Lenín sits Indian style in the black volcanic sand. The florescent light hanging from the roof reflects off the sweat stretching across his back. The light is the only one lit along the quiet expanse of beach. He plugs it in to a small generator at night, when guests come. This is his ranch. It has no walls and is thatched with palms. He put tile down on the floor last week, perfect for a table and chairs and a small crowd of American tourists.
Tonight, I came to the beach alone. I leave in two weeks and I don’t know if I’ll come back. I wanted to see him again. I walk down the driftwood steps and sit next to him. We’re close enough to be conscious of not touching. I dig my feet into the sand and stretch my arms behind me. We sit in silence for a while, the electric hum of the light like a faint song playing in the background.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I smell salt in the air. Salt like Florida beaches in the summertime, when the heat thickens the air causing the salt to settle and prick your nose. It’s a nice smell. I like it. There is a gentle comfort in knowing that I can close my eyes on a black sand beach on the coast of Nicaragua and see a familiar white shoreline, as if I never left.
Lenín reaches over and wipes away the little mound of sand on my left foot. He lightly glides a finger across the arc. “Will you walk with me? I want to hold your hand.”
I stand. He stands. We walk until the glare of the fluorescent light is lost to the darkness and he takes my hand.
He holds it firmly. He doesn’t interlock his fingers with mine. I smile. Hands get moist and sticky like that. Maybe he knows this too.
“Do you think I’m easy?” I don’t look at him as I ask this. I don’t want see his eyes fall into the false reassurance some men give women to gain their trust.
“No. I don’t know you,” he says.
“Maybe I’m easy,” I say. I’m not. I wish I hadn’t said it. I was only attempting to be coy.
He looks at me and smiles. “Maybe you’re smart. Or special, but I don’t know.”
I should tell him that I am. I should tell him that I write special stories and paint beautiful pictures and I won a talent show once and in 10th grade Tommy Jones told me I was unique because I let him fuck me with the lights on. I never fucked with the lights off after that, but maybe it was just normal because Tommy Jones never told me I was unique again. Neither did his friends. I don’t tell Lenín this. Men don’t like to hear so much desperation in a woman’s voice.
Lenín’s eyes remind me of the Nicaraguan boy who told me he loved me because I was a gringa with pretty orange hair. Gringas are pale, uncultured American girls with too much time and silly whims and fancies. I didn’t think they liked that here but I came back anyways because no one had ever told me they loved me before. His name was Raúl. He was short and spiked his hair and wore his jeans above his hips with a black leather belt with a silver latch. Raúl didn’t kiss me when he picked me up from the airport. He took me to the apartment he found and asked me to pay for the taxi. The apartment was two hundred dollars more than what he told me over the phone but I paid and it was okay because gringas have money and I am a gringa. It was three hundred and fifty dollars for one month and it had a bedroom with a bathroom, like the hotels in America. Three weeks later he said to me, “your hair is too orange.” I laughed and he told me he couldn’t love a gringa with orange hair and too much money.
“You see these houses here?” Lenín points to the small pueblo styled homes splayed along the beach.
“They are ninety thousand dollars, maybe.”
I laugh. “Who has that kind of money?”
“Maybe a king,” he says.
Raúl had categories for tourists: intelligent Europeans, rich Americans and everybody else. When we met, I didn’t know this. Not until I came back, just like I promised. We walked to the super market the night after I arrived. He held my hand tightly across every street and through the parking lot and when he let go, fingers tugging out from between mine, my hands were wet and sticky like when I wear shorts on long drives and my bare thighs stick to the hot, leather seat of the car and make that moist, squelching sound when I lift them. I wiped my palms on my skirt and didn’t take his hand again.
The light was bright inside the super market. After walking through the dimly lit, shadowy streets, it stung my eyes. Raúl grabbed a shopping cart the size of a child’s toy stroller. I chuckled as he pushed it down the aisle with his knees. Raúl explained to me that only super markets in America had carts big enough to climb in because they could afford to buy week’s worth of food at a time. “What about Europeans?” I asked him. “Europeans are better off than we are, it seems.” “Europeans have self-control,” he told me. They used the same baby-sized carts in France and Italy and Spain and all the places alike because they know to buy food for only two or three days at a time. Just like people in Central America, where families can’t afford to buy food that sits and quietly expires because they bought more than they needed.
Raúl picked up a bag of red apples. I told him they are expensive, even for my dollar. He told me they are not so expensive and tossed them in our cart. I knew he probably didn’t buy apples ever because when I came a year before, I visited a preschool and they gave the children apples for a snack. The children fought over the apples more than the candy because, here, apples are imported and that makes them too expensive. They are a special treat. I didn’t say anything, though. When we got to the register, Raúl told me I needed to pay for it because he didn’t have money and I did. I paid for everything. I didn’t tell him that I spent a year saving up enough money to visit him because my parents wouldn’t help me and even when I couldn’t find a job, I put away the money I had for groceries just to help me buy a plane ticket. It was only a small amount, but it added up. I didn’t tell him that it made me angry that he assumed I was rich and spoiled and wasteful because I was a gringa. I never did tell him and I always paid.
I touch my hair self consciously. My foot catches in a pile of wet sand and I stumble.
Lenín laughs. “You are very young,” he says.
“I’m twenty-one,” I say. He is making fun of me. I pull my hand away, but he takes it again.
“No, cariñosa. I did not mean anything.” He is staring at me with his head to the side, his heavy curls falling in a large spiraled mass at that space between the neck and the shoulder, where the clavicle begins in an elegant arch, then dips forward into a smooth, delicate slope. I want to rest my head there and feel his pulse against my cheek.
Raúl left marks there. Just below the soft spot where the pulse butterflies in quick rhythmic spasms. He sucked at it and tore into it in an indelicate way that made me cringe. The little rectangular teeth marks faded days ago, but shadows of small purple-green bruises remain. He bit me when he got too excited while he fondled me and masturbated as I slept. It woke me up. He pushed my face into the pillow and told me he didn’t mean to bite so hard, so I wasn’t allowed to scream because it was an accident. I didn’t say anything. He lifted his hand off my face and tugged at a free strand of hair. “Cariña,” he said softly. This was why I’d returned. The tender whisper, a Spanish term of endearment or two. A confirmation that this is what love is, and maybe, if I obliged, it was nice. I turned to face him and something bumped my cheek. He was kneeling, folded over himself, grunting and panting, each grunt following the slick, velvety flesh that hit my face. I clenched my mouth shut as bile climbed the back of my throat, threatening to soil the white linens. I closed my eyes as Raúl let out a strangled, delighted groan.
He slept with his back to me. I vigorously scrubbed every inch of my skin, but the bitter taste of salt coated my lips like a thick layer of cheap lipstick. I could smell it, too, as if he had rubbed it just beneath my nose and let it dry and crust. The smell burned my nostrils and the taste curled my tongue and my brain clicked to a stop because I knew this wasn’t right. I gave into obligation and a certainty that this was how he loved me. I didn’t sleep again.
A woman calls Lenín’s name from his ranch. He drops my hand and turns around. She yells his name a few more times from the stairs of his ranch, searching for him, until the sound fades and her silhouette ebbs. Lenín sighs. He motions for me to sit down next to him in the sand. The waves graze my toes as I wrap my arms around my knees.
“Who is that woman?”
“Carla,” he says.
“That woman, Carla. She’s your wife?” He told me before of his two children and the woman he lived with. “You share a bed and a home and children.”
Lenín holds up his left hand. There is no ring. “We fight. She is jealous and always angry. I do not like her so much,” he says. “I need a calm woman.”
I don’t respond. I want to tell him that I am calm and good with children and I don’t get jealous out loud because my father always warned me that men don’t like jealous women, so I never say a word, even when I feel it like a thick, clouded pressure building in my head. When he sees that I am special, we could share a bed and a home and children. I concentrate on flicking the water with my toes. “Maybe you can find one,” I say.
“I think I am too old,” he says.
“You’re only thirty.”
He shrugs and takes my hand again, massaging my palm lightly with his flat, broad thumb.
I breathed in deeply. “Do you smell it?” I asked Raúl. The salty air filled my lungs and I sighed. It was the first time in three weeks I’d experienced something familiar. “It stings. I don’t like it. My eyes hurt,” he said. They were red and watery. We walked up to the ranch and I was amazed by the view. The entire plane of ocean spread out before us, broken by black, sparkling sand and blue-pink sky. A man, tall and lean muscled with skin the color of fresh coffee, waved to us from the beach. He was Lenín, greeting us, placing a kiss on the right side of my face, then the left. His skin carried a faint scent of sea salt and sweat. He smelled like my father after a morning swim. I missed my father then.
I asked Lenín if he would take me around the island. He showed me enormous rocks protruding unceremoniously from the earth. I told him we didn’t have that on my white, sand beaches. He laughed, tiny, black grains falling away from his face, and neck and shoulders. Then he pulled at a strand of my bright, orange hair and said, “We don’t have this, either.”
Raúl sat in the sand in front of the ranch, watching us. After two hours, he told me to put my clothes on because we were leaving. The salt was making him sneeze.
I focus my attention on the sounds of the waves lifting and falling, dragging black sand into the sea as the water recedes. I will not tell him that he is beautiful and holding my hand and he will make love to me and he will never be old because I will remember him kind and beautiful and young.
Lenín lets go of my hand and moves closer. I can feel his skin on my calf. I think it’s his knee. It’s warm and kind of fuzzy, like I imagine a man’s knee would feel if he was sitting just close enough for the hairs to brush my skin.
He places his lips on the curve of my cheek bone, almost grazing my eye. He doesn’t kiss it. He just stays there for a moment, mouth pressed to the side of my face. It is long enough for me to feel his eyelashes feather on my temple in slow, sweeping motions. He pulls back and runs his tongue around his mouth. He smiles. I can barely see the little flecks of dry salt settled in the soft creases of his lips.