The International Writers Magazine: Cuba Stories
Al woke with a start to the agonized yelps of his dog whom he discovered ham-strung in the steel grating on the balcony security gate. Cowboy freed himself from the grating as his master arrived. He whimpered, pining for freedom. It was three a.m.
“You did it to yourself,” Al said.
Tonto followed him to the bedroom and tucked himself under the bed. The room was dark but for the outline of a woman with long black hair in deep slumber. Al snuggled in.
He woke to Tonto’s whimper a few hours later and got up, grabbed keys from the kitchen wall and opened the security gate. Cowboy slipped down the three flights to the street. Al watched him from the five meter wide balcony, supported by two blue cylindrical columns. Thirty-first was divided by low walls on both sides a quarter mile long which had stepped entrances at each side street. Someone had told him that the six lane street was built by the former dictator, Batista, and led directly to his house. The street was still populated by many of the same cars, refabricated with new running gear, most of them working as taxis carrying Cubans along the main calles.
He locked the entrance door then checked his little green parrot, lifting a sheet and peeking in on him. Miki responded with a ‘crawwww’. Al got back in with Giselle. She was a big boned girl of twenty-five who liked to party. Signs of street life were all over her; a long scar on her forehead which curved like a half-moon; another scar on her arm which interrupted the silky feel of her skin with a raised bump the size of a quarter, rough and unwelcome. Giselle slept. He listened to her breathing and detected a rattle in her trachea. He’d heard of it but this was the first time he’d heard it for himself. Somewhat like the rasp of bronchitis but with a sinister almost musical quality. It unnerved him.
Giselle had arrived the previous afternoon in stylish Cuban jeans and a tight fitting black and purple blouse of faux satin and back zipping sandals. She had walked up, carrying a medium sized black purse slung over her broad shoulders her back kept to the obeservant neighbors’ balcony as she brushed past him into the light pink living/dining room. She was nervous.
“Do you have any cigarettes?” she asked.
“Yes, my daughter.” He picked up a cigar box resting on a small glass topped table and took out a ten pack of H. Upman cigarettes. She lit up.
That night her back was glued to him thanks to air conditioning. He’d had a tense stomach for the last few months up to his divorce and now found her soft skin comforting. In the morning the tension had disappeared.
The next day after breakfast she left for San Miguel. Al cleaned the apartment, the dog bones from the balcony and the parrot’s cage. The parrot was small and green and only seemed to know, ‘fuck you’ which he repeated with alacrity. Al could only imagine it was his ex-wife who had taught the bird before she loaded up and left the month before. He dished out some sunflower seeds and the bird scampered down the window reja.
“Here you go Miko.”
“You can’t fool me. It’s not Spanish so you can’t know what it means.”
“Fuck you, fuck you….”
The sound of a truck passing on Calle thirty-one drown out the bird.
Al picked up the phone.
“Come get me.”
In the seatbeltless ageing lada, his driver, Pablo, sped through parke Alemendares, his ex-wife Angela next to him. Al had put on a baseball 't' shirt displaying, "PR - Pinar del Rio". Pablo glanced at it with distaste declaring his dislike for baseball.
"There's more to life than girls and cars", Al said.
"No there's not," said Pablo. He played race car around the heavily vined trees which lined a green river.
“Could you slow down, please,” Al said in Spanish.
“Tiempo es dinero.”
“We’re in no rush.”
Pablo reluctantly back off on the gas.
“Do you know where I can get some beer?”
“There is some on seventieth.”
“Let’s go there.”
They turned around and Pablo resumed racing.
Twenty minutes later in front of a chain link fenced American styled casa. Pablo honked the horn as Al got out. He kissed Angela’s cheek as Pablo reached into the back seat and pulled out two bags bulging with cold Cristal.
“Nos vemos,” they said to each other.
Ron arrived at the gate and unlocked it. He was smiling.
“Al! Good to see you. How are you?”
“Never better. This is the apex. I am riding the wave.”
He followed his stocky friend up narrow stairs leading to a rooftop of red tile brick and behind a comfortable apartment. They went through past several prints of Cuban art, a comfortable recliner, a desk with an open laptop on it. They turned into a kitchen which on one side was a folding wooden door to a balcony. Al stuffed the beer into the fridge.
Half the balcony was under a roof which sheltered a large round table where a lounging mulata, half stood and leaned forward with a greeting kiss.
“Al!” she laughed, a cigarette in one hand, a Bucanero beer in the other.
“Bridget!” He took a chair on the other side of the table as Ron placed a Cristal in front of him. He took a swig.
“Donde esta la chica—como se llama?”
“She is in San Miguel,” he said in Spanish.
“Is she coming?”
“Do you want her to come?”
“Yes, I like her.”
Ron opened the folding kitchen door and locked the latches then when back inside the kitchen. He could be heard inside taking the dinner's ingredients out of the fridge.
Al took a long draw off the beer.
“It’s your turn to cook,” she said.
“Can you make a sauce?”
“Yes, I can.”
She rose and strode into the living area and then the kitchen. She walked with a long gait, elegant and just this side of the runway where she was very comfortable as well.
Ron sat down with a Bucanero.
Al was on the phone. "Ven aca... Guillermos te busca." He shut off the cell.
"Giselle is coming?"
"Yes - she says one hour."
"Bridget likes her."
"They all have solidarity. This is what Levi says."
"That they do. Amazing really."
"Our job is to get them off their program and onto ours."
"In this case it will be difficult. Neither of them will want to go into the pool."
"We'll make it fun for them."
"Yes but after the meal."
Al lit up a smoke and took another long draught. He went to the edge of the balcony and looked below. There was a grassy area with carefully pruned shrubbery and a lawn arrangement of chairs and table then a high fence over which was the twenty foot pool, perfectly maintained.
Below the back yard was a steep drop. Sprawling tropical fruit trees decorated the hillside. Past the drop half a kilometer away where two large shabby apartment buildings, close to the flood zone of the Rio Alemandares which was obscured by heavy foliage, palms and multi-trunked trees.
"Giselle looked like she was having a fun with Charley," said Ron.
"I thought so too but I asked him if she was going to be his Havana girl and he said 'no way'."
"He might change his mind."
"I'm only having fun with her, Ron." Ron raised his eyebrows.
"I know. I know."
"When is Charley back?"
"He may be here sooner or later. As much as three months or next week if he can get immigration papers for his wife."
"And... she is sick?"
"She has issues with her reproductive system."
"Maybe that is why he came to Havana for the week."
"He says he loves her but if she is sick, maybe not so much."
"Love doesn't solve everything," Bridget called from the kitchen, then peeked around through the folded kitchen door. They nodded, both surprised at both her hearing and that she could understand them.
Over the next two hours they talked about Cuba and shared their thoughts. Hungry, Bridget asked several times when Giselle would arrive.
"What is happening with the insect photos?" said Al, breaking a long silence.
"Oh! We are making good progress. We have solved our focus problem and we are going to do a test when I get back to Montreal."
"Then you will take pictures of their insects."
"Something like that."
Al nodded, vaguely interested in the technical details.
"It's coming along. I can still make it back here twice a month."
"That's the important thing."
"It's a paradise here, especially with Bridget."
There was a honk outside.
"Do you want to get her?"
Ron gave him the keys and Al retraced his steps out, passing a large, passive German shepard who lay next to the outside gate. Al arrived with her back on the balcony, Bridget appearing behind as Ron greeted Giselle. It was the second time they had met. The first was at the castle bar next to the famous salsa club '1830' when Charley showed up with her. They had both been drinking all day. Satiated and drunkenly happy, they were pretty much spent and had shown up to meet Ron and Bridget. Al was there with his neighbor who was very good looking yet painted her eyebrows in a severe almost clown-like triangle shape, thick at the center and declining laterally to narrow points. She was slim, her face, apart from the eyebrows, beautiful and yet when Al saw Giselle he lost any vestigial interest in her. Giselle had the promise of great fun all over her.
Now on the balcony Bridget was delighted by her presence. Al got fresh beer from the fridge then checked on a great froth of spaghetti sauce, concocted by the three of them while they waited.
It was a magnificent sauce, simmered over the two hour wait.
Stories from Cuba by Jerry Billstrom
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