Joaquin had the
chart and el profesór from Miami wouldn’t mind a bit.
He had a bullet in the head and Joaquin was on his way back
to Key West. The University teacher had great ideas, but
they all had to do with giving everything to some museum
after finding the sunken ship. Joaquin had taken the profesór diving
in the Keys, translated old documents, driven him to libraries.
Too bad the man had interrupted Joaquin in his office. The
chart, he knew from his now-dead employer, would lead him
to where the Esperanza went down almost four hundred
“I got the map,” he announced
to Alida. “Keep this safe. It’s our ticket to the good life.”
“But the profesór?”
“He will never miss it.”
“I can’t believe it, Joaquin,” she
said putting her long arms around his neck. “Are we going
now? Those Spanish had so much gold and it will all be ours. ¡Vamanos!”
Joaquin’s eyes drilled into
hers. He had two treasures, one in his arms and one under
“No, querida. Later.
There’s a storm warning. They will evacuate the Keys, but
we are staying right here. I’ll put the chart…where?” He
looked around their small house. “Behind the calendar, for
now. No one will find it.”
The hurricane, called Helen,
hit suddenly and then hunkered down over Key West like an
angry squatter. The storm surge rose almost to the foot of
Joaquin and Alida’s front door. Later that night, Joaquin
waded through the wind and rain to the Deep Six bar. For
provisions, he told Alida, but then he spent hours drinking anejo with
“I’m going to be on easy street,
amigo,” he said, slapping the bar. “When I get back and have
found the Esperanza, I’ll buy drinks for everyone.”
Hernando had been his friend
since the three of them left Cuba with the Mariel boat people
in the 1980s. He trusted Hernando on the open water, but
perhaps less in matters of the heart. A funny expression
crossed Hernando’s face now when Alida was with him. Joaquin
knew that feeling. He felt it himself whenever a woman came
into the bar with her hips swaying and her hair floating
like a cloud.
“You go out drinking and come
back with no food,” Alida said with disbelief when he stumbled
home. “I’ll go get the food myself,” she muttered, and left
to find a grocería that would sell bread and a chicken.
She came back instead with rolls of wallpaper—a sale, she
said. “There is no more food. But look, we can make this
pig pen look decent.” Perhaps she also left once, that night,
when Joaquin was sleeping. He wasn’t sure.
The storm beat on the walls
and windows a second day. Joaquin’s anxiety grew uncontrollable,
like a bull beating at a gate that wouldn’t open. The fresh
food had run out. There were only dried beans and rice and
half a bottle of wine. They drank water from cups left on
the porch. Would the damnable hurricane never end?
“Tell me you saw Hernando,
before, when I was up in Miami,” he shouted over the storm.
She glowed like a ghost in the light of the kerosene lantern. “Tell
me the truth. ¡La verdad!”
“I did not see him,” she said
defiantly. “Don’t get crazy, Joaquin. I love only you.” She
crossed her arms over her breasts and stared back, challenging
him to prove his accusation.
He walked out into the storm,
cursing the fickleness of a woman. When he returned after
finishing a pint of rum, alone in the doorway of a storefront,
their fight continued. This time, it had to do with the wallpaper
Alida had put up, haphazardly, on the living room walls.
“You are so stupid! We could
die from this hurricane and you put up that ugly flowery
wallpaper. You stupid guajila. Take it down.”
She stalked off to the kitchen
to cook beans—again—for supper.
“You have been seeing Hernando.
That’s why you defy me!”
She laughed—the worst thing
a woman could do—to insult his manhood.
The words fell as thick as
the rain then, and their insults were rich with their history
of love and jealousy mixed in a thick stew of emotion. It
became more than any man could take, and he told her, “Give
me back the chart. I am leaving. When I find the treasure,
you will have your share—no less, but no more.”
She only needed to refuse him
once, laughing again, and the little black automatic pistol
was in his hand. Before he could think, he pulled the trigger
and watched Alida fall to the floor. The shriek of the wind
covered the sound of the gun. A small dribble of blood ran
from her forehead under the black hair that used to float
like a cloud.
The map, he thought suddenly.
Where was map? He ripped down the calendar, but it wasn’t
there. With a sly smile, he realized, she had hidden it behind the
wallpaper. That was why she had been so intent on decorating
the room. He tore at the paper, ripping down sheets and throwing
them over his shoulder. When the last shred was gone, he
sat down heavily. The map was not behind the wallpaper. She
hadn’t trusted him. Cursing, he scooped up the mess and threw
it outside to let the storm send the ugly flowers to sea.
He also returned Alida’s body to the sea they had crossed
years before. She had been a good person, but stupid. Like
Hours later, he found himself
in the Deep Six. “It’s gone, all gone,” he told Hernando. “Alida
has gone to Miami. She took the chart with her. I am lost.”
Hernando saluted Joaquin seriously
with his glass. “She would never leave you, Joaquin. She
loved you. If she’s gone it’s because of your jealousy.”
“The map, hijo de puta!
She took the map.”
“No,” Hernando said. “She told
me the map would be safe until after the hurricane.”
“She cut it into perfect little
squares. Then, she pasted the pieces onto the flowers of
her wallpaper. Very orderly. You can take the pieces, top
to bottom, left to right, and reassemble the map. But, if
Alida is gone, my friend, can you put your heart back together
and forgive her?”
# # #