Assisted by two of the other nuns, Bernice and Laura Lee, Teresa pulls Renata into the rocking chair. There she sits, slumped against one arm. Teresa runs for smelling salts, and Bernice boils water for chamomile tea. Laura Lee -- a delicate girl with dimples and great splotches of reddish-brown freckles -- holds Renata in a sitting position.
Kneeling in front of the chair, Teresa passes the salts under Renata's nose, until the smell of the ammonia starts Renata's head moving side to side. "Enough," she whispers. "Please no more."
Teresa pulls the salts away. "We have tea for you Renata, tea with gobs of honey. You must be so thirsty." She holds the cup up and takes a spoonful of the yellow tea. Blowing on it a few times, she lifts the spoon to Renata's open mouth. For the next few minutes, Teresa feeds Renata the warm tea. But soon Renata pushes Teresa's hand away.
"I must see Señora now," she whispers, wriggling out of Laura Lee's grip. "Please Teresa, please take me up to her."
"At least finish the tea, and put something solid in your stomach." Teresa bends closer and steadies a gaze at Renata head on. "I promise if you have a little of the rabbit stew we ate for dinner, and finish the tea, I will bring you to her."
Renata's face wrinkles up in disgust. "You know how I feel about rabbit stew. Just spoon me a few carrots and onions and some parsley and that will do."
Teresa rises, hands the mug to Renata. "You drink this up. And if you're still thirsty, Bernice will fix you a second cup."
After she has eaten half the vegetables that Teresa scooped into a bowl, and after she finishes most of a second cup of tea, Renata rises from the rocking chair. Teresa takes her arm and they pass through the convent's dining room and to the staircase. Soon they are in the second floor bedroom where Señora lies, her face small and almond-colored. Renata sits on one side of the bed, Teresa on the other.
Leaning forward, Renata whispers. "I'm here, my dear Señora. I am here beside you and I won't leave you."
Señora is lying in such perfect stillness that it isn't clear she is breathing. Teresa holds a finger below Señora's nose. After a few moments she takes her hand away.
"I have an idea," Renata says, getting up. "I'll be right back." She hurries to her old room, the straw mattress stiff and minus any sheets. Kneeling, Renata drags from beneath the bed the guitar she keeps wrapped in an old Indian blanket. She sinks to the floor and hums a low E, and quickly tunes the strings.
Soon she is hurrying back to the bedroom to Señora and Teresa, who smiles when she sees the guitar.
"It's worth a try, don't you agree?"
Guitar cradled in her lap, Renata plays the carcelero that Señora loves.
"In three days I've eaten
Only bread and tears:
That is the food
That my jailers give.
How do they expect me to live?"
She follows the carcelero with a soleares and a farrucca and finally, a rousing bulerías.
Señora is motionless, the music passing over her like a soft breeze. Renata puts the guitar down and takes Señora's hand and kisses it. "I know you can hear me," she says. "I just know you feel me here."
She takes out her beads and together with Teresa, they pray the rosary.
"It's late, Renata," Teresa says at the end of the prayers. "Tomorrow is another day. Please, I'll make your bed up for you. And I'll find a place for Arthur to rest downstairs. Come now. Let her be."
Renata wraps her rosary beads around Señora's hand, and places a kiss on the old woman's forehead. Teresa is out the door and Renata is just about to blow out the candle on the nighttable when she hears a soft groan.
Whipping around, she sees the rosary beads shaking in Señora's hand. "Teresa, Teresa, look!"
By now, Renata has Señora's hand in hers. "You're awake, you're awake!" It takes a few minutes before Señora's eyes open. She blinks. Her lips tremble, and Renata is sure she sees a smile on them.
"Oh my dear Señora you're back," Renata says in a hush. Señora opens her mouth but nothing comes out. "Don't try to speak. Don't."
Teresa and Renata stand there staring at Señora. The old woman opens her mouth. "Sietaté," she whispers in a hoarse tone. The nuns sit down. Renata takes both of Señora's hands in hers.
"Mi'ja," Señora begins. And then she whispers in Spanish. "It's my time. It's my time. I'm not long on God's good earth now."
"How do you know that Señora, you can't possibly know God's will."
Señora continues to speak to Renata in Spanish, in a hushed whisper. "There is no time for discussing this now. You must do for me what you have steadfastly refused to do all these months. You must find those missing pages of your journal and present them to the authorities. Please. Please, for me do this."
"No," Renata says, pulling back. "I won't do that. You know you can ask and you can beg, but I am not turning in those pages. Justice will be served and I remain in God's hands, with Mary to protect me too."
Teresa pipes up. "Señora is right. You've come back here now, Renata, and clearly there is no way we can protect you. Not for long can we hide you. The gallows is ready and waiting. The authorities will hang you as soon as word gets out. Please, abide by Señora's dying wish."
Renata rises, and turns toward the darkened window, her arms crossed. "I vowed I would never turn Señora in. I made myself a solemn promise. I can't turn back on that now."
Señora struggles to one elbow. And out of her comes a voice that I know so well. The voice in which she has spoken to me for the past 18 years. The voice that has pulled me back to Renata's world, time and again.
"Por favor Claudia," Señora cries out. "Ahora es muy importante que tu vienes aquí. Por favor!"
And as I sit here, typing, my laptop disappears and I let go of this world and move to the sound of Señora's voice. Suddenly I am in the room with the three characters whose lives I have entwined so tightly with my own.
Teresa and Renata stare at me. I'm wearing my blue bathrobe and white sox, and my hair must look like an awful fright. I haven't showered and I've got the sour breath one has after a night's sleep and a cup of coffee.
"Hola, Señora," I say and she reaches a hand out to me. Slowly I approach the bed. Renata's eyes are wide and forbidding and Teresa looks like she's seen a lizard crawl across the bed covers. I clear my throat and don't come any closer. "You don't know me of course," I say, my voice shaking. "But I am Claudia Ricci, a writer, and I love Señora as much as both of you."
"How could you possibly?" Renata asks, her voice shaking. "I've never seen you, nor has Teresa. Where did you come from?" Renata scans me head to toe and Teresa shakes her head vigorously.
"I understand completely," I say. "I've been working with Señora from afar. You would not believe me if I told you how far," I say. "It's much too hard to explain."
Señora sits up. She asks for her shawl and Teresa brings it to her and wraps it around her shoulders. Teresa and Renata stand beside her like protective soldiers. And then she begins to speak. Thankfully, she speaks in a slow Spanish that I can understand.
"This woman is writing your story, Renata. She's been writing it for 18 years."
I pipe up. "Actually it's exactly 18 years. Yesterday. January 25, 1995 is the day I started this book."
"What? What are you saying?" Renata takes a step toward me. Funny that I never thought her to be the least bit threatening before. "What book are you referring to? And what is this about 1995? And how could you possibly know me or my story?"
Señora smiles. "I'll ask you to be patient Renata. What you are witnessing here my dear is the work of the Virgin Mary. Her miracles, as you know, we can never explain. Miracles of Mary's making. This is one of those miracles."
"What do you mean?"
"The virgin appeared in a vision one night, right after you were hung."
Señora shakes her head. Her face is solemn. "You see Renata, time has come unhinged. After you died, I so regretted letting you sacrifice yourself on my behalf that I prayed continually to Mary for forgiveness. She came to me one night and said that together, we were going to rewrite history."
"Excuse me, Señora, but this makes absolutely no sense to me. Are you telling me you erased events that already took place."
Señora shakes her head slowly.
I decide to take a step forward. Renata tenses and steps back. "I am not here to hurt you," I say. "Please understand that's the last thing you have to fear."
Señora continues. "So why is Claudia here? Because I called for her. With Mary's help, I found Claudia, a woman who was willing to write the true story of Antonie's death. This woman you see here lives far into the future on the other side of the continent."
Renata collapses into the chair. "Surely you don't expect me to believe this," she says. She turns to Teresa who is just as dumbfounded.
"What Señora says is absolutely true," I say. "I come from a moment in history when we have such things as cars with engines and computers and mobile telephones and electricity and airplanes that fly."
"I don't believe it," Renata says. "I don't buy any of this silliness."
"You must listen," Señora commands. "You must listen Renata. If you fail to listen, you will most certainly hang, as you did the first time. The gallows is waiting and they will string you up in the hot sun in the courtyard without the slightest hesitation."
"I don't understand," Renata says. "How can this woman from the future help me escape? Does she takes me with her?"
The thought of transporting the nun back to Albany, New York, or to the little hamlet of Spencertown, where I live, makes me smile.
"No, Renata," I say. "I just write the story. It's up to me to make you see the wisdom of releasing those two pages from your journal. Those pages that cannot hurt Señora anymore. You were right when you first decided to hold them back, because the authorities would have hung Señora, a Mexican woman, without even a trial. A Mexican woman killing a white American man. But now Señora's time is up."
"How do you know that? How could you possibly know anyth..."
"Silencio!" Señora shouts. She lifts her pillow and takes out a piece of yellowed newspaper. She unfolds it. The headline reads in big block letters, "NUN FINALLY HUNG FOR THE MURDER OF HER COUSIN." Two columns of writing appear and in the center of the page is a very clear drawing of the nun swinging from a rope.
Renata gasps. Teresa cries out. "My God!"
"I hope you see now that the gallows is real," Señora says. "I hope you understand why the Virgin has interceded here. This is what happened the first time around. You did hang for Antonie's murder. You refused to produce those pages of the journal that tell the true story."
"Let me see that newspaper," Renata says snatching it away from Señora with a shaking hand. Sweat sprouts on her brow. "I don't know how this is possible. This is not ....this is...out of this world. This is impossible. This is ..."
"Un milagro," Señora says, finishing her sentence. "Yes, Renata, this is a miracle. That we are here, today, the three of us, with this woman writer from the future. This woman who in fact can save you. Give you the freedom you have so long deserved. Let her do her work. Give her those journal pages. Let her write them down. Let the authorities see the truth. Nothing can hurt me now. They won't touch me now. Not when I am this close to my hour of death."
Teresa speaks. "I am not sure I believe what I am hearing and seeing, Renata, but by God, this is indeed a miracle of some kind. I think this is your lifeboat Renata. You've got to cooperate. You've always told me that I would be the one to tell the true story after your death. It would be me who would reveal at the proper time -- after Señora's death -- what actually happened to Antonie. But now I see there is no reason to wait. No reason at all for you to die. And every reason for you to go free. You must do as she says Renata. You must trust this woman in the blue robe, because it is exactly the same blue color as the Virgin's veil."
Renata turns slowly to face me. I see her finely chiseled features, made sharper by the fact that she is so thin. Her hair is standing in a wispy black brush. She is as pale as cotton and even has some premature grey hairs. There has been so much happening to her since that chapter I wrote so long ago, when she supposedly turned into a flamenco dancer and danced on the table.
She reaches out one hand and I don't hesitate to take it. Renata's fingers are cool and slim and delicate. "It is a pleasure to meet you ma'am," she begins, "and even though I am still not inclined to believe that you are from the future, I have to say, Señora is rather persuasive with this newspaper she somehow managed to find."
I smile. "You know, it would have been up to me to produce that newspaper account," I say, "seeing as though I am writing the story. But more than anything in the world Renata, I wanted you to live. I never wanted to write the story of your hanging. Suffice to say it's quite nice that the Virgin Mary somehow made it possible for Señora to get that clipping -- without me having to do a thing -- to help convince you of my good intentions in writing your story."
Teresa is sitting down now. And shaking her head. "Amazing. Somehow the Virgin is helping to change history," she whispers. She opens her hands one to each side. "This is too much to take in all at once."
Señora turns. "Renata, find the missing journal pages please. Let Claudia have them for her story."
"No, Señora," I interrupt. "It's not my story. It's your story. And most especially it's Renata's."
"In any case, bring the journal pages to me," Señora says, slipping down under the covers. "And then, if you wouldn't mind, I would love a cup of tea."
And so Renata leaves the room to retrieve the missing journal pages. And Teresa goes downstairs to make tea.
And me? I pick up Renata's guitar and play for Señora one of my favorite flamenco tunes, a bulerías that my teacher Maria Z. taught me many years ago.