The sun on the morning shoreline shines as silver as the combs in my Juana's hair. I breathe in the smells of the sea and blow out slowly, watching the gulls which will soar on my breath, free to fly where they choose, while I stay, a fisherman, ready for another day. I walk to the sea hoping it will be more generous than yesterday.
Behind me, like spider webs, my nets wait on the dry sand. The birds dance around me, in and out of the water, to the music of the sea, loud, soft, then loud again, like metal brushes on a drum.
Jose is late again. He will come down the high sandy hill where the sun flames behind the palm trees, wave his hat high in the air and shrug his arms in apology that he is late again. I will not see his face for the glaring sun behind him, but he will be laughing. He laughs often because this life is right for him. He had no use for school and has no wife he must send to work. He fishes hard then joins friends at the cantina after dark. It is always the same. A day of no fish to sell is a night when a friend will buy Jose his cerveza.
On the way down the hill, he will pick up a shell and throw it far into the ocean, the same pink shell which will wash back onto the beach, a little more worn by the sand, only to be thrown again tomorrow.
"Hola, mi Amigo!" he will laugh and slap me on my back. "I am late again! Lo siento!" He will be sorry but he will have helped a neighbor, or stopped for huevos and chorizo at the little hotel because he had extra pesos in his pocket. He will tell me how the chorizo was especially delicious this morning because fat Sra. Hidalgo gave him one sausage for free.
"And, you know, her fingers, they themselves are like chorizo!"
When Jose comes we talk of things I will not remember when Juana asks me in the evening, but it is his stories that lighten the weight of the nets. After hours of pulling and lifting, both hands must support our backs as we stand straight again. Jose's talk of old Manuel's wooden teeth or his stories about his red haired Carmelita make me smile, but are not enough to soothe the ache in my back or the pain above my brows.
This morning, my Juana washes the clothes of Señora Vega, who stays in her room and listens to Salsa. A tiny yellow bird in a golden cage hangs above La Senora's bed and she blows smoke to it, through the bars, from her thin, filtered cigarettes. She kisses the beak of the little bird and calls it "Cara". Together, surrounded by scarves of grey smoke, they listen to the music. Sometimes my Juana hears La Señora cry.
She wonders if La Señora cries for her husband because she could not give him a son or for herself because she is so often alone. It is the music and the little bird that help her forget her sorrows, or the red wine that was in the bottles that Juana throws away each morning. When there is a little bit of wine left, Juana pours it into a fancy glass, sits in the courtyard of green orchids and is, for a few moments, a grand señora with nothing to do. But only for a few moments.
My Juana is like a warm towel against my tired body. Her whisper wakes me late in the night and, later, I hold her and listen to her breath. It is Juana who makes me feel like the Don of a grand hacienda. It is her enchiladas and rellenos I smell when I come home to our little house. Sometimes it is the thick, sweet scent of corn and pork fried with peppers which welcome me even before our sons run out through the open door. Each one I hug, grateful that the youngest is not yet too big to swing in the air. The laughter of the children eases the pain in my eyes and the tightness in my jaw. Their laughter is like a prayer for the future. I hug them to my body and pray that God will listen.
My Juana too wants our boys to have more. It is in the morning that she dreams out loud what her tired sleep did not allow.
"They cannot, will not, be fisherman," she says. I tell her it is not such a bad thing. I remind her of the fishermen of Galilee.
"Our Theodore will be a doctor," Juana braids her hair like she is playing an instrument, her fingers work swiftly and, like sticks on a drum, they fly as she tells me her plans for our children.
"Maximillian will be the mayor...and Alessandro will be the lawyer."
"Why not Emperor?" I laugh.
She has heard this before. I do not have to remind her again of my childhood and how I wanted to go away. She knows how my mother wanted me to be a businessman, not a man who came home with calloused hands, smelling of fish. It took money to leave the village, to go to a good school in a place far away. I had to learn to be happy to work with Papa, and to be proud when I pulled as much fish as he. After Papa died, when I did not see Mama's smile again, I knew my dreams of leaving would forever be dreams.
"Our boys will be different." Juana echoes the faded words of my mother. "And they will be good men because you are their father."
The boys rise and Juana prepares them for school. Then she goes to La Señora's, where she will water the red geraniums, cook the meals, and clean the golden cage.
Finally, squinting through the flames on the hill, I can see someone coming. But it is not Jose. It is Carmelita.
Her long, loose hair is the color of old tangerines. She is running and dry sand flies like the ocean spray around her feet. I see she wears no red lipstick or her golden earrings as big as Juana's silver bracelet. She is crying. I can hear her now above the surf. She uses the back of her hand to wipe tears from her face.
"Jose is gone! Last night! His brother came and Jose has gone with him!"
We stand six paces apart as the shallow tide pulls at our feet. I watch the birds run away down the beach. "I will not see my Jose again!" She stares into my eyes, angry at me as she is at Jose.
"Carmelita, he would not leave for good. You will see. Jose is happy here."
"You are wrong! He has always wanted to leave this nothing place. 'This is my chance! My brother has plans,' he told me last night. He said I should come to you this morning, to tell you he is sorry, and that you were a good friend."
"He will be back, Carmelita."
"He said he hopes you wish him luck!" She drags the back of her arm against her wet face. "I don't wish him luck!"
She turns and runs away from the beach. Her body gets smaller as she climbs up the hill, and I can see her beat away the palm leaves that hang in her way. Then she is gone, like Jose.
It is the quietest it has ever been.
When Carmelita has been gone a very long time, the birds run close to my legs again. They have forgotten I am here.
"He cannot be gone!" I hear myself scream. My hands are fists with nothing to hit.
The weight of the sand and water pull me down. My shoulders feel hot from the sun rising higher in the sky, and a seagull soars over my head, turns, then flies far up the coast until I cannot see it.
Pulling my feet out of the heavy sand, I let the water wash them clean, and walk, trapped with my sons in the nets of our fathers, trying not to drown.