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 years ago.

“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 the sea.

“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 Hernando.

“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 the professor.

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.”

“Safe? Where?”

“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?”

# # #

Epitaph With Flowers by Walter Giersbach
originally published February 22, 2010



Walter Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, Written Word and Big Pulp. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child Publishing.

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visit his Big Pulp author page


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