In the foyer of their apartment, Yvelis hesitated. It was a delicate thing, to ask her husband for money. Hector never set foot in the bodega, never paid ten centavos to the baker for a loaf of bread, but Hector knew what things cost. If Yvelis asked for too much, he might get suspicious, not enough and Hector would reprimand her later. He liked to go to the bank only once a week. And they had no children. Nothing at all to soften him.
Yvelis calculated avocados, eggs, the milk bill paid weekly to the delivery man, fish if it looked good. “Six,” she said. “Six pesos.”
Hector’s eyes flipped down to the bankbook. He frowned, wrote the amount down, did his own calculations.
They played this game every Tuesday. More often if she wanted something unnecessary: shoes, a dress, a new hat. They’d lived in the one-bedroom apartment overlooking the square since their wedding almost four years ago, but Yvelis knew Hector had money to buy a house. He was a lawyer for some of Batista’s people. For Batistianos. Who were building high-rises on every street corner in Vedado so air conditioned you could catch influenza just by standing outside and looking in.
“All right,” Hector said and slipped out the door.
Yvelis went to the balcony. She watched him exit the building, make his way to the corner and disappear into the mysterious recesses of the bank. She wondered, with a soft and unrecognized desperation, how much he had in there.
BY THE TIME SHE GOT BACK from market two hours later, Yvelis had pocketed one peso and fifty centavos. In the bedroom, in Hector’s hastily discarded clothing, she found another forty cents. Saving, she called this. She reached between the mattresses, extracted a small satin pouch and put everything inside. She did the math. One hundred three pesos and sixty-four cents.
She’d started saving a year ago, when her father died. Before that, each time she saw him, her father gave her small cash gifts in sealed envelopes that he slipped into her purse when she wasn’t looking. Mad money. For matinees or lottery tickets. But Yvelis had always wanted her own money. She’d always known she could make a living singing, that she could work a crowd if given the chance. If not singing, then maybe, she’d thought, she could own a bakery like her father had. She’d sold homemade sweets to the bodega downstairs for a few months this year without Hector knowing it. Then one morning, the thought: who am I kidding? No change from pastries sold on the sly is going to get me out of this nowhere town being slowly overrun by goats.
She rubbed her thumb absentmindedly against the satin pocket before putting it back between the mattresses.
THE NEXT MORNING, Yvelis waited an eternity for Hector to eat his breakfast and leave for work. At the click of the door: relief, followed quickly by a fluttery anticipation. Hector would expect her to go see his sisters and crochet something new: a doily, a tablecloth. Or sew. For years, she’d done exactly that. She’d spoiled his sisters’ children and sewn their Sunday clothes, until one day, her assumption they’d soon have a family of their own became a premonition they might not, and finally, a disconsolate and dying hope for a miracle.
Last week, she’d given the sisters an excuse: charity work in Havana.
“What about the bombs and the rebels?” Hector’s sisters said.
“No one’s going to bomb blind orphans,” she’d answered coolly.
She retrieved the satin pouch from between the mattresses. She brought it to her lips and dropped it into her pocketbook. She got her grocery bag so no one would suspect her. And then she went down to Arumburu Street and she waited for the Havana bus.
“HE'S A MADMAN,” Tomás said. He wasn’t talking to Hector. He was on the phone in the adjacent office, and Hector could hear every word. “He’s a terrorist,” Tomás continued. “A criminal. A Communist.”
Hector listened for a pause in the yammer of the typewriter, but either the secretary in the shared front room wasn’t listening or she could eavesdrop and type at the same time.
“Father,” Tomás said, “you saw what he did at Belén. A sane person doesn’t do something like that. And his crimes at the University. Murder, Padre, plain and simple. We have to stand against him.”
Before he could overhear another word, Hector got up and left.
He was halfway down the stairs when he felt a desire to go home. So quickly it felt concurrent, a chill went through him. For more than three years after their wedding, he’d lunched with Yvelis every day. Six months ago he’d stopped, and in all that time he hadn’t so much as touched her. He couldn’t bear it. Even though the doctor had not said it, had not said anything, really, she knew—she must have—that childlessness wasn’t always the fault of the woman. And more recently, what took him to the lunch counter was a sneaky and persistent apprehension. Fear. Fear of Yvelis’ yuyú. That was the name he gave her momentary possessions by a fearfully prescient voice, the name of a ghost.
This ghost made Yvelis know things she couldn’t possibly know. Gave her a sudden and inexplicable voice of authority, a formality, as if someone else spoke through her. And the worst part: Yvelis herself had no awareness of it. She thought he was crazy. Afterward, she laughed at his petrified face, at his incredulous repeating of what she’d said. How would I know that?—she said, after. What do I care about that? Yvelis’ yuyú was rare as lightning strike, but if suddenly she said “don’t do business with that shameless descarado,” a week or a month later the shameless descarado turned up shot, or arrested, or betrayed in a political showdown and brought up on charges of embezzlement. It made the skin on the back of his neck prickle, as it was now, and he wondered: what would happen when her yuyú turned its prophetic finger on him? Would Yvelis see the details of his undoing, or worse, his lack of integrity, his cowardice?
Yvelis. The unrelenting childlessness. Her yuyú. And now, on top of everything, Tomás.
A sane person doesn’t do something like that.
Tomás could say that out loud, on a phone line that might very well be tapped, because the statement sounded pro-Batista, insofar as it was anti this Fidel Castro who’d installed himself in the hills of Oriente. Tomás had met someone who’d been schoolmates with Fidel Castro at Belén, a school for the privileged neither Hector nor Tomás had ever seen the inside of. He’d told Hector that at Belén, in an act of defiance over some petty, perceived insult, Castro had ridden a motorcycle at top speed into a stucco wall. Castro had been in a coma after that, or had a concussion, or some kind of brain damage. Hector couldn’t remember, because it was the gesture itself he found disturbing: the outsized need for attention outweighing the fear of self-destruction, the total and complete irrationality. Was it really possible a person like that could come to prominence?
But carajo, he thought, of course it was. Any absurdity was possible in this country where people were divided into three equally gullible camps: the ones who swallowed the endless story of the next “honest” politician to save the country, the ones who believed a gambling win would end their financial woes, and the ones who believed that a glass of water placed on the radio and blessed while Clavelito spoke would cure them of illness and vice. A sane person. Hector knew it now without doubt. Tomás had joined the war of nerves against Batista. He’d joined the Resistencia. And if Tomás had joined the Resistencia, then Hector, as his business partner, was suspect too. Suspect to Batista’s police and the Resistencia both. Those people were cut from the same cloth, all of them equally willing to put a bullet through the back of a traitor’s head.
Fear. His new, persistent shadow.
Down the block at Restaurante Niagara, Hector sat down at the bar. He thought of Yvelis. Yvelis and her mysterious, beckoning eyes. Yvelis and her distance, her anger. And still he wanted to go home. He wanted to put his head in his wife’s lap and cry.
• • •
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LESLIE BLANCO’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the Kenyon Review, PANK, Calyx, TransAtlanticPanorama, and the Coachella Review, among others. Her story “I Haven’t Forgotten You” won Big Muddy’s 2019 Wilda Hearne Flash Fiction Prize. In 2020, “A Ravishing Sun” was selected for publication from among the finalists of the New Letters Robert Day Award for Fiction. Leslie is the recent recipient of a Vermont Studio Center fellowship, a Hedgebrook fellowship and a Rona Jaffe fellowship. She has an MFA from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and a novel in the closet. She loves travel, the diverse and universal feast of spiritual possibility, and speaking to children through invented characters born when said children press her belly button.