On the third day, water began to beat the island from all sides, enforcing a holiday curfew. The girls spent their days at the indoor pool, circled by a pack of teenage boys. Delphine and Sebastien roamed the lobby, Sebastien wearing his pale, urban face like a badge of honor. Every afternoon they slinked behind the mezzanine bar and sank into long, conspiratorial chats, probably the usual back and forth about why I was always working, or maybe, this time, about why I wasn’t; why I had suddenly decided to take time off and ship us all to Cuba. I didn’t attempt to join them. I had learned French in school, like all Swiss children, but after leaving school I had shelved it. Sebastien once asked me why I didn’t make an effort to speak Delphine and the girls’ language. I told him French was a relic. Everyone knew this, except the French.
It suited me to be left alone. I combed methodically through the hotel’s bars, terraces and smoking lounges, and regularly scanned the new arrivals, gathered twice a day at the reception. They had thinned to a trickle, but Herr von Zweig was expected any day, despite the torrential rain, despite the cancelled flights and delays. The hotel employees joked about the looming storm with serene bravado, and forty-eight hours later La Chica made her official entry: wind gusts slapping the island, palm trees dragged sideways by the tip of their crowns. Every night, while the hotel sipped drinks and then slept, I stationed myself on the balcony and watched the kamikaze waves pulverize to white dust on the rocks below, and that’s when it began, a timid release of memories, as if a tight fist in my brain was unclenching, pried open, finger by finger. I submitted to this process with a certain interest, waiting almost passively for the results. The feeling of letting things happen was new; since meeting Magda my life had been the opposite of passive, a tight string of watchful, successful decisions. In hindsight there was something ghostly about our encounter. But that’s hindsight – what I had lacked was foresight. You don’t sleep with a corpse without being haunted eventually.
CUBAN DINER, short story