Will I see my father’s face on TV next? My brother’s? I’ve already lost the man I loved to this madness. When does it end? This is not a trial. This is not justice. And I think of Pablo now, of what he fought and died for. The man I knew, the man I loved, would not have wanted to see us reduced to this. Where is the constitution we were promised? The end to Batista’s cruelty? We have replaced one dictator with another and still my countrymen cheer. They chant “to the wall” now, quite literally calling for the deaths of those who supported Batista, those they believe have slighted them, those they wish to stand before a firing squad.
At night when I dream it is a strange mix that assails me—Pablo’s blood-soaked hands, Fidel’s roguish smile, maniacal white doves heralding disaster, crowds chanting, calling for our heads, setting Havana ablaze. Magda says it’s the baby causing the dreams, that it’s normal for my emotions to run high. She burns candles and offers prayers to the gods, but neither Changó nor Jesus appear concerned with saving Havana.
* * *
• • •
The events at the stadium affect the tenor in the city as the weeks drag on and January becomes February. My parents have snapped out of the fog that surrounded them, and they speak in hushed voices late at night, long after they think my sisters and I have gone to sleep. The household dynamics have shifted—there’s an undercurrent now as though the staff is holding its collective breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Magda senses it, too, mediating the tension between the family and the staff, taking care of all of us.
She prepares a bath for me, filling the water with herbs and perfumes, a dash of holy water smuggled out of the Cathedral of Havana.
“It will protect you,” she says as I sink into the water.
The clock is running down on my ability to keep the pregnancy a secret. My clothes still fit, but it’s only a matter of time, and I can’t help but think that if we lived in different times, if the world as we know it wasn’t falling down around us, my parents would have noticed that something is wrong by now.
It’s perhaps the only favor Fidel has done or ever will do for me.
I never knew it was possible to hate someone as much as I hate him. Every glimpse of him is a slap in the face. Why couldn’t he have died instead of Pablo?
Tears run down my cheeks, spilling into the bathwater, mixing with the holy water, the items the santero suggested Magda use.
She strokes my hair, singing to me in her soothing, deep voice, and I’m at once a little girl again, safe in her embrace.
“Will you sing to the baby?” I ask her.
Magda smiles. “Of course. Just as I sang to you and your sisters.” She squeezes my hand. “I will teach you my songs.”
That night I don’t dream of blood, or Pablo’s dead eyes, but of a little girl, her tiny hand clutched in mine, her long hair flowing behind me. I brush her hair until it gleams, braiding it, and she asks me to tell her stories, of Cuba, of my family. She listens intently, as I give her our history, as I kiss the top of her head. She is content to sit with me, until I wake the next morning, the overwhelming sense of loss surprising me when I find her gone. I’m not sure how I know, but I do—
She needs me. Desperately.
Perhaps it was the bath or simply the product of a good night’s sleep, but I climb out of bed feeling better than I have in a long time. I dress quickly, making my way to the dining room.
One of the maids is listening to Fidel on the radio in her room; it’s jarring to hear his voice from the back of the house, the sensation that he has invaded our sanctuary inescapable. I’ve had enough of his stupid speeches, enough of Fidel and his promises that will never come true. Empty words from another king of Cuba, replacing one tyranny with another. I want to tell her to turn it off, but in this climate no one can afford the luxury of shutting one’s doors to Fidel. He is in all our homes now whether we want him here or not.
Pablo’s dreams of reinstating the 1940 Constitution are just that—dreams. Instead, Fidel gives us the Fundamental Law, if it can even be called that. Under this farcical piece of legislation, Fidel has the power to hold prisoners without charge, but this threat pales in comparison to the macabre spectacle at the stadium.
How do they not see? The same people who cheer Fidel’s cruelty vilified Batista for his. Is it only accepted because they hate us? Because they coveted our way of life? How long do they think Fidel will continue to operate as a piece of fiction—a benevolent Robin Hood? He steals from the rich and gives to the poor, but what will happen when all the money has been driven from Havana? Will he stop or will he continue to take and take?
Serving in the military under Batista can get you executed. Supporting Batista in a climate where supporting Batista wasn’t an option can get you executed. What else will Fidel use as an excuse to eviscerate his opponents?
My sisters are sitting at the dining room table from Paris, eating silently when I enter.
“Where is Beatriz?” I ask, noticing her seat is empty.
Isabel’s brow furrows. “I don’t know; she was already gone when I woke up. Are you feeling better?”
Does she suspect?
“I am, thank you.”
I stare at the ring on her finger, watching the diamond catch the light, thinking of the ring hidden in my room, the one I wish I had the courage to wear. I want to tell them. I want to tell them, but I am a coward, and I fear in their eyes a traitor. I’m afraid I will break their hearts. I’m afraid they will cast me out for betraying our family.
Pablo died for the very forces that are now destroying our country, the people who threw my father in prison, who beat him, who treated him worse than one would an animal, who very well might come back and kill him. Men who kill for blood sport and entertainment.
How do I tell them that?
“Isabel, Elisa—Beatriz—” Magda runs into the room, her eyes swimming with tears, her voice shaking.
Ice fills my veins as I look at her, as her face falls before me, as her body simply crumples to the ground.
Isabel reaches her first, grasping her arms, holding her up. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
A low, keening sound erupts from Magda, and my world simply shatters.
Not Beatriz. I can’t lose my sister, too.
“Where’s Beatriz?” I ask, my voice calm compared to the terror racking my limbs. Perhaps some part of me has simply become inured to the violence. Did Beatriz return to La Cabaña? Is she in prison now, too?
Magda takes a deep breath, her body quaking. “She’s outside. She . . . she found him.” A sob escapes her lips.
Now Isabel is the calm one. “Who?”
I don’t wait for her answer, my legs carrying me out the door, running to the front gates. I kick up gravel beneath my shoes once I reach the path in the front entrance. A crowd is beginning to form in front of the house—gardeners, staff—someone calls my name behind me, but all I can think of is Beatriz—
My steps slow.
She’s sitting on the gravel floor, her gown—one we bought together not too long ago when our world was a simpler place—pooling around her. If not for the incongruous setting, she’d look like a debutante posing for a society photo; if not for the blood splattering her dress, staining her palms, or the body cradled in her lap.
I know the moment she looks at me. How could I not?
I sink to the ground beside her, my legs rubber. I know I’m crying because my cheeks are wet, but I feel removed from my body, as though I’ve left it and floated up to the sky, looking down on all of us, praying for our souls.
“They dumped him,” Beatriz babbles. I reach out and grasp her free hand. “In front of the gate. A car—it sped by and then it stopped.” Tears stream down her face. “The door opened and I saw him—he’s so skinny, isn’t he? Like he hasn’t been eating for a while.” Her fingers shake as she strokes the face that looks so very much like hers. “He was already dead when he hit the ground. I tried—”
I focus on her, because I can’t look down, can’t look at him.
The crowd around us grows, the servants shrieking, Isabel and Magda crying. Our parents should not see this. Maria cannot see this.
Beatriz’s gaze meets mine, the wet sheen there covering steel. “One day they will pay,” she vows.
“Yes, they will.”
I look down into my dead brother’s eyes.
When they remove the hood from my head, I’m in a room—gray, nondescript, vaguely residential in nature—there are two armchairs, a table in the corner with a lamp, the light casting a yellow glow around the room, a lumpy couch shoved into another corner. A frayed rug covers a dirty ground.
My hands are unbound.
The man who grabbed me off the street stands before me, and I open my mouth to plead for my safety, to ask about Luis, a million words and protestations pushing to escape, but before I can cobble together my jumbled thoughts, before I can make myself move, he is gone, shutting the door behind him with a firm thud, and I am alone.
Are they going to question me? Rape me? Kill me? How long are they planning to hold me here? Will anyone realize what happened to me?
A tear trickles down my face. Then another.
The door opens.
Another man walks into the room, this one much older, his steps slow, an elegant cane in one hand, wearing a neatly pressed guayabera and crisp trousers. His black leather shoes gleam. Whereas the first man screamed “danger,” this man screams “power.”
The door shuts behind him with an ominous thud.
For a moment we stare at each other, sizing each other up. He’s tall and lean. Distinguished, his hair a steely gray, his face defined by thin lines and wrinkles, his eyes dark, his gaze hooded.
He takes a step forward. “We’re not going to hurt you,” he says in Spanish after a moment, his tone surprisingly gentle for someone who exudes such influence, as though he is the sort of man positioned to send another to his death with the stroke of a pen.