I sat there feeling quite alone, disappointed and more irritated than anything else. I almost wished the situation was more like the one I left. I know there are no rules for an affair, but at least with Sylvie there was some kind of romantic intrigue involved. At times there was a semblance of love. I had hoped she might love me someday. With Alma, I didn’t know just how I wanted her to feel toward me, or how I could feel toward her.
Evening weighed on El Paradiso. I went outside, lit two citronella candles and sat on the porch swing. I went over my options. I could leave. I could stay and complete the project and not become any more entangled in this unfolding Greek tragedy. I could immerse myself completely in Hèctor’s scheme and hope that my intimacy with Alma would make her love me, and come away with me. After all she certainly didn’t love Hèctor. Then there was Hèctor with his sudden mood swings from in-control to his feverish temper that could end who-knows-where? I thought about Alma and why she couldn’t leave.
Maria Terèsa came out of the kitchen and sat on a wicker rocking chair near the swing. She nodded to me, began to rock and hum some atonal native melody. I felt her presence as an intrusion. I almost got up to leave. I heard the kitchen door open. I looked over and saw Alma. She was barefoot and had on only her nightgown. As she headed for the rear gate she pulled her nightgown up over her shoulders and head and tossed it away.
“Alma, Alma.” I got to my feet and headed toward her.
“Hurry,” said Maria Terèsa as she too left her seat, “do not let her go through the gate.”
I hurried to Alma and put my arm around her shoulders. She did not respond or recognize me. Her eyes were open but vacant. “Alma, Alma, wake up, wake up.” I was able to hold her from going any further down the path. Maria Terèsa picked up Alma’s nightgown, joined me and we guided Alma over to the veranda and to the swinging bench. Maria Terèsa slipped the nightgown back onto Alma. I sat and we eased her onto my lap.
I put my arm around her waist. Alma closed her eyes and rested her head on my shoulder. Whatever state she was in, it was not sleep. Her head subtly jerked every so often, her eyelids flickered and she made little whimpers. I felt her different muscles quiver and relax again. Her breathing might be rapid for a few seconds and then so soft it was hard to detect she was breathing at all.
I don’t know how long I sat there holding her. I felt helpless and now I was glad Maria Terèsa was there with me.
“We must not waken her,” said the old woman. ”She must wake by herself.” Maria Terèsa came close and gently kissed Alma’s forehead, then gave a knowing and relieved nod, “La señora will awaken soon.” She left me there alone.
Before long Alma began to stir. She opened her eyes briefly and nestled her cheek against mine. “Emilio,” she whispered, “where are we?”
“The veranda, on the swinging bench,” I whispered back.
“We were in bed,” her voice was soft and sleepy, “how did we get here?”
Alma began to relax so I sat up and jostled her. I didn’t want her to slip away.
She let out a little sigh and snuggled against my chest.
“Come on now, let’s get you back inside.” I helped her off my lap and offered my arm. We all entered the kitchen. Alma and I sat at the little round table in front of the window.
Alma was more awake now. She yawned and stretched and looked over to Maria Terèsa, “Make my tea, please.”
Maria Terèsa shook her head ‘no’, and crossed her arms.
I didn’t think the request out of the ordinary. “Maria Terèsa, por que, no? Why? La señora would like some tea.”
“No, no teà de Ayahuasca, no mas, Patrònita, no more.”
Alma’s shoulders slumped. Her breath was labored and her voice was weak and childlike, “Make her give me some.”
I looked over the Maria Terèsa. When she shook her head I understood. Alma wanted to journey back into the spirit realm. She probably didn’t even realize or care that one of these times she may never come back.
León’s words came back to me about how only the strength of two souls could keep Alma from disappearing into the jaguar. “Maybe la abuelita is right, Alma. Stay with me. Have some coffee instead, we can read poetry to each other, or just talk.” I looked over to Maria Terèsa, “cafè, por favor.”
“Sì, señor, I will make coffee.”
Alma looked a little confused.
“Tell me, were you dreaming?” I asked.
“Yes…” her words were warm with nostalgia, “it is a waking dream. I feel the heat and the rain. I feel the leaves brush against me and crumble under my feet.”
“Where are you?”
“The selva, below.”
I had to ask her, “And, you are yourself?”
She gave a dreamy eyed smile and answered as if she were happily drugged. “I’m better than myself. I’m more than I am on this side.” Her head bobbed a little.
Maria Terèsa brought the coffee. I nodded my thanks and put Alma’s in front of her. “Drink.” I said. I looked to Maria Terèsa, “Serve la señora some soup and bread and butter.”
“Sì señor.” She returned within a minute with a bowl of soup and some dinner rolls and butter and placed them in front of Alma.
“You need something in your stomach,” I said. She balked when she smelled the soup. “Come Alma,” I picked up her spoon and had to coax her to take those first few spoonsful. I think the last time she ate was at breakfast. Alma made no effort to feed herself and became impatient as she waited for me to feed her spoonful by spoonful. I broke open and buttered her roll and handed it to her. She licked the butter off and set the roll down.
By the time she had finished eating, there was a noticeable change in her mood and awareness. Alma’s eyes became clear. She looked down in puzzlement at her sheer nightgown and bare feet. “What time is it?”
“Almost eight o’clock. I don’t know when Hector will be back; maybe in the morning?”
“Yes, I’m sure he’s off somewhere, forcing himself on an unfortunate young woman.” Alma pushed herself up from the table. I stood too. She held out her hand, I took it and she led me out of the kitchen and back up the stairs to my room.
She sat on the edge of the bed and I sat next to her. I felt myself succumbing to her presence and slipped my arm around her shoulder.
She shrugged me off. “It is so hard, Emilio...” She sighed and leaned against me. “Maria Terèsa was right not to make my tea.”
“I spoke with León, is it true? Do you enter the jaguar?”
“Yes.” She lowered her head and clasped her hands together, resting them on her lap. “I am not proud of what I did to El Cid. I only wanted to spook the horses. I was mad that Hèctor spoke about me as his ‘possession’. I was just going to pace outside of the stables, just enough so El Cid and Athena would catch my scent. That is enough to unsettle them, make them edgy and fearful and unwilling to leave the stable. But I lost control of myself. I climbed the tree behind the stable, jumped on the roof and entered through the transom above the door. You saw what I did.”
I thought a minute before I spoke. “You could not stop yourself?”
“No. I tried, but I couldn’t.”
“You knew what you would see in the stables?”
“No. No, now when I return from the other side it is like waking from a dream. I remember some parts, but not all of it. When I first entered the spirit world and came back, I remembered all of my dream, down to the slightest details. Now when I return, I remember less and less.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t drink the tea anymore.”
Alma turned her face toward mine, leaned in and kissed me on the lips. “Maybe you are right, but that world is also a wonderful place to be in.” She lay back on the bed and pulled me down next to her.
“But, is it real?”
Alma smiled and nodded, “Yes, it is real, as real as you and I lying on this bed.” Alma rolled toward me and crooked her leg over my thighs and her arm over my chest. I loved feeling the warmth and contours of her body through her silky nightgown. “Make love to me, Emilio.”
I was surprised. We had just made love that afternoon. With less ardor and energy we repeated the ritual. We were satisfied and spent when it was over and fell asleep in each other’s arms.