They caught her, locked her up in a convent, and forced her to become a nun under dark and terrible threats she never explained, though she was so full of other details, but at least her brother managed to escape, and at some point in the course of all those years a letter came to her through circuitous channels. "He's living in America, I don't know whether north or south, and moves a lot and has so many business affairs he can't stay too long in any one place, he might be in Chicago or New York or Buenos Aires. He always wants to know about me, but because of the witches who kidnapped me his letters don't reach me, and I can't send anything to him, can't ask him to help me, to come save me."

"You help me," she whispered, and Mateo felt her lips and fevered breath on his ear, "help me escape and we'll go to America together to look for my brother. What's keeping you here, a man is free to go anywhere he wants, not like a woman, who's a prisoner even when she's not locked up in a convent. You don't have anything here, all you do is repair old shoes in that cubbyhole, smelling the old sweat people leave in their shoes, and you so young and strong, with those huge hands and that energy you have, nothing could stand in your way if you got out of here and went to America, where men go who have the courage to make the world their apple, as my brother did, and where women don't live behind closed doors or drape themselves in eternal mourning or kill themselves having babies and working in the fields and scrubbing floors on their hands and knees and washing clothes in winter in troughs of cold water with scraps of soap that tear the skin off their hands.

"Where can a woman who's fled a convent go here if she doesn't have papers or a man to defend her and stand up for her? No father, no husband, no brother, not like America where a woman is worth as much as a man, if not more. There women smoke in public, wear trousers, drive a car to their office, and divorce when it suits them. They race along the highways, which are wide and built in a straight line, not like here, and the automobiles aren't black and old but large and painted bright colors, and kitchens are shiny and white and filled with automatic appliances, so all you do is press a button and the floor is scrubbed, and there's a machine that picks up dust and one that washes your clothes and leaves them ironed and folded, and the iceboxes don't need blocks of ice, and every house has a garage and a garden, and lots of them have swimming pools. At those pools the women wear two-piece bathing suits and drink cool drinks and lounge in hammocks while their automatic machines do the housework. They drink and smoke and no one thinks they're whores, and they not only paint their fingernails, they paint their toenails too, and if they complain about their husband and divorce him, he has to pay them a salary every month until they find another husband. And if they get bored with life in one place, they climb into their big bright cars and move to another city, California or Patagonia or Las Vegas or Tierra del Fuego, what wonderful names, you just have to say them and you feel your lungs fill with air, or they go to Chicago or New York and live in skyscrapers fifty stories high, in apartments that don't need windows because the whole wall is glass, and where its never cold or hot because they have machines they call climate control."

"But how do we go there, woman? What do we use to buy our passage on the ship?" he said, to be saying something, but she was furious at his lack of spine and scolded him in that murmur that made him want to sleep: "I have it all planned, you sell or lease your business, that will bring in something, since it's in such a good location, and I'll steal some valuable things here in the convent, a silver candelabra, a beaten gold reliquary, I can even cut a painting of the Virgin Mary out of its frame, they say it's by Murillo, so we should get several thousand pesetas for it." He turned to ice just thinking about it, a sacrilege in addition to profanation and blasphemy, not just public dishonor and excommunication but jail besides. Now he began to understand that this demented nun wanted something more from him than just sating her unholy lust, she wanted him to be an accomplice in her criminal plans, but what did he expect from the daughter of a Red who'd been taught free love and atheism?

--- From Sephard
Antonio Muñoz Molina
©2003 Harcourt, Inc
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