Write soon, your Trisha …
Chris hit the return key, then leaned back only to be startled by Romina’s voice behind him.
“Who’s Trisha?” her fingers began gently massaging Chris’s scalp.
“Trisha? Oh.” There was no way out. She had seen the message. Well, they had been together two weeks already. He could take her into his confidence. So, he told her about how he and some colleagues had duped their co-worker, Russell, by inventing an online girlfriend.
Romina’s hands had worked their way down to his shoulders. “Hmm. So, you just invent a name …”
“Yeah, well you open an email account first, and then from there you find some photos online to go with the profile …” He was grateful she showed no judgement, and intended to veer any off by rapidly explaining the process.
“Uh huh.” She removed her hands and moved to the door as Chris got up, “Anyway, dinner’s ready. I’ve made something my mother taught me. Arroz con frijoles.”
“Smells great. But you shouldn’t have.” She was already in the kitchen.
“You were busy. And I like to cook. I’ll have to go home later. You know, Sunday evenings with the family.”
“Of course.” Chris’s chair scraped the floor as he pulled it out and sat down. Dating a single mother was awkward. Especially one who also lived with her own mother. The good thing was the mother acted as a live-in babysitter.
“You know,” he began, “maybe we could bring Nina here some time.”
“Here?” Romi’s voice went up an octave.
“Well, I mean, here or, wherever. We could spend time with her.”
“Wow. You are the first man I’ve dated who’s wanted to include my daughter in things. Usually you tell a man you’ve got kids and you never hear from him again.”
“I like your daughter, and your mother too, of course.”
Milagros, not yet sixty, much younger than Chris’s own mum, was extremely traditional, spoke little English, wore black mourning, and prayed the rosary for hours a day. Once very beautiful, she was an older, frailer version of Romina.
“And Nina’s dad?” he asked in a small voice. Romi had never mentioned the man, and he was careful not to overstep any boundaries.
Romi smiled and poured him some more wine. “Nina’s father is not here. Now eat!” she winked.
“Yes, ma’am!” Part of Chris liked being ordered about by this mothering woman. She fascinated him like no other girlfriend had. At thirty-four, she was three years younger than he was, but seemed so much more mature. He still felt like a gawky teenager half the time. He loved watching her. She was petite with large dark eyes and high prominant cheekbones. Her skin was olive, and her figure hourglass, although she complained about putting on weight, and her sexy latino accent drove him crazy.
That made him think about Nina again. The girl didn’t resemble either of the women. She was mulatto, big for her age, stocky, broad-backed and unfeminine. Her skin had a speckled quality, and her hair was kinky and short, making her body look exposed and vulnerable, her eyes were small and her cheeks round, the right one marred by an arresting birthmark. But it wasn’t just the physical beauty she had failed to inherit, but the lack of confidence. Fear and despair peeked through those eyes that never looked you straight on.
Chris looked down at his plate. Romi reached for his hand and said softly, “Paul Billings was a middle-aged Canadian who went to my country to find love. He liked young girls. I made it work for me. I was nineteen. I got pregnant. He married me and brought my mother and me here. He died of a heart attack when Nina was just a baby. Many people think I did a hideous thing.” She lowered her head, “Well, now you know.”
Chris wiped his mouth. What an evening of confessions! “No, Romi. You did what you had to!” But even though he didn’t judge her, he got his first glimpse of what a determined woman she could be.
“My mother thinks I am a whore and prays for my soul, even though that is how she got here. She would rather live with her brother in Miami, but he’s married to a fancy wife, and she doesn’t want to impose.”
Chris swallowed. “This rice is really good.”
“Wendy!” Romina called as she marched her daughter into the ChitChat Café the next day.
Wendy stepped out of the kitchenette, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “Hi Romi. Hi Nina. Just in time to try my newest muffin recipe! Bacon and cheese.”
“No, I can’t. And Nina shouldn’t either.” she patted her daughter’s stomach, winking at Wendy. “My shift doesn’t end for another hour, but I wondered if she could do her homework here while she waits.” Romi worked in the beauty salon down the street.
“Sure, no pro …”
Romi was already out the door.
Wendy looked at the girl. Nina stood with her shoulders hunched and her eyes cast down. Her jeans and top were tight, giving the impression that she was bursting out of them. She seemed to want more arms to cover herself with. Wendy never knew what to say to her. This was not the first time Romi had dumped her here. Wait, she mustn’t judge; poor Romi was an over-worked, immigrant widow supporting both her daughter and her mother. Wendy had always admired her for being such a go-getter, juggling her job with private clients, and even studying on the side. Romina always remembered clients’ birthdays, and they all loved her sunny personality. But they were baffled when they met her daughter, expecting a chatty, doll-like, miniature version of Romi.
“Hey Nina, sure you wouldn’t like a muffin? I won’t tell.”
She held the tray out to the girl. Nina’s eyes lit up but dropped, “No, thank you. I shouldn’t eat sweets.”
“Oh, just this one.” Wendy stopped herself. It wasn’t good to go against Romi’s wishes. She was only trying to help the girl. “We have some delicious fruit teas. No calories. Tempted?” The girl nodded, then hoisted herself up on one of the bar stools.
Wendy noticed the girl glance over at the p.c. tables. Mickey and friends had just come in. They were looking over at Nina and snorting their disgusting adolescent laughs. Nina curled up before Wendy’s eyes, back to the boys, trying to disappear.
Wendy overheard the boys whisper and cackle soflty. “Ufufufuf! Que fea!” They went into exagerated hysterics, “Your girlfriend, Mickey!”
“Yeah, dude!” Mickey laughed, thrusting his hips forward rhythmically, “Ooh! ooh! I’m coming!”
Wendy reached for Nina’s hand, “Hey,” she said softly, “Why don’t you go over there by the magazine racks. You’ll be more comfortable. I’ll bring you a nice hot chocolate. Diet chocolate.” Nina smiled shyly, slid off the stool, and retreated to the dim corner, protected by the curtain of hanging pothos plants.
With Nina out of sight, the boys quieted down, forgetting their entertainment. Brats, Little fucking brats, Wendy thought.
“They look up to you, Gabriel. Can’t you do something?” Wendy and her husband were closing up the café.
“Son chicos, Wendy. They don’t mean any harm.”
“As long as Romi has this new timetable, Nina will be waiting for her here. And as long as those boys are here, it will be torture for her.”
Gabriel sighed. “Dios, how did we ever get involved in so many kids’ lives?”
Wendy and her husband had agreed before they married not to have kids in a world where there were more kids than mankind could or would care for properly. Gabriel, being Spanish, communicated well with the latino families. He was a role model to many boys. Despite herself, Wendy sometimes resented those mothers, Romina included, who flirted so well and played on Gabriel’s sympathies.
“There is something I didn’t tell you.” He started.
“I caught them writing some pretty, how do you say… racy things?”
“Racy? You mean sexual?”
“Yes, sexual. On some social media page.”
Wendy stopped walking. “What kind of things?”
“Cosas de chicos. Tonterias.”
Gabriel gave up, ‘“Suck my dick.” Ehm … “If you fuck Nina, you’ll get fleas.””
Wendy froze, “Gabriel, you have to talk to them. Or they are not allowed back in the café.”
“Hola Mamá. Te acuerdas de Chris, ¿no?”
Chris followed Romi into her kitchen. Milagros was at the counter, cutting a fragrant empanada. Chris glanced around the room. Tacked to the wall were pictures of a bleeding Jesus, a sacred heart, and other saints cut from magazines and calendars. In the corner was a small table supporting an altar. Candles encircled a black Virgin Mary holding a white baby Jesus.
“Mucho gusto.” Milagros answered, cool but correct.
Romi and family squeezed their existence into four tiny rooms. The largest was the eat-in kitchen, flanked by a small bathroom, two bedrooms, one for each of the women, and a windowless sitting room doubling as Nina’s bedroom, where she slept on a sagging couch. She had decorated the dark space with her own magazine cut-outs, but in this case, photos of famous women of color. Chris recognized Beyoncé, Diana Ross, and the ballerina, Misty Copeland. In the corner, Chris spied an old computer, likely one of Gabriel’s cast-offs from the café.
“Nina! Say hello to Chris. He’s having dinner with us.”
As they ate, Romi did most of the talking. Chris listened contentedly to her pleasant prattle, but felt he should contribute to the conversation. “So, Nina. How old are you?”
“Thirteen. Almost fourteen,” she whispered, looking down at her plate.
“Almost fourteen and she behaves like a baby!” Romi scolded. “You used to be such a funny, talkative girl. You’ll never get a boyfriend that way!”
“No kidding? When’s your birthday?”
“In less than three weeks,” Her mother answered for her.
“Si Dios quiere.” Milagros murmered.
“Three weeks? We’ll have to throw a party! Invite your friends from school!”
Nina stared at her plate. Romi frowned. “Well, you don’t seem very enthusiastic. I think Chris has a nice idea. Try to show some gratitude.”
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Chris interrupted, glad he had something happy to add, “I brought you a present.” He had been visiting Wendy and Gabriel at the ChitCat Café. Some of the African ladies who sold their crafts online had gathered there to update their web information. Chris was a real sucker for good causes. There were woven bags, rugs, scarves, shawls, and bands of all sorts. He bought seventy dollars’ worth of gifts, and the smiles on the women’s faces were worth it. He had noticed Nina liked to wear those wristbands so popular among girls her age. He pulled a multicoloured braid from his pocket, jumped to his feet and leaned forward to wrap it around the girl’s wrist. Nina pulled her hand back, but not quickly enough. Chris saw the scars.
After dinner Romi confided in him. “I’m worried about my gordita.” She smiled, “That’s what I used to call her when she was a baby. It means little fatty. She was so cute … then. That was before she got that ugly mark on her face.”
“I thought it was a birthmark.”
“That’s what they called it, but she wasn’t born with it. It appeared the day her father died. My mother blames me for it, says it was maldeojo, the evil eye. Paul didn’t like Mamá’s, what he called, hocus pocus. Traditionally, you give babies an azabache, a black amulet to protect them against bad luck. Mamá wanted to give her one and baptize her too. Paul wouldn’t allow it.”
“You didn’t want it, either?”
“I don’t know.” Romi paused, “Anyway, she has no friends, her grades are getting worse and she’s so moody.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about her suicide attempt?”
“Oh, that’s just girl stuff, trying to get attention.”
“Didn’t she see a child psychologist?”
“My mother healed her wounds and her soul. That’s all she needs. That and a more positive attitude.”
Chris remained silent. This family was more complex than he had expected.
“You take such good care of me, Romi,” Pam groaned as Romi’s hands worked her shoulders. “Thanks for coming over. I just couldn’t face leaving the house today.”
Pam paid extra for Romi to be her personal trainer, beauty consultant, masseuse and friend. Romi played all parts well. She envied her clients’ money and social position but would not allow them to feel superior.
“Oh, don’t worry, corazon. After all, you are not just a client, you are a friend.”
“Speaking of friends, how are things going with Chris? Curtis says he’s never seen him so happy.”
“Oh, he’s a real gentleman. What a good idea you had to introduce us.” It had not been Pam’s idea at all, but Romi knew how to make her think it was. “Did that hurt?”
“It always hurts, Romi.” Pam got up from the bed, “Just like when I go to my psychiatrist.”
“Sure. Who else will listen to me besides you? Here, let me show you my medicine cabinet.”
They crossed the bedroom to the bathroom, and Pam slid the long, mirrored door open. Romi gasped. The narrow shelves were lined with bottles of prozac, lexatine, sleeping pills, and a host of others she didn’t recognize.
“!Dios mio! You take all of those?”
Pam laughed, “Not all at once! Actually,” she slid the door shut again, “I don’t take that many. I just keep them to scare Curtis. And myself.”
Pam’s poodle jumped on her bed and began chewing her slippers.
“Midgy!” Pam shouted, picking her up and kissing her. “Dogs!”
“Not as bad as kids!” Romi sighed, shook her head and watched Pam’s face twist. Pam had often confided her longing for children to her.
“Oh, I have to run to Mrs. Clannetti’s. Did you know she’s been ill?”
“Oh, I think I left my bag in your bathroom.”
“Wuf! Wuf! Arf arf!” called a blond boy from across the street. Three girls all broke out into forced giggles. One of them pushed the boy gently and trilled, “Oh, Nat, you shouldn’t!”
The remarks were directed at Nina, walking alone, head down, arms folded across her chest. Chris was watching it on Nina’s computer. Romi had asked him over for lunch that Wednessday to help her install an anti-virus, “And other things, if there’s time.” she winked. “Nina’s at school and mamá is at church.” Then he discovered the unsuspecting girl hadn’t signed out of her social media page. He paused the video as he heard Romi open the door and complain, “Taking a while, aren’t you? Almost time to go back to work.”
“Pull up a chair, Romi.” He said in a voice that frightened her, “You need to see this.”
Nat’s face beamed at the feminine attention, and the other boys wanted some too.
“Come on, Brandon!” Two boys scooted across the street, and blocked Nina’s path. “You recording this, Amber?”
“Sure am!” called the girl holding the phone. “We can post it for everyone to see!”
“Hey, you real ugly!” one of them mocked Nina. He looked around for audience approval, then audibly worked up a large wad of saliva to spit at her. His less inventive side-kick forced a cackle, “You a girl or a boy?” then grabbed Nina’s hat right off her head and waved it around triumphantly before hurling to the other side of the street.
Several girls shrieked and leapt away, “We might catch something!” Nina tried to recover the hat, but the boys kept tossing it around.
Romi sucked in her breath, “My mother knitted her that hat. Nina told me she lost it. I screamed at her for not being more careful.”
“Nina thinks she’s Beyoncé!” screamed the girl with the phone.
“You goin’ to your mama’s beauty parlor?” one boy asked.
“Can’t she do nothin’ to fix that thing on your face? Looks like a roach!” he turned to acknowledge the ensuing laughter. “Your mom’s hot. Why don’t you look like her?”
“Okay.” One girl, obviously the leader, ordered, “Let’s go guys. This is boring.”
Chris and Romi suffered through more shaky videos, but it was the ruthless comments which followed that left them speechless.
Why doesn’t Nina kill herself?
Nobody will go to Nina’s funeral.
The world would be a better place without her.
That last comment had been written by Eden, a girl who had lunched and played Barbies with Nina in Romi’s own kitchen just a few years before.
Chris switched off the computer and held his head in his hands. He reached over to Romi. Tears were running down her face. “Poor gordi. But why doesn’t she fight back? Just stands there like a dope.”
Wendy and her mother, Joanne, were both at the counter when Nina arrived the next day after school. Glancing in the direction of the boys at the p.c.s, they called to her immediately “Hey, Nina! We were just starting to make some cornmeal muffins. Want to help?”
The boys looked up. “No, no.” Mickey called, “Hey Nina, wouldn’t you rather play this new game we’ve got? It’s really cool.”
Nina looked away, expecting to be the victim of yet another cruel joke. Wendy took a deep breath and prepared to scold the boys, when Gabriel hurried out of his workroom, holding his hand out to stop his wife, “No pasa nada, Wendy. The chicos have a new game they’d like to show Nina. That’s all.”
Nina allowed herself to be coaxed over to the p.c.s. All three boys treated her with exaggerated politeness and glanced constantly over at Gabriel. Soon the girl relaxed and they lost themselves in the fun of the game. Gabriel beamed at Wendy.
On Saturday afternoons Milagros had her visitas. Ladies from her church would come with their problems. She would lay her hands on them, pray with them, and prescribe peculiar rituals and concoctions.
“Mamá has special powers. She knows, feels, sees things.” Romi explained to Chris. They were in the kitchen with Nina, but the drone of praying ladies in Milagros’ room unsettled him.
“Do they pay her?”
“They bring presents. This pie we are eating, a roast chicken, that embroidered table cloth,” She indicated the one on which the black Virgin stood. “She won’t accept money.”
“What sorts of problems?”
“She’s saved some lives, you know.” Pride sharpened Romi’s voice.
Her tone softened, “All kinds. Marriage, health, work, solavaya. She’s just the vehicle. She prays and the miracles happen.”
“So, Nina.” Chris was fascinated by Milagros’s powers, but Nina was the priority now. After seeing the videos, Chris had convinced Romi to talk to Miss Marclin. The teacher met with the school psychologist and they were working together on addressing the problem of bullying. It had been more difficult to convince Nina, who was clearly afraid of revenge from her tormentors.
“Why don’t we close your accounts? No Snapchat, no Instagram, no Twitter.”
“Oh, come on, Chris!” Romi interrupted, “Don’t be so drastic. She doesn’t even have a phone. And just when things are looking up a bit. I’m sure you have some nice online friends, don’t you, gordi?”
Nina blushed, “Yes.”
“Oh? Tell us! Tell us about your newest friends. Come on, I won’t be left out of this anymore.”
The girl looked down at the table. “Ridley.” she whispered.
“Who?” Chris asked.
“Ridley.” Romi answered, “She said Ridley.”
They slowly gleaned that Ridley was a 16-year-old boy from another school who had seen the kids tease her one day on a field trip. He found out her name and wanted to help.
“See?” Romi looked at Chris, “She has some nice amigos.”
Over the next week Nina was still cautious, but hopeful. Chris and Romi took up the idea of her birthday party again. They planned to rent a dining room at Clannetti’s Italian Restaurant. Chris’s treat.
“Hey, Nina!” Mickey called from the p.c.s one day after school. “Come check this out.”
But Nina had come to the café with her old friend, Eden. “Sorry, Mickey. We have to work on our project.” The girls sat at a p.c. near Mrs. Klimovski, another regular at the café, their giggles earning them mean looks from the old woman.
Wendy, grinning and fussing, brought the girls hot chocolate. She noticed they were not working on a project at all. They were on social media.
“What’s his name again?” Eden whispered.
“Ridley.” Nina pronounced the name with awe.
“And you say he’s sixteen?” Eden said this loudly, shooting a glance at Mickey and his friends, who were only fifteen.
Nina basked in her friend’s admiration. But soon Eden declared, “He writes weird. And he looks kinda weird too.” She shot Nina the same warning look as the time when she had told her they couldn’t be friends anymore. Deep down, Nina knew Eden had come only to please Miss Marclin.
“We could get Joanthan’s band.” Chris said excitedly, “And after dinner, we could move the tables to make a dance floor. Did you remember to order those cool balloons we saw online? There’s only one week left, you know!”
Romi sat with her arms folded across her chest. “This is a child’s birthday. Not a wedding. Leave something for her quinceañera next year!”
“But it’s a special birthday, Romi. It’s a celebration, a triumph, a victory. Her life has totally turned around in the last two weeks. I thought you’d be happy about that.”
“I am cariño, I am.” She reached for his hand. They were having dinner at Clannetti’s, where Chris inspected halls for the party. Romi was glamourous in a maroon dress, her hair and make-up done especially by one of her colleaguues. But Chris seemed to notice nothing. “This may sound selfish, but I wish we could, for once, talk about something other than my daughter.”
“Oh, God, Romi! Sorry! How insensitive of me!”
And how predictable, she thought as he ordered champagne in an attempt to make it up to her. Nina’s name didn’t surface again.
Like Milagros and her miracles, Romi had gifts of her own. She could read and influence people, see opportunities. These gifts had, among other things, gotten her to Canada, gotten her jobs, and gotten her men. She liked to think she used them out of necessity, but she had to admit sometimes pure curiosity drove her to see just how powerful a nudge (or lack of one) could be.
Romi knew, when she got pregnant, that Billings would marry her and bring her to Canada (just like she knew Chris would marry her, when she told him her news). Then Billings died. She hadn’t killed him, of course, but cardiac arrest might have been prevented had she insisted he take his medicine.
Then there was Alistair, a man who shared a mutual dislike with Nina. Romi was not crazy about him either, but she had to know where it would lead, like the petrie dishes that had fascinated her in high school science class. She kept seeing Alistair and Nina became more and more depressed. When he proposed, her daughter did something that both terrified and intrigued her. Luckily, Milagros found the girl in time. Romi broke off the engagement.
The birthday party was only a week away. Nina no longer dreaded school or going online. Miss Marclin had convinced Eden and Amber to accept her in their clique, and the boys stopped hassling her. Nina felt so confident in class that she got an A on her next quiz. Her mother’s new boyfriend was a dream, the first one she had ever liked. And now she had this special new friend, Ridley.
Ridley wrote encouraging messages. You are the best! When she told him about her test, he congratulated her, I knew you could do it!
I wish you lived here so you could come to my party! She told him how their lives had improved since Chris had arrived.
Ridley began asking detailed questions about her family and her feelings. Before long, Nina was sharing information she had never confided to anyone.
“Why can’t you be a cute, fun girl like Eden?” Nina recalled Romi asking her once in a rage. She remembered Romi laughing when Alistair poked fun at her. When Romi twisted her kinky hair into a ponytail, she complained, “Not like us at all. Eres igualita a tu padre.” Nina began resenting that mysterious man so much that she fantasized about cosmetic procedures which would both remove her birthmark and make her smaller, whiter, more feminine, less like him.
She recounted how she had become so convinced the world would be happier without her, that she took abuela’s kitchen knife and, as she had read in novels, began slicing right through her tender inner wrist. She still remembered the sudden spurt of blood blurred through her tears, and the jolt of panic at what she had done. She began sobbing and gasping, and the next thing she knew, abuela’s thin firm hands were winding strips of cloth around her wrist, so tight, so tight.
That had stopped her mother’s wedding alright, but Nina noticed Romi’s relief as she overheard her telling her clients, “Well, one can’t marry a man who drives one’s daughter to suicide, can one?” They all marvelled at the great sacrifice she had made.
Sometimes I think of trying it again. She admitted to him. But it’s so scary.
The next day after school, Nina skipped over to the ChitChat, and signed in.
Hello, Fatty! LOL Just a joke. I know how you must feel, all the girls at school so much prettier than you. It’s hard for them to like you with that thing on your face. I understand you wanting to try again. It is scary, but you would finally get their attention!
Nina gasped and stared at the strangely offensive words. She didn’t have the nerve to write back. The next day the messages were worse.
Fatty! They all began this way now, I wouldn’t study so hard, if I were you. You will never get accepted into university anyway. Accept it.
Fatty! Your mom’s boyfriend is just being nice to you to impress her. It’s all an act.
“Has the bullying started again?” asked Miss Marclin, noticing her sadness.
Nina nodded reluctantly. Then shook her head. Was it bullying?
“Who is it?” asked Wendy, one afternoon in the café.
How Nina wished Wendy and Gabriel were her parents!
Nina whispered. “Ridley.”
“But who is Ridley?” queried Chris at dinner.
Nina couldn’t confide in Chris. It was embarrassing that he had witnessed her humiliation. She saw the truth, now. It was an act.
“I can’t tell you.” Nina held back her tears.
“Tell us who it is!” Romi challenged. “Are you sure you know?”
Nina mumbled a wet yes.
Romi stood up. “There’s nothing to say, then.”
“You shouldn’t let those kids bother you.” Chris insisted.
“You have to be happy for your party.”
On the night before the party, Nina signed into her account. Romi was at Pam’s, and abuela was at rosary.
Although she dreaded what she would see, she felt a fierce need to know.
Fatty! Almost your birthday. If you make it your deathday, they’ll all be sorry! The perfect revenge! Let’s face it. You will never have friends or a boyfriend. And who would ever hire you? This is the best way for them to remember you! The perfect day. By jumping out the window you might end up a paraplegic. They’d hate you even more then. I recommend pills. It’s hard, but for the best. You can do it! Be brave.
Nina’s head pounded. There was a roar in her ears. Her arms felt drained of blood and began shaking, and the words on the screen stamped themselves on her retina. Her gut response was to seek her mamacita, but that wasn’t an option anymore. This is how she wants to love me. Her lost child. Nina groped her way to the bathroom. Beside the sink a glass and a nearly full bottle of sleeping pills awaited her.
Milagros and ten other women, all shrouded in black lace headscarves, huddled at a small side altar. Candle stands and flower vases helped form a secluded mini-chapel.
“Dios te salve, María, llena eres de gracia,”
Milagros’s stomach twisted. She recognized the feeling. Last time she had been at home, in the next room. She had been there to stop it.
“El Señor es contigo,”
Milagros stood up. She needed to get home.
“Bendita tú eres entre todas las mujeres,”
How Milagros had tried to make Nina’s father understand that if the girl died unbaptized, she would go to purgatory! The shimmering strand of beads dangled from her hand as she hobbled around her fellow worshippers toward the main aisle, never losing the thread of the prayer.
“y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesús.”
And that without the protection of the azabache, the girl would be vulnerable to maldeojo. Was that not precisely what happened the day Paul died? The mark of evil. None of this would have happened if Romi, that whore, had stood up to him.
“Santa María, madre de Dios,” her voice rose. “ruega por nosotros, pecadores,”
She was shouting now, and running. The other women had stopped praying, and began following her. Padre Ignacio left the confessional near the main door just as she reached it.
“ahora y en la hora de nuestra ...”
She stopped, her face distorted, “Muerte! No!”
Padre Ignacio and Mr. Clannetti caught her as she collapsed to the floor.