Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chapter 22: A Bittersweet Catch

The next place we go is La Punta. We leave Machete in the taxi and walk down the thin strip of island.

The wind is whipping my hair and my clothes and no matter which direction I face I can't look dignified, which for once is just fine with me.

 Over there are people sitting, some walking. Here someone is taking a picture of the most spectacularly alien flower I've ever seen.

I notice right away there is thin tinkle of music coming from somewhere; this is the first I've heard in Cuba and it seems just right. I swing my arms around my Mom's cousin, the one with Abuela's eyes, and make her dance with me, here, where I know for certain Abuela had to have danced, she had to have laughed.

Of all places I've been in Cienfuegos, I feel her here the most, in the wind and in the music.

Mom points at steps that lead down into the water.

Here, here is where it was, she tells me and I give her my blonde head shaking response of What?

The shark. The wedding ring. Remember?

Of course I did. I do.

Don't you? It's from an old movie, one of my favorite movies. I can see it unfolding black and white and grainy.  

I can't remember the name of it, but it goes something like this.

A horrific accident sets a trade ship on fire off the coast of Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Shocked and heartbroken widows and orphans receive insurance money from the ship as the remains of their husbands and breadwinners were found, identified, buried.

I'm sure whatever amount they received was a paltry sum, never enough to replace the security of family, but it was something to keep them going, just for awhile.

But one woman was desperate.  Her husband's remains had not been found, so she could not prove he had been on the boat.

 She could not prove he had died, she could not even prove he had been on that boat, and every person who had seen him on the boat had perished.

A whisper went around this town went that he left her, went off to another town, that she was just lying to get money. Someone said, after rum and over a cigar, that he probably was hiding and would meet her in San Juan to split the insurance money.

None of this gossip put food on her table, none gave her dignity in this small city on a small island.

Angry and desperate the woman turned to every person she could and said please please my family is hungry, we need help. Help me find my husband, dead or alive, please.

One man did.

I remember he wore a linen suit and hat. He was athletic, warm and kind. And he loved to solve things, to help people, to add this to that and get something much much bigger.

He got together a crew and went out and found sharks trolling around the shipwreck.

So they did what every warmblooded man who has read Hemmingway (or drank rum, or held a fishing pole) would do.

They decided, while they were out there looking for a survivor, looking for evidence, they would also maybe enjoy the day and catch a big shark.

They tried one, and lost it.

They tried another and the line broke.

The third almost took the pole with him.

The rum was running low and the sun was fading when another shark presented himself.

This time the crew hooked and pulled and landed the trophy.

After hanging the shark upside down-- was it 12 feet? 14 feet? bigger? I forget -- right here, right at La Punta, they slit the beast's stomach open.

People gasped and fell backwards as the innards spilled onto the rocky ground.

 The man in the linen suit found it, pointed it out, had it pulled from the mess.

An arm, an arm with a hand and fingers.

And on a finger, a wedding ring.

The wedding ring that proved the woman was a widow. A bittersweet catch indeed.

I love that movie! I say to Mom and she gives me that look like maybe I haven't been listening too well, which happens when I watch bittersweet black and white Hemmingway-esque movies in my head.

What movie? That was MY Abuelo. She shakes her head at me and stands up to join my little dance.

That's right! I knew that, I tell her, and hide my bluff as long as I can.

I can't tell you how long we were out there standing, dancing, pointing, walking, sitting, staring.

  I can only remember that we stayed there until the sun got a little dimmer and the wind blew harder, hard enough to push us back into the taxi and head to the hotel.