Raul Palma is a PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Saw Palm: Florida Literature & Art, NANO, Naugatuck River Review, Midwestern Gothic, Penduline, and elsewhere. Originally from South Florida, he lives with his wife and daughter in Lincoln, Nebraska.
In 1949, Captain Charles Francois-Bienvenu retired from the Navy and moved to Vista del Mar—a small beachside pueblo near Havana. This wasn’t a tourist beach. There were no lifeguards, no striped umbrellas or decorative swimsuits. Locals swam in the ocean in their undergarments; they roasted pigs in sandpits. And when the captain built his home on the beach, the locals resented him. The shadow that now crawled along the beach after noon was cast by his large villa.
It took him some time to realize that the house was too close to the surf. During high tide, waves rolled across his tiled veranda, bleeding under the screen doors. This caused the tile to crack, revealing the concrete foundation. Crabs sometimes wandered into his home, so at the kitchen table, he’d sometimes feel pincers fondling his toes.
Those first few months were lonely for the captain. Locals avoided him, so he paid for companionship. The girl’s name was Juana, a frizzy-haired fifteen-year-old, who’d solicited him a number of times.
After Juana settled in her room, they dined on the veranda—rabi rubia y frijoles negros. During dinner, Juana stepped out of her cotton dress and danced around the table. She moved slowly, to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach, and the captain watched while eating his rice. Even with the breeze, it was hot, and little beads of sweat rolled down her stomach. Her skin looked the color of caramel in the moonlight, and as she rounded the table, she thrust her small breasts into the captain’s face. He dropped his fork, but didn’t reach to pick it up, nor did he reach for her breasts. He just sat there, holding onto the table and feeling her skin brush up against his beard. Evening fishermen jeered and whistled.
Juana pulled back, slid off her panties, kicked them to the side. Then she grasped his shoulders, kicked one leg over his arm and thrust her hips over his forearm so that he could feel her warmth and the coarseness of her hairs sliding against him. When she reached through his linen robe, between his legs, the captain laughed.
“What are you?” she asked.
“I’m still a man,” the captain said.
“Where is it?”
“Pretend,” he whispered, petting her arm. “Just pretend there’s something there.” And so she did, even when he really did disappear, buried beneath the earth. She pretended he was still there in that villa, frail under his robe, still watching her sneak out to the beach to swim. She pretended to have really cared for this man, thought she might have toward the end when every morning she’d take his soiled sheets to the sea and rinse them clean in the surf.