This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much
heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.

Monday, May 18, 2015

SHORT STORY: The Blondie

I was recently reviewing posts on this blog and I discovered that I had not posted this short story, although I wrote it a few years ago. 

It's set in the Cuban resort, Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, where I now lead groups twice a year – for more information about my travel endeavours, please visit my website: JennicaCuba.

This story is, of course (si, claro), a work of fiction, but I think it's quite safe to say it's entirely plausible! See what you think….
~ Jenny


The Blondie

She believes she is well liked. She probably is. Every Canadian tourist who steps off the plane more than once in Cuba believes the same. We probably are, in some ways, for some reasons, but maybe not exactly as we want to believe. The welcoming warmth, the hug of good will in the heat of the unblinking sun is part of the attraction here. Everyone wants to be liked.
This woman has traveled broadly, she tells me, joking that she cannot do otherwise, “because I am a broad!” She chortles proudly at her play on words, asking me in her Eastern-European-tinged English if I got it. “And, I like being abroad.” As she extends her word play, she runs her hand airily along the curve of her hip without touching and winks.
“Si, claro!” I tease her, already knowing that neither of us has enough Spanish to hold a decent conversation with a child. We could just as easily sprinkle our lunch with German, which we both once knew fluently. Here, we are trying to untangle the Cuban tongue, each in our own way.
She has been to this small resort, Marea del Portillo, several times and has immersed herself in the romance of the place, taking great delight in flirting. Her wealthy, much-senior husband, who adored her, died a few years ago, she confides easily, so she is free to do as she pleases. She winks again. “You know what I mean.” Because of his age and declining health, she explains, with unfinished sentences and vague gestures, they did not...were not able to...even though he loved her. Here, she’s discovered she still knows how to ride that old bicycle and she’s happy to be back in the saddle again.
As we chat, eat and amble about the grounds, her eyes never stop roving. She wants to introduce me to the people she knows, mostly men, and she is looking for her special friend. She doesn’t call him her lover but she winks. “You know....” She was expecting him to meet her when we arrived yesterday. It’s all she could talk about on the plane, giving me less time to read than I’d planned but, I privately rationalize, it’s nice to have a new friend with more experience in Cuba than I have; I can learn from her.
My friend’s long blonde hair is a bounty of gold in the afternoon sun, framing her salon-tanned face. She waves it like a flag as she talks and smiles. I watch her teeth flash. She has told me, “I have them whitened.” I’m not clear if this is an on-going practice or if she meant to say “had.” Her tongue seems to trip over tenses and time, obscuring her meaning in meaningless ways.
“They love blonde hair, the Cuban men,” she says, “like bees to honey. They call me The Blondie.” She tosses her hair, teeth gleaming and one brown eye twinkling as the other squeezes briefly shut. “I could have many of these guys but I only want Juan. Get it? I only want One.” She nudges me with her elbow.
I nod. “Si, claro!” She still sees herself as a blonde bombshell, though she admits she’s gained a few pounds. I can’t argue.
“Juan won’t mind,” she says confidently, pushing her shoulders slightly back to make her breasts more prominent. “He’ll just say there’s more to love.”

By dinnertime, she has learned that Juan is in Holguin, several hours away. He’s in the hospital for some tests but she should not be worried, he has told her. He will arrive tomorrow. She pats my hand, reminding herself not to worry. She has already acquired a second key for her hotel room, by ruse, so he can come and go illicitly, as he pleases.
She has a lot riding on this bicycle, I think. During dinner, she heaves her ample handbag onto her lap and pulls out a dark blue, velvety box. Nestled inside is a thick gold band with a bean-sized diamond. It rivals her own ring, which flashes wantonly as she dismisses the gift, explaining that the gems are faux, even though the gold is real. “It is a promise ring, to show our commitment. He wants to marry me, you know, but I wasn’t ready before. Now, I am.” She snaps the box shut for emphasis. “But, he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know about the ring. That’s why I can hardly wait to see him.”
Over her shoulder, I can see a heavy moon rising slowly. I wonder if she is older or younger than me.

In the morning, I am surprised to find my new pal, Helga, waiting in the lobby with the group scheduled to go to Cayo Blanco for the day. She knew I was planning to go but, last night, she didn’t think she’d be able to join me, she said – even though she loved the idyllic island – because she didn’t want to miss “Juan know!” She has learned, however, that he won’t arrive until the evening, so she’s free to soak up some sun and relax. “And, honey, I need to relax,” she sighs. “Maybe I’ll go for a massage when we get back, if you don’t mind eating dinner a little late.”
“Si, claro.” My limited Spanish vocabulary has become our running joke. “Yes, we can relax and enjoy the beautiful day on a beautiful beach,” I assure her with a small sigh, thinking about the book at the bottom of my daypack.
By 3:30, as we wait to be transported back to the resort, we compare sunburns. My feet and calves are my only problem, since I forgot to slather on more sunscreen after wading. Helga has burned her bosom.
“Juan will have to peel them like two big apples but, honey, he always finds me appealing.” She wiggles her hips. “Get it?”
“Yes.” I am too hot and tired to be playful. While she snoozed in a beach chair – and only snored softly, I assured her – I kayaked, snorkeled and explored the tiny island’s sandy white shoreline. That was just in the morning. After lunch, I tried to read but ended up chatting with Helga until I excused myself to go for a catamaran ride.
“Sure, honey, you go and have fun. Don’t worry about me,” she’d said. “I’m not going anywhere.” There was no hint of irony in her tone.

At the appointed dinner hour, I sink into a puffy floral sofa outside the dining room and wait for Helga. I can see her striding along the sidewalk long before she spies me in the dimness of the lobby alcove. As I watch, I can tell she’s not happy. Her usual nods of greeting are mechanical. Her walk is aggressive, and the high, chunky heels she’s wearing cause her to shorten her stride, adding to the effect. She is fiddling with her necklace as she approaches, making sure the sparkling bauble is centered between her red breasts, and almost walks right past me.
“Come on, honey, let’s eat. I have a lot to tell you.” She marches on.
“Si, claro,” I say to myself. She’s already out of earshot.
After we’ve heaped our plates at the buffet and politely ordered our usual vino tinto, por favor y gracias, she launches into the latest chapter in the Book of Juan. He will not be arriving tonight. His ride fell through and it was too late to catch a bus. Then he found out he must go back to the hospital for another test tomorrow, just to make sure there is no problem, but she is not to worry.
She is not worried; she’s angry. His excuses are coming too thickly. She says she offered to rent a car and go pick him up in Holguin tomorrow but he talked her out of it. “He says it’s too expensive and he doesn’t want me to spend my money foolishly,” she explains. “He has no idea how much I spent on that ring for him! Maybe he will think that is foolish, too.”
Slowly, she softens. Despite her frustration, she tries to be philosophical. “He might have something wrong with his kidney, he says. That’s what the test was about – the one they need to make again. He might have a kidney stone.” She chews a piece of pork thoughtfully, slipping back to her former life. “They can be very painful. My husband had those stones, and it was very hard on him. He tried not to let me see how much it hurt but I knew. He couldn’t hide anything from me.”
“What about Juan? Can he hide anything from you?” I am emboldened by the wine, which keeps flowing freely.
She blinks. “Maybe. But only for a little while.” She puts down her fork and leans forward, conspiratorially. “I will find out tonight what is really going on. He is part of the band that plays here, so they will know why he is not making it to the show. If he is really sick, they will tell me.” She raises her wine glass to clink mine. “I am no dumb Blondie!”
As our dessert plates are being cleared away, we can hear the band begin in the distance, drawing us to the stage. We claim seats near the front, so Helga can catch the attention of the musicians she knows.
Between sets, she learns that, yes, Juan did have to go to the hospital but it was just a routine thing, sort of an annual check-up. She is partly relieved but partly puzzled by the added delay in returning. She pushes harder, gets some shrugs and vague answers – a Cuban specialty. “They are all talking about it,” she says. “I just need to find someone who will talk to me about it.”
“Maybe he has some other business,” one man offers. She pounces.
“Like what? He is supposed to come here, to see me.” Helga responds with the directness of her own culture coming to the forefront.
“Maybe he has other people to see in Holguin.” The man shrugs, apologetic in his manner, but I’m not clear what he is apologizing about.
“You mean, maybe he has another woman there. Is that it?” Helga cuts to the chase.
The gentleman squirms. Oh, I realize, he’s apologetic for not being able to tell her the whole truth. He’s trying to give her hints but he doesn’t want to come right out and say anything directly. “It’s really not my business.” Shrug.
But, Helga won’t let up. She has him pinned down. “Is that what you mean – that he has another woman?”
He shrugs again and looks away, idly swirling the melted ice in his plastic glass.
I interrupt and offer to go to the bar to get some more drinks. Without waiting to hear their preference, I escape. If he has something he wants to say, maybe he will feel less uncomfortable if he is alone with her. And, I don’t want to be drawn any deeper into this game, whatever it is.
By the time I return, he’s gone and she’s very angry, but quickly regrouping. “He told me Juan is with another tourist, a woman from Quebec, who is paying for them to stay at another resort. Those French, they can be so pushy!”
I think of saying “Si, claro,” but I bite my tongue.
“I know he loves me but, the truth is, he did not know I was coming this week,” she reasons with herself. “I wanted to surprise him.” She shrugs. “But, he is a man, a Cuban man. You know what I mean; you’re a smart girl.” Helga pauses, glancing around the patio bar. “They are all watching me – his friends. They want to see what The Blondie will do, and they will tell him.”
She twists her big ring, contemplating, then tilts the conversation in another direction. “Honey, my fingers are swelling. I think I need to go have a shower and lie down. See you at breakfast, okay?”
“Si, amiga. Mañana.” I blow her a kiss as she heads toward her hotel room. I nurse my drink and watch the band finish their set. The man she was speaking with is at the keyboards. He doesn’t look my way.

Helga looks relaxed and refreshed by the next morning. She has apparently confronted Juan by phone and he is on his way to her side. Si, claro. We go our separate ways for the day but, as the evening show begins, I find her prominently displayed in the front row.
“Hi, honey,” she purrs. “There he is!” Her eyes sparkle as she nods towards the band. “That’s him playing the red guitar. It’s his favorite.” She is glowing. She can’t shift her gaze away from him.
I inspect. What did I expect? He’s good looking but nothing special, from what I can see in the glare of the stage lights. “He’s cute!” I say finally, since she seems to be waiting for a comment from me. And a little chubby, I silently add.
“He has blonde hair now, like me, but it’s not natural for a Cuban. Well, mine’s not natural either but everybody says blondes have more fun, so why not? I like to have some fun – who doesn’t?” She’s more effusive than ever. It’s nice to see her happy.
When the band is released from duty and the deejay takes over, Helga quickly introduces me before she is whisked off to dance. She winks at me over Juan’s shoulder as they swirl away. I am not forgotten, just abandoned until an amiga is needed again. I decide to make it an early night.

Mañana comes and goes. And, apparently, so does Juan. Helga catches me at breakfast two days later to fill me in, and find out what my plans are. She gave him the ring. He was blown away. Now, he’s gone away to “tie up some loose ends,” but he’ll be back before she leaves. He loves his Blondie, she knows. I shrug imperceptibly. What do I know? I am not Cuban.
I am leaving the next day but she is staying for another week. I wish her well as I depart. She vows to stay in touch. Si, claro. We try, but the common ground was that place, that time. We don’t need each other back in Canada.
A year later, I find out she’s still involved with Juan, for better or worse. Since that surprise trip, though, they generally stay at a different resort when she visits. I still prefer Marea del Portillo, for better or worse. I am learning Cuban.

– Jennifer R. Cressman

July 17, 2011

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