- Strange And Lovely
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“what a shitty night,” Ricardo muttered to himself in the dark living room of their apartment. The thing with the English tourist had been nothing, he’d tried to explain to his wife. It wasn’t as if he planned on going to the Hotel Nacional, to become one of those jineteros—men who stood on the famous seawall in Havana, el Malecón, shouting out to tourists, “Where you from, lady?” in the hopes of gaining their trust, maybe even their bed, [End Page 41] for a few dollars. And the English woman hadn’t damaged any of Hemingway’s things.
What had happened was this: there Ricardo had been, shutting down Finca Vigía, Ernest Hemingway’s house in San Francisco de Paula, outside Havana’s city limits. Now the house was a museum, preserved just as Hemingway had left it the last time he shut the big wooden door, departing the island for good. There, by his bedside, were his slippers. In his office, a yellowed sheet of paper was still wound into the typewriter, waiting for new words. Out in the backyard, the many graves of Hemingway’s favorite dogs stood upright, their bases plucked clean of weeds by the curators of the museum. Ricardo was one of those curators. His wife Patria was another. In the living room, first editions of all of Hemingway’s books, as well as those of his peers—Fitzgerald, Stein, Anderson, Pound—all the greats!—sat out in the open, in a modest-looking bookcase that stood at the height of Ricardo’s hipbone.
It was the books that got him in trouble that night. A lovely English woman, a petite blonde, had begged to be allowed into the living room just before closing. Normally, tourists weren’t permitted inside the house. For the price of admission visitors could look into the windows and through open doorways on the other side of mustard-yellow velvet ropes. They’d finger the fuzzy barriers aggressively as they peered inside. Not even photographs were allowed. But this woman, whose name was Prudence, of all things, had looked long into Ricardo’s rusty brown eyes; she’d asked, her voice an octave lower than Ricardo expected, to be allowed in, just for a moment, “so I might sit in Papa Hemingway’s chair.”
So, he dropped the rope. Prudence, who’d said, “Call me Prudy,” forgot all about the chair and went straight to the books, grabbing a first edition of The Sun Also Rises, examining the dust jacket, the binding, and, finally, flipping gently through the pages. Expansively, Ricardo showed her the other volumes, enjoying the woman’s occasional winks in his direction, as if they were part of some inside joke. Ricardo pretended to be in on them, winking back at her, patting her shoulder.
“Two hundred dollars. Cash,” Prudy had said at the end of the tour.
“¿Perdón?” Ricardo asked.
“For the book. Two hundred.” She was still holding The Sun Also Rises, and she balanced it on the palm of her hand as if it were no great thing to have it.
“There, now,” Ricardo said, feeling in control. He tried to take the book from Prudy, but she jerked her hand away.
“Four hundred. Come, that’s more than you see in a year. More than you see in a decade,” Prudy taunted. [End Page 42]
Ricardo had turned forty-seven that spring, and in all those years, he had never had more than fifty pesos in his wallet. He swallowed loudly. Even Prudy heard it, and she smiled a little. She started for her purse.
The truth is, Ricardo did not know if he would have taken the money. At that moment, Patria had rushed in, swatted the book out of Prudy’s grip, and yelled at her in Spanish, “¡Lárgate!” Out Prudy went, clutching an injured hand to her chest.
tonight, ricardo sat on his couch at home, the only illumination the bluish light of the full moon coming through the window. Outside, the street lamps were dark, lined up and...