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dreaming_in_cuban - Ocean Blue elia del Pino equipped with...

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Unformatted text preview: Ocean Blue elia del Pino, equipped with binoculars and wearing her best housedress and drop pearl earrings, sits in her wicltcr swing guarding the north coast of Cuba. Square by square, the seardtestltenightskies foradversariesthenso-utinicesthe ocean, which is roiling with nine straight days of unreasonable April rains. No sign of guano traitors. Celia is honored. The neighborhood committee has acted her little brick-and-cement house by the sea as the primary lookout for Santa Teresa del Mar. From her porch, Celia could spot another Bay ofPigs in- yasion before it happened. She would be feud at the palace, serenaded by a brass orchestra, seduced by El Uder himself on a red velvet diuan. Celia brings the binotatlara to restinherlapand rubs hereyes with stiffened fingers. Her wattled chin trembles. Her eyes smart from the sweetness of the gardenia tree and the salt of the sea. In an hour or two, the fishermen will return, nets empty. The Jumper, rumors go, have ringed the island with nuclear poison, hoping to starve the people and incite a counterrevolution. 'I'hey 3 Copyrighted Intertidal will drop germ bombs to wither the sugarcane fields, blacker: the rivers, blind horses and pigs. Celia studies the coconut palms lining the beach. Could they be blinking signals to an invisible enemy? A radio announcer barks fresh contractor-es about a possible attack and plays a special recorded message from El Lider: “Eleven years ago tonight, WM you defended our coun- try against American aggressors. Now each and every one of you must guard our future again. 1Without your support, com- pm, without your sacrifices, there can be no resolution.” Celia reaches into her straw handbag for more red lipstick, then darkens the mole on her left check with a black eyebrow pencil. Her sticky graying hair is tied in a chignon at her neck. Celia played the piano once and still exercises her hands, un- consciously stretching them two notes beyond an octave. She wears leather pumps with her bright housedress. Her grandson appears in the doorway, his pajama top twisted of? his shoulders, his eyes vacant with sleep. Celia carries Ivanito past the sofa draped with a faded mantilla, past the water- bleached walnut piano, past the dining-room table pocltrnarked with ancient history. Only seven chairs remain of the set. Her husband smashed one on the baclt of Hugo Villaverde, their for mer son-in-law, and could not repair it for all the splinters. She nestleshergrandsonbeneathafrsyedblanlteton herbedand kisses his eyes closed. Celia returns to her post and adjusts the binoculars. The sides of her breasts ache under her anus. There are three fishing boats in the distance—4hr: Mia. the Him, and the Sonar Marti-r. She members the singsong way she used to recite their names. Celia moves the binoculars in an are from left to right, the way she was trained, and then straight across the horizon. At the far end of the sky, where daylight begins, a dense ra- Copyrighted Material Utter: n: Hftte i dianoe like a shooting star breaks forth. It weakens as it ad- vances, as its outline takes shape in the ether. Her husband emerges From the light and oornes toward her, taller than the palms, walking on water in his white summer suit and Panama hat. He is in no hurry. Celia half espeots him to pull pink tea roses fromhehindhisbackashe usedtowhen he remmedfrom his trips to distant provinoes. Or to offer her a giarn eggbeater wrapped in brown paper, she doesn’t know why. But he comes empty-handed. He stops at the ocean's edge, smiles almost shyly, as if he fears disturbing her, and stretches out a oolossal hand. His blue eyes are like lasers in the night. The beams bounoe off his fin- gernails, five hard blue shields. They soon the beach, illuminat- ing shells and sleeping gulls, then focus on her. The part-J1 turns blue, ultraviolet. Her hands, too, are blue. Celia squints through the light, which dolls her eyesight and blurs the palms on the shore. Her husband moves his mouth carefully but she cannot read his immense lips. His iaw chums and swells with each word, faster, until Celia feels the warm breeze of his breath on her face. Then he disappears. Celia runs to the beach in her good leather pumps. There is a trans of tobaoco in the air. “Jorge, I oouldn’t hear you. I couldn't hear you.“ She paces the share, her arms crossed over her breasts. Her shoes leave delicate exclamation points in the wet sand. Celia fingers the sheet of onion parchment in her pocket, reads the words again, one by one, like a blind woman. Jorge’s letter arrived that moming, as it" his prestienoe extended even to the irregular postal service berween the United States and Cuba. Celia is astonished by the words, by the disquieting ardor of her husband's last letters. They seemed written by a younger, more ti unssutno IN cussn passionate Jorge, a man she never knew well. But his hand- writing, an ornate script he learned in another oentury, revealed his decay. When he wrote this last missive, Jorge must have knownhewoulddiebei'oresheteoeivedit. A long time ago, it seems to her, Jorge boarded the plane for New York, sick and shrunken in an ancient wheelchair. “Butch- ers and veterinarians!” he shouted as they pushed him up the plank. “That’s what Cuba is now!” Her Jorge did not mentble the huge, buoyant man on the ocean, the gentleman with silent words she oould not understand. Celia grieves for her husband, not for his death, not yet, but For his mined-up allegiances. For many years before the revolution, Jorge had traveled five weeks out of six, selling electric brooms and portable fans for anAmeriean firm.He'dwantedtobea modelCubamtoptove mhisgringobossthattheywemmtfiomdiesamedothlorge worehissuitonthehottestdaysofthe year,e'veninremote villages where the people thought he was crazy. He put on his boaterwithitswideblackband beforeantinor,tokeepd1eangle shy of jaunty. Celia cannot deeide whioh is worse, separation or death. Sep- oration is Familiar, too familiar, but Celia is unnertain she sari reooncile it with permanenoe. 1ilr’l'in oould have predicted her life? What unknown covenants led her ultimater to this beach and this hour and this solitude? Sheeonsidersthevagariesofsportnthehappenstanoeoffil Lider, a star pitcher in his youth, narrowly missing a baseball career in Arr-series. His wicked otrveball attracted the major— league scouts, and the Washington Senators were interested in signing him but changed their minds. Frusn-ated, E1 Lider went home, rested his pitching arm, and started a revolution in the mountains. Because of this, Celia thinks, her husband will be buried in Ocean Blue 5' stiff, foreign earth. Because of this, their children and their grandchildren are nomads. Pilaf, hfl first grandd'u'ld, writes to her Pram Brooklyn in a Spanish that is no longer hers. She speaks the hard-edged lett- ioon oi' bygone tourists itchy to throatr dice on green l'elt or asphalt. Pilot's eyes, Celia fears, are no longer used to the com» pasted light of the tropies, where a morning hourcan fill a month of days in the north, which receives only careless sheddings from the sun. She imagines her granddaughter pale, gliding through paleness, malnourished and cold without the food of scarlets and greens. Celia knows that Piles wears overalls like a farmhand and paints canvases with knots and whorls of red that resemble noth- ing atall. She knows that Pilar. keeps a diary in the lining of her winter coat, hidden from her mother’s scouring eyes. In it, Pilot records everything. This pleases Celia. She doses her eyes and speaks to her granddaughter, imagines her words as slivers of light piercing the murky night. Therainbeginslgainraoftlythistime.Thefinnedpalmsreoord eadt drop. Celia is ankle deep in the rising tide. The water is curiously warns, too warm for spring. She reaches down and removes her pumps, crimped and puckered now like her own skit, chalked and misshapen from the saltwater. She wades deeper into the ocean. It pulls on her housedress like weights on her hem. Her hands float on the surface ofthesea, still clutch- ing her shoes, as il'they could lead her to a new place. She remembers something a seam told her nearly forty years ago, when she had decided to die: “Miss Celia, there's a wet landscape in your palm." And it was true. She had lived all these years by the sea until she knew its every definition of blue. Celia turns toward the shore. The light is unbearably bright S BREAKING IN CHILE on the porch. The wicker swing hangs from two rusted chains. The stripes on the cushions have dulled to gray as if the color made no difi'erenoe at all. It seems to Celia that another woman entirely sat for years on those weathered cushions, drawn by the pull of the tides. She remembers the painful transitions to spring, the sea grapes and the rains, her skin a cicatris. She and Jorge moved to their house in the spring of I937. Her husband bought her an upright walnut piano and set it by an archedwindow withaview ol'thesea.He smoked it withher music workbooks and sheaves ol' invigorating Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and a selection of Chopin- “Keep her away from Debussy,” she overheard the doctors warn him. They feared that the Frenchman's restless style might compel her to rush- ness, but Celia hid her music toLa Sar'nkdans Grumsk and played it incessantly while large traveled. Celia hears the music now, pressing from beneath the waves. The water laps at her throat. She arches her spine until she floats on her back, straining to hear the notes of the Alhambra at mid- night. She is waiting in a flowered shawl by the fountain for her lover, her Spanish lover, the lover before Jorge, and her hair is twisted with high combs. They retreat to the mossy riverbanlt and make love under the watchful poplars. The air is fragrant with jasmine and myrtle and citrus. A cool wind stirs Celia from her dream. She stretches her legs but she cannot touch the sandy bottom. Her arms are heavy, sodden as porouswood after-a storm. She has losthershoes. A sudden wave engulfs her, and for a moment Celia is tempted to relax and drop. Instead, she swims clumsily, steadily toward shore, sunk low like an overlsden boat. Celia ooneenrrates on the palms tossing their headdresset in the sky. Their messages jump from tree to tree with stolen electricity. No one but me, she thinks, is guarding the coast tonight. Celia peels iorge’s letter from her housedress pocket and Copyrighted Material Ocean Blue 9 holds it in the air to dry. She walks bad: to the porch and waits far the helm-men, for daylight. Felicia del Pino Felicia del Fina, her head a spiky anarchy of miniature pink roll- ers, pounds the horn ofher 195: De Soto as she pulls up to the little house by the sea. It is 7:43 hull. and she has made the seventeen-mile journey from Havana to Santa Teresa del Mar in thirty-four minutes. Felicia screams for her mother, throws herself onto the backseat and shoulders open the car’s only work- ing door. Then she flies past the rows of gangly bird of para- dise, past the pawpaw tree with ripening fruit, and loses a sandal taking the three from steps in an inelegant leap- “I know already,” Celia says, melting gently in her wicker swing on the porch. Felicia collapses on her mother’s lap, send- ing the swing lurching mzily, and walls to the heavens. “He was here last night.” Celia grips the wicker armrests as if the entire swing would fly oil" of its own accord. “Who?” Felicia demands. “Your father, he came to say good-bye.” Felicia abruptly stops herlatnent and stands up. Her pale yel- low stretch shorts slide into the crease of her fleshy buttocks. “You mean he was in the neighborhood and didn't even stop by?” She is pacing now, pushing a fist into her palm. “Felicia, it was not a social visit." “But he’s been in New York four years! The least he could have done was say good-bye to me and the children!” “What did your sister say?” Celia aslts, ignoring her datrgh-r let’s outbutst. “The nuns called her at the bakery this morning. They said — _-'.-J- . .-. 11.- — .u—n. .—. Ifi BREAKING- IH CUBA“ PapiroaetoheavenontonguesoffireJmurdeswaswryupm She’s convinced it’s a W” lvanito stretches his arms around his mother’s plump thighs. Felicia, her Face softening, looks down at her son. “Your grand- l'ather died today, lvanito. l ltttow you don’t remember him but he loved you very much." “What happened to Abuela?" Ivanito aslta. Felicia ttu'rts to her mother as if seeing her 'l'or the first time. - Seaweed clings to her sltull like a lethal plant. She is barefoot and her skin, encrusted with sand, is tinged a faint blue. Her legs are cold and hard as marble. “I went for a swim,” Celia says irritahly. “With your clothes on?” Felicia tugs on her mother’s damp sleeve. “Yes, Felicia, with my clothes on.” The edge in Celia's voice would end any conversation save with her daughter. “Now, lis- ten to me. 1 want you to send a telegram to your brother." Celiahasn't spokentoherson since theSoviettanltsstomed Prague fouryearsago. Sheetiedwlten sheheardhisvoiceand the sounds of the falling city behind hint. 1Vlr'l'tnt was he doing so far from the wartn seas swimming with gentle manateeei' ja- vierwritesthathehasaCzechwil'enowandababygirl. Celia wonders how she will speak to this granddaughter, show her how to catch crickets and avoid the beak of the tortoise. “What should I say!"1r Felicia asks her mother. “Tell him his father died.” Feliciaclimba into the front seatoi'herfir,ctossesherarmsover thesteeringwheeLandstaresoutthewindshield.Theheatr-ises homthegrmhmimmindingheroftheooeandtedaybefore it striped the beach clean of homes, God’s bits oi'wood. It was 194.4. Felicia was only six,herbrother wasn’tevenhomyenbut Copyrighted Mahatlal Gretta Blue 11 she reniembers that day with precision. The sea’s languid reheat into the horizon and the terrible silence of its absence. The way the she-crabs scurried after their young. The stranded dolphin towed out to sea by the Munoz brothers, and the majestic shells, thousands of them, with intricate mauve chambers, arranged on a cemetery of wet sand. Felicia set aside pails of them but se— lected only one, a mother-of-pearl shell, a baroque Spanish fan with which later to taunt her suitors. Her mother hurriedly wrapped gold-rimmed goblets With newspaper and packed them into a sniffed leather suitcase, all the while listening to the warnings on the radio. “i told you not to bring shells into this house,” she reprimanded when Felicia held up her prise. “They bring bad luck.“ Feiicia's father was away on business in Oriente province when the tidal waste hit. He was always astray on business. This time, he had promised to bring his wife a Jamaican maid from the east coast of the island so that she could spend her days testing on the porch, as the donors ordered, and find solace in the patterns of the sea. Felicia’s father didn’t return with a maid but he brought back a signed baseball for her sister, loutdes, that made her iuntp in place with excitement. Felicia didn’t rec- ognize the name. The sea took more than seyenty wooden homes from their stretch of coast. The del FlirroaIr house survived because it was sturdily built of briclt and current. When they returned, it was like an undersea cave, blanched by the ocean. Dried algae stuck to the walls and the sand formed a strange topography on the floors. Felicia laughed when she remembered how her mother had warned her not to bring shells home. After the tidal wave, the house was full of them. “Girl, you’re going to fry in there!” Herminia Delgado raps on Felicia’s car window. She is carrying a basket with an unpluclted chicken, foot lemons, and a brittle garlic clove. “I'm making a Lopryrrnnteo materrar I1 BREAKING IN CUB-AN him later. 1Why don’t you come otter? Or are you too busy with your naughty daydreams again?” Felicia, her face and forearms blotchy with heat, looks up at her best friend. “My fatherdiedlastnightandlhayetobeat workinanhcur. They’re going to trartsfer me back to the butcher’s ifl’tn late again. They’re looking for an excuse since I singed Graciela Moreira's hair. They dumped her on me. Nobody likes to do her hair because it’s so fine it tears like toilet paper. I've told her a mllion times she shouldn’t get a permanent but does she listen?” “Did Lourdes call?” “The arms told her it was like a Holy Ascmsion except Papi was dressed to go dancing. Then he shows up at my mother's house and nearlystares herhalfto death. 1 think shedcve in the ocean after him.” Felicia turns away. “He didn’t even say good-bye."The last tithe Felida saw her father, he had smashed a chair over her eat-husband Hugo’s back. “if you leave with that sonofabitch, don’t ever come back!” her father had shouted as they fled. “Maybe his spirit is still floating free. You must make your peace with him before he’s gone for good. I’ll call La Math-ins. We’ll have an emergency session tonight." “I don’t know, Herminia.” Felicia believes in the gods' be- nevolent powers, she just mn’t stand the-blood. “Listen, girl, there’s always new hope for the dead. You must cleanse your soul of this or it will nail you all your days. It may even harm your children. Just a small offering to Santa Barbara,” Hermioia cones. “Be there at ten and I’ll take care ofthe rest.” “Well, okay. But please, tell her no goats this time."ll That night, Felicia guides her car alonga rutted road in the coun- tryside a few miles from Santa Teresa del Mar. Her headlights have not worked since 1967 but she shines an oae'tsiced flash- Copyrighted Material Ocean Blue ‘3 light up the dirt pathway, startling two guinea hens and a dwarf monkey in a bamboo cage. The beam of light moves through the yard to thegianr oeiba,thick as six lesser trees. Several iden- tical red handkerchiefs are tied together around the trunk, mid- way up. The head of a freshly slaughtered rooster iuts from one knot. Its beak hangs open, giving the bird a look of surprised indignation. Herminia motions to her from a the door ofthe nth-down house. She is wearing a cream-yellow blouse with a collar the luster of the absent moon. Her plump black arms stir the dark- ness. “Hurry up! La Madrina is ready!” Felicia slides to the backseat of her car and opens the door with a scrape. Ferns and chicken feathers grate her ankles as she tiptoes in backless sandals toward her friend. “For Dior, we’ve been waiting for you far over an hour! What took you so long?" Herminia grabs Felicia’a arm and pulls her to the door. Ir"'Let’s go in before you make the gods angry." She steers Felicia doom an airless passageway lit on one side with red votive candles set on wooden tables coated with hard- ened wart. At the end ofthe corridor, long strands oi'sheils hang in an arched doorway, the mollusks repented by odd-shaped bits of polished onyx. “Btbrmdilr. dyb,”i.a Madrina beckons in a voice hoarse with a vocation to the unfortunate. “We have been errpecting you.” She gestures with upturned palms in an are around her. Her face is an almond sheen of sweat under her white cotton nirban, and her lace blouson, setded ofi'her shoulders, reveals duplicate moles, bigandblack asbeetles, atthebaseofherthroat. [Ayers of gauze skirts, delicate as metrdsranea, brush her feet, which are bare on the cold cement floor. The low-ceilinged sea-green room wavers with the flames and incense of a hundred candles. Against the bad: wall, an ebony statue of Santa Barbara, the Black Queen, presides. Apples and bananas sit in offering at her feet. Fragrant oblations crowd the shrines of the other saints and Copyrighted Material 14 DHEAHING IN CUBAN gods: toasted corn, pennies, and an aromatic cigar for Saint [aa- arua, protector of paralytres, coconut and bitter kola for Chan”, King ofthe White Clotl-c roasted yams, palm wine, and a small aackofsaltforOggurnpatronofrnetals. 1n the front of the mom, Ellegus, god of the crossroads, in- habits the clay eggs in nine rustic ...
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