Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chapter Eighteen, SISTER MYSTERIES converges with SWITCH!!: "Out the Door...I am Free!"

By Claudia Ricci

It has finally happened. The three novels that I have been writing on-line are all starting to converge.

In this novel, SWITCH!!, the story has a narrator named Gina Morrison, who is in the company of her friend Xandra, and the two women have just arrived in a kind of spooky redwood forest in northern California. They are just about to meet a healer in one of those redwood tree fairy rings -- where redwood tree sprouts grow in circles. It is a lovely setting and when I last left it, in Chapter Sixteen, I promised I would get back to it!

Well, so, now we are back to it. Or should I say, I am back to
sitting here, writing three books at least

one at a



I don't know whether I can WRITE THREE BOOKS ALL AT



thing is the three share characters RENATA ANTONIE BEING TWO PRINCIPALS IN EACH

are you beginning

HAVE I BEGUN to confuse you yet

you will keep reading?

It doesn't matter whether or not I've got readers. I know it is and always has been my job to free you, RENATA, because who else will but me but how? Now I know of course by now I KNOW THAT I HAVE GOT TO FREE THE NUN AND SOON BECAUSE THEY WILL HANG HER JUST AS SOON AS SHE SHOWS UP AT THE JAIL (to find out why she is headed back to jail just read you must you need to read the last few chapters or at least this one Chapter 66 with links to others.)

My job is to free her, and also free me, but I cannot see it how can I possibly write it, the next scene, unless until I have some image fixed between my eyes in my third eye IS IT MY THIRD EYE or just my mind, my imagination what exactly is that part of the mind that spills out fiction anyway?

the scene I'm trying to write is between Renata and some authority figure or figures I am just not sure how it happens

I think the courtroom is sunny, I can see the shadow that the large pained paned? window makes on the floor, and somehow Renata is flooded in light, she might be sitting at a table in the courtroom, but how did she get there, the LAWYER DELURIA PETITIONED THE COURT FOR A HEARING BASED ON NEW EVIDENCE

As much as Renata didn't want to bring in the lawyer, Teresa was write write write the scene between Deluria and the three of them

in the last chapter, the three of them, 1) Renata was riding in the wagon between 2) Teresa, her wonderful friend, and 3) Arthur, ART HER? (He was the man who found her in a wretched state after she fled the jail.) NOW SHE IS HEADED BACK TO THE DREADFUL JAIL, she is turning herself in, toward an almost certain death, OH GOD, OH MARY, help HER HELP ME HELP US BOTH

she's going back to give the authorities the missing journal pages, the pages that show very clearly that she did not kill Antonie, he basically killed himself with a little help from


It happens this way. It is mid-day, beastly hot, Arthur is pushing the horse at a fairly slow pace, which is not making Renata any less nervous. At one point she reaches over and takes Teresa's hand. That's when Teresa raises  her right hand in which she is clutching rosary beads.

If Renata had known that Teresa was saying the rosary, she would have asked to join, the two of them would have said the rosary aloud. Teresa bows her head, and squeezes Renata's hand.

OK, I can't write the next? the last scene? the next to the last scene? in this novel, I WOULD LOVE TO FINISH IT ALREADY and have something else in my head besides Renata FACING THE GALLOWS but

be patient, it's not there yet, not yet but I can write a letter to my dear friend Suzanne, she is wise beyond her years beyond belief she is one of the most amazing poets I have always loved her work, ever since we met in 1996 at a writer's colony called Montalvo, in those days I felt like a real writer, I had my first novel Dreaming Maples finished, more or less, I still hadn't changed the ending (in which I save the baby, Grace, which may be relevant to what I'm going through in therapy with Mary.) But back in those days I was writing a new book I called CASTENATA or SISTER MYSTERIES it seemed so easy to write it, I was writing about characters two sisters HEATHER RICOCHET A rock singer who performed in lewd ways on stage but who at age thirteen had wanted to be a nun or a saint or something crazy. And her overweight buffoon of a sister, clumsy Malvina. These two characters absorbed so much of my time, wasted? Well, it depends on how you look at it, that writing is part of the many thousand pages which got me

This is the latest version of so so many, I would begin, I would begin, I would begin again and over and over. Finally I began writing this version of SISTER MYSTERIES in November, 2010, November 14th to be exact and NOW I AM ACTUALLY DETERMINED TO WRITE THE ENDING, TO FREE RENATA FROM JAIL ONCE AND FOR ALL, TO REVERSE HER CONVICTION. But meanwhile this letter is what I am writing

Dear Suzanne, I'm sorry I can't come to NYC today I woke up with such a wicked headache, I have pain in my head my neck my shoulders my back my legs. Aygh. I have to write you though because I came to the realization just this morning just a few minutes ago that I have to face my feelings once and for all. I have to try to figure out a way forward. As I wrote in my journal, every time I hear those interviews with authors on the BOOK SHOW they always bring me into the lowest spirits, it is awful to listen to those interviews with REAL AUTHORS knowing I will never be in the position to talk about my book(s.) I feel this morning that I have to look steadily and unflinchingly at this hard reality because it is/was a core issue in my depression. Can Mary my therapist help me understand or accept this reality? (YES SHE SAYS TO STAND BY YOUR WORK< YOUR CREATIVE SELF DON"T GIVE THE EXTERNAL WORLD DOMINION OVER THE WRITING) I know I don't want to be depressed any more not for a moment I went through hell this past year it was so so so so 

hard, no more please God please MARY PLEASE NO MORE! (I am not going back there anymore.)

I want to celebrate my writing, I want to send it out into the world with joy and pride. It's taken so much out of me to be depressed about my writing it might actually be the reason I got sick with the lymphoma eleven years ago but that is another story I really don't want to tell, another hellish episode ]


"in my life.


Mary says to me over and over that I must love my inner self, my "baby," she tells me repeatedly that I have to love and nurture my baby, pick her up, hold and comfort her, accept her feelings listen to them, dwell in them, accept and hold them near my heart, no matter if it's scary, no matter if she's sad and depressed, no matter if she's frightened or insecure, never abandon her no matter what feelings she brings to the forefront in me.  Mary keeps telling me that is my main job in life, it is my first and only duty, my first and foremost and eternal job (SHE SAYS IF YOU DO THIS LOVING OF THE BABY YOU WILL GET DIVINE HELP AND SHE'S WRITE I MEAN RIGHT I HAVE HAD THE EXPERIENCE OF GETTING DIVINE HELP) my job is to pick up the baby, hold her and reassure her, let her feel what she feels, never turn away or abandon her.

This morning it hit me for the first time: my first novel Dreaming Maples is all about mothers who abandon their babies! Candace, Eileen and even Lucy, Eileen's mother, who doesn't abandon or leave Eileen (I LEAN? I LEAN? I FALL I FALL?), not technically, not physically, except she does abandon EILEEN I LEAN emotionally, because Lucy is an old fashioned Italian woman who has no idea how to mother a modern young rebellious woman like I LEAN (EILEEN.) 

Curious that just today, for the first time, I'm thinking about D MAPLES  and all the time Mary has been telling me not to abandon or PUT DOWN my baby I never thought about Candace and Eileen and Lucy who put down who abandon their babies. ONLY AUDREY X, CANDACE"S PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER, SHE'S THE ONLY ONE WHO STANDS STRONG ALMOST A SACRED FIGURE A KIND OF GODDESS OF MOTHER NATURE AN ASPECT OF THE DIVINE FEMINE? Perhaps, in any case Audrey X DOESN'T ABANDON HER CHILDREN, ONLY  HER HUSBAND.


IMPORTANTLY Eileen saves Candace AND Candace's baby (GRACE) and maybe that is/was me saving myself (or the aspect of my psyche I am calling Baby C) and my art, my inner life, my art, my writing, I used to call my writing my fourth child, it's so hard to have your child rejected by the world, I must I LEAN I LEAN OVER THE BABY AND I MUST SAY TO THE BABY, it's OK THE WORLD MAY REJECT YOU, THE PUBLISHERS MAY REJECT YOU THE PUBLISHERS MAY PUT DOWN THE BABY MAY BE BUT I LOVE YOU ANYWAY I LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT! 

Is that it, is that what I need to do, to find freedom must I love and "feed" and nurture my baby my art no matter what, no matter that the publishers will have none of me or it I sit here with my shoulders aching and my head and my back. AYGH.

I want so much to write. I want to feel as though my writing matters, that I can make art/writing that people read, I want to be inspired the way I used to be when I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. In those days I felt genuinely hopeful that the world would receive and read...sigh. 

Then when I published the second novel, SEEING RED, I began to see I began to dread I began I could not sell many books and then I WENT KIND OF DEAD INSIDE.  MARY SAYS I HAVE TO CELEBRATE MY INNER SELF, I CANNOT LET THE OUTER COMMERICAL WORLD DICTATE MY ART.

Dear Mary, I still need help with this. I really need guidance. I know what you will say, embrace it face it with love love love love love your self enough to STAND UP FOR YOUR BABY YOUR ART

A I am writing this I am thinking/singing the Beatles: 


And then I sing the other song:

"When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, whisper words of freedom/wisdom, let it be, let it be. Let it be LET IT BE (LET ME BE ME A WRITER) or let it be oh let it be, Whisper words of 

(How do I encourage to myself?)

WHISPER WORDS OF FREEDOM HOW TO FREE THE NUN HOW TO FREE ME FREEING RENATA I AM FREEING MYSELF, SISTER MYSERIES SISTER MYSTERIES is all about me freeing this nun in 1883 and me freeing me in 2013. ONLY 130 years separates us, HA!


Have a happy day it's beautiful and blue out, a powerful blue, the color of the VIRGIN MARY'S veil. 

Claudia P.S. MARY MY THERAPIST INTERPRETS MY DREAMS, SHE IS A JUNGIAN ANALYST SHE IS AMAZING WHAT SHE SEES IN DREAMS! Last night I dreamed I was in a classroom again (God save me from that :) and I kept wanting to write/teach/understand the word "INTRANGIENCE," I COULD SEE THE WORD ON THE BLACKBOARD or MAYBE INTRANSIGENCE (or INTRANSIENCE )which I just looked up IT MEANS "the quality of being intransiGENT uncompromising hostility, irreconcilability unwilling to compromise unwilling to negotiate or make any concessions I UNDERSTAND I THINK I THINK THAT THIS FEELING ABOUT WRITING BEING REJECTED is a feeling that I cannot change or compromise. But now I realize I want to change, I do INDEED I REALLY NEED TO want to transform my intransigence. Mary says I should meditate on the word, that it might be my psyche wanting to change from a rationally-oriented mind to one that is more spiritual.


By Gina Morrison

To write a good novel
you have to go forward
one scene after another
holding the reader's
attention by
building suspense and drama
and naturally, a good plot
oh and the book must
have action too
but sometimes you just
end up going
around in circles
or backwards 
doing a kind of
literary somersault
back back back back
or back and forth
in the case of this book,
or books, I keep
going back and forth

SWITCH!! ing
between this book, SWITCH!!
and the other books,
please be patient with me,
because I haven't quite figured
out what exactly I am doing
juggling no less than three books,


a bomb so everything ends up


Let me explain, first I had to go

far back in time as far back
                as 1883 when Sister Renata the nun is falsely accused of killing her cousin Antonie

I started writing about Renata in 1995 or was it 2010, it's both, it was just about the time that time started to unwind, I started meditating, my mind changed profoundly, some time ago, maybe 18 years ago which seems like a LONG TIME BUT NOT WHEN YOUR CHARACTER RENATA LIVED IN 1883 

You begin to see time in
You begin to see and feel INFINITY
So that now I see
SWITCH!! like I am
WRITE NOW NOW I finally see
what it means to
to free myself, to free the nun,
to do both at one time,
to find yourself myself, liberated,
to join the ranks of all the illuminated
or ascended souls
where the whole universe is


I am myself unified as me,
as GINA, as the nun, Renata, and she is me

and she still stands falsely accused of killing her cousin Antonie
and I'm still trying to free myself of time, the ego, suffering
among other things.

I wake up this morning IN A NEW CHAPTER with my mouth as dry as cotton,
I've got to turn myself into authorities
I've got to turn myself 
I, GINA, and me

I've got to turn myself in.

Last night, Señora

woke up in [CHAPTER 64 IN SISTER MYSTERIES] she was deep in a coma but she woke up
out of deep sleep and squeezed my hand and told me to take the missing pages of my journal
and tell the world show the authorities prove once and for all

that she? I? ME? WE are/is/am free and innocent

it wasn't me who killed

it wasn't Renata who finished off 

It was Señora and last night, she lay there in bed in 1883 and begged me to take the pages to show the

Was she really awake or did I/ME?Renata make that up or did she/we hallucinate
don't accuse me of that, don't you dare say
I am making up this whole
cloth, making this up out of
words alone.


The whole world is different now that I am Renata. The world is in my heart and my heart is beating to the
new rhythm of LOVE LOVE

This morning as Renata wakes up her mouth is cottony dry, as dry as her sheet on her straw mattress, [THAT IS CHAPTER 66] and I've got to figure out I am not sure where how to go next I know
she delivers

just give me a minute or

where I happen to be, my laptop here right here write on the table

Mary my therapist said I need to live a little bit more spontaneously, don't rely so much on your mind so much she said live life as it comes, live by honoring your feelings rely on what you feel like know

So this morning after a doctor's appointment I felt hungry, I felt like coming back to

Dottie's cafe in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where

so many chapters ago, so many novels ago I sat and wrote a different version of this other novel, Sister Mysteries,
in those days it was called plain and simply

of this book I sat on the orange sofa at Dottie's

and I wrote under the pseudo


of Gina Morrison instead of

me and Renata united in time

the actual time being 11:57 a.m. on April 10th 2013, but remember time is meaningless in the realm of the DIVINE WHICH IS AN INFINITELY LOVING SPACE WITH NO CLOCKS now that I know that
now that I FEEL THAT

TIME doesn't really exist, or if it does it overlaps and things happen and then things happen and then they happen again but when you are in one time frame you are in all the others too,

just like these blogs which jump all over


NOW THAT I HAVE SEEN the light, glowing glowing the VIRGIN MARY RIGHT THERE IN THE LIGHT, now that I know my therapist Mary is right SHE SAYS TO BELIEVE IN THE HIGHER DEITIES SHE IS A JUNGIAN SHE IS AMAZING SHE SAYS it is wonderful that I believe in the Virgin Mary, she says that believing in the Virgin will help me take care of myself the Virgin Mary is just one of what she called THE ASCENDED HOSTS, an aspect of the Divine Feminine, she told me to invoke the Divine Feminine,


say, Renata and Antonie
or    Renata and Me

there is an opening, the two opens the possibility of some kind of synthesis, some kind of pairing, some kind of penning, a merging and then an emerging from that merging is


here now I am

the two into the ONE, which opens up the possibility of the DIVINE FORCES MANIFESTING THEMSELVES

that is what my therapist Mary said, she thinks THE WAY THERAPY WORKS IS THAT

Isn't that a completely divine thought? We all ought to operate on that assumption, that the DIVINE IS READILY AVAILABLE

EVERYWHERE at all times of the day or night not just on Sunday or Saturday or whatever your Sabbath (ShABAT) happens to be


MEANWHILE, I am just sitting in Dottie's Cafe in Pittsfield where I have come for a second breakfast, a biscuit with cheddar and egg and a latte

today being just an ordinary day


I am drinking a fairly delicious a typical latte but think of it this way behind beneath woven through and through into top and bottom and every which way every ordinary event of this day every day every thing we call reality



here just look at that gorgeous little girl playing in the cafe the little girl blonde girl she waddles and wobbles she is two,

she belongs to the woman Jessica who owns Dottie's

Jessica amazingly recognized me when I walked in I have not been there in months or years but instantly when I walked into the cafe, Dottie's, the first words from her mouth were:

"We had to get rid of that orange striped couch, and I thought of you," 

I was so touched she
remembered that I used to come in to sit on the couch

It was a place I tried so valiantly to write
this book,

instead of that book,

Sister Mysteries

or the other one, Castenata

I sat on the orange striped couch where there are now two wing chairs

and here is one of them, right now, holding Dottie's owner, Jessica and her daughter

Jessica is pregnant with child number two

number two according to Jung's protege Louise Van Franck, according to my PhD therapist Mary says wherever there are two of something, there is an opening into the INFINITE, into the realm of miracles, and

if you want a miracle HEAR HEAR


and so too is it miraculous


I guess I need to stop screwing around and go forward with one or the other or the other story:

I am sitting here at a table at Dottie's thinking, what will Renata, what will I do? How will she/I/me go free? How will I/her/me go free.


into infinity, TURN THE



What shall I do?

I must go forward, but for now I just sip the latte. I use my phone to take a photo of the cup and my laptop sitting side by side. AND
Sooner or later something will add up to something will work out, perhaps even a bookkkkkkk or three


"Don't ever put yourself or your writing down." Instead, write the books on a set of blogs. What fun!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chapter Sixteen Holy Toast, Suddenly I Am Writing a DIFFERENT "Novel"

By Claudia Ricci

It has happened. I am officially switching gears here. I apologize in advance to anybody who is angry. I apologize if you clicked onto this site, SWITCH!!, and suddenly you went, hey what the hey happened to that author Gina Morrison who was writing this book, SWITCH!!?

You don't see author Gina Morrison's name here on this blog because she never existed. Well, she existed, but only as a "writerly" self inside me. In other words, I made her up.

Gina, in the company of her friend Xandra, had just arrived in a kind of spooky redwood forest in northern California and was just about to meet a healer in one of those fairy rings -- where the redwood sprouts grow in circles. It was a lovely setting for her, and I myself miss it a bit, and who knows, I may get back to it!

Just not now.

Now I'm writing another book and I have only 40 days to do it. Forty days, wow. That number is downright BIBLICAL.

Anyway, I have agreed to finish my new book as part of the Albany Times Union's Writing in Motion project, organized by my good friend Lori Cullen, herself a fabulous writer. Lori has challenged me and a handful of other writers to finish our books by year's end.

I am determined to meet my friend Lori's goal, for a whole host of reasons you will understand if you just read the new book, called Sister Mysteries. Try starting with Chapter One.

It's hard to explain exactly how I switched gears here. Let's just say it finally dawned on me about a week ago, after 16 years of trying to write this book as fiction, that I absolutely had to write it as the "truth." But you can also give Lori Cullen credit, for setting me and my writing in motion. (Lately, it's been a spin!) What is most ironic, I think, is that the character Xandra, in SWITCH!!, a brilliant, beautiful and highly creative woman living in California, was loosely inspired by no other than LORI CULLEN, my brilliant, beautiful and highly creative friend, and a writer who has read much of my nun story over the last decade!

Curiously, it was Lori who served as inspiration for my character Xandra; it was also Lori who had the inspiration to launch the Writing in Motion project back in October, which then got me writing my new true story.

It makes sense that I write this book as a true story. For 16 years I kept saying that I had to write Sister Renata's true story. Her diaries, rescued by her best friend Sister Teresa and released to the press, revealed the truth about her relationship with her crazy cousin Antonie.

Antonie had written all these crazy but very lyrical stories about Renata. Stories that got her into deep, deep trouble. First he portrayed her as an exotic, and erotic, flamenco dancer, who was always seducing him. In scene after scene, Renata would slip out of her nun's garb and dress in the flame-colored flamenco dress, and then fulfill all of his greatest fantasies.

Those fantasies of Antonie's -- as much as I loved them -- landed Renata in prison, falsely accused of murder. (More on that part of the story later.)

Meanwhile, Renata had her diaries, and they reveal the true story of what happened.

So all these years I've been trying to write the TRUTH about Renata. I kept saying that the truth would set her free. What I didn't realize until LAST WEEK is that writing the truth about MY LIFE, would SET ME FREE TOO.

I tried for sixteen years to write a fictional "outer story" that didn't want to be. I wrote at least three or four completely different versions of the story. I had different sets of characters, first, Heather Richochet, a rock star turned nun, and her buffoon of a sister, Malvina. I created another religious nut, Lucy, and her uptight academic sister, Christina.

And now, here, in SWITCH!!, I invented Gina Morrison, and Xandra (short for Alexandra), her best friend from college. As readers of this blog know, Xandra is a high-powered DNA researcher out in San Jose, California. She also happens to be an African dancer, and the daughter of an African healer.

When Gina's marriage starts to fall apart, and her husband Dave forbids her to write her story in an on-line blog, Gina flees to California, where Xandra takes her to a healer who lives in the middle of a redwood forest in northern California.

I can see that forest now. I myself was waiting to discover how EXACTLY that healer was going to help Gina. At some point I will go forward with Gina's story.  Meanwhile, I have been swept up into this new book, Sister Mysteries, within which the nun story is contained on a blog called Castenata.

OK, so now on with CHAPTER TWO of Sister Mysteries. Here you will meet my best writing buddy, Peg, who has over the last 16 years read every single draft of the nun story that I've been trying to write. For years, Peg has told me that I had to write the "true" story that I was living.

Well, so, here you go, Peg. This new book, and especially this upcoming "true" chapter, is dedicated to YOU!

Sister Mysteries started as part of the Albany Times Union's Writing In Motion project, in which several authors committed themselves to completing their books by the end of 2010. Sister Mysteries is contained in a set of interconnected blogs, one of which, Castenata, is the story of a nun, Sister Renata, who in 1883 is falsely accused of murdering her cousin Antonie.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chapter Fifteen: SWITCHING gears, OR try CHAPTER ONE of this NOVEL NOVEL, which isn't a novel at all!

Believe me because I'm not lying this time.

By Claudia Ricci

This time, I promise I will tell the true story. Because I've got to, to save me and the nun, Sister Renata. And now, I've only got 46 days to do it.

I have tried to lie about all of it so many times before, and always, always, it fails. The story at one point or another always and inevitably starts to fall apart. In this last version, Switch!!, I got as far as Chapter Fourteen. I haven't given up on Switch!!, but it's starting to feel a bit...shaky. Like I cannot sustain it. The lying. The fiction. The idea that I am making this mixed-up narrator Gina Morrison tell the story that I am supposed to tell.

It feels like I am trying to hold up a house of cards, made out of words that don't feel write. I mean right. I will keep trying to write Switch!!, but I warn all of you loyal readers of this novel (to date, this site has had nearly 8,000 hits!): it is possible that I won't make it to the end of this particular narrative thread, I can feel myself heading in another direction, Gina Morrison is slipping away, maybe, so maybe you just might have to SWITCH!! gears right now, right here.

I've been here before. More times than I can count. I have written thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of pages trying to get this "novel" write. I mean right. Trying to tell this story that doesn't seem to want to be told.

So now I've decided, what the hell, I will just tell the true story, here on this new blog. Because clearly it is time. Because if I don’t write the book, right now, right here, if I don't look deeply into the issues that it raises, I am taking a chance. I am risking my health. I cannot take that chance. You could say that my life is on the line here, so please. Listen. Hear me out.

The medical intuitive who helped diagnose my cancer in the summer of 2003 -- she was 3,000 miles away from me, and she had never even met me, didn't even know my last name -- convinced me of this: she said that in order to heal, I had to come to grips with certain underlying issues related to my mother. Somehow, I had to stop resenting her illness and what it did to me as a child.

I know now that it isn't just the asthma I resented. It is her anxiety too. Her deeply fearful view of life. Her sometimes dark and dismal attitude. But how I am supposed to stop resenting this? I’m not exactly sure. But I am determined, you could maybe even say desperate, to figure it out, to let go of all that negative feeling I harbor toward my mother. I know I want to let go of it because I love my mother. And she is 84. How many more years do I have to resolve this?

So here now is Sister Mysteries and if you would, please, I would very much appreciate your reading this book. Because like all writers -- read Lori Cullen's blog, Writing in Motion, if you have any doubts -- I fight despair. More often than not, I lose steam. I am at a loss for inspiration.

Lori's challenge is simple: finish your book by the end of the year. The year having only 46 more days.

It is amazing but for the first time, I'm thinking, I can do this. I can finish a book I started 16 years ago. And I can do it in a matter of 46 days.

Too often during those 16 years, I have been telling myself what all writers tell themselves as they write books: "this is just nuts, you must be crazy to write this stupid stupid book. There is no way in hell you are going to finish this stupid stupid book." And here I have already finished and published two novels (you might enjoy my new one, Seeing Red, which is due out in about a week.)
Still, every book is a new and different challenge. Every day is a blank new screen.

Like all writers, I need readers. I need people to tell me to keep going. Even if you just wrote those two words, KEEP GOING. That's all it takes to feed the writing beast, to make a writer go forward with more words.


OK, so it started  almost 16 years ago. Yes, sixteen long years!! It's completely absurd I know. When I reminded my writer friend Peg the other day that it had been sixteen years, she laughed that hearty laugh of hers and said, "Claud, if your book were a kid, then it would be a teenager now. It would be DRIVING!"

Yes, well, this kid has been driving for a long, long time. It has been driving me totally and completely insane.

It started as a novel. The first vision came to me while I was lying on the floor doing leg lifts, in the middle of January. I could say perhaps that it was snowing, but I don’t know for sure. I believe there was ice on the window. Outdoors snowdrifts were blowing everywhere. Inside, the NPR station on my night table was playing a piece of pulsing flamenco music. I had my face down on the cool pine floorboards and one leg was in the air and out of nowhere came a vision of a nun.
A nun with a white wimple bound so tightly across her forehead that she had a red crease in the flesh just above her bushy eyebrows. She was staring into a small mirror. She was unbuttoning her scratchy wool habit. She was disrobing, dropping her skirt, and putting on a black satin flamenco dress with red ruffles.
She was tying tap shoes onto her petite feet. She was smearing bloody red lipstick on her lips, and decorating her eyes in mascara.

What was this? I had absolutely no idea. But it didn’t matter. I hurried downstairs to my computer to write it down. Soon enough it became the first chapter of a “novel,” a novel I called Sister Mysteries. The first chapter is called "Renata Dancing."  It's vivid and exotic and a bit erotic. And the amazing thing: it didn't take me but a few hours to write it. More chapters followed in quick succession. Before I knew it, I had spun a whole world, created the nun's world, and I was inhabiting that world – out in California in a convent on a dry golden landscape with hills dotted by live oak and deep forests of towering redwood trees. I could step into that world at will. Indeed, I felt like I lived there.

The book felt like it was writing itself. I spun the chapters out one after another.
And then, a few months later, I was accepted at a writer’s colony. Where else, but in a dry golden California landscape
dotted by live oak trees and deep forests of towering redwood trees.

By this time, I had decided that I was writing this novel as a sort of gift to a dear friend -- someone who was as close to me as a sister -- a sister who was ill.

Indeed, my dear friend Nina had been struggling with breast cancer. Oddly, I told myself that I would send my friend Nina the chapters I was writing, and she could read them while lying in bed in the hospital, or getting chemo drips. I told myself that she needed distraction. She would read them, and be distracted from her pain and suffering.

Odd indeed, considering what happened to me later on.

Anyway, back to the nun’s tale. It was a piece of cake to write Sister Renata’s story. I wrote about 120 pages total and people read it and just loved the writing. I didn’t even need to make corrections. Some people asked if what I wrote was true, because it felt so much like it was. No matter that the events I wrote about happened in 1883. I could see every minute detail. I could write pages – and did-- about every detail of the convent. I could see the black cracks snaking through the blue and white tiled fountain in back of the convent. I could see the texture of the white adobe walls in the nun’s chamber. I could feel the straw in her mattress and how it scratched her back. I could see exactly how Sister Renata and her buddy, Sister Teresa, laughed and thinned the carrots while kneeling in the garden. I could see the two of them picnicking on a blanket beneath a giant live oak on the hillside. I could see them feeding the chickens, lifting the smooth pellets of dry corn that they heaped into the laps of their white cotton aprons.

I could see the flowers embroidering the long cape that Renata wore when she visited her cousin Antonie. Renata, in this story, is accused of killing Antonie, by slicking his throat.
Ah, but here, I am getting ahead of myself. I am getting distracted.

Back to the writer’s colony in California. When I arrived there, I thought I was writing a novel and my writer self decided that I needed an outer story for the nun’s tale.

It was that outer story that I worked on doggedly at that first writer’s colony in 1996.
It was that outer story that would ultimately “sink” me. Or at least that’s the way I used to think.

I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote for years. I wrote to the point that I had piles of manuscripts like small white mountains circling the walls my study.

I burned some versions of the manuscript in a small bonfire in my front yard.

I gave up writing that novel so many times I cannot count. No matter how many times I gave up, I started again. Perhaps because I loved so much inhabiting the world of the nun.

At one point, in the late 1990s, I got so depressed that my sister insisted on bringing me to a new shrink. The shrink – at Harvard University—listened carefully to me when I said that I couldn’t write this book about a nun who lived back in 1883. I told her that I was going crazy. I told her that I had three kids to raise and that I couldn’t afford to go crazy.

She studied me for a moment and smiled. And then she said. “Have you considered getting past life regression therapy?”

I blinked.

I left her office more confused than when I went in.

Well, so, there is a lot more to this story.

But let’s cut to the chase. At some point, I took those mountains of pages and threw out a ton and burned a few more. And then I carefully lay the remaining pages of that very dangerous book into a blue crate, and covered it with a Spanish shawl, covered in red roses.

I set the crate into the corner of the downstairs closet where I keep the vacuum cleaner and the ironing board. I took a giant black garbage bag full of rags and set it on top of the shawl-draped crate. And then, I just left it there.

I told myself that I would wait until the Universe gave me permission to write the book. Maybe I was just going about it the wrong way. Or perhaps the problem was that I was too much in a hurry to write it. After all, if I was writing about a nun who lived more than 100 years ago, then I had perhaps to be… more patient.

Well, so, today, I have opened the crate and taken out the first pages at the top, the one with the nun's photo on it.
Today is the day. Today is the day that I must write again. I must move forward. Most importantly, I must tell the truth, and not dare call it a novel.

Sister Mysteries is part of the Albany Times Union's Writing In Motion project, in which several authors are committed to completing their books by the end of the year. Sister Mysteries is contained in a series of interconnected blogs, one of which, Castenata, is a story of a nun, Sister Renata, who in 1883 was falsely accused of murdering her cousin Antonie.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chapter Fourteen: The Place Between, I've Seen it I've BEEN HERE Before

By Gina Morrison

When we arrive, the first thing I see are the darkly splendid redwoods, and the ghostly grey light they create as the sun filters into the space around the bark.  Xandra was right, there is indeed a giant fairy ring growing, the redwood sprouts form a circle that must be 20 or 30 feet in diameter. In the center of the ring stands an odd little building, eight-sided, with lots of long glass windows and of all things, a roof that has grass and vines growing.

"However did she built it?" I whisper, and Xandra just chuckles. We get out of the car, and it is only when we are standing outside, that I see through the redwood forest to the "other side" -- the starkly bright golden hillside, dotted with live oaks. And on the top, one that spreads in all --

Dear God.

I gasp. My eyes start to water, and I close them and open them again, half hoping the hillside won't be there, because

because I've seen this hillside, because I've been here so many times before, because I've laid beneath that spreading oak more times than I can count, I've climbed it with my dear Teresa, with a blanket with a canteen of fresh lemonade she made me. I've sat beneath the prickered leaves, I've written and written about my cousin Antonie filling my diary just the way Teresa instructed me...

I turn to face Xandra but she is already a few feet away, standing at the edge of the fairy ring. I follow, determined to have her explain what is happening. Before I have a chance, though, I see Xandra step into the ring and take the hand of a woman with long dark hair and a wide face and a smile so bright you might say it lights up the redwoods.

Xandra and the woman hug briefly, and then Xandra turns and motions for me to follow. I stop just before the ring, wondering if somehow I need permission. I wish I had a picture of what I see next. At the edge of the redwood forest, there are four deer standing. Four deer! One of them is smaller than the others; one of them has an architecture of antlers so big you could hang the laundry on it.

The deer are quietly watching us. Then they turn and leave.

But then I see something I never thought I'd see up close: a coyote. We have them back home; David and I have lain awake at night listening to them howl. But here is a coyote only about 2o yards away.

He is greyish yellow, slightly bedraggled. He slinks along the edge of the redwoods, and I am thinking he must be following the deer.

And then the coyote too is gone. As if on cue, I hear something right overhead. An owl. I look up and see the curved brown head. White speckles. And one yellow eye.

"Are you coming?" Xandra calls to me.

"Do you see the owl?" I point to the branch, but when I look back, there is nothing.

Now I am realizing, this is the kind of place where all kinds of weird things are happening.

Gingerly, I step into the ring, and walk across the spongy forest.

"Gina, this is Lenora," Xandra says, and I shake hands with the woman. She is wearing jeans and a white blouse embroidered in colorful flowers. Her arms are exposed, and they are strong and very muscular.

"I think the best way to explain what she does is to have her show you." Xandra smiles. "I have to go, but I'll be back in a few hours and we can take a walk."

"OK," I say. Lenora turns and I follow her, my heart beating so hard I feel it in my hands.  What awaits me I don't know if I want to know.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chapter Thirteen: We Go Somewhere "Closer to God"

By Gina Morrison

As the crow flies, it isn't that far from Xandra's home to her office in Menlo Park, but with the horrendous traffic, we go so slowly that I end up nodding off. When I wake up Xandra tells me that I've been snoring.

I shake my head and sit up. I realize that we have left the freeway and now we're driving on some back road that winds up through the golden hillsides.

I yawn. "This looks like the very long way around," I say.

Xandra smiles, and sips from her traveling cup, which contains green tea.

"I told you, Gina, I'm taking you to see my friend."

"Oh right, the therapist."

Xandra looks at me slyly and nods. Her dark eyes are full of mystery. "Trust me, Gina, this is like no therapist you have ever met before."

I shift in my seat. "You're making me nervous Xand."

"Oh, just relax, she's wonderful."

"Yeah, so, where does she live?"

"I would say she lives in a fairy ring, but then you would think I was joking."

"Yes I definitely would think that."

Xandra laughs. "I could also say she lives closer to God, but that might be hard for you to swallow too."

"Yup." I yawn, and rub my eyes. Two things are clear, my dear Xandra is taking me someplace beautiful. And she isn't going to tell me much about her friend in advance.

"She lives in the Santa Cruz mountains in a house that she built herself."

"Wow. That's cool."

I gaze out the window. The sun is just climbing over the golden hillsides. The sky is that brilliant California blue, and the hillsides are rounded and full of billowing live oaks. I yawn, and in that sleepy state, I am thinking, weird how familiar all this looks, and in that instant,

suddenly my head clears and IT HITS ME

I've been here before,

I've been here before. I've been here before.

I suck in my breath.

"Fuck," I whisper. I gaze out the car window

up into the branches of the live oak where I'm lying on the baked earth. Teresa and I escaped up here after chores at the convent.

We are on a blanket beneath our beloved live oak tree. A hot breeze is blowing. I so much want to take off my veil. I don't dare because there are times some of the other nuns walk up here and that would be the worst thing in the world for them to find me without my veil.

"Are you thirsty?" Teresa asks now.

I turn. She has buried in her basket beneath a towel a cool canteen of freshly squeezed lemonade.

"You are so kind," I say, and drink from the canteen.

After a few minutes of silence, Teresa asks again to read the pages I've tucked into my sleeve.

I'm scared to let her read them. What Antonie has written here on these thin pieces of white paper is clearly the work of an insane man. But I cannot keep them from Teresa any longer.

I hand her the piece he calls “Renata Dancing." She reads in silence. Then I let her read "Roseblade.”

When she finishes, those normally cheerful blue eyes of hers are muddied and solemn.

“Oh Renata.” She takes my hand. “He… he is… that devil who is your cousin is going to destroy you with these lies for sure.”

“Yes, I fear he will. But what am I to do?”

She gazes out to the golden hillside, where two large black birds land. She is still holding onto my hand. Slowly she shakes her head.

“I don’t know that there is anything that can possibly help. But one thing you must absolutely do.” The deep blue sky color sails back into her eyes. “Take precautions. And continue to record everything that happens. Write it all down in your diary. Leave out nothing, not a single detail.”

I nod. “God knows, I am writing in the diary every blessed day.”

“Yes, yes. You must continue. And one other thing you could do. Remember I told you to write the story of how things were when the two of you were growing up?”

“Yes. I remember. And I have considered it. But how is writing such a history going to help?”

“You will see for yourself, and show others too, how the past, your past with Antonie, has shaped things. You will see how things have come to be the way they are.”

I consider her face. Usually such a jolly soul, Teresa is wholly serious today.

“Yes, I suppose it can’t hurt,” I say.

“And now Renata, I’ve got to head back. Mother Yolla instructed me at lunch to attend to the henhouse today and I dare not show up to supper without having done it, or I will pay dearly.”

“Oh yes, of course, and I’ll come, I’ll help,” I stand too. But she stops me.

“NO.” She holds up one hand in commandment. “You my dear sister, you are going to sit down and write.”

“But it might wait, I could…”

“NO.” Another hand up. “You must write in the diary. Right now. I am leaving the canteen with you. Open straight to a clean page. And begin. Write about your cousin and you. In the old days, when you first came. Maybe buried in your words you will see if there were clues, already, back then.”

When she says that, I squirm. There are things about Antonie and me in the past that I would prefer not to recall.

I watch my dear Teresa retreat down the hillside. She holds the dark skirt of her habit wide, in two hands, and as she lopes down the hill, the hot air shimmers, and she presents a ghostly figure, there on the hill.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chapter Twelve: I Arrive in California, Where Xandra has a Surprise Waiting

By Gina Morrison

I wake up on the rock hard floor and it is it takes me more than a minute to figure out that I am wrapped in Xandra’s red Navaho blanket and that it scratches at my face and for a minute I’ve got myself convinced that I am lying on Renata’s narrow bed beneath the crucifix.

I blink and then I see one thick leg of Xandra’s brass bed, the bed I was supposed to sleep in last night and I am a little frightened wondering how the hell I got here on the floor, I’m sure it has something to do with that bottle of white wine I downed on the plane and then the two, yes, two ativan I swallowed, one as the plane did a severe rocking and rolling and nosediving routine somewhere over Kansas. And the second one I took as we started to descend into SFO, that’s the moment I realized for the first time that I had actually left David 3,000 miles behind and the fact I did it sort of blew my mind and not in such a good way either.

I vaguely remember Xandra meeting me outside baggage claim in San Francisco, I remember her saying we should get dinner and I remember thinking I was so tired that I couldn’t hold my head up.

“Oh God, I’m starving, would you mind if we stopped somewhere?” So how could I say no? W hat I should have done was have a strong shot of espresso but instead I had more wine, and by ten p.m. when we were heading down the 101 toward San Jose, the lights along the Bay were like birthday candles all alight, whirling on the dark horizon with the stars bright overhead in the sky.

I don’t remember when, but I fell asleep.

The weird thing about the ativan is how it makes me forget so completely, it takes my memory and turns it into a piece of Swiss cheese. Sometimes it scares me, like the time I went to make a milkshake and I put a spoon in the blender and then I went to peel a banana and I turned on the blender and there went the spoon.

And so much for the blender.

David refers to ativan as “outofit.”

I sit up now, here on Xandra’s floor, and my head is still swimming upstream, and the first thing I realize is how I miss him, really totally miss him in the gut in my legs and in every other part of me I won’t even mention, especially in my heart , I ache and that feeling sets me into a sweat and frenzy.

At that moment the door squeaks open and I see what looks to be a powder blue curtain, which turns out to be Xandra in a chiffon bathrobe. Very sexy, and her dreds are a cloud flying in a million directions.

“Are you awake?” she whispers and I whisper “uh, yes, I guess so.”

She makes her way into the room. “What in God’s name are you doing under the rug?”

I push it away. “I wish I knew,” I mumble, rolling over.

“So I’ve got to get to work early today, but I want you to come with me. I have a friend I want you to see this morning."

"Who is your friend?"

"She is a therapist, but not the sort you've been seeing."

"What sort is she?" I sit up, and I am yawning and so at first when she answers I am not quite sure I hear her right.

"She does hypnosis for past life regression."

I don't answer right away. Finally I say, "I don't think so, Xand."

"Look, Gina, you just have to meet her. She's someone you would like. I work with her now and then and she's amazing. And all you have to do is meet her. You can decide later if you want her services."

I lay back down on the floor and close my eyes. "Right now Xand all I want is more sleep. I don't want to meet anyone. So if you don't mind, I think I'll stay here this morning."

Xandra doesn't say anything at first. Then she sits down on the floor cross-legged and suddenly I realize that she is studying me.


"Oh it's just that I was thinking of taking the afternoon off. I thought we could take a walk at this bird sanctuary and talk about what’s going on with you and David.”

"Sure. That sounds great. So you could come back and get me at lunch and I can sleep a few more hours."

"Yes, except if you stay here it means an extra two hours of driving."

I feel trapped. Xandra is pushing me way too hard, and I don't want to be pushed. I am about to say this to Xandra, except she beats me to it.

"Look, Gina, I know I"m putting a bit of a squeeze on you, but I really wish you'd go along with me here. I have a strong intuition that you are going to like this woman. She's helped a lot of people and she's very easy-going."

I am not happy, at all, but I decide that in the interest of keeping peace, I will meet Xandra's friend and get it over with.

I drag myself off the floor and head for the shower, where I stand for an extra few minutes, letting the water soak into my head and neck. Soon I am dressed and in the kitchen, where Xandra hands me one of her green "power" shakes.

"I'll take an English muffin, if you have one," I mumble. Naturally, she doesn't have English muffins.

I take a sip of the power shake and it tastes vaguely like my lawn back home. I place the glass very carefully back on the counter and soon, I'm sitting in Xandra’s BMW, and we are in traffic backed up the 101, and my new life in California, packed like a sardine in a car on the freeway, has begun.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chapter Eleven: Renata at the Campsite

Only with great reluctance did Renata return to the campfire to lie in the bedroll that Señora had prepared for her.

Antonie was in a deep sleep when Renata woke him sometime during the night. The first thing to catch his eye as he came to consciousness was the moon, a glowing curl, visible just over Renata's shoulder, as if it were somehow entwined with her image as it moved toward him.

He knew that was an illusion, because her hair, naturally, was tied back and completely curtained by her dark veil. Her eyes shone, too, or at least the whites stood out, circling the irises that dropped with the rest of her looming form into night. All but the stark white swath of linen binding her forehead was black.

For a moment, he imagined the linen to be some insurmountable white barrier, the stone fence he once faced, years before, back when he was a child struggling to master the forbidding Arabian steed that his father had called “Paolo.” In an instant, Renata’s face had displaced the frustrating memory of the horse. Her breath was shallow and insistent, and before he was altogether sure what was happening, she was drawing him in over the white wall. Her lips were moist and warm, and her mouth lingered tenderly on his for a long time. In the morning, he knew for certain that she would deny that she had ever left her bed. In the morning, she would deny she had ever approached his cot, or knelt beside him, or that she had kissed him repeatedly, cradling his head, or that she had laid her own head briefly on his chest berfore she got into his bed and proceeded with her seduction.

Nonetheless, he let her proceed. He kept his eyes closed and tried to breathe in calmly as she unbuttoned his shirt and slipped the belt out of the hammered silver buckle of his pants. Silently, she set to work with her fingers, letting them pass lightly across his raised nipples, dipping them gradually toward the ribs, lettting them dance down his chest until he was heaving with impatient desire. Soon she traded lines for circles, the circles following the slight swell of flesh around his stomach. She enlarged the circles so slowly that he hardly noticed them widening, expanding, until, her hand just grazing the uppermost edge of his pubic hair, she proceeded to leave it there. Her circling abruptly stopped, and her hand remained, poised, lightly running back and forth along the line at the top of the triangle of hair. He lay there, head flopping side to side, teeth digging into his bottom lip, not daring to moan because it might wake Senora, or the driver of the wagon, but praying all the while that Renata would keep on, dip further with her fingers, let them encompass the rest of him. His legs turned liquid, and limp. Tired of waiting, he groped impatiently for her hand. He allowed himself to groan, and to call out once, “please, Renata, now.” And then, his own hand shaking, he pulled at her fingers, desperately pushing them downward, at which point she froze, and grabbed her hand away from his groin.

“No,” she said abruptly, her voice stern. She rose and he lay there, his eyes wet, his chest heaving. For the first time he realized that he was almost completely exposed to the damp night air. He shuddered, but made no attempt to cover himself, there, where his desire welled.

“You…you are so unfair to me,” he began, tears pooling. “You are…” but he couldn’t finish, because his voice had risen to a high pitch, and he felt choked off and breathless. After a moment he was able to continue, but only in fits and starts. “I…I lie here…I …I am…half crazy with desire…I am in sheer agony when I’m near you…I am helpless around you, and you, you know that, you know that so well. Helpless. I am helpless to do anything about my…myself, the way I am…you know that too, you know me so well, so long. You know, and yet you…you just…you just keep taking advantage of me.” The last words were barely audible. She stood over him, and he was horrified to see that she was smiling, she was delighting in his humiliation once again. Whenever this happened, whenever she led him to his breaking point, and left him there, abandoned him, unwilling to follow through, to show him she cared, he felt as though he had to start over, invent himself anew.

“It’s too bad that you’ve developed such an…attachment to me,” she murmured after a moment had passed. “You know,” and here she sighed deeply, and he wondered if it was just for effect, “you know Antonie, or you should, that this is…this has been so…so hard for me, too, your illness especially, trying to coax you through, this has been more difficult than you can imagine.”
He raised himself to both elbows and poised there, trembling. If she could have seen his face then, she would have observed an unusual fury in his eyes, a brutal anger creasing his forehead and pulling back his lips and chin.

“Hard? For you? Hard for you?” His voice was coarse and throaty. “For you, no, this isn’t hard. This isn’t hard at all. And this isn’t new either. This is, this is what you do best, best in all the world. You tease and mock me, yes, you mock me, you scorn me, you always have, forever, ever since you were the horrifying child I grew up with.” Exhausted, he dropped back off his elbows onto the makeshift bed, which wobbled with his every move.

She was silent again, and again, he couldn’t imagine her face. Nor did he want to. He vowed not to think of her again, not to let her come near him, to tempt him, tease him, and then, let him down. But it was fruitless, and he knew that too. Within a few days, another episode, another encounter, another seduction by Renata would follow, because that is how it went, always.
Gazing at her, he could barely make out the white linen fence.

“I suppose I could lie with you, lie next to you, that is, for a short time, if that would calm you.” Her voice blended into the night wind.

He stared at the stars, pinpoints of light in the blue black night sky. He watched one of the points flicker and blink. “Am I awake or asleep?” he asked himself then. It occurred to him that if he would just keep asking that same question over and over throughout the night, then it might not matter what Renata said, or did, because she would simply assume a place beside him, a place in one of his grand illusions. She might seem real, or she might not. But she would be fixed for certain in her uncertainty and she could not hurt him anymore. She would become, simply, a matter for discussion, observation, an unstable image or object evading direct perception, one of a myriad fluid aspects of nature. Her reality, simply, would reside apart from him behind a curtain. He could live with that. At least he thought so, in that moment, lying there, staring at the winking stars.

But almost immediately, and maybe because of the way the stars flickered, he wasn’t sure. After all, he knew so little about the boundaries of trickery and sorcery and witchcraft. And Renata, after all was said and done, was of that nether world.

“Yes, I would lie with you,” she said in an enchanting whisper. And before he could answer, or refuse, she stretched herself alongside him on the cot. As he felt the rough black fabric of her habit against his bare skin, he thought of her soft white underclothes beneath, and beneath those clothes, her flesh, as soft as the underbelly of a new pup. As she cupped her clothed body submissively around his, his mind circled around one fact: that black is black and white is white, and the world, understandably, wasn’t ready to accept someone like himself, or Renata, either, people who so casually blurred the distinctions of propriety and good taste.

“So why,” he asked himself, “should we be any different than we are? Why should we be shy about our desire?” That thought squared him, gave him assurance and peace, eased his mind, allowed him to let go of his anger and frustration. He folded her in his arms and stared into the dark sky and held her black and white layers to his yearning flesh, and he felt terror about what was to come, the grotesque treatments the doctor would soon prescribe. He feared dying, but even more, he dreaded living through what was in store.

But now he lay quietly beside Renata, happy to absorb himself in the stars, and in her, and in the curl of the moon approaching the horizon. In his feverish state, her words echoed and reverberated in his mind. He heard her saying: “I would lie with you, I would lie with you.” But soon enough, like the winds cooling his forehead, the words shifted. “I would lie with you” became “I would lie in you.” The vacillation continued until finally her words achieved their final form: “I would lie to you, I would lie to you.” He felt her warm breath, heard her singing whisper, and knew that “I would lie to you” was the only truthful statement he would hear from her all night.

Chapter Ten: En route to San Francisco, Antonie Writes

It was their first night at camp en route to San Francisco. They had been traveling for the better part of one day, all the way from the convent, and shortly before dusk, when the sun's rays had fallen behind the horizon, and the sky was a milky blue, Señora Ramos pulled the wagon up to a stream, where they proceeded to water the horses.

After a simple dinner of corn meal and beans, Renata withdrew from the fire.  She hugged the blue shawl closer around her shoulders, tucking her slender white fingertips protectively into the folds of her elbows on either side. The shawl was satin, and hardly offered protection against the chilly night. A brisk wind lifted the lip of her veil and scooped at the hem of her dress. A tall line of trees made a ragged black silhouette against the dark sky, and tiny stars dotted the sky like diamonds.

Renata's chin dropped to her chest, and she rocked, slightly, with some impatience. The toe of her black shoe was barely visible, but it kept time in the loose gravel where she stood, tapping out the rhythm of some vital internal clock. She avoided Antonie, even managed to ignore the odd collection of noises –wheezing, coughs, congestion, and steady chattering – that rose from him as he lay on blankets on the ground. She had taken her share of the dinner basket – a cold thigh of chicken, a hunk of sourdough bread, a sweet potato baked in the stones of the campfire – and she had eaten the meal on a warm rock, apart from the others.

She faced the steep ridge of the Santa Cruz mountains that they would climb through the following morning, and she watched the last of the sun slip down the western sky, and she wondered how the traveling would go, with Antonie so ill.

Once the sun dropped into a dark pool behind the mountains, though, she put aside her concerns and walked back to the fire. There were more night noises now, and there was no telling what creatures – bobcats, jaguar, bear — roamed the gathering shadows beyond the campfire.

Señora hummed a low wordless melody, huddled over her open-toed leather sandals, her white cotton skirt spread in the powdery dust. Renata listened closely to the tune, but could not identify it nor could she say even whether she had heard it before. She wished then that when Antonie had come to take her from the convent kitchen in the morning, that she had been able to bring her guitar, although under the harried circumstances of her departure, there was no time even to pack a simple change of clothes. She stared at him, and hateful thoughts flooded her.

As if he were reading her mind at that moment, Antonie looked up from his makeshift bed, which Señora had prepared as soon as they had made camp. Antonie had instructed Señora to place his head close toward the fire, so if he woke during the night he might have sufficient light to write "his pages." Señora defied him, however, saying in Spanish that she dare not place his blanket right next to the flames, lest stray sparks set fire to the bedroll or to "el pelo," the long black hair that rippled in waves over Antonie's shoulders.

“I would like it so much if you would sing to me,” he said now to Renata. He lifted one hand in her direction, and spoke slowly but with deliberation. Renata saw that he was shivering, and that his face was wet beneath the brim of his hat. The jumping flames of the fire
licked golden stripes in both his eyes.

“You know I came on this trip only because you forced me to come. I have no intention of singing to you,” Renata responded, lowering her eyes so that the flames could find no reflection there. She was going to add the word ‘ever’ but just then, the coffeepot toppled over and sent boiling liquid into the fire.

Señora rose abruptly, yelling out “Dios mío!” Grabbing at the fiery pot with the bottom of her cotton skirt, Señora managed to lift her dress high enough to show off her brown wiggling thighs. She missed the pot, which hit the ground, discharging sizzling liquid all around. Hot black coffee shot out at Renata’s feet and Antonie’s head. Simultaneously, Antonie turned and the nun jumped away, so that the coffee all but missed her dark skirt and her blue shawl
and his black hair. Señora crossed the distance to where Renata stood gazing at the coffee pot as it roasted in the flames.

Señora began a furious babble of Spanish.

“No, no, Señora, please, don’t worry, I am fine,” Renata said, calmly touching the woman’s thick graying hair. Señora looked up, and shook her head, her eyes large and round. There was contained in those eyes a pleading look that Renata had never seen before.

“You...we...God, I believe, He is telling us that we must be more kind to him,” Señora whispered, at which Renata recoiled, mouth open. She tossed one loose end of the blue shawl across her chest and hurried out of the light of the campfire. For the rest of the evening, until the sky went pitch dark, and the fire settled into glowing red and white coals, and the stars were dull sparks glittering above her head, Renata sat on the same large rock where she had eaten her dinner.

She listened to the coyotes call, and she prayed that she would see no wolves or bobcats. And then she whispered a second prayer asking God that whatever He had in mind for her as they traveled to San Francisco the next day to see the doctor, that all would be well.
more to come...