Then she hit him. Violently. It split open his lips and nose. It left him collapsed against the wall.
—Tell me, faggot, why don’t you hit me back?
She spat on him. He became still. Looked up. Then he saw the sea. Dawn.
She talked about her money. He wanted to go down to the reefs. Get his feet wet, wash off the blood. She talked about the honeymoon in Japan, about the permanent visa to the United States, about dual citizenship, about her rich and powerful family in Venezuela. He wanted to get his feet wet. To sleep. Maybe even sleep under the water, in another world.
A policeman walked up the sidewalk across the street. He stood waiting. She saw him.
—What if I were to say that you were hurting me? What do you think about that? What can happen to you for conning and taking advantage of a tourist?
He also saw the policeman. A second. He looked at the sea again. What would happen then? A starving Cuban and a tourist from the First World. Who would believe him? And when the police asked why she attacked? What could he say? The real answer was so unlikely that it would get him locked up in a prison cell. He leaned against the wall. In the distance he heard a ship announcing its entry into the bay. The policeman remained on the sidewalk. She attacked me because she wants me to marry her and go back to her country, he would answer. “And I do not want to,” he thought. Everyone was going to taunt him, the police and his friends, when they heard. His wife and his mistress, of course, they wouldn’t believe anything.
—Tell me. What if I call the police?
He did not answer. He was breathing anxiously and with some difficulty. I forgive you, Ana Marina, he thought. He recalled her naked, moaning with pleasure. Always laughing. He recalled her long, beautiful, black hair. He turned his face to see her one last time. Stunning and pallid. With her hair swept up under a scarf.
—It’s all the same to me —he said—. If you want to, kill me. I am free, Ana Marina, free.
Before closing his eyes, he heard a seagull in the distance and smiled.
He woke up. Once again the view of the sea from his window in that little room in Malecón. A piece of sea and a window. He had nothing else. A dirty mattress, a typewriter, a few pesos to buy rum and get drunk. He thought of Ana Marina. She would arrive from London at noon at the latest. But at least he was going to eat well for a week. He also needed to get out of this slum filled with prostitutes and criminals.
He looked at the blank page. Not a word. To write is to destroy oneself. He stood up. He had to forget his hopes of being a writer. He looked down the avenue—still deserted at dawn. He yawned. Hunger. Tiredness. Ennui. The entire early morning to write at least one page. No novel, no money, and no hope. What could he do? Wait. But wait for what? Nothing. Only wait. Waiting is enough. He thought of Ricky, of Kimani, of El Bolo. His friends were determined. That night they would launch into the sea on a raft. Such an irony. Some arriving by plane in first class and others escaping in rustic rafts.
A shout threw him out of his tired state. It was the neighbor. Once again fighting with her husband. Every day, the man arrived from the street at this hour and beat her. A mulatto ex-convict who made her whore for a dollar at the corner of Monte and Cienfuegos. Why not write those stories that he saw every day? Why not write about his rafting friends? Why not write about Ana Marina?
He took out the letters he had sent to her in the last six months. He wanted to reread them. Something was wrong. He never spoke of leaving the country. She, however, had phoned him three days before to say: I’ll come get you. We will get married, and I will get you out of Cuba in less than a month. I love you.
He looked at the letters. He recalled her naked. He remembered her beautiful, long hair. He thought he would like to make love to her in the middle of the city, behind the wall of the Malecón, on the reefs. But this marriage and escape puzzled him. What about his wife? And his lover?
He opened a letter. He began to read. In the distance, he heard the siren of a ship.
They had met on Obispo Street. She had gone to a bookstore looking for the books of Carpentier, Lezama, and Reinaldo Arenas. They had discussed literature. They had talked about their lives. No timidity, no hypocrisy, no repression, no guilt. They had liked each other at first sight. An hour later they were thinking that they had known each other all their lives. She got too drunk and he loved her voluptuous body, her hair, her way of speaking, her age. “I go crazy for both young and mature women,” he confessed. She had turned forty-five, ten years his senior. He spoke then of his wife who was nearly fifty and his lover of eighteen. The flower and the fruit of life.
Ana Marina invited him to a bottle of rum. She lived every moment as if it was her last. “You are a person sick of words and I am sick of life,” she said walking down Obispo, searching for the sea and Plaza de Armas.
The dealers offered them everything. Cigars, inexpensive luxurious food, rum, aphrodisiacs. Anywhere you could go, a huge black man showed up, selling any good, suggesting women, grabbing his own balls. They walked slowly, seeing everything and talking about what we always talk about: Government, human rights, the difficulties of traveling abroad, poverty, hunger, child prostitution.
The heat made them both sweat and her nipples were visible through her shirt. She put her hand under her shirt to dry them and he wanted to bite her there, like an animal, and pounce on top of her. Ana Marina’s eyes looked with longing, discovered an untamed instinct. “I would like to dry off your sweat,” he said as they sat in the park. “And I would like you to dry me off,” she said.
That night was spent in the small room in Malecón. They endured the heat, the bad smell and the filth of the overflowing toilet in the middle of the slum’s hallway, the shouts and fights of neighbors over a lack of water. He opened the windows and entered her forcefully. He grabbed her by the waist, bit her back and they looked out at the sea. In the distance, they heard a seagull and a ship announcing its arrival to Havana.
Translated by Zach Tackett
The publication of this story is part of Sampsonia Way Magazine’s “CUBAN NEWRRATIVE: e-MERGING LITERATURE FROM GENERATION ZERO” project, in collaboration with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and a collection of authors writing from Cuba. You can read this story in Spanish here, and other stories from the project, here.