There are nights when my wife moans like a dog. There’s no story in that, the Yankee tells me, so he ignores it. He asks again about the baby shoes hanging from a nail on the wall. I like this black iron nail hammered through the concrete. You must have used a big hammer to get that nail in so deep, he says. Give me another cigarette, I tell him. No really, I’m interested in those shoes. Why do they hang on a blank wall? A big picture would obscure some of these cracks. They make your house seem poised—as though about to collapse. I tell him my wife makes the noise of a hungry street dog when I talk about such things. He laughs when I say street dog, but I think I don’t talk very well.
I would prefer the sound of the ocean to speak my mind back to me when we go out on the water to fish. Except that the Yankee is always talking. He talks about baseball, and women, and asks me about knife fights I have seen on the docks between fishermen. They must be very sharp knives that they use, he says. Do they always plunge them into the stomach? Sometimes two fishermen must gut each other when it’s a draw. Have you seen something like that? He is always asking questions that he answers with his own stories but when we speak about where I sail my boat for the fish, he listens and then writes down what I tell him in a black book he bought in Paris.
He wants to know about the big fish. It’s always the stories with big fish in them that he wants to hear. I tell him I live off the small fish. They are for food, and the big fish are for being a hero. They are for famous men like the Yankee and the free people in the homes of the brave over the waters. Boatfuls of people drown for stories like the Yankee tells about being brave and free and rich but me and my wife just stay quiet most of the time.
Sometimes we talk about the people in the market and dockyards, sometimes our family, if something nice has happened to the nephews and nieces. Gabriella’s cousin got a job as a teacher in Guantanamo. I tell her it’s a lovely city because Gabriella has never been there. It is good for him to live there with his new wife and Santiago Junior, his beautiful baby boy. We are very proud of him becoming a teacher so we talk about Santiago, in bed, when it is quiet and dark and the Yankee has gone back to the hotel to drink cocktails and make love with women on the clean sheets in the air conditioning.
Gabriella says Santiago was a clever little boy. She remembers that when they were children together, her cousin liked the books with numbers and letters in them, and he said intelligent things but she can’t remember what they were anymore, and so she makes the sounds of a starving dog again. I can say nothing because I have already drowned and I must remain quiet and can only move close to her head and breathe over her without touching the noise. I have learned this from the way the water talks. All we can do is let the winds and tides change the world. In the morning I wake and there is a note on the kitchen table from the Yankee that says he’s got what he needs for his story and he won’t be coming back. There is more money than we agreed, but the baby shoes from the wall are gone and I am worried what will happen when Gabriella sees what he stole from us.
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