The Country and the City
In the beginning I died to see a movie. I’d never seen one. Where we lived was all farms. Before we married, my husband came to my parents’ house and we’d sit in the living room and talk. Domingo was always a tremendous talker. He harvested pineapple as a kid and he was built like a tree trunk. His shoulders looked like they would burst through his suit. And while he talked I imagined he was projecting a movie out of his mouth. Moonlight from the window hit the wall across from him. While he talked and talked and talked and talked I looked at the wall and imagined his mouth played a man and a woman kissing. Or a woman running from houses to beach. Or a woman writing by machine. Honestly, I don’t remember.
How did the other Beatríz and I end up living together?
After we got married my husband was a lawyer. Practically a lawyer. He worked for this political man named Arturo Betancourt. They’d go out to dark bars to smoke and scheme against both Castro and Batista. Domingo always came home saying he was the only muerto de hambre in the party—the only one dying of hunger. The only poor one. So I’d starch his one white suit so nice you thought he put on a new one every single day.
Of course we weren’t really dying of hunger. I didn’t work. We had a girl who helped with the children. We had chickens. Out in the yard I’d swing them around by their heads until their necks broke. Constantly I was cleaning their blood off my elbows. And we ate our steaks, you know. We lived fine in the country.
But right before everything changed we moved to the city. They’d put the political man in jail. Domingo said Fidel was getting him back for some high school feud. He asked us to live in his apartment and take care of it because already his wife and kids had left for Miami.
Imagine! All of our things—furniture, suitcases—fit in a corner of his living room. They had plush red armchairs and red Chinese cabinets. Bookshelves stacked high. A huge oriental rug. And mirrors everywhere so we could see the reflection of our belongings, yellow and scuffed and brown and faded, in the middle of all their red.
The man in jail’s family paid us to live there. No more killing chickens! In La Habana we’d go out to eat in restaurants every single day. The children with their hair always combed nicely to the side. Our life was a marvel.
But one day Domingo comes home wearing his white suit and sits down at the political man’s marble table. No steak that night. We were going to eat en el Barrio Chino.
Just like that, without even a kiss hello, he says to me: It’s time to do like the Betancourts.
My husband always sat derechito, his legs apart and his hands on his knees. Like a monument and you can’t argue with a monument. Those shoulders straining the suit seams. I thought he meant leave Cuba. I knew sooner or later we would go. …[Keep Reading]…