Little Cuba Stories/Cuentos de Cuba

There are no doors between the rooms. The archways bore
through the house like a tunnel through a mountain. The room
one falls into after my parents’ is the largest and serves as two
bedrooms divided by an invisible wall. Half of it is my brother’s
and the other half my sister and I share, but not at first.
Earlier, I have a bed to myself on the side of the room nearest the
kitchen. My bed is low and on one side a wooden rail can be
dragged up noisily and clicked into place.
          It is here my little goat wakes me, grabbing the covers off
          me with her teeth. We play in the empty pig shelter at the
          far end of the patio while my mother washes clothes in a
          palangana and throws the soapy water across the concrete,
          where it steams.
          But my father is a butcher by profession, and my family
          has other plans for my goat: a Sunday picnic at the zoo in
          Havana. The day is huge and blue and breezy. My sister
          teases me for not eating and says my goat is delicious. I
          stray away to watch the monkeys.
          I give one of the monkeys near the fence my banana. As it
          finishes peeling it meticulously, another monkey appears
          behind it and shoves the banana into its own mouth. The
          first monkey turns around, slaps it in the face with the
          empty peel, but that monkey isn’t sorry and starts jumping
          and screeching and showing its yellow teeth.
          For many years, those monkeys are all I can remember
          about the picnic at the zoo.
Later, when my sister and I share a bed on the other side of the room,
I can see the tall narrow cabinet right inside my parents’ room. My
father always puts his hat on top of it as he walks in. And at night,
through the mosquito netting, it is a tall thin man wearing a straw
hat, lurking just outside the door, watching me in a sinister way. The
dead weight of my sister’s habitual leg thrown across my body is no
talisman. I have to keep waking myself up, sweaty and tense, to
make sure he hasn’t moved any closer.

Aleida Rodríguez, "Little Cuba Stories/Cuentos de Cuba" from Garden of Exile.  Copyright © 1999 by Aleida Rodríguez.  Reprinted by permission of Sarabande Books, Inc.
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