Briana Almeida, aka “Bre”, is an undergrad writing major at SCAD-Atlanta from Boston, Ma. Originally an illustration major, she found passion in creating artwork of words and plans to obtain her masters in fiction. She hopes to incorporate her journey in tattooing, watercolor art and foreign cultures into her work, while maintaining a day job as a cranky online magazine editor.
Dulce de Leche
“Agh,” papa spits onto the concrete. “Eso puto.”
Pitbull bounces from the radio, a regaaeton station, so I twist the knob. Papa has a thing about Americans. Especially Pitbull.
“Que tipo de cubano eh?” He mumbles at me, angry, and I don’t know what kind of Cuban Pitbull is. Not the right one. A bottle of Presidente shakes in his shriveled hands. The silence resumes.
There is no breeze through Vieja today, so we sit shirtless on the balcony stuck to the plastic of our lawn chairs. Morenas saunter past below, and we call out to them, never expecting more than an annoyed swat of their delicate hands.
Two ‘o’ clock rolls around and there’s a game on. When I finish my can Papa sends me downstairs for mas Presidente. There are none. He turns up the radio so I start out for the liquor store. Calle Trocadero is tight, full from sidewalk to sidewalk of women and tourists. Kids on bicicletas race past. “Hijos de puto,” I mumble, sucking my teeth. The sky is cloudless.
Paint chips litter the sidewalk, faded teals and oranges. As I walk old men wave, playing dominoes for change and beer.
Crossing la calle, I cut through an alleyway. Above, a sign reads: “Jesus, te amo!” In Miramar, Mama whispered it the nights Papa came home from the bar accusing her of stealing all his money. But Mama stayed in the house with me, or Mama went to church. For tithe, she’d sob, for us to move to America. And on my sixteenth, she did. But then I became the thief. Not the women standing outside Amelia’s, or the cold cervezas inside.
On Calle Aguila, old women grin and nod, “hola m’ijo.” I am not their son but they are all my mother.
Here there is no shade, so the sun beats on my back stronger than the boys who play drums further up. Cupping my hand to my forehead, I see the bolero girls, skirts with no panties billowing out from their waists and their thick hips forming figure eights like invisible labyrinths. They are all swollen lips and sharp tongues, with flowered hair in tight coils. When they gather their hands to their chubby navels, full of platanos y pollo, it is ten times the beauty of sunset.
Once, when I used to play, a girl danced for me. She peeked beneath her eyebrows and flashed her teeth, spinning and twirling. When I softened the beat, her hips responded, rising and falling delicate and slow. Her jasmine perfume filled the air, warm as the velvety chocolate of her skin.
When I pass the girls I smile, even though mi dulce, my candy, soured on me long ago.
“Por que,” she begged, “ ¿por qué no te vienes conmigo ? ” Because the States are far, I told her, and Papa is alone. The day she left, she handed me a piece of candy. Do you know why men love this, she said, and I shook my head. Because it is the sweetness of milk (dulce de leche), from the breasts and hearts of the women; without it men wither and die.
At the top of the hill, a breeze floats past with the hint of the sea on it. The liquor store appears on my left, but I slow before I enter. Beneath me is Habana Vieja, Old Havana: her skin the brick streets and bright buildings, teals and corals; her heartbeat the drumming of the boys, the quick feet of the bolero girls; her spicy perfume lechón asado, roasted pork and yellow rice. She oozes from every one of us like sweat under the glaring sun.
Oozing from Papa, oozing from me.
A tiny ding sounds with the door, despite the game thundering from the fuzzy TV.
“Que quieres?” The owner calls out, eyes never leaving the screen.
“Presidente,” I say, grabbing a six-pack and hauling it to the counter.
“Como e’ta tu Papa,” he says, turning to me. When I say he’s fine, he wonders when they’ll return to Miramar. Shrugging, I pay and leave.
Papa is hunched over the cooler when I return, his clawed fingers curled into his chest. Cracking one open I hand it to him, and as he leans over his wallet tumbles from his pocket. It flips in the breeze that’s picked up off the water. Mama’s face smiles up at me. Without a word he closes it gently, and stuffs it into his pocket.