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Robert A. Mills

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Circles !

6/15/2005 1:16:00 PM

by Robert A. Mills

Anna Teresa lifted the rifle to her shoulder with the same fluid motion and grace with which she often, at the Larchmont Public Library, lifted a book from the cart and placed it carefully on the proper shelf in the proper Dewey Decimal sequence. Framed perfectly in the notch of the squared sight less than fifteen feet away was a target she would miss only if she suffered second thoughts before she could pull the trigger: there it was, the base of Fidel Castro’s head riding atop his neck. To her surprise, she was more relieved than nervous; her hands remained steady, and the weapon’s 8.9-pound weight seemed negligible.
The bullet, a .30 caliber longnose, rifling from the barrel of her M-1 Garand would enter the cerebellum of the revolutionary’s brain through a hole measuring 1.5 centimeters. It would instantly explode in mid-cranium, reducing the entire brain matter to a powdery, pasty liquid, destroying all four amygdaloidal nuclei, while exiting from his forehead by ripping the upper half of his skull from the lower, and, in essence, leaving his body momentarily erect—but seemingly headless.
Fidel Castro Ruz would be released from his mortal coil and dispatched into eternity with no awareness of the event, not even so much as the initial crack of the shot behind him. He would be, in a millisecond, in his Maker’s Presence with no inkling how he’d gotten there.
Anna Theresa’s finger tightened on the flat, curved stem of the trigger’s smooth surface. The muscles in her jaw quivered slightly when it suddenly occurred to her this would be, in all likelihood, if not the first, certainly the most memorable shot fired in the Cuban Revolution.

It was well known throughout Oriente Province that Camilla Maria Rodriguez had once met and talked to the actor John Wayne, and it was to this day the most momentous event in her fifty-one years. Even the birth of Javier, her only son, paled by comparison; the overwhelming enchantment of being suddenly in the presence of the greatest cinema hero ever to perform in Cuban movie theaters was an occasion that demanded repeated telling. Especially in view of the fact that Mr. Wayne was—on that day, at that time—stark naked. “Momma,” Javy prompted, ”tell Juanita of the time you met John Wayne!” Javy’s father, Alan, an older replica of his son, strong, dark, with the broad shoulders and mammoth hands of a peasant, was passing around the cigars Fidel Castro had brought, which they would enjoy after dinner. “I’m sure our honored guests—especially Senorita Snowdon—will recall this day only for the telling of a silly story.” “You sound jealous, old man,” laughed Castro. “Don’t be silly. Why would I be jealous if my wife was cavorting in a hotel suite with a naked John Wayne?” “Why indeed!” “Cavorting?” Camilla Rodriguez shook her head. ”Eres un viejo loco!” Everyone was laughing now, except Alan Rodriguez. “Bah! Such nonsense, especially from all you educated university people!” Alan was subdued in his general enthusiasm, but he was a man of good nature. His hatred of Batista, as it was among all working class Cubans, was legendary. He once said, privately, to his son and wife, “I don’t know if your friend Castro is a true patriot, or if he has an ideology, or if in the end he is just a communist in disguise. If I were asked whether this revolution we talk about is communist, I would define it as Marxist.” “What do you know of Karl Marx, father?” Javy knew Alan had never learned to read or write (in 1953 one out of every four Cuban peasants could not read nor write in even a rudimentary form.) “Only what my compañeros and I talk about on Friday nights.” “Then what do you think our revolution will be?” “That this revolution will discover by its methods the path Marx pointed out.” Camilla had merely shaken her head. “I think you have no idea of what you say—ideology—or whatever you are talking about.” The Rodriguez home was on a plot of fairly fertile land about ten miles east of the city of Cienfuegos—on a plot less than two acres owned by the Furgal family of Havana. Alan, Javy and Camilla Rodriguez worked this small farm as tenants: 52 pesos a month and occupancy of a two room, partitioned bohio for a rental fee of 25 pesos a month was their reward for harvesting nearly three tons of tobacco leaves annually for the Furgal Cigar Company. The tiny house was constructed partially from the royal palm tree, with thatched roof and earthen floor, and it had a small kitchen hidden from the main area by a bamboo and plastic curtain; it was here that Camilla cooked over wood chips. There was no electricity, no running water, and, of course, no inside toilet. But this was hardly an exception in 1953. Eight-five percent of the small farmers in Cuba paid rent and lived under constant threat of being evicted from the land they tilled. More than half of the productive land was, in essence, in the hands of foreigners; in Oriente, the largest and poorest province, the lands of the United Fruit Company and the West Indian Company linked the northern and southern coasts. But in many respects the Rodriguez family was fortunate: there were two hundred thousand peasant families who did not have a single acre of land to till to provide food for their starving children. Conversely, as Castro contended, nearly three hundred thousand caballerías of cultivable land owned by powerful interests remained absurdly uncultivated. The revolutionary often asked, if Cuba was above all an agricultural state, if its population was largely rural, if the cities depended on these rural areas, if the common people from the countryside had, in fact, truly won the war of independence, if the nation’s greatness and prosperity depended on a healthy and vigorous rural population that loved the land and knew how to work it, if this population depended on a government that protected and guided it—then how could the present state of affairs be allowed to continue? “¿El Duque?” Camilla Rodriquez laughed. “How many times must I tell that silly story?” “It is the best story I have ever heard!” prompted Ramon Santomuriel. “And everytime you tell it, it’s better.” Rolando Secundo poked his friend in the ribs with his elbow. “I know why you like it so much. It makes you feel superior. You feel being five foot six is not so bad after all, if a great man who is six foot five looks no better without clothes than you do!” “Hawah!” Ché Guevara snorted, wheezing slightly from his chronic asthma. “I have never heard that story. Did you have John Wayne here for Sunday dinner, too?” “Ha!” grunted Castro. “Not here! But she might have had him for dinner at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba!” Juanita was enthralled. “Senora, please, tell us about John Wayne.” Javy’s mother was not a large woman, but she was a rugged one: thin and muscular, her face lined, transparent and hard like crushed linen, her nose a beak above tight, thin lips. There was, at fifty-one, no gray in her hair, which she wore in a sleek, dark bun knotted painfully snug. It was her eyes that gave her away not as a militant, stern woman one might assume her to be, but rather as a simple, demure, and caring lady whose family was her most important possession. “Well,” she said, sighing in faux resignation, “it was last year, during the winter, and I was working part time as a room maid at the Nacional. As you know, it is a twelve-story building at the shore, the twin towers on the Bay of Havana and the Malecón promenade, and we always worked the floors in rotation, starting at the lower cottages and moving up each day to the penthouse suites at the top. The day it was my turn to go the twelfth floor with my usual girls, I chose suite twelve-oh-two—which just happened to be John Wayne’s suite.” Raul Castro, who’d heard the story many times and knew the answer, asked, “You knew, of course, that it was John Wayne’s suite?” “No, of course not. How would we chambermaids know who stayed where in a grand place like that?” Raul nodded with feigned understanding. He was aware, as were all others save Juanita, the Nacional service staff always knew if any celebrities were registered and what rooms or suites they were occupying. Movie stars were of particular interest, as the cinema, at admission prices rarely higher than two centavos for a seat in the farthest rows, was the one escape from reality available in the 1940’s and 50’s. With the exception of Ernest Hemingway and certain popular Hispanic musicians, world notables other than movie stars were usually relegated to obscurity with the universal shrug of “Who?” Although the vast majority of Cubans could not have gotten through ten pages of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, the man was a revered American icon whose heroic aura had captured the romantic imagination of both the young and old adult populace. “Who is he?” Javy’s father had asked at first. “An American.” “So? Many Americans come here.” “He has an adobe here.” “So?” “He is a famous writer.” “What does he write?” “Books. Stories.” “No, I mean, what does he write about?” “Life.” “Life in Cuba?” “Sometimes. Mostly life in—the world. His work is good.” “What else does he do?” “He drinks.” “Much?” “A lot. Too much.” “So?” “He fights in bars when he drinks.” “Why does he do that?” “We think it’s because he despises Batista.”  


More News by Robert A. Mills

· Well ! - 8/28/2007 10:15:00 AM
· 'Mate ! - 1/1/2003 8:13:00 AM

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