HABÁNAME (Havana [Verb Transitive] Me)

An Original Uber-Fiction by Ana Ortiz

Disclaimers: Not written for profit. The lead characters often look and sound like THEM. This is an ALT story, and several languages are used profanely. Consensual f/f eroticism.

Thanks to Prof of Xena Warrior Lesbian, and to Jessica Michallet for coming on board as beta-readers and editorial advisors for this story. Thanks to the Masked Punctuation Goddess. A special thanks to Old Warrior for test driving this story.

Note to readers: In previous scenes set in the United States, I used the convention of italicizing dialogue when – in bilingual contexts – characters were choosing to communicate in Spanish. In scenes set in Cuba, I will be inverting that practice: when characters opt for the use of English in dialogue, it will be italicized.

Como pajarillo mago que vuelve, te esperé una mañana
Sentada ante mi ventana, mirando el monte más verde
Y al ver amanecer entre las flores del campo, me vino mejor tu canto
Te volví de nuevo a querer.
Amor mío no te vayas
que no quiero verme sola otra vez.
Amor mío no te vayas, que lloro.
Tu pelo con mil olores y con su brillo de estrellas
Fue la cosa más bella fue un amor de millones
Tomó más fuerza mi canto al sentir que venías y di
Con la poesía que sé que te gusta tanto.
Amor mío no te vayas
que no quiero verme sola otra vez.
Amor mío no te vayas, que lloro.
Me da luz en la ventana cuando se abren tus ojos
Y pienso en el antojo de tenerlos mañana
Pero sé que con tu trino se impone un combate
Y dejo que me arrebate mi sentimiento más fino.
Amor mío no te vayas
que no quiero verme sola otra vez.
Amor mío no te vayas, que lloro.
Sarita González, "Amor de Millones" (Used without permission.)


Chapter Six – Citizenships of the Heart

Still the morning after, Saturday - Guanabo

There is a song in that soft roar, thought Chela, as she listened to the waves breaking on their persistent march to the shore. She stretched languidly on the sand, the aftermath of the night spent in lovemaking still imbuing her with a disorienting but pleasurable sense of boneless-ness and warmth. Her toes edged at the line of moisture left behind by the departing tide. A song of leaving land: a melody that takes the self I was before out to sea and brings back into this relentless cycle of return the new woman I have become. A woman in love with another woman. A child of the South and of the ocean, who has shared her body in intimacy with a child of the North and of the lightning. Everything is different today. Her musings were interrupted by the clearing of a throat, and the cast of a shadow across the sand at her side. She looked up in great anticipation – expecting that Barbara had finally come to join her on the beach - and was met instead by the knowing smile and mischievous brown eyes of her old friend Leti.

"Don’t look so disappointed, negra!" laughed the other woman as she threw herself down on the sand beside Chela. "Although I understand that you were expecting something different, just as I was when you told me you were bringing someone special to spend the night with you here. The cabin was so quiet I thought you had left… so I went in to clean. That was a surprise!" Leti smiled at the look of sheer panic erupting on Chela’s face. "Look, girl, I said I was surprised, not repulsed. Let me be clear, Chelita. I was very impressed. I mean the sheet was on the floor. That is a marvelous specimen of gringa-hood you have left stretched across my humble guest bed."

Leti paused to indulge in a full belly laugh as she saw her friend attempt to cover her lobster-red face with her beach towel.

"Well, for the second time this morning I badly wish I had a camera. Chela Stevens is giggling and hiding her face like a schoolgirl. Well! And you were never a girl when you were a girl, but now look at you!" Leti reached into her bag and brought out some sliced oranges and a handful of grapes in a paper sack. "I would try to bribe you with these for all of the details because I’m assuming from the way you have that towel wrapped around your head like a mummy that it was very good, but you’ve never shared such priceless information before. Here, have some fruit. You need to keep your strength up."

Chela finally reacted, whipping the towel off and carefully flicking it at Leti’s shoulder before accepting the food.

"That’s enough, Leti!" playfully grumbled Chela, her mouth already half full of grapes. "My god, I didn’t think I could be embarrassed but I guess I am…This is all rather new to me. New as in last night was our first time. I mean, I feel very happy about this, but also strange, and it is stranger still to be discussing this with you." Leti’s eyes grew wide.

"You mean you had never gone with a woman before…?"

Chela looked incredulously at her longtime friend.

"You mean you knew that I might do this?"

Leti shook her head, then smiled wistfully while gazing with affection into the questioning green eyes. "No, Chela Stevens. I mean a lot of us tried it back in school. I mean practically the whole Young Women’s Achievement Cadre was fooling around with each other. Except for you. You were always so serious and so heavy about everything. I remember once Genia and Luisa inviting me over for some crazy time together and I suggested bringing you along and they said no, that if anyone would rat us out to the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, it would be you." Leti chuckled at the memory. "Either that, or that you would quote from the Communist Manifesto or some such shit while we were playing around." Chela laughed.

"You know she did that last night…she quoted from the Communist Manifesto."

"You’re lying to me! What did they do, special order her from a catalog for you?"

"She was making fun of it, Leti, in a way. Ay, god, Leti!" Chela saw with dismay that the packet of grapes already lay empty. "I’m such a selfish pig! I’m so sorry!"

"It’s all right, Chela," soothed the other woman. "Some Danish people who had the cabin rented out during the week left all of this food from the dollar-only stores. I’ve been getting plenty of treats." She grew quiet for a minute, her face growing heavy as she looked out over the sea. "I’m not struggling like he is, you know. In that last letter he writes of having to go for charity to eat. There are Catholic nuns that give out old bread and old vegetables and that is what he does to fill his stomach. But he swears that he is on the way to making it, and to eventually having the family together once again." Chela scooted closer to the other dark woman, gently laying her arm over her back and reaching up to tussle her hair.

"You have to have faith, Leti," she said quietly, catching her friend’s gaze, "if anyone can accomplish this, it will be Rogelio. He always was a determined young man, and I remember how he fell in love with that baby when it arrived. It’s the real thing that you two have – it will not end without his doing everything possible to send for you."

"Chela," sighed Leti. "Even if they let me go to him, they won’t let us take the child. Every single couple I know of who has gone through this has had to leave the children with the grandparents here, and hope that in their staying together as a couple, that in time the kids will be all right."

"And you know, Leti," whispered Chela, hugging her tightly, "there will always be some of us here who knew those parents - who remain behind – to make sure that those children know that their parents did not leave from a poverty of love for them." She wiped a tear from her eye and hiccupped into a laugh. "If you don’t mind your son having a puta ["whore"] and a pata ["dyke"] for a guardian angel I will be glad to take the job."

Leti smiled between sobs. "Chelita, you make it sound like these two things are permanent conditions."

"Well, I don’t know what to say, Leti," Chela answered as she also let the tears run down her grinning face. "In a way I am glad that I didn’t ever get one of those invitations to play around back in school, because this doesn’t feel like a youthful experiment to me." She paused to throw a pebble out towards the water. "I think I am finally in love," she concluded quietly.

"So perhaps she will take you away," offered Leti hopefully. "Perhaps she can take you to the United States."

"Leti," murmured Chela, laying back down on the sand and closing her eyes. "Even if that was something that she wanted, what would I do in the United States? If Rogelio who is a man and who studied engineering has to beg for food, what would I do to earn my keep? And you know, being a whore in Havana is honest work as far as it is not about selling my feelings, not about really selling myself. But I will not go to the United States to be her whore - to be kept by her – even if she also loves me. I would go crazy if I depended on her that way."

"Goddamn, Chela," said Leti despondently, as she mirrored her friend’s position on the ground and stretched out on the sand. "They really did make a "New Socialist Woman" out of you! I love you, Chela, but they fucked with your rat brain so that you think the cage is pretty even after they’ve stopped putting cheese in for you. You need to get out of here if you can."

"This is my country, negra," whispered Chela. "This is where life makes sense to me. And you know? I think she could be happy here. But enough of this." She reached over tapping the other woman’s arm to get her attention, and smiled. "I am tired of talking of the things that trouble us. I guess it would not be such a bad thing – seeing that I know very well what your husband is like in bed…" She continued past the surprised gasp from her companion at hearing the old history between them invoked, and ignored the sharp thrust of an elbow against her ribs; "and that you yourself turn out to have such cosmopolitan experiences in your past – if I regale you with those details you begged for earlier…"


So…I am her canoe, thought Barbara dizzily as she re-read the poem for what seemed the hundredth time since waking. She was still intoxicated with the scent of her new lover, which rose delicately from the sheets and off of her own skin, as she lay on the bed, running her fingers over the page. Geez. Well, crap! The Southie girls liked to travel on me well enough. Fuck. I was the scary amusement park ride. Come on, Susie! Have you been on the Barbara Murphy yet? You get off and then you get off, and if you look down you might faint or puke, so you’ve gotta just close your eyes and count the seconds til the ride’s over and you get to go back to your boyfriend. Oh, hell. The thrill’s good, so maybe you go around a second time with your seat belt off screaming "Look Ma! No hands!" Oh fuck, Chela. Chela you love me, don’t you? It’s not a game for you. You love me. What are we gonna do?

She reviewed the stillborn romances of her maturity, women of academe and medicine who were drawn to her creative intelligence yet repulsed by her idiosyncratic social skills, or - worse - were disappointed to learn of her "socially impoverished" background. How many dates had taken an ominous turn when, over dinner, Barbara could not keep up with a prospective partner’s pedigree of preparatory schools, summer camps, and exotic travel experiences? How many women who were the daughters and grand-daughters of well-to-do physicians, university deans and industrialists had decided that it was a poor match to court the daughter of a crippled laborer whose most prominent family members were petty thieves? Yeah. Ride the Barbara Murphy and maybe give her an acknowledgement in your publications after she connected the dots of your argument for you and showed you what your clit was for, but she is way too immature and fucked up for a real relationship. Heh. Like I didn’t know what people were saying.

It seemed she attracted women well enough, and many of them women that she became quickly infatuated with, but none of them shared her eagerness for having something beyond brief and superficial, if sensuous, affairs. Dreaming of love was therefore a constant in her life, but a constant akin to her other fantasies, such as those of adventure and fame. She missed having a lover the way she missed being a decorated war hero or being a rock star. But now Chela had appeared and disrupted the statistical reasoning of her romantic universe: if the lottery was a tax on people too dim to understand the mathematical odds set against them, then the young Cuban woman was It, was the grand prize won off the random investment of an everyday dollar.

And there were so many Chelas that she claimed as her winnings. She could still feel the caring beneath the correction as she recalled the Chela of the righteous outbursts and the wry proverbs. There was the Chela who gave herself in merriment, appreciating the fragility behind Barbara’s incessant clowning even as she let the peals of laughter fall like petals at the older woman’s feet. Chela teaching, showing her the Taíno drawings in the cave and the heavy chains - once worn by slaves - that were displayed on the walls of the Havana museum, but also Chela learning, carefully following the chart depicting the metabolism of methanol, the chemical formulas becoming transparent to her intellect under the guidance of the American physician. Chela in the very earliest light of this morning, the passion making her pupils seem as deep as the ocean as she looked up into Barbara’s eyes before dipping her face between her lover’s legs to taste a woman for the first time, and Chela in the night beneath her, sobbing out her climax in naked vulnerability, unashamed of the sweet words and the raw sounds that the pleasure drew out from her lips. And then there is that matter of how you can see everything that I am and go beyond tolerating me, beyond forgiving me. Holy fucking Christ, Chela. You love me.

But, man. Stay here? She thought of the disheartened young physicians she had met at public health institutions across Havana and the eastern third of the island. I would have worked my ass off to play with the big boys for nothing! This epidemic study’s gonna hit across a dozen specialty journals on top of the generalist publications like JAMA, and I’m sitting in the catbird seat to negotiate first or second author position on half of those articles. But here, I won’t be able to save someone who has a simple bladder infection depending on what the government has managed to trade for all this sugar that feeds no one. Fuck. Fuck. All this friggin’ dysentery and hepatitis because there’s no water purification chemicals left – even in the fucking hospital. And it will be me someday, washing out my last pair of latex gloves, watching them grow thin and porous, until the day comes when I’m suturing bare-handed. I might as well have stayed on the street trying to staple people’s beer brawl cuts shut. But Chela…you love me. What the hell can I pull out of the hat for us? I am not ready for Fourth World medicine, but I am not ready to say goodbye to the first woman who has loved me to the tips of my very asshole-ish toes. Or would that be the tip of my very asshole-ish stern if I am a canoe?


Barbara’s ears were ringing as she walked up behind the two dark women who were quietly chatting in the shade of a royal palm.

"Damn, Chela. See you beat me on that one. I had to beg Rogelio for two months before I got a moustache ride off of him." Crap! thought Barbara as she overheard the stranger. I hope Chela’s not planning on lending me out! I barely survived last night!

"Later, Leti. I think I have an introduction to make," cautioned Chela, who had sensed her lover’s approach. She looked up to see Barbara’s smiling face towering over her, and hesitated, unsure of how much affection the older woman would want to display in public. Barbara knelt by her side, reaching around to pull her into an embrace.

"Hey sweetie," she whispered in English into Chela’s ear. " Sorry I’m interrupting the debriefing session. Do we have any secrets left?" Chela laughed and cupped the American’s face with her hand, drawing her into a long devouring kiss that left the usually unflappable Leti uncomfortably looking for another place on which to focus her sight.

"My lover, I am just confirming the superior quality of certain imports over local products, even though it is not very revolutionary of me. Barbara, this is one of my oldest friend, Leti. Leti, Barbara."

"My pleasure," nodded Barbara, at the small dark woman, who was just a bit stockier than Chela, and who wore her thick, crinkly hair in a tight bun.

"Well, the pleasure is all Chela’s from what I understand, sexy American," responded Leti in a picaresque tone. Barbara laughed as Chela once again employed her towel as a makeshift veil for her reddening face.

"Damn, Leti, you are such an animal about these things!" she chided, as she let Barbara settle on the ground behind her and felt her lover’s chin come to rest on her shoulder.

"I mean this with the utmost respect, Yanqui," continued the boisterous Cuban. "The compañera here is looking very healthy this morning."

"Yeah, and Leti knows that you were looking healthy too," chuckled Chela, letting the towel drop. "You slept through her coming in to ogle you this morning."

"I love Cuba!" exclaimed a very self-satisfied Barbara, leaning forward to lightly tickle Chela. "And mami, your friend’s right – I am good for your body. And I wouldn’t lie, I’m a doctor ."

"I’m going in to the water for a bit," declared Chela, shaking off some sand and Barbara’s grasp as she scrambled to her feet. "You two can sit here and humiliate me in my absence."

"Ok!" replied Barbara good-naturedly to the younger woman’s back as she resolutely stomped towards the water. She found that she couldn’t take her eyes off of her, and sat in silence watching Chela bathe for several minutes until Leti gently intruded on her thoughts.

"You know, you can stay here again tonight if you like. I know what it is like in Havana where the walls are paper thin and everyone wants to hear, and the only people who give free rein to their pleasure are drunks and fools."

"I wouldn’t want to impose on you, Leti," answered Barbara with a smile. "I could always take her to my hotel."

"No," said Leti firmly, shaking her head. "That would be the worse place, first because that is the kind of place she has had to go so often when it was not about her desire, but also because that is the place where the worst of the tattle-tales are to be found. Everything here is collected and stored for one’s own purpose, American, including information. Now God made Cubans nosy, and I am not saying I won’t try to sneak down here myself and see if it is really true that you can bring her to her enjoyment so many times in one hour, but unless you screamed that you were here to assassinate Fidel while you were coming, I wouldn’t bother with the authorities. And even if you did, knowing Chela, I would wonder if it wasn’t some strange fantasy of reversal or rescue that she was making you act out. But in the hotels and tourist areas it is different. There they will write in your file, "The American dyke was constipated today", or "The blue-eyed enemy of the state likes to lift her left butt cheek when she is going to fart", and someone would pay for that information and then it would be analyzed over and over again to see who it might benefit."

"Damn," grumbled Barbara. "You know I have let several of my friends use my hotel room for privacy."

"Well, if they were Cuban, they would have known what they were risking and it must have been worth it to them. Don’t feel bad. It was a generous offer."

"You are the generous one here, compañera, letting us use your property. Can I give you something for this time?"

"You can’t give me money," said Leti seriously, impaling Barbara with a concerned look. "But I can tell you that I care very much for Chela, and that her life has been such a waste here, even though she refuses to see it that way because she is an old-style patriot martyr, you know? But now things will get worse, because she is in love with you, and it is only a matter of time before the despair creeps like a fever into her bones. You can’t leave her here."

Why do I feel like I’m on a mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments or something? How is it that first Chela and now this little flirt can crunch all the data like emotional super computers and read me like the back of a cereal box? She turned to face this young woman who unsettled her with the certainty of her pronouncements.

"She called me a chángo while we were together," whispered Barbara. "And the word seemed both to tear her up and make her happy. Why?" Leti smiled.

"Not chángo, but Changó," replied Leti. "It would be best if you asked Chela about this – it has to do with the kind of energy that you bring into her life, and what it means beyond just the two of you. But I can tell you this – as I myself am a daughter of Oshún and know of love, I say that it would be an affront to all those who pray for a chance like this for you not to take your bond with Chela seriously."

Heh. If this is what I think it is, so much for Miss I-Won’t-Use-Magic-On-You, I guess. But I don’t care. And if it fucking takes magic to find a solution to all this, bring on the newspapers that turn into bouquets and the top hats full of bunnies. Poof. I’d like a way for us to be happy to appear, and yeah, it looks like I’ll be making that outta thin air.


Sunday night – La Habana Central

"You are sure about this?" asked a troubled Chela, as she and Barbara strode up the hill of El Monte. "Barbara, they are not easy people to be with. It really might be best if you waited for me back at the Humboldt apartment." Barbara smiled back at her, reaching out to touch her arm affectionately.

"Mami, I am curious, you know? It will be all right – I won’t take anything personally. I just want to meet the family of my compañera." She winked at Chela.

Does she know what putting that possessive before the word entails, really? wondered Chela. Does she understand that by using it that way she is claiming me formally as her partner? I am just imagining things. But what a sweet thing to imagine.

As they stepped up to the crumbling building, a scruffy youth materialized out of the side alley and approached them, his dark eyes dripping hostility. Barbara quickly moved forward to shield Chela from the threat, but found herself held back by a hand on her forearm.

"It’s all right, compañera," said Chela loud enough so that the young man – who had stopped immediately in front of them – could also hear. "Yes, he is here to rob me in a way, but this is my brother Manuel, and he is allowed to bully people in front of this building. It is the one thing he does well."

Ouch! thought Barbara. She is already on a roll! Shoulda met her later after she’d gotten her fill of zingers for the night. Civilian here! Civilian! Don’t wanna get caught in the crossfire!

Chela moved her foot deftly enough to avoid the gob of spit directed towards her by the sneering Manuel.

"Look, puta, we all know what the one thing you do well is. Maybe you want to yell about that in the street for a while."

Breathe. Don’t remove his face without her asking you to. Please Chela, let me hurt him.

"What’s that?" the youth asked diffidently, tipping his chin up at Barbara. "You have a bodyguard now?" He pulled out a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it.

"Mama’s upstairs?" replied Chela, ignoring his questions.

"What, are they fucking you so hard these days that they are scrambling your memory? Where else would she be on Sunday night? You have the money, right? Pedro is in the cold house for robbing a tourist and he had some grass on him to boot. I think the old lady wants to go visit but needs some cash to buy a longer time with him."

"This is so sad, Barbara," said Chela icily. "You won’t get to meet Pedro today! But now you know that if you see one that looks just like this…". She pointed at Manuel, "…while you are wandering about in La Habana that you should give him a wide berth and still check your pockets afterwards." Manuel coolly blew smoke into his sister’s face, his eyes catching the dangerous tension in her larger companion’s expression and muscles.

"Well, I have to go, ugly puta," he said defiantly, throwing down the cigarette and grinding it under his heel. "I have business to take care of with the tourists. And Chela…" he added, moving safely away from the two women as he spoke. "At least I take from them with my hands like a man, not up the ass like the hungry pussy that you are. Damn, I bet that thing you’ve brought home has a dick too." He ran off towards the direction of the Vedado.

Barbara laughed, but noticed the sharp intake of breath from her lover. "Oh sweetheart, I feel right at home! Come on, take me to your mother." Chela was still shaking in rage as they climbed up to the apartment.

"That might have been the high point of this visit, Barbara. She’s going to be a mess if Pedro is in jail."

She opened the door, which was left unlocked, and cautiously entered, pulling Barbara in behind her. Maritza sat at the common room table, reading Granma by the light of a single candle. She looked up at her daughter’s approach, her eyes red and puffy, and finally focused on the tall stranger standing in her home, her head tilting to the side in frank curiosity.

"Mamá," quietly braved Chela. "This is the compañera Barbara Murphy, the doctor I have been working with at the Ministry of Health these last months. She wanted to meet you. I hope this is all right."

"I am always happy to meet someone here in international solidarity, Doctora," murmured the older Cuban woman respectfully. "And I am glad that you gave Chela this opportunity."

"Your daughter has a brilliant mind and is a hard worker, Señora Stevens," replied Barbara warmly. "I don’t pretend to understand much about revolutionary Cuba, but I have great respect for a society that nurtured such a smart and conscientious young woman."

"Well…" mumbled Maritza. "You are a socialist?"

"I am of working class background," answered Barbara neutrally, dodging the question. "My father was a laborer, and my mother was a factory worker when she was not taking care of her children full time. Child care for working women is not a right in the United States, as it is here."

"Yes, it is a shame about how women are not valued in that society as the backbones of the working class that they are," said Maritza dryly. She looked up at the stunningly attractive American doctor. "I wish that my sons were a bit older, compañera Doctora. You are the kind of woman I would want for them someday. Chela," continued Maritza, looking with impatience at her firstborn. "Where is Tomás?"

"I don’t know, Mamá," lied Chela, as she pulled a wad of US currency out of her bra and laid it on the table. "But I know that he was not happy with your attempt to institutionalize him."

"You don’t understand, Chela," huffed her mother. "I just wanted him treated for all that craziness and then I wanted him home. I want my sons at home. It is my birthday in two weeks and I want them all to be here. I want to be the rose bush with my three flowers of Cuban manhood, the fruit I have produced for the motherland, surrounding me."

Barbara could feel her temper rising, as she watched Chela nod submissively to her mother. I get it. Everyone here eats from the sweat and the pride of the daughter, but she doesn’t count for shit.

"Chela," she said quietly. "It is getting late and we have to be at work early. I am sorry to rush your visit with your mother."

"I am sorry if she has inconvenienced you, Doctora," said Maritza quickly as she stood to see the two younger women out the door.

"There was no inconvenience in our coming here so Chela could leave you her earnings, compañera Stevens," said Barbara carefully from the doorway, the sparks dancing off of her angry blue eyes. "And as to the matter of your sons, well…" She shook her head lightly and laughed. "The sun already rises and sets because one of your children is in my life, so I thank you."

Well let’s see which one of them is more surprised! Yep that would be Chela trying not to keel over. But wait, the old bitch wins it with a coughing fit! Score!


Barbara forcefully closed the door to the Humboldt apartment and used it to support Chela as she pressed into her, her breathing coming in quick rasps as she nuzzled the younger woman’s neck and started to pull the dress up over her hips. The walk from El Monte had seemed longer than it really was, her excitement whetted by the realization that she had just taken her first real risk in her emerging relationship with Chela by confessing to the degree of her attachment.

"Jesus, I want you, mami," she managed to get out between kisses, pulling Chela closer so she could slip her hands around behind her, cupping her buttocks. "I can’t get enough of you, I want you so bad." She was lost and whimpering, her hips starting to move in a slow grind as she clutched Chela and lifted her up against her thigh. Then she realized that the young Cuban not only was failing to respond, but was actively attempting to disengage herself.

"Cariño, we are not alone," gasped Chela, struggling to quell her own arousal. She pulled away from her lover and hastily tugged her clothing back into place, her face red from equal parts of embarrassment and frustrated desire. Incredulous at this interruption, Barbara turned and looked upon a face very much like Chela’s, but quite lighter in skin tone, and with eyes that looked amber in the light of the dim kitchen counter lamp. The youth before her was smiling indulgently, and dressed all in bright white clothing. He held a bouquet of flowers in one hand, and a small decorated case in the other. "Barbara, this is my youngest brother, Tomás. It appears that this was the night for you to meet all the different varieties of Stevens’ available."

Tomás laughed and held up the bouquet. "Well! If it were not prohibited by my religious vows at this time I would be shaking your hand, Miss Barbara. I am hoping you will share in these gifts I have brought my sister. And Chela…," he affectionately turned to his sibling after placing the flowers and package on the bed. "You didn’t think I would forget, did you? Although I see that you have already gotten yourself a very special birthday present."

"Chela," began a stunned Barbara, still breathing heavily. "You weren’t going to tell me?"

"I honestly forgot, cariño," said Chela shyly. "This one," she said, indicating Tomás, "is the only one who celebrates it since my father left us."

Fuck, baby, thought Barbara, as in her mind she rewound the earlier scene at the El Monte apartment in light of this new information. That sick fuck sat there complaining about her upcoming party and whether the Three Stooges would be there, and ignored her only daughter’s birthday. And I thought my family was fucked up. Hell, whether it was at the convent or at the jail, we always all showed up. But crap, I shoulda found out before now. I know so little about her, really.

"So how many is this, Chelita?" she asked bashfully.

"I am twenty-one today," smiled Chela, as she picked up the decorated case from the bed and opened it. "Tomás, these are beautiful! And there are two of them!" She held up the delicate red and white bead necklaces so that Barbara could see them.

"Yes, of course," replied Tomás. "One for each of you. Go ahead, put them on."

Chela reached up over Barbara’s head, sliding the necklace onto her partner before kissing her sweetly. Then she put on her own, settling the beads carefully over her dress.

Barbara was still feeling overwhelmed by the evening’s surprises. "You know, I thought you were older than twenty," she said awkwardly. "I mean, I am not in my twenties anymore and you are not much more than a teenager."

"I know," answered Chela, taking her hand and pulling her to sit on the bed beside her. "You will turn thirty-two on August twelfth of this year. I saw your passport when I registered you at the inn on the way back from Maisí." She leaned over to plant a quick kiss on her lover’s cheek. "Don’t worry, cariño. You are holding up very well for an old woman." To Chela’s relief, both her brother and Barbara chuckled at the comment.

"Well, sister," said the boy, as he made his way to the door. "I will leave you two alone. Happy birthday, Chela. I am happy for you – I am happy that you found her." He paused before closing the door, and turned back towards them. "Oh, and I hope I will see both of you at Mamá’s birthday gathering. It will be easier for me if you are there. Goodnight."

"Boy, I can’t wait for that birthday party," said Barbara sarcastically.

"It will be all right, my lover. And you know? I think my mother is a bit scared of you. It is hard for me sometimes. Half the time I feel like I am her parent, and the other half I am waiting for her to scold me. You were sweet tonight, in the way you came to my defense."

"I meant it, Chela," said Barbara as she moved to resume the intimacy that had been interrupted by Tomás’ visit. "I meant it when I told her how much I care for you." She felt a bit dizzy and confused, her senses slightly blurred, as she feverishly removed Chela’s dress and then her own shirt and sports bra, before stretching herself out over the younger woman. What the fuck is happening to me? Shit, but I don’t care. Oh fuck, I need her so bad. Barbara looked on hungrily as Chela reached up to finger the dangling necklace before leaving it to take a breast into her mouth. She was not so dazed that the act didn’t send her over the edge of control, and to her own surprise she found herself hastily ripping off her lover’s panties as she desperately began to rock herself against Chela’s thigh.

"Oh, fuck Chela…what you do to me," she whispered fiercely before pulling the Cuban woman’s face up into a kiss. "And I know what I am to you, you know. Don’t think that I don’t get it."

"Mi compañera," said Chela simply, as she let her fingers rake across Barbara’s back.

"That’s right, mami," Barbara whispered into her ear, as she tried to still her movements for a moment. "And I know the rest too."

"Changó," offered Chela tentatively, as she arched her hips up in frustration.

"Yes, that is who I am," growled Barbara as she picked up the rhythm between them once more.

I don’t know what that is, except that it is what I have become somehow, in this place where I could never have pictured myself - so far from every place I’ve called home. And now I become more of that thing you seem to love – this Changó - in coming into you, she thought, as she reached down to enter Chela with her hand, giving herself up to the desire to fuck her woman hard as she rode her.



From the top of a royal palm

heavy stones look like grains of sand.

The oxen are long black ants

that crawl across toothpick-thin roads.

The ground is a green and gray quilt

from which the appliqués of hills rise.

The city waits to be built:

Elegibo the great.

I take up hammers of light

and nails of rain.

Your engine is the force

that drives my labor

as I fly down to raise your palace;

bricks by breaths,

courts by caresses,

and walls by wishes

that come true

every time you honor me with your touch.


Second week in March – Ministry of Health

"You ready?" smiled Cynthia Richards as she tapped on Barbara’s shoulder. The physician was hunched over in a work cubicle reviewing the project officer’s preliminary reports. Barbara stretched the kinks out of her neck, reached for her coffee cup, then stood to follow the other woman into her small private office – the only fully enclosed space that the Ministry had been able to make available to the Tufts research team. Goddamn, now that is a neat desk, thought Barbara as she surveyed the carefully arranged piles of papers. Jeez, she is always so anal about details. Wonder what it’s like when she really kicks loose. Heh. Yeah right. "By-the-books" Richards. Probably submits a purchase order every time she wants a fuck. She moved her chair back to accommodate her long legs, before signaling to her superior with a look and nod that she was prepared to attend to her.

"So, I’m guessing that you already sped through that entire set of documents, Einstein," began a relaxed and amiable Richards, as she looked across at her favorite colleague. "And I hope you are feeling really good. You were right to point out that tobacco might be implicated as well. Seventy-nine percent of the sample are heavy smokers, on top of almost each and every one of them having a demonstrable tie to these methanol-prone home brews. Add the sudden and severe weight loss and the micro-nutrient deficiencies and we have a credible picture of what has happened here. Bodies that may have been able to process modest amounts of neurotoxins under normal conditions are not living under normal conditions anymore."

I am so good. I am so good. Heh. But shit, I don’t have any magic answers for bad neurotoxin damage. Lots of those – forty-three thousand now? – people affected aren’t gonna grow new nerves. Although, shit, I think I’ve been growing new nerves between my legs since I got here. Chela pills for everyone!

"We have an obligation to move quickly towards suggesting interventions. So…I’ve got a few things that are troubling me, Barbara," said the woman evenly. "This trip out to Pinar del Río, how absolutely necessary is it? It’s going to cost us in resources and time."

"Geez, Cynthia," replied a concerned Barbara. "I know that we’re in a tough situation, but I guess that I still feel we have an obligation to rule out any other specificities of pathway here, precisely because we are so close. I know we only have one shot at developing a treatment regime – our team only has one shot, in any case. I just don’t want to waste it."

Cynthia looked uncomfortably down at her desk, then re-grouped to continue the conversation, scooting forward in her chair to bring her face closer to Barbara’s.

"Barbara, this isn’t about having more time on the road with Ms. Stevens, is it?" she asked gently. "I mean, I don’t want to pry, but you didn’t even notice that I’d come back into the conference room yesterday after the meeting. If I saw you kissing, I’m going to have to assume that others are going to figure this out as well." She took in the stony face of the young physician and the way her hands had knotted onto the chair’s arm rests. "Well, hell Barbara, I guess I have to talk about this, as someone that has to look out for the overall well-being of this project. One thing at a time: you would do the Pinar del Río trip regardless, right?"

"Yes," answered Barbara quietly. " I would still advise doing this."

"Then it will be done," answered Cynthia carefully. "Barbara, I hate telling you how to conduct your business. It’s just that I am scared and tired, having to run interference all the time, making sure that the Cubans don’t get offended."

"So, she doesn’t count as a Cuban?" asked Barbara dryly. Cynthia sighed heavily.

"Look, it’s a very delicate thing. And it costs me personally and professionally a lot if things go wrong. I’m already paying for doing this work, Barbara. I just received notice that I’m being audited again, and then there’s the way that all of my grant paperwork gets lost, not to mention my luggage. US Customs and the Postal Service don’t even try to pretend anymore about not going through all my stuff. When the American Nutrition Association meets in Hialeah this year, there will be protestors waiting for me, calling me a Communist stooge – I’ve already been served notice. That’s just the US end, Barbara. Then I’ve got the Cubans desperate for image control on the whole issue of the epidemic, hinting that we are out of here if we imply that the starvation is as severe as it is. I’m not asking for you to give her up - I’m asking you to be discrete for all of our sakes." They sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment.

"I can be discrete," Barbara finally answered. "Is that it?"

"I wish," replied Cynthia, pulling out a packet of plane tickets and fanning them before Barbara. " In one week I’m headed back to Boston for two weeks to work a miracle – compressing data and time to come up with our best idea of a treatment regime. You are coming with me. I need the best brain on this project with me. I know you must hate me."

"No," sighed Barbara. "I understand that I’m here for a reason and that that reason must be served."

"Good," answered the officer. "I’m glad to hear that this is still your priority. Ok. Now you’re going to hate me. I’m going to speak now not as your supervisor, but as someone who’s been there." Barbara looked up in cautious surprise.

"I’ve been overseas a lot. This is your first time. It gets lonely out in the field. About four years ago I was evaluating a food distribution project in Eritrea." Cynthia’s voice was tinged with regret and ambivalence. "The guy was one of our drivers – it took me completely by surprise how quickly things developed. He was so different from anyone I’d ever imagined getting attached to. We had one good month together, Barbara. And when it was time for me to leave I was not ready to let go, but I also was not ready to fast forward things unnaturally, to offer to marry him, which was the only possibility for eventually being together. You know that you don’t have that option, Barbara. Even if you decide that this is it for you, you can’t marry her. You can’t get her out of here….You know I really thought that we would have a chance. I tried so hard to stay in touch. The mail takes so long and it’s always been opened. You send money and cards and it gets there maybe one time out of ten. Something comes up for him every time you try to call, and it’s not bullshit like it would be for an American guy. Crazy things happen here all the time and everyday. The oxen dies, a warlord steals your vehicle, your sister is raped and you are part of the family posse that heads out to take justice... That is life in the Third World, Barbara. And you know, I was the one who was weak. I was the one who failed and that couldn’t go on with a love stretched too thin across so many borders. Because he could have done it, Barbara. They all can. In these screwed up countries half the adults are away from their lovers and families – the separations go on for years - trying to survive and help their loved ones survive. I can’t do that. I was weak…. And our government was supremely uninterested in helping me bring an un-educated, un-skilled black man into the country. So I do feel for you if this is more than an exotic affair, Barbara, I really do," she finished quietly. "And I want you to know that you can count on me in any way I can to support you, although I fear that I can’t do much."

Barbara’s eyes were visibly flooded with tears, her resolve to keep from crying growing thin under the onslaught of the odious information concerning the odds set against her and her lover leaving the island together. Her stomach was roiling, and her posture had dramatically altered during Cynthia’s recitation, so that she was slumped over, a portrait of weariness and defeat. The project officer stood and picked up her briefcase, coming around to stand behind the chair. In a rare gesture of tenderness, she laid a hand on Barbara’s trembling shoulder.

"Why don’t you take some time in here to pull yourself together, Murphy, both so you can be strong for her, and so you can appreciate every minute you have, and not waste even one thinking about the inevitable?"

"It’s not inevitable that we lose each other," Barbara forced out through thin lips. The hand on her shoulder kneaded it lightly.

"We all think that when we start to see the end in sight," whispered the other woman sadly. She turned and opened the door, a professional cast returning to her demeanor. "One more thing, Barbara. That new kid from Harvard – López – I don’t like him. He needs close supervision because he’s impolitic with the Cubans. I think his family is hard core anti-Castro. He must really want the publication credits to be down here. I am sending him with you to Pinar because I think that between your keeping watch and the social skills of the very diplomatic Ms. Stevens we may avoid his making trouble for us with the locals."

Cynthia stepped out into the common office space, shutting the door behind her. Poor woman. That has got to be hurting right now. What was she thinking. Then she saw Chela, sitting quietly at a table with a set of maps, drawing out the itinerary for the Pinar del Río trip. And here is the other woman. There is not much I can give her either – certainly no hope. I wish I didn’t need her in Boston next week – I wish I could just leave Barb for her here. My, I wonder if she would ever think of staying. No, she’s not that crazy. She sighed. Well, I can at least leave a souvenir for her. She pulled up a chair next to the young Cuban woman and sat down, resting her briefcase on her lap.

"Ms. Stevens, you are looking forward to this next trip?"

"Yes I am, compañera Richards," replied Chela with a smile. "My father used to take us to Pinar del Río frequently when I was a child. He had a good friend who raised horses out there, and there were also lots of memorial activities for el Ché Guevara, who spent quite a lot of time in that part of Cuba. I have old family friends there who I hope we can stay with."

"That’s wonderful to hear," said Cynthia pleasantly. "I’m sure that you will make it a productive trip. I always see you reading. Do you like to read in English as well?"

"Of course," said Chela brightly. "It is difficult to find things to read though, especially contemporary materials."

"Well," said Cynthia, reaching into her briefcase and pulling out a folder. "I brought these for myself, because I love to learn about the people I am working with, but I would like for you to have them. I can always copy another set in the library when I get back."

Chela took the folder and opened it. The contents were a handful of copied pages from magazines. The New Yorker. Well, I will read almost anything, she thought to herself, mildly disappointed. Then she looked more carefully at the headings. Sinning in Suburbia: Rituals of Despair in America’s Most Affluent Bedroom Community, by Barbara Murphy; Prep School Killers: Why America’s Most Dangerous Teenagers Evade Treatment and Discipline, by Barbara Murphy; And Then We’ll Hit The Fairway: How Battered Women Taught this City-Bred Emergency Room Doc About Golf, by Barbara Murphy.

"She writes," whispered Chela incredulously.

"Not as often as she should," answered Cynthia, grinning. "I suspect from the subjects of her essays that she does it when she is very frustrated or bored, but she is very entertaining and smart. Of course, that is consistent with how she is off the page as well. Anyway," she stood up and prepared to leave the research assistant’s side, "I hope you enjoy them. You know," she waited for Chela’s eyes to leave the articles and meet hers. "She is really a treasure. I feel very lucky to have had her with me on this project, and I will always be grateful that she agreed to share this little intellectual adventure with me. It’s not easy in academia, meeting people and then letting them go. The brightest ones are always moving on to new and better opportunities. Oh, well…we take what we can. Again, good luck in Pinar del Río."

I hope that was not the verbal equivalent of a sympathy card, thought Chela despondently as she shut the folder.


Three nights later - Monte de Cabezas, Pinar del Río

The heavily laden pick-up inched its way up the steep driveway that led to what seemed to Barbara a vision conjured out of Cuba’s past. She took in the anachronistic sight of a stately white country house, the carved wood pillars and balcony ornamentation gleaming in the light of numerous mounted torches. Even the truck’s approach appeared to have been inserted into a nineteenth century process, as they had been met at the foot of the drive by two youths with flames held aloft who escorted them forwards, running ahead on either side of the vehicle to assure that Pedro did not err and take them into a ditch. Barbara discreetly reached down to touch Chela’s hand, getting her attention.

"It looks like something out of a movie," she murmured.

"These are real guajiros – real country people," commented the delighted Chela. "Papi Cheo always kept this home in beautiful condition, and because of his contributions in animal husbandry and sports, he has been left relatively alone by outsiders to pursue his own course. Have you ever been out here, compañero Pedro?"

"Yes, young woman," answered the laconic Cuban medical student. "Not to this home in particular, but yes to this area. In school we came to see the cave from which el Ché mounted his defense against the US aggression at Girón beach, and we also got to see the limestone formations which are quite unusual."

"I can’t wait for daylight to show it all to you, Barbara," smiled Chela, letting her fingers gently brush the other woman’s thigh. "It’s the most beautiful country out here." Barbara laughed.

"Well as a physician it’s hard seeing tobacco land as beautiful, but I’ll try, Chelita. I know it holds a special place in your heart."

They had reached the front of the residence, from which emerged a half dozen excited men and women, all clearly under the leadership of a large white-haired man who removed his straw hat in greeting as he came up to the truck’s open window.

"My niña Chela," he called softly, inserting his head and a beefy arm in through the aperture to plant a kiss on the young woman’s cheek. "So many years…," he stepped back to look at her with affection. "So much has passed, but not your welcome here. I will never be ashamed to claim the daughter of Martin Stevens as one of my own. You have his eyes," he said softly. "You have heard from him?"

A painful look flitted across the woman’s dark face. "I received news recently that he had passed away."

Christ, thought Barbara. Does she tell me anything? I have been doing pretty sloppy Chela research – I’m lucky that she doesn’t do pop quizzes.

"Papi Cheo, this is Barbara Murphy, the American physician I have been working with the last several months, and also the compañero Pedro Gutierrez, who is a medical student and a very patient driver."

"My pleasure, compañeros," nodded the old man before turning around to confirm that his workers and kin had successfully unloaded the vehicle. His eye caught an unfamiliar figure jumping off the tailgate. "You have another young man with you?"

"Yes, Papi, but he is not very social," sighed Chela. She called out to the slight blonde man. "Hey, Alex! Come here and meet our hosts!" She could see the Harvard student was already carrying his bag towards the house.

"I’ll do introductions in the morning, Señorita Stevens," he called over his shoulder as he followed a ranch hand into the building. "I am dead on my feet and want only to find the bed."

"I thought he was sleeping all the time he was in the back," muttered Barbara to Chela.

"No, he was back there stewing the whole time. I guess we are going to have to give him more turns in the cab."

"My baby, I am the boss, and I would rather have you next to me," smiled Barbara as she hopped out of the truck after Chela.

After unloading the research team’s gear, Papi Cheo’s household had continued the frenetic pace of their activities, bringing out chairs and tables laden with refreshments to the flat area in front of the house. Incredible welcome, thought Barbara, looking at the offered food and drinks. And geez, they expect us to drink coffee at this hour of the night! I love these people! And I can tell that they really love Chela, so …I love these people! She sat down at Chela’s side and sipped strong coffee, feeling comfortable and relaxed as she and Pedro were introduced to the ranch hands and Cheo’s two nieces. She held back and let Chela take responsibility for holding up the research team’s end of the conversations concerning the purpose of the trip and their impressions after a full day’s work in the city of Pinar del Río proper. She is charming everyone and doing a damn good job of putting this whole project into sound bites that anyone can understand. Goddamn, and she is so beautiful.

"So, Chela, whatever became of your studies?" asked Papi Cheo, switching the subject. "What are you doing for work these days in Havana?"

"I’ve been working on special projects involving cultural exchanges with foreigners," said Chela bravely, shooting Barbara a quick glance. "And that is what I’ll go back to once this assignment with Doctora Murphy is all over."

Oh jeezus. Oh baby, don’t rub it in. I am trying to wrap my head about what we can do so that I am your last cross-cultural experience.

"That sounds good, my girl," answered the rancher, smiling. "I always knew you were capable of so much. And you must tell your brothers and mother that I remember them and that I share in your sorrow over the loss of the fine man that was your father," he said regretfully. Then he leaned back in his chair and patted his stomach. "Well! I wish there were some better entertainment I could offer you! The only one of my workers who sings is laid up in the barracks with two broken ribs!"

"We can take care of entertainment, Papi!" said Chela, nodding at Barbara. "You unpacked a guitar, didn’t you? It belongs to this very talented compañera – she is a singer and a writer, as well as having the most wonderful healing hands and a quick mind."

Writer? Shit! Next she’s gonna tell me she knows about the time I gave pot brownies to Sister Mary Frances for the class Christmas party. Of course, it was tough having the nuns stealing kids’ lunches when the munchies hit…not to mention that three hour lecture on how the Holy Trinity have their essential characteristics mirrored in the three basic atomic particles. Damn my memory! Was Jesus the electron or the neutron?

"Honey," whispered Chela to her in English, her playful eyes glimmering copper in the torch light. "You’ll do this, right? Play for me? Let me hear your voice?"


"Anything you want, Chela," squeezed out Barbara, aware of the attention focused on them and grateful that the shadows would somewhat mask the heat rising to her face. Thanks to the attentions of the efficient household staff, her guitar – already out of its case - appeared by her side.

"What will you be playing for us compañera?" asked Papi Cheo good-naturedly. "We are mostly like your cowboys here, so "Caballo Viejo" and "Con la Espuela" are favorites. But maybe you can sing an American song, something by Bing Crosby or Madonna!"

Barbara laughed audibly at the suggestions as she hastily set about tuning her instrument. She smiled affectionately at the older man.

"Now why would I go and sing something American when the music here is so beautiful? You know, I have learned so much on this trip, from so many wise people. I guess I want to sing something that reminds me of what Cuba has meant for my consciousness – for how I pay more attention to life since I came here. So… here is one of my favorite songs by Silvio Rodríguez." She noted with satisfaction the grins and nods from the assemblage at her naming one of the founding figures of the New Song movement. Then there was a flurry of soft cries of approval as the familiar opening notes of "The Fable of the Three Brothers" sounded, with Barbara’s fingers drawing out the rich voice of the guitar in a skillful legato line.

["Of three brothers, the eldest left

on the path to discover and to found,

and in order never to make a mistake or err,

he went awake and very attentive to every place he would step.

From walking so much in that position

his neck could no longer be straightened out

and he walked now as a slave to precaution,

and he became old, wanting to go far, with his shortened vision.

Hey, hey, hey

An eye that doesn’t look doesn’t help the foot.

Ooh, ooh, ooh

Tell me, tell me what you think?"]

Is this supposed to be some comment on me or on our relationship? Because I am the one who has had to push her every step of the way, thought a perplexed Chela.

["Of three brothers the middle one left

on the path to discover and to found,

and in order never to make a mistake or err,

he went awake and very attentive to the even horizon.

But this smart boy couldn’t see

the stone, the hole that conquered his foot,

and he passed the time tumbling,

and he became old, wanting to go far, which he never reached.

Hey, hey, hey

An eye that doesn’t look close by doesn’t go either.

Ooh, ooh, ooh

Tell me, tell me what you think?"]

She is asking for it the next time I tell a story. I guess this is supposed to mean that I am not recognizing the immediate obstacles in the way of our building a relationship?

["Of three brothers the youngest left

on the path to discover and to found,

and in order never to make a mistake or to err,

he aimed one pupil above and the other on the walking.

and he walked, in on the path, the furthest,

and when the time came to start up again,

his look was lost between being and going.

Hey, hey, hey

An eye placed on everything doesn’t know what it sees anymore.

Ooh, ooh, ooh

Tell me, tell me what you think?"]

I can’t believe she thinks that! She is the one who is confused and indecisive about what direction we should take!

Amidst the applause and general revelry produced by her performance, Barbara caught a glimpse of her companion’s furrowed brow. I thought I got the words right. And it’s such a pretty song. I wonder what has her blowing a clot?

"Well," announced Cheo as he stood, gesturing to several of the youths present. "It is time to turn in. Thank you so much for your generosity in sharing that song, Doctora Murphy. If I could have a word with you and Chelita before we retire."

Barbara surrendered the guitar to one of the waiting men and obediently followed Chela over to where they had been summoned.

"I wanted to have a rather private discussion with you Doctora," said the man amiably. "I know that Chelita here has not found a man good enough yet, but are you married? Wait. I am sorry that I even asked. Of course you are not! A husband would not let a creature such as yourself go about the countryside alone!"

Of course! Geez . Friggin’ gag me.

"Well Doctora," continued the man. "I don’t want anything to seem improper. We have already placed the compañeros Gutierrez and Lopez in the spare wing in our home. I hope you can understand that it makes me too uncomfortable to place you there as well, so I am putting you in the little house that the cook used to have many years ago. It is very private and no one in my employ would dare trespass. How do you feel about indoor plumbing?"

I’m a dyke, compañero! I prefer it!

"I don’t require it as long as there is some way to take care of certain needs," laughed Barbara.

"I will have the two compañeros lead you down to the little house and carry your things for you. Chela has stayed there before, Doctora. She will show you everything you have to know about taking care of your needs."

She’s so red that she’s glowing in the dark, thought Chela, as they set off to their quarters.

"I’m sorry that it’s dark, that you can’t see it – the thick forest that’s out there is really beautiful," said Chela, as she leant over the small house’s balcony railing, her arm intertwined with her lover’s. "It’s a pretty steep hill down there – I used to roll down it with my friends when I was a little girl. This whole side of the house is supported on wooden stilts. It’s amazing that it’s withstood so many hurricanes. It’s a lucky house, I guess." She paused to pull Barbara closer, lifting the older woman’s hand to her lips to press a kiss into it.

"I hope so, baby. I hope it’s a place we’ll keep good memories from," murmured the American.

"You know this will be the last time that we will have this kind of freedom - this kind of solitude – before you leave for Boston."

"Chela, it hurts to think about getting on that airplane," said Barbara with a tinge of regret in her voice.

"But we need to think about it, my treasure," replied Chela earnestly. "I paid attention to what you were singing, about how we need to think about what direction we are going in. It occurs to me that sometime soon we must talk about whether we are going to be moving closer or further apart – in either case there are ways we can prepare and act, and not just let life happen to us."

"We can talk about this later," insisted Barbara gently, pulling the younger woman into an embrace and running her fingers through the mane of curls resting against her shoulder. "For now, I just want to think about tonight. I guess it is preparing in a way – I want every minute I can have with you before I go. And I want you to have everything that I can give you."

Yes there is that matter of what you think you can give, my lover – which may be quite different from what you need to give in order for what we have between us to live, thought Chela, as she decided her course for the evening.

"Barbara," she spoke into the other woman’s chest. "You have always told me that I can have anything I want from you – at least as a lover in the time we have."

"Yes, mami," said Barbara, tipping up Chela’s face so that she would see her smile in the moonlight. "You know that that is true." She ducked her head to capture Chela’s lips with hers, letting her tongue dance softly into the Cuban woman’s mouth for a moment in the course of the long kiss. They paused to take in air, both profoundly aroused. "Tell me what you have in mind, mami," she asked Chela between ragged breaths.

"Well, mi compañera, I am hoping that you have brought with you that toy you shared with me the last time we made love," replied Chela shyly.

Goddamn. Heh. I swear from this point forward I will every year celebrate August 20th, the birth date of Jöns Jacob Berzelius, the discoverer of silicon. Leave it to those horn dogs the Swedes.

"Cariño, it’s in the duffel, in a side pocket, along with the harness. I, umm, just need to use the facilities before we go much further."

Chela laughed. "Well Barbara, I would recommend using the facilities outside the front door. Just stay on the side of the bushes away from the main house so the moonlight doesn’t give you away, although they are asleep by this time. I’ll be waiting for you in the bed. Take one of the lanterns so you can find your way back."

I can’t get lost. She is a magnet to me. I always know where she is.



Well, thought Chela, as she heard Barbara making her way across the creaking floorboards towards the bedroom. I never thought I’d have to figure this out. I suppose if I run through my mind everything the men who said they were the best at this did – and then do the exact opposite – I have a decent chance of pleasing her. If she can accept this. Stupid, Chela, stupid. Just one more night of free passion with her and you have to complicate things. Well, too late to turn back now.

She scooted back under the sheets to leave room for her lover, who playfully bounced onto the large bed after tossing her clothes off onto the floor.

"Well, and this is a soft one!"

"Yes," laughed Chela. "And very comfortable, even when you are one of four little monkeys wrestling for space on it and then spending the night stretched out telling frightening stories, and having to hug for comfort the very playmate you just kicked at a moment before to get more room."

"I wish I’d known you when you were a little girl," murmured Barbara, smiling. "I wish I could have seen that – you laughing and playing – a cinnamon angel. Come here," she said, reaching for her partner and taking in her radiant expression, amplified by the cast of the lantern light.

"You’ve brought that back, Changó," whispered Chela, running a hand down the other woman’s face. "You’ve brought back the part of me that loved to chase fireflies and roll down hills. And I am so grateful to have you in this place where I think I played in that carefree way for the last time." She reached down and took a nipple between her fingers, pinching it softly as she ducked her head to nibble at the sensitive skin over Barbara’s pulse point.

"Oh, mami," groaned Barbara, her body arching up off the pillows. "Oh, fuck Chela. Let me get that toy." She was surprised when Chela resisted her disentangling from the embrace.

"No, cariño. I already have it." She bravely took one of Barbara’s hands in her own and tentatively placed it over her groin, where the sought after object rested against Chela’s thigh.

"You’re shitting me," said Barbara unthinkingly. "I mean, I’m just a bit surprised, that’s all." Chela smiled.

"Is this all right?"

You did say anything she wanted. And Jesus help me, cuz I want her. I guess enough to let her have this particular cherry. Jesus. Well, I guess they didn’t have her in mind when they advertised it as flesh-toned. Gotta do something about that.

"Mami, I will tell you the truth. I am usually the one driving that particular vehicle. I guess I haven’t wanted that before. And no one has really offered, either. I guess the women I have been with have been very happy to be on the other end. And you know, that may be a lot more fun for you," she concluded, fingering the strap.

"No, compañera," said Chela carefully, as she pushed Barbara onto her back. "I am sure that this is what I want tonight, to feel you underneath me while I take you this way – this is how I want to remember you the nights you are an ocean away."

In her mind, Barbara knew that she should have been resisting the other woman’s forceful placement of her in what she considered a subordinate position, and insisting on her right to pleasure her woman in the ways in which she felt the most competent. But her mind seemed to be losing a quarrel with her body, which felt pliant and responsive to Chela’s direction. She was mesmerized by how strong the younger woman felt over her. Chela was withholding the sweet touch of breast against breast, pinning Barbara’s arms over her head with one hand while she propped herself up with the other, teasing the older woman with the anticipation of when she would finally lower herself onto her body. Her hips rested comfortably between the American woman’s legs, and took up a barely perceptible rhythm, pressing against the flesh beneath in the slightest of thrusts. Barbara was having difficulty withstanding the tension – her body lightly skipped up off the surface of the bed in excitement, and she turned her face to the side, screwing her eyes shut as she prepared to beg for more contact.

"Please, Chelita. Oh, come on. Please do something. I feel like I’m dying."

"You’re not dying," laughed Chela softly, shifting her arm so she could tap a finger affectionately against Barbara’s skull. "You’re thinking too much – you have to turn this thing down a setting so you can really be here with me."

I’m so screwed. I am so turned on I could scream bloody murder, and I’ve got a femme wielding "The Pride of Ireland" like a friggin’ uzi and making me process at gunpoint.

"I mean you’re thinking so loud it’s distracting me, and I’m not even in that head with you right now. Open your eyes, love – look at me." Chela waited for Barbara to comply before proceeding, still postponing the moment in which she would grant her lover the sensation of her full weight upon her. "Better. I think I know what may help. I spent a long time watching Papi Cheo and my father here, the way they worked with the young horses. You are a lot like them, you know…"

This is not happening. She’s actually gonna talk all the way through this. Which would be all right if she would just go ahead and touch me. Honey, you can recite all of Capital from memory or give me another lecture on Cuban feminism or yes, tell me all about cowboys, but shit, let me feel your skin on me.

"Oh baby, do something. Jesus, fuck." Barbara broke her hands free from Chela’s light grasp, and reached up to caress the dark breasts swinging over her, kneading the soft flesh and rubbing her thumbs insistently over the swollen nipples.

"Yes, cariño, that’s good," gasped Chela, bucking slightly in response. "I want you to play with my breasts like that while we do this. Don’t stop…And if that helps you stay right here with me, so much the better. You know, the horses, they notice some things and not others, just like you. They are always paying attention to who is in control, and they miss how much they need the rider to go where they want." She bowed her head to kiss the woman beneath her before lowering herself in agonizing slowness, pressing her full length onto her before wresting herself away and returning to hover over the frustrated American.

Shit. This isn’t really about horses, is it? "Oh, dammit, Chela. Stay on me, mami."

"Good," rumbled Chela. "You are already asking." She lowered herself again, nipping beneath Barbara’s earlobe in the process, and was pleased at the moan which escaped from the larger woman, who now unabashedly writhed beneath her in her hunger. Chela shifted her weight, permitting herself access to her lover’s vulva, which she gently fingered as she moved to kiss her neck. She paused, waiting for the blue eyes - steeped in a mixture of panic and raw need - to meet hers.

"And you are so wet, my lover," drawled the Cuban woman, smiling as she gently rubbed her hand over Barbara’s moist sex and elicited a sharp intake of breath from her. "So ready for this with your body. Yes just like them, you are…they think they want to run away every time there is something new, but that’s not what they need…"

"Come on, mami. I’ll do anything," groaned an exasperated Barbara. "I just want you, and I want to hear you having pleasure too."

"Oh, don’t worry about me, my beautiful colt," whispered Chela affectionately as she entered her with a finger, exploring the canal she would soon fill with the toy. "I am enjoying myself very much in preparing to love you this way. Feel me in you, Barbara – you are so ready for me to ride you and you aren’t going to run away, or pretend that I’m not really up here, or not notice every touch I give you – every mile of our gallop tonight you are going to remember until your last breath."

"Yes, Chela, please…," keened out Barbara, as she raised herself to meet her lover’s hand, trying to increase the pressure. "Just do it, just come into me already, baby. Chela," she whispered, cupping the Cuban woman’s face in her hands. "I’m not going to forget. I promise I won’t ever forget." She was already sobbing her breaths out in longing and desire when Chela deftly pulled herself back and – using a hand to guide herself in – pressed the toy’s full length into her, filling her in one fluid, graceful motion.

"Oh, fuck, oh fuck. Oh, Chela…Chela," she cried out as she set herself to buck hard against the woman above her, who had once again gone maddeningly still in her motions. Just incredible. No wonder they beg for this, goddamn. Oh jesus shit – this is Chela. This is really Chela.

"That’s it," prompted Chela, starting to rock into her lover slowly as she held down her arms again. "That’s it – try to throw me off if you can. Oh, Barbara…Changó. That strap is right where it needs to be for me. I am going to come so hard riding you."

They flew against each other in a steady rhythm without speaking for what seemed a break in the fabric of time – the act moving them outside of the everyday reality to a new place, where the clock, where language and the ordinary ways of attending to sensation seemed superfluous. Holy shit, thought Barbara as her muscles clenched to draw the toy further in. She is making my body confess. She’s gonna know everything. Everything. And I so don’t deserve this.

Dueling with the majestic sensuality she was discovering in her need for the Cuban woman was a lifetime of perceived inadequacy – a burden that lurked just beneath the surface of her bravado. That, combining with her stark unfamiliarity with the degree of intimacy they were sharing, threatened the very foundations of her ways of negotiating the world. So - both to Barbara’s dismay and relief - she found herself automatically turning to her twin crutches of humor and dissociation to right herself. The intensity of an encounter with someone who brought so much to her freely was overwhelming, and a crumb of fear tipped the scale towards flight in a mind already prone to distraction. She tipped her head back and relaxed, smiling and letting her attention wander to memories of learning the butterfly stroke in sixth grade physical education class, until a soft bite over her collar bone and a particularly deep thrust from Chela retrieved her from her reverie.

"Stay with me, my life…It happens all the time, my beautiful one," murmured Chela, her voice a quiet blend of tenderness and raw passion. "You think they have accepted you fully because they have stopped fighting it, but they have just declared independence in their minds and are imagining that they are in a pretty meadow all by themselves eating flowers and grass. But I need you with me, because I am coming to my release and I want you with me all the way. I want you to feel the stirrups as we go up that hill." Then she shifted her upper body so as to increase the sensation of the leather moving across her clit, moving her hands down to rest on her lover’s shoulders, leaving the other woman’s hands finally free to seek out her flesh.

Holy fuck. Holy fuck. I am going to die. She is going to tear me apart. And then what the fuck will I be? How the fuck am I supposed to live after this, knowing that this can be mine? All I was looking for was some fresh air by the sea and she was there. I’m the kid who ran away with the circus…there is no net tonight. Oh she is getting so close, thought Barbara, as she lightly slapped at Chela’s nipples before firmly pinching them. "That’s it, Chela. Take us both there. Faster, mami. Fuck me hard and fast. You’ve got to tell me what to say, what to ask for – I don’t even know the words for what you are doing in Spanish."

Chela slowed herself for a moment, examining the options in her mind – templar, chingar, clavar – and discarding them outright as she picked up the rhythm between them again. "There are no good words for what we are doing together now – and I should know, I’m a poet," she forced out as she swiveled her hips back to fill Barbara once more. She was losing her control - she could tell – as her climax approached from the edges of her awareness. So let me see what happens if I give you free rein now, my mount… my beautiful, beautiful mount, thought Chela as she moved her hands off her partner’s shoulders and down to the bed, resting her head on Barbara’s chest and pulling against the sheets as she fought to increase the force behind her movements.

The release of her upper body from Chela’s grip should have provoked at least a token effort at escape or at mastery; the option of flipping them over, of driving the pace and taking them both into orgasm on her terms should have seemed more tantalizing. So Barbara was stunned to find that instead of pushing Chela away, her hands moved of their own accord to reach for her own ankles, pulling her legs up over Chela’s straining shoulders and leaving her completely open to her lover’s full strokes. The Cuban woman was laboring hard over her, her body coiled in effort as she pumped relentlessly into her. A stream of endearments flowed from her lips, and Barbara hazily extracted from the utterances a litany of possessives - "my life", "my compañera", "my treasure", "my steed" – the language increasingly losing coherence as her lover drew closer to her orgasm.

Who is she? she asked herself. What is this thing she has become while she takes me? But the question that sprouted from her lips was a different one.

"Chela," she said, the tears finally running freely. "You really love me, don’t you?"

"Barbara, I am the ocean and I have always loved you," she gasped out, pushing hard into her partner as the climax took her. " Oh, mami… oh cariño…Barbara, I am coming… oh, I am coming."

Better than any ice cream, than any fireworks, thought Barbara as she let go of her feet to clutch the shaking woman close to her. It’s like the morning arriving and everything finally coming into color – I can see it all from here. Then her own spasms began and she followed Chela into vision and release.


Chela awoke, a little discomfited and chilled. A cursory examination of the bed in the pre-dawn gray revealed that both Barbara and one of the sheets were missing. She reached over the edge of the mattress for the dress she had been wearing the night before and – kneeling on the bed – slipped it on. She padded out to the balcony, where she knew the other woman awaited and found her huddled on the large armless rocking chair that was the sole piece of furniture out there, and looking out across the void from whence slowly was emerging the dark green expanse of the forest.

She looks so lost curled up in that sheet, like she has misplaced all of her bearings. And that chair is so much where I was found…Papá would rock me in it for hours, scratching my back while I fell asleep. He read the Simple Verses of José Martí to me while I sat on his lap – I had never heard such magic before. That was what words could do – that was poetry.

"Hey," she said softly as she came up behind her lover and bent to kiss her on the back of the neck. "What are you looking at?"

Barbara did not turn or answer. She slightly shook her head as she continued to stare out into the near-darkness through pain-filled eyes. Chela gently caressed her face after she came around to the front of the chair, before pulling open the sheet and climbing up into the older woman’s lap. Then she draped both of their bodies with the flowing cloth.

"Hey," she repeated, pressing herself against the soft breasts, and feeling both the quickness of Barbara’s shallow breaths and the tension in the woman’s muscles as she fought the urge to cry. "Come back, cariño," she whispered into her ear as she wrapped herself around her, her voice starting to crack. "You know, my father read a book to me here once, in this very chair. It was by a Frenchman – Antoine de St. Exupery. The Little Prince. Do you know it?" She felt the nod against her shoulder. " I remember that book very well – where it says that you have to take responsibility for what you have tamed. You know… I am not going to leave you all alone in this place we have come to." She stopped to gently suck on an earlobe, then pressed the object she clutched in her hand into Barbara’s. "I am never going to leave you all alone, even if you can’t stay…So listen well – this is still my time with you. And this is – I believe – yours. And I would love it very much if you could take me flying – right here and now."

She was relieved to hear the soft growl beneath her, and to feel the strong arm lifting her up to settle her – a leg hanging off each side of the old rocker – up against the American woman’s belly. She felt the flood of her juices spilling down as she raised herself over the tip of the toy, held firmly in Barbara’s fist, and cried out in pleasure as she slid down onto it, the fullness making her ache for movement.


Up on the balcony of the little house two women wrestled with each other in passion, drawing from each other a duet of cries and gasps which sounded against the grounding rhythm of the rocking chair’s patient creaking. In the shadows at the edge of the stilts which held the building up off of the hillside, a man watched and listened, his own arousal leaving him in a quandary over whether his fumbling hand would come to rest on the small camera nestled in his pocket or on his hardening cock. His attention was tunneled in on the sight above him, so that he was utterly surprised when a hand came roughly down upon his shoulder. He turned and looked into an enraged face.

"You son of a bitch worm," hissed Pedro, as he stepped back so that the other man could see the machete. "Don’t make a goddamn sound. I thought this was where you might be headed. I should cut them off of you and shove them down your dirty little throat – but I’ll let you keep your balls for now. Let’s go. You didn’t see anything. You didn’t hear anything. And if you ever go near them again when they are alone – if you ever hurt them – I am going to kill you."


Three days later – La Habana Central

"Wow, I guess she’s really popular! Who would have thought?" asked Barbara, as they turned the corner of the El Monte street where the Stevens residence was located. The area in front of the house was teeming with people, who stood shoulder to shoulder animatedly talking with each other and pointing at something that the two women could not see from their angle of approach. The street in front of the building was blocked by a number of vehicles, an unusual sight in a time of fuel shortages.

"There is something really wrong," cautioned Chela as she picked up her pace. "Those are police cars. My saints, I wonder what those boys have done now."

As they came closer to the multitude they could hear the enraged screams of Maritza Stevens rising above the din.

"You are all pieces of shit! All of you! I will find out who has done this to our family, who has sold out one of their neighbors for a miserable thirty pieces of gold – for a work recommendation or an extra bag of rice for the next month. I will make who did this pay! Please, please compañeros…don’t take him away from me. Don’t take him to his death! There has been a mistake, I’m sure of it!"

As they came closer, they could clearly see the red-faced, bellowing Maritza at the top of the front steps, being held back by four burly men, who she was attempting to shake off like so many fleas. Barbara and Chela stopped as the crowd parted before them to create an open path, down which marched Tomás, clad all in white, his face calm and his hands folded before him. He was flanked on either side by two men wearing blue rubber gloves and armbands with red crosses on them. Maritza caught sight of her daughter and the tall American, as the odd procession came closer to the street.

"Chela! Do something! That American doctor – they will listen to her! There has been a mistake, I tell you!"

Barbara stepped forward to block the way of the trio of men. They stopped before the two women, and Tomás waved a small greeting to his sister and her lover.

"Compañera Murphy, and my beloved Chelita…I am afraid I have ruined our mother’s birthday! But don’t worry, Chela – everything is going to be all right. Everything is as it should be. See? They won’t even lay hands on me! I won’t have any trouble staying true to my vows now!"

"What is going on here?" asked Barbara icily to one of the escorts.

"Who are you?" he replied in a neutral tone.

"I am an American physician associated with the blindness epidemic study that was organized by the Ministry of Health – and this woman is that young man’s sister."

"Well, Doctora, we will be brief but will explain out of professional courtesy. The compañerito here is a sero-positive. We have been looking for him ever since his test results came back after a routine screening at the Mazorra psychiatric hospital outpatient clinic. We were told by a reliable source that he would be here today, and so now we are taking him in for treatment."

"What kind of treatment?" asked Barbara suspiciously.

"Everything we have, compañera Doctora: good food, vitamins, interferon and some natural medicines that look promising. And we will put him on the list to receive AZT the next time we get a shipment in."

"They are taking him to Los Cocos, to the sanatorium," whispered Chela. "It’s a quarantine facility. Nobody comes home from there. Is there anything you can do?"

"Why does he have to be in-patient?" challenged Barbara. "Can’t he be treated just as effectively at home?" The two health officials shook their heads, smiling, as if to non-verbally comment on their interlocutor’s naiveté.

"No we couldn’t compañera. The conditions are different here than in your country. We cannot be wasting resources having our AIDS patients spread out all over Havana and the provinces. And it really is more comfortable there – there is meat served every week and there are fans in every room. And even though the compañera’s mother is very upset right now, there is no reason that she cannot visit her son at Los Cocos."

"I still do not see the reason for confining him – I can take responsibility for making sure he comes in to the clinic."

"Compañera," replied the shorter man patiently. "It is required that we protect the general population. I know that there has been some misinformation about our policies in the United States, but you need to understand. We are in a different situation here than in your country – quarantine is an effective protection measure here because the affected population is small. We can still contain this. In any way, this is the law and we will enforce it."

"I do not understand," persisted Barbara, "how the country which carried out the most comprehensive literacy and immunization campaigns in history cannot carry out an effective educational campaign and make sure people protect themselves, rather than turning to an outmoded and – I believe - ineffective method of quarantine."

"We do carry out educational campaigns, compañera. We warn everyone about the danger of sexual contact with foreigners…"

"That’s enough, Freddie," interrupted the other man hotly. He turned to Barbara. "Listen, American compañera, I will not be lectured on this matter by a physician from a country that let its entire hemophiliac population perish rather protect its blood supply – a country that put profit first! A country where blood is bought and sold as in the days of slavery! We still have living, uninfected hemophiliacs, compañera! And we will beat this epidemic on our terms, not on the terms of a country that does not even give heath care to its poor. If you are concerned about the conditions, I invite you to come inspect the Los Cocos facility personally. Now let us pass."

The three men brushed past them and proceeded to one of the police cars, where Tomás was efficiently helped into the back seat.

"Ay! Ay! My sons! I want my sons! You fuckers of shit, taking him to a place full of perverted, sick people! Aaaargh!" screeched Maritza, so inflamed in her anger that the saliva flew from her mouth, her body heaving as she strained against the men who held her fast. "I am going to kill the people who did this to us! Who violated my son! Who have taken everything from me!"

"Come on, Chela," whispered Barbara, putting an arm around her lover’s shoulder. The young Cuban woman was quietly sobbing. "There is nothing we can do here."


The Hotel Habana Libre

Even after three shots of rum, Barbara was seething at the travesty of "medical care" that she and Chela had painfully witnessed at El Monte. Her hands shook slightly in rage as she folded her shirts and underwear into her suitcase. Chela sat forlornly on the edge of the large bed, trying to calm herself, as she watched a loved one prepare to leave her for the second time that afternoon. It was – as it always was when either of them were angry – an awkward time in which conversation came sparingly.

"You didn’t know?" asked Barbara quietly. "About him?"

" I knew that he would probably go with men at some point, but no, I didn’t know he was sick and I didn’t know that he was already seeing men that way. He has certainly not been with anyone since he started his initiation."

"Well, technically he’s not sick," muttered Barbara. "Of course, it will be hard for him to stay well in this country." She zipped up the suitcase and threw it on the floor, then moved to place her duffel bag next to her guitar case. "And I think I’ve had my share of Cuban surveillance and nosiness today, so I think it would be good if I could leave my guitar and more personal things at your place."

"I would like that," whispered Chela. "I’ll take good care of them, and it will be a little something to keep me company while you are gone." Barbara poured herself another shot.

"You’re sure you don’t want any, Chela? It’s good. You and the rum and the sugar cane – what I’ve loved the most about this place." Her voice was steeped in bitterness.

"Cariño, you should slow down… there is a lot more that you have loved about it. You’re just worked up right now and not seeing clearly."

ÏI see clearly, Chela,Ó growled the other woman. "I see exactly what it would be like to work here – it would be just like when I was a kid and couldn’t make anything happen…a friggin’ swamp of rules and shortages that I would just sink into." So fucking powerless…couldn’t stop them. And it would always be that way here – I’d be on the bottom with Party cronies giving it to me up the ass twenty-four seven.

Please, Mother, prayed Chela. What can I do to turn this around? How can she love me and hate this place? But then, she’s never said she loves me, has she?

"Chela, I need to talk to you," said Barbara earnestly as she came over to sit next to the young Cuban woman. She slumped over, uncertain about how to phrase her thoughts in a way that would sound persuasive to her lover. "I know that it won’t be easy, but I’ve got to find a way of getting you out of here – maybe find a way of getting your family out of here as well. This isn’t a life sweetheart. We can do better in the U.S." She cringed upon hearing the sharp intake of breath beside her.

"It is a life, Barbara – it is my life, which I do not believe would improve very much going to a country where I would have trouble finding work and where I know people of African descent are not decently treated." Chela struggled to keep her voice even. "Here I know how things work – I can survive, and you would make a real difference in the lives of many, many people. Maybe I wouldn’t even have to work so much in the business anymore if, in gratitude to your accomplishments on the project, the Health Ministry people gave me some little jobs."

"You wouldn’t have to work in the United States if you didn’t want to – I make a decent amount of money as a doctor…Wait, what the fuck do you mean you wouldn’t have to work so much in the business anymore? You’re shitting me right? You’re not seriously thinking of going out to fuck johns while I’m out putting band aids on amputations."

"Well I am not going to live off of you, Barbara – here or there. I need to know that I can take care of myself. And you know what salaries are here – it is just a way of getting enough dollars. Many of the others are married, to husbands they deeply love – it is not thought of as infidelity. You will be all right financially, they will probably place you high in the Ministry. In fact, they would probably name you Minister of Health with the way you are impressing them."

"Oh that will be rich, baby," said Barbara hotly. "So it will be me signing the paperwork the day you sero-convert for your free trip to Los Cocos, and it will be me sitting in the visiting room with a chaperone tied to my crotch to make sure we don’t turn it into a conjugal visit."

"Is that what you are worried about? That I will get sick? That I will get you sick?" asked Chela painfully, as she went to rummage in her purse. She extracted a tattered booklet, and offered it to Barbara for her perusal. "I am really careful Barbara – as much as I can be. And I was tested for the last time this November, and I have always used a condom when I’ve needed to since then. Every time I’ve gone to the women’s clinic they have checked my blood, and then twice when the health workers did a sweep of all the young women working in tourist areas. Besides, I didn’t think it was an issue between two women."

"I personally don’t think it is. I think women only get HIV from two sources – both of them long and thin, needles and dicks. But there are people who disagree with me on that. What the hell is this?"

"It’s my clinic records and my health certificate," whispered Chela. "I keep it with me because sometimes the police will want to see it, and some of the clients do as well."

"Well I’m not a fucking client, Chela," responded Barbara bitterly, although her curiosity got the better of her and she quickly flipped through the pages. "Fuck, baby…how the hell are you staying safe? That’s four fucking pregnancy terminations in the last two years."

"The man that got me pregnant the past two times – I knew for certain he was clean. I was the only woman he’d been with in many years. Before that, I guess the condoms I’ve been able to get here the past few years haven’t been very good. You are not one of those Americans who try to stop abortions are you?"

"No," replied a flustered Barbara. "I think it should be a choice but it is a medical procedure, Chela, and your body’s just not meant to be messed with like that unnecessarily and so many times."

"I know," affirmed a resigned Chela. "They wanted to go ahead and cut my tubes the last time, but I felt wrong about closing off my womb like that – forever - before I’d had a chance to really see more of life."

"You know, mami," said Barbara, gingerly reaching out to return the papers, and capturing Chela’s hand as she took them. "I want you to see more of life too – I want you to see it with me, in a place where a clinic would never think of pushing sterilization on a twenty year-old with no children. A place where you can make a difference, mami – because you’re right that my country has its share of repugnant injustices - starting with the fact that I can’t marry you to get you a visa – and it would be good to have you by my side fighting them." Chela sighed and stared at the floor for a long moment before looking up to meet Barbara’s eyes.

"I will think about it, compañera, but only if you also continue to think about staying. Perhaps things will become clearer to both of us during these two weeks."

"Chelita," asked Barbara in a tight voice. "I know that you don’t have much to do on the project until I get back…You won’t be going out to work at night, will you?"

Chela thought about the question, and realized that there was no adequate response. To answer "yes" would be to taint their last hours together, and to push Barbara back into outright anger. To answer "no" would be to establish a dangerous precedent in letting the American woman’s sometimes naïve sensibilities control her behavior. She brought Barbara’s hand up to her lips, and kissed it tenderly, hoping that in showing her unflagging affection for the other woman, her words might be softened.

"I love you, Barbara, and I always will. You can be certain of that. But our lives are very complicated right now, cariño, and I’m afraid if you are going to stay with me as my compañera – whether it is here or there, and whether it is for the rest of our lives or only for a short time – you will not be able to be certain of much. I can’t afford to treat you like some American Don Quixote, down here to tilt at windmills and rescue your damsel in distress. But I will always be honest with you, Barbara. I will never lie."

Barbara’s chest hurt, and she felt her eyes watering at the younger woman’s complex admission. She recalled Cynthia’s words: "I was the one who was weak…because he could have done it…they all can." She reached inside herself to extract the modest amount of courage residing in her soul, and was surprised and grateful to find there was enough there to keep herself from reacting selfishly to her lover’s statements. She repeated Chela’s earlier gesture, drawing up the Cuban woman’s hand and pressing a kiss into the palm.

"Chela," she whispered hoarsely. "I will do my best to make sure we have as many choices as possible about what direction to take. And I will try harder to respect your decisions, your knowledge of this place. I don’t want this to be for a short time, my compañera, I can tell you that." She shook off the urge to cry, abruptly standing and pulling Chela up with her.

"Let’s get my things back to your place, shall we? And then perhaps we can make an early night of it." She poured the remaining rum down the sink and set about collecting her bags. The dawn and my unwilling exile away from your side are both coming upon me much too quickly, she thought sadly, as she reached to kiss Chela one last time before opening the door.


Aché to those who found a way

to not be counted among the defeated,

to not be taken as trophies

in the terrible night.

Aché to those who jumped off the sides of the ships.

Aché to those who tore their clothes to make ropes to hang themselves.

Aché to those who ate the bitter raw cassava until their hearts stopped.

The vulture errs when he laughs while picking at your bones,

thinking he feasts on the dead.

No, he gorges himself on those still in motion -

still in relentless fury dancing –

and the day will come when his belly brings him down,

his outlaw flight clipped by the weight of your souls.

Come then to my defense

you princes of the maroons,

you queens of the mutinous barracks,

and wrap your timeless arms around me

so that I am not blown away.

Still my heels at our last fortress

and help me to my spear.


To be continued.

Feedback to ortizbriggs@aol.com. I misplaced some mail sent recently – Totromundo! Write again! Sorry!

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"La Fábula de los Tres Hermanos", ["The Fable of the Three Brothers"] by Silvio Rodríguez used without permission.

Translation of "Amor de Millones" by Sarita González (because she’s not just for T-shirts !):

"Like a little magical bird that returns, I waited for you one morning/Seated before my window, looking at the greenest hill/And upon seeing the dawn amongst the wildflowers, I preferred your song/ I loved you once again./My love, do not go/for I don’t want to find myself alone once more./My love, do not go/for I will cry./Your hair with its thousand scents and shining like the stars/it was the most beautiful thing, it was a love of the millions/My song became stronger upon sensing that you were coming and I settled/on the poetry that I know you like so much./My love, do not go/for I don’t want to find myself alone once more./My love, do not go/for I will cry./Light comes through the window each time you open your eyes/And I think about my whim at wanting them tomorrow/But I know that along with your trill there comes a struggle/And I let myself be taken by a higher feeling./My love, do not go/for I don’t want to find myself alone once more./My love, do not go/for I will cry."


LMAO. Thanks to the couple who volunteered to check out the feasibility of the positions. I appreciate your sacrifice and am in your debt.