl and leaning on a cane.

The two nuns are aghast. "Judge, this is...this is...this is Señora, but just hours ago I saw her so close to dying that she could not possibly appear here."

Sister Teresa flew to the back of the room and helped support the hold woman. Soon she is standing beside Renata. They embrace. Señora's face looks so thin and pale it has a purple cast. She reaches into a pocket and brings out a sheet of paper. "Una oracion," She whispers. She hands it to Renata and raises her hand to tell Renata to read it aloud.

Renata looks at the judge. "Part of it is a prayer she has written. Shall I go ahead?

"Don't ask my permission, this is your dog and pony show."

She begins, translating as she proceeds: Dio mio, madre mio, my God my holy mother Mary holy father and son and holy spirit to whom do I ask forgiveness? To whom do I confess? The priest, Father Ruby?  The last time I slid the little door in the confessional I saw the black screen between me and the priest and I lost heart. I wanted so desperately to unload myself, I wanted to scream 'I have sinned in the worst possible way, I have sinned by taking the last bit of life from a man I knew and raised from childhood.' But I lost heart. I left the confessional and I visited Renata at the jail; I begged her to tell the world the truth, but once again she refused."

Renata raised her head.

"Please continue," the judge said. "Dear God help me. Help me help my dear Renata to go free. No one but me can help her. I kneel here and beg you to hear me, from my humble position on this cold floor in the kitchen. I ask not for me not on my behalf but for her, she who faces hanging. I am determined to find a way to tell the world the truth, that I was the one responsible, I pressed the blade and severed his throat. I only continued with what Antonie started but of course I could have tried to get help for him rather than hasten his death. What I did was unforgivable. I dared to take the place of God, deciding whether a man was going to live or die. Please God please forgive me for what I did!"

There was perfect silence in the courtroom. The judge stood and gazed long and hard at Señora -- she seemed to shrink in his gaze. "I am afraid that you leave me no alternative but to take the old woman to the jail."

Renata protested. "She is close to 85 years old. She rose from her death bed to speak her truth. She only finished what Antonie set out to do. He wanted to die. She raised him from the time his mother -- my aunt Eliza -- died from small pox -- he wasn't even walking. Can't you see that arresting this woman makes no sense?"

Before the judge could answer, the sheriff stepped forward and put Señora into handcuffs. She offered no resistance. "Are we through here Judge? Can I take her away?"

"I would like to ask the nun one more question." He turned to Renata. "Why for God's sake didn't you make it clear what happened? Why this long drawn out affair when you knew there was a killer and that killer wasn't you?"

"I wanted to protect the woman who raised me. She is my mother, my grandmother, my savior. I couldn't forgive myself if I lived and she was put to death."

The judge shook his head. "Let's go, Frank, there is no point in sitting here any longer."

All of a sudden the sheriff screamed. He lifted the handcuffs into the air. Señora was no longer in the cuffs. Nor was she anywhere to be seen.

The judge roared. "What the blazing hell is going on here?"

Renata looked at Teresa. Art stood back and shook his head.

"I expect an explanation," the judge said, slamming the table, but even as he said it, the command sounded foolish.

"We have seen the hand of God at work here," Renata said in a whisper. "The work of God and the work of the Virgin Mary, to whom we pray every day."

"Well I don't give a damn about any of your foolish religion," the Sheriff said. "Stupid magic."

Renata smiled at the Sheriff. "Well then I invite you to find the old woman using whatever magic you happen to muster." She smiled at the judge. "May we leave now?"

"Don't leave town until we have gotten to the bottom of this foolishness," the judge said.

Art and Teresa and Renata were soon on the wagon heading back to Kitty's. Renata and Teresa held hands and prayed the whole way.

CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO: She's Back, Facing the Cell and the Gallows


The wagon pulls up in front of the small wooden building that houses the jail and the tiny courtroom. Arthur helps Renata down from the wagon.

She pulls herself up straighter. Taking in one long breath, she climbs the three wooden steps. Teresa follows.

Renata pauses at the door and turns to Teresa. "No matter what happens, I am ready now to accept my fate. I surrender to God's will.  I will be sheltered beneath Mary's veil."

A strong gust of wind blows up against the two women, lifting their skirts and sending dust and grit into their eyes. Renata cups her eyes and turns to open the door.

"Renata, wait!" It's Arthur. "Can I please go in with you?"

She studies him. She shrugs. "I guess there will be no harm in that."

He's up the stairs before before she opens the door.  He guides her gently by the elbow.

As they step inside, Renata's stomach squeezes and a shiver goes up her back. The pitiful cell where she spent so many many weeks is now occupied by a man with dark skin and long black straight hair. He has a single braid hanging beside his face.

Renata stares at the jailer, who is asleep, his feet propped on the wooden table.

"Hello," she says. He doesn't respond. She approaches the table and sets her hand on his leg and shakes him awake. He's disoriented, rubbing his eyes. His first instinct is to reach for his keys dangling from his belt. The sound of the keys jangling sparks another horrible memory in Renata's mind.

In a moment he is on his feet and leaning forward over the desk. "What....what the hell,  it's you, YOU! You came back!"

His breath is sour with liquor. She turns away, then faces him in silence. Her eyes are wide open. Art is at one side, Teresa on the other.

"I hope you know that we're gonna you right back in the cell," he says. "And then you're cooked." He cackles. He jangles his keys. "Hurray up now, I gotta go tell the judge and the sheriff."

Renata stood her ground. "You don't have to put me in the cell," she says. "After all, I came here of my own free will. I am not going anywhere. I am here to prove to all of you once and for all that I am innocent."

The jailer cackles again and shakes his head. "You're dreaming lady," he says, "But whatever. Take a seat on the bench there, and I'll be right back."

Renata remains standing, as do Art and Teresa.  All of them are staring at the man in the cell. He sits with his face down, staring between his knees.

The jailer returns in a few minutes, followed by the sheriff. He stands face to face with Renata.

"You do realize that we have every intention of carrying out the hanging," he says. He has his thumbs hooked on his suspenders. Renata sees what looks to be a gleam in the man's eye, and a smile on his bearded face.

"I am fully aware of that," Renata says. "I am prepared to hang."
"But I would ask one thing beforehand: the chance to present new evidence, evidence that is certain to exonerate me."

The sheriff is shaking his head no. "I'm afraid we can't go back into trial," he said, "there is no precedent for..."

Suddenly the judge, wearing a black suit, appears at the door. He places one hand on the sheriff's arm, and the sheriff repeats Renata's request.

"Jed," says the judge, "let me handle this."

The judge studies Renata, and glances at Teresa and Art. "I am willing to allow you one more hour in the courtroom," he says. The sheriff begins to protest, but the judge raises his hand, signaling silence, and then continues, "Be at the courthouse at 9 a.m. sharp tomorrow and we will let you have one more chance to speak." He turns to the sheriff, whose face is pinched with anger. "Jed, really, what difference does one hour make after all this time?"

He faces Renata. "I am assuming," he says, "that you have another witness?"

Renata nods. "No, but we have a sworn affidavit -- a very important document that wasn't available in the trial."

The judge shakes his head. "It's unlikely to help. But whatever you've got, bring it with you tomorrow, I will give you an hour, tops. Do you understand?"

"Yes sir," she says. "Thank you for doing this."

The judge turns and he and the sheriff walk out the door.

"You sure you don't want even one more night here in this nice cell?" The jailer leers. He takes a step closer toward Renata, who smells even stronger of whiskey.

"Let's get going ladies," Art says, taking Renata and Teresa by the hand. The three of them head out the door into the late afternoon sunshine.

"We've got to find couple of rooms," Art says.

"No, that won't be necessary," Teresa replies. "We have a dear friend here, a woman named Kitty, who has put us up before. She runs a terrific little cafe and has a couple of extra rooms. I know she will be glad to open her door to us again."

And with that they climb into the wagon and head for the sky blue house where Kitty lives.










CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE: Renata, You Have to Go Back to Jail to Before You Can Go Free !





It is mid-day, beastly hot, the sky a warm resilient blue. Arthur has not been able to push the horse faster than a walk. The wagon's slow pace is making Renata impatient. Her face is flushed and warm and the thermos of lemonade that Teresa made for her is almost empty. There are three canteens of water which ought to last the trip.

At one point Renata reaches over and takes Teresa's hand. That's when Renata finds the black rosary beads clutched in Teresa's hand. "May I pray with you?" Renata whispers and Teresa nods her head and smiles. She takes Renata's fingers and closes them around the beads. The two nuns pray silently for the next hour.

Teresa is praying that the lawyer, DeLuria, will have some idea how to introduce the missing journal pages to the court so that Renata's new evidence will convince the judge that the case should be reopened and the verdict overturned. Unfortunately, Renata is right about DeLuria, he's never had a bit of imagination or inspiration before, so it's hard to imagine that given one more chance to prove himself, he's likely to rise to the occasion.  

Arthur pulls up the reins, stopping the horse. "We are almost at the crest of the hill where it dips down into town," he says. "Are we headed straight to the courthouse and jail or..."

"Before we go there we want to visit with Renata's lawyer, a fellow named DeLuria," Teresa explains. Renata clucks her tongue. "His office is half-way down the hill, before the store and the church." 

He snaps up the reins and pushes the horse forward, at the same slow pace that he's followed all morning. "I see a creek running down the hill there," Arthur says gesturing with his chin. "I ought to stop as soon as we can get closer in, give the horse some water, and a good rest."

Which they do in the next few minutes. He unhitches the horse from the wagon while Renata and Teresa descend to the stream next to a grassy knoll.  Renata drops to her knees by the creek, bends over and splashes cold water on her flushed face. Then she cups her two hands together to drink.  When she stands she has muddied her calico dress with two large wet spots at the knees.

"Please tell me you brought something else to wear in court," Teresa says, eyeing the mud. "You could lose your appeal if they feel you are disrespecting the judge or the legal system."

"I'm not trying to win a fashion contest," Renata says. "I have only this one dress."

"If only I could have loaned you a habit," Teresa said, her face sad.

"Don't trouble yourself about things you cannot fix, my dear girl. We will have to make do with a muddy dress."

Soon the three of them are back in the wagon and the horse is leading them slowly into town. Teresa points to the General store and tells Arthur to pull up there. Teresa drops down first. "Assuming he's even there," she says, "I will explain the situation to him, and see what he has to offer." She inhales and drops the rosary beads into her pocket.  "We won't get our hopes up yet."

Renata smirks. "We won't get our hopes up that's for sure."

Teresa ignores the comment and enters the wooden building, where DeLuria occupies an office on the second floor.  The office building was once a small two-story house, so she climbs a winding staircase to reach his door. She knocks.

"Come in."

Teresa's heart bumps inside her chest. She opens the door. "Hello, I am sorry to barge in on you without any warning, but something extraordinary has happened with Sister Renata's case."

DeLuria's face is lacking the least bit of emotion, while Teresa's face and voice are flooded with urgency and passion.  Tenting his long bony fingers together over his white frocked shirt, De Luria looks bored.  "To what do we own this extraordinary development?"

Teresa moves into the office and without asking, takes a seat beside DeLuria's mahogany desk. It is absent of any papers, or file folders, or books, which Teresa finds surprising.

"Do you remember Señora Ramos, Antonie's Mexican housekeeper?"

Still holding his fingers tented and resting against his closed lips, De Luria nods.  "Yes, I guess I remember seeing her a few times in court and making regular trips to the jail to bring Renata a guitar and foods in baskets and other such things."

"Yes, well, if you recall we have always made a big point of saying that Renata's journal was missing some crucial pages, pages that described the way in which Antonie died.  Until now, Renata has refused to produce those pages and wouldn't even explain why."

"Of course I remember the missing pages." DeLuria now looks impatient, and even a little disgusted. "I told Renata time and again that she had to produce those pages if she wanted a prayer of a chance to go free. I told her that she had to have an alibi and she consistently and completely ignored me.  Now what's she up to? It's a little late for whatever it is she's got up her nun's sleeve." DeLuria has a know-it-all sneer on his face.  Suddenly Teresa wants to be done with him and this place. It gives her the creeps.

"Well, Mr. DeLuria, it seems as though Señora Ramos has fallen into a coma, or some kind of deep sleep, but before she did, she begged Sister Renata to produce those missing pages and to turn them in to prove her innocence. And voila, Renata was finally convinced to do what she's got to do. We have them with us in the wagon."

DeLuria drops his hands to his desk. "We? What do you mean 'we'? She's back? She actually had the audacity to come strutting back to town, to the court that ordered her hanged? Is she crazy? She must be to walk back into the jail and straight to the gallows."

He stands, and so does Teresa. "I know you are surprised. Just as we were in the convent when she turned up. But she is so certain that she can prove her innocence that she insisted on coming back today." Before Teresa can say anymore, DeLuria is out of the office and heading downstairs and outside.

His face breaks into a shrewd grin. "Well if it isn't the nun on the run," he says, his eyes glued to Renata. "You've got gumption my girl, that's for sure. That someone in your situation, facing the gallows, would walk right back into jail, where the rope is swinging, that is downright astonishing."

Renata dismisses his tone. "I wish you would keep all of your comments to yourself," she says dryly. "It wasn't my idea to stop here. But Teresa insisted that if I was turning myself in, I would do better to have you at my side."

"Glad you decided to heed Teresa's advice," DeLuria says, slipping his thumbs under each of his suspenders. His hair has grown longer, and curlier and it rests on the back of his collar now.

"Well then are you ready to help?" Renata crosses her arms in defiance.

"I will indeed accompany you to the court. But if you think for a moment that we can just waltz in, you are a fool. That's not how things are done. No one is sitting there waiting. I will send word to the Judge immediately that you are prepared to turn yourself in. Knowing Judge Perkins, and the urgency of this case, he will see you this afternoon. I would recommend you come in and freshen up before you go to court."

Renata finds her heart beating beneath her crossed arms. She uncrosses her arms and takes a drink of water from one of the canteens. Teresa is standing by the wagon to help Renata step down.  Which she does, not because she wants to talk to DeLuria, but because she really has no other practical way of turning herself in.

"Will she be able to ask for leniency?" Teresa asks.

"Of course not," De Luria practically spits out the words. "She's been on the lamb for months. She'll be lucky if they don't hang her on the spot."

"Look," Renata says, stopping in her tracks, "I'm only going back because Antonie's housekeeper, Señora Ramos told me that I must, she insisted that I..."

"How nice of her, Renata. Now a question: since when have you been taking legal advice from a housekeeper?" DeLuria's words always come out sounding like a snarl.

Renata bites down hard into her lower lip, to keep from responding. She locks eyes with Teresa. "I am going it alone," she announces. "I don't need his help. Come on Teresa, Arthur, we have a job to do and we aren't going to get it done hanging around here."

Teresa turns to Renata and takes hold of her by both shoulders. "Don't do this Renata. You've got to let DeLuria help, he can introduce the new evidence, he can do it the right way and maybe make them see that you are..."

"NO!" Renata is trembling from head to foot and her mouth is dry like cotton. She pushes Teresa's arms away. "I don't care if I die in the gallows, I'm not putting myself at the mercy of this man ever again. I can present the evidence myself and when I do I will have the spirit of the Virgin Mary there to support me. That's what Señora told me would happen and that's exactly what I am going to do."

DeLuria gestures a hand in disgust and returns to his office. "Good luck," he says as he climbs the stairs to the second floor. "You'll need all you can get that's for sure!"

Nothing Teresa says persuades Renata to come down from the wagon to talk to DeLuria. A half hour passes before Teresa reluctantly climbs back to her seat beside Renata on the wagon. Arthur quietly takes up the reins and pushes the horse into a walk down the long hill to the courtroom and jail.  As they grow near they can see the gallows still in place, the rope shaped like a single teardrop falling from the crosspole, waiting to hang Renata.

.

CHAPTER FIFTY: "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
HOW? SOME WAY BUT
HOW I AM NOT SURE HOW CAN WE POSSIBLY?
WHAT CAN ANYONE SAY TO CONVINCE THEM
that I
don't deserve to hang.