Earlier today, I read a post from my dear friend Jennifer Echols on the wisdom on never, ever, don’t-even-consider-it, throwing away any bit of writing. Go. Read. I’ll still be here. Promise.
So. You see what good can come from never, ever, don’t-even-consider-it, throwing away any bit of your writing? I mean, you just never know. As for myself, I’ve long been a proponent of the school of There’s No Such Thing As Wasted Writing. Because again, you just never know. So in that vein, I decided to go digging into my own vaults and pull out a piece of writing I love (of which I have many) that fits nowhere in particular (much like Jenn’s) but that I absolutely love and that I can’t seem to let go. I completed this entire manuscript but as Lovely Agent kindly put it, it read like two different books—the first half vastly different from the second.
She’s… not wrong. So it lives on my hard drive, waiting for me to decide how best to revise, but in the meantime, I still think the first chapter, which I dashed off in literally a couple hours when the idea hit, still remains one of my favorite pieces of writing that I’ve ever committed to (virtual) paper. So I decided to share it.
And I hope you like it.
Chapter One of my 1960s-set story, Between Here & Gone
© 2012 Barbara Ferrer
CROWD HAILS CASTRO AS HE REACHES U.S. FOR AN 11-DAY VISIT
The New York Times
“Talia, I’m going to be sick.”
“Oh, no. Otra vez? How can you even have anything left?”
But Carlito was already leaning against me, the harsh, dry rattle of his heaves contrasting with the cold wet sounds of the waves slapping against the sides of the boat. While he gagged and jackknifed into my lap, I desperately groped for the bowl we’d tried to keep handy ever since we ran out of the Coca-Colas that we’d saved for him and his delicate stomach.
I was too late. He was losing what little remained, nothing but bile at this point, soaking through my skirt, hot and smelling acidic and faintly, ridiculously, of maduros. Probably nothing more than a product of exhausted and overwrought imagination. Wistful memory of the meal served at home before we left, colluding with the future.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
Everything out of the ordinary.
None of the servants any the wiser that it would be the last time they’d be cooking for us, serving us, cleaning up after us.
Or maybe they’d known. No one could trust anyone else any longer. I wonder how many of them at least suspected? Might have been watching, waiting… Papi must have sensed it was close.
We should have just flown. We should have left—long before this. I tried telling them. I had desperately wanted to leave. Almost as much as I wanted to stay. Wanted things to be the way they’d been, childish pipe dream that it was. Wanted to curl up and die.
But Papi insisted that not only could we bring more with us on the boat, but that it would also serve us well in bringing extra money since we’d be leaving almost everything behind. What we still possessed was tied to the country in ways that would all too easily rouse suspicion if we tried to make substantial changes. Another reason we’d taken so long to leave. Gathering money and items in small increments, all very cloak and dagger in a way that might have been thrilling and exciting if not for the sheer terror overlaying every step or word.
So not only was La Damisela a beautiful cruiser, meticulously maintained, but for los americanos—they would appreciate not only the beauty and craftsmanship, but also find the notoriety of what it represented entirely too delicious to resist. All certain to add up to a nice sum. Not that he directly said so. At least, not to me. Just la niña—la princessa—no need to worry my precious little head with such trivialities.
What a joke. Everything was already different.
Yet so typical that he’d still think of me in such a way. Attempting to keep me locked away and preserved in some airtight box. Even after all that had already happened. So willfully blind to the fact that I’d left innocence behind in one shattering moment weeks ago. Although how could he be so callous? Who knew? Perhaps it was for his own benefit. Protecting himself.
Mami and Abuela had always said it wasn’t that the men in our lives didn’t care or weren’t aware. Just simply that they couldn’t handle our pain. It overwhelmed them. So instead they focused on pretending we were delicate flowers requiring protection. That we were the ones who didn’t understand. Even when they knew better.
Cause for more wisdom from Mami and Abuela—that, of all things, we were the ones who had to be strong. For them.
I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t want to be strong. I wanted to howl and scratch and spit and rip flesh from bones and rail at the inhumane unfairness of it all. Perhaps I was better at this pretending than even I had imagined. Because they—Papi, Mami, Abuela, Carlito—every one of them thought I was strong enough to cope.
Using a clean section of my skirt, I wiped Carlito’s mouth, dabbed the perspiration off his sweet face, trapped in that shimmering moment somewhere between boy and man. Pobrecito—there was so much he’d be missing. So much he should be experiencing that wasn’t this hell.
“Let me get you some water, hermanito.”
“Don’t go.” His voice cracked. Definitely more boy there, as his arms tightened around my waist—afraid I’d leave.
“But it’ll make you feel better.”
“It’ll make me throw up again.” Shades of a deeper tone. A surety. Almost against my will I smiled. So stubborn, my little brother. Since the cradle no one had known him as well as he knew himself—as he took every opportunity to remind us.
But I not only wanted to get him water, I wanted to change my clothes. Get out of this dress with its soaked, filthy skirt. Never mind that in sacrificing clothes in order to leave room for other items and the fact that this wasn’t the first time that I’d held Carlito through a bout of nausea, I didn’t have much left. At the very least, I could always borrow a pair of Carlito’s pants and a shirt. Anything would be better than sitting around in sodden, smelly cotton, clinging to my thighs, bare, since I’d discarded my girdle the first hour out. It was just too damp to be wearing the close-fitting torture device. Besides, clinging to social niceties was a waste of time.
“Carlito, m’ijo, I have to change my clothes.”
“Stay.” A command, coming easily from the young prince accustomed to getting his way, easy for me to ignore until his gaze fixed itself on my face, eyes enormous dark smudges in the pale oval of his face. So deceptive, since those eyes, in the light of day, were the same pale, brilliant green as Papi’s. The “eyes of the San Martín men” as Abuelita proclaimed time and again from her spot of honor at the foot of the French mahogany table. But in the dark, the color was inconsequential—overwhelmed by fear. Ignoring the wet and the stink and my own terror and fury, I gathered him close, my little brother, taller than me now, the future man of the family, forever the baby, holding him as the yacht bobbed quietly along the waves. We were saving our last bit of gas, I knew. For when we got close.
I closed my eyes and turned my face into the breeze drifting through the cabin’s open door, breathing deep—sea air always helped. Even under these circumstances.
I blinked, not sure if I’d drifted or not. But I must have, because where before there had been nothing but endless dark—
Through the window—tiny pinpricks of light in the distance, piercing the dark, gracias a Dios.
Lights that appeared to be standing still, only their reflections bobbing and weaving the slightest bit on the dark water. Looking like fireflies. Difficult, but not impossible to catch.
Beneath the smooth leather soles of my shoes, I felt the engines rumble to life, the distant lights continuing to beckon, reaching out, guiding us in.
“We’re here,” Carlito whispered, struggling to sit straighter. “Natalia, we’re here.”
“Yo se,” I whispered absently. But where? Continue reading