River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative 6.2 (2005) 1-9
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What You'll Remember
Patricia Ann McNair
You sit in the back of the cab, a white, boxy thing you think of as Soviet-made, you don't know why, and the oily fumes come in through the windows on hot, wet air that barely moves. Your guide stretches forward and speaks a stream of words to the driver, soft, in that voice you like to lean in close to hear, to feel the breath on the skin of your face, your neck. And you wonder how the driver can possibly make anything out over the unmuffled motor. Only he does, and he smiles and glances back in his rearview, looks right at you, into your eyes. His own those particular Cuban eyes, the light ones, green or gray or blue (sometimes gold) and rimmed black around the iris—and you feel your chest tighten a little like it always does when you see those eyes, and you smile back at the driver who says something fast and blurry, a question it sounds like, and you nod even though you don't understand but it seems like he might have asked "¿Bien viaje?" or something like that, something you suspect means "Good trip?"
And your guide laughs. He pats the man on the shoulder and leans back into the seat beside you, close to you because the vinyl on his side is torn and a spring pushes up and out of it, silver and sharp looking. And his door has no handle. So the two of you press together, sharing your side. You don't mind; his arm is hard against your sunburned one, the skin cooler than yours. He puts a hand on your thigh in that way you notice Cubans touch, sure and flat-palmed, not like back home in the tiny town where strangers touch one another like it's always an accident, with fingertips or knuckles or backs of their hands. You remember how just a few days ago you stood in the crowd at the rumba concert in the alley painted bright with murals and scattered with sculptures made from metal and wood and things that once were something else, buckets and bicycle tires and bathtubs, [End Page 1] and you felt a hand on your waist. One whole hand pressed against you, and another one low on your shoulder blade. You thought for just a moment that it must be a friend there, only you knew it couldn't be, not possibly. You're on your own, your colleagues gone back to the States while you stayed on, alone here in Cuba now that your conference is over. You figured what the hell. Your life had gone black and white; you were forty and newly alone and nothing ever changed. And now you wanted something you could carry away with you back to your too big apartment back in the city, something that when you opened it up to look at again, your life would fill up with color. Something to remember. You were surprised how easy it all was, changing your return tickets, paying for the room in advance, just like any old trip, even though you ached for something new. And so at the concert in the painted alley, you leaned into the hands, let them touch you: "Permiso," the man you'd never seen before (small, dark, kind-looking) said, and you said: "Es suyo." All he wanted was permission to pass, but still, you let him move you, and after, long after, you remember leaning into those hands.
"Give me five dollars," your guide says, hand still on your knee, and you realize (more than a little disappointed) that he means nothing by the hand, he's just making contact to get your attention. Hatuey his name is, and you remember how it took almost an hour for you to get it close to right. You loved listening to his voice while he said it, the H...