my Yamila.” Three days later he resumed: “I made contact last night. It was raining. I stood under an awning. When I saw her coming, I stepped out into the rain, partly so that she would not pass by and partly so that she would not see the tears on my face. She cried, too. She told me that my daughter was missing me every day and that the man who had been with them was gone now. She said that she loved me still, but she also said that she did not have trust for me any longer. She asked me to go away.”

Another month passed over the planet, during which time Tomas did not write to Rodriguez. This is the second and last known gap in the correspondence. Among Tomas’s papers, there are a number of false starts: “Dear Yamila, I have long wondered,” began one. “It is morning,” read another. “It is evening,” another. Then, one day, he took up pen and composed another letter. “I will tell you, Yamila, that when I finally saw Eileen again it was a sunny day,” he wrote. “I asked her to go with me to sit in the park. She agreed. It was almost sundown and we sat there next to one another. Between us there was an invisible wire and I followed it first with my eyes and then with my hand, which I placed gently on her knee. She laughed. I took back my hand. She said that no, a hand on her knee in the grass was exactly what she dreamed about. She took my hand in hers then. We sat in the grass. I placed my head on her bosom as if I were a child and she were the earth, and I clung to her for my safety as I often dream of clinging to you.”

The next letter was dated two days later. “My dearest Yamila, I make it a practice to eat once each week at the diner that Anna’s father owns. I see her there sometimes, and though she is with another man now, though she is carrying his child, she is still close to me in ways I cannot explain to my satisfaction. When I went there last week, she asked me why I seemed happy and I told her, as best as I am able; the words fill my heart but cannot always make the journey to my mouth. ‘You have hope,’ she said, and I agreed, saying ‘yes’ and then saying nothing. I have hope, but I am unsure whether I am to act on it or not. If I act, there is the possibility of gain but a greater possibility of loss. The sweetness of hope will last only until I take action, at which point it will vanish. I force my mind to realize this. Is hope a spiritual state? I carry out this petition in hope’s name. And so I remain in the grass with Eileen, sitting there, touching her hand. I remain with you in the cafe in Havana, watching your hand round off a sentence in the air. I remain with my sister, reunited for the first time. I remain with my poor dear mother, at her bedside. That is a continual paradise. And yet, I am still rooted to the earth. I am still a poor man. I am still the son of two parents who are in the ground. I am still at the cigar factory, still a slave of James Hooper, whom I turn away from each time I pass him by. Yamila, my darling, my love, I will write you tomorrow, and the day after that, and every day on into eternity.” He did.


(Nebraska, 1962)


I’m pregnant. That’s the first thing you need to know about me.

Our favorite colors are one color, blue. Even two sisters who are very different can be similar. You should know that, too, because it may explain the way things went.

I MARRIED A FARMER. I didn’t plan to do it. It just happened. To be fair, I didn’t know he was a farmer. He was just a guy I met at a dance, and then later he came into the hardware store where I was working and pretended to be surprised to see me. We went out on two dates before I even got his name right—I thought it was Bert and it turned out to be Berne, which is such a strange first name that I don’t think I can be blamed for my mistake. My sister’s husband, Ed, who owned the hardware store, said that when he first saw the name on a personal check he thought it was Verne, and he blinked twice to get the B to turn. But it didn’t. It was Berne. Berne never had trouble with my name. Who has trouble with Susan?

Berne and I dated for eleven months. He bought me presents all the time: a necklace with a heart-shaped charm, a red scarf, a hat. Then we broke it off when I went to McCook Community College to learn to be a medical secretary. My parents wanted me to go. My mother, in particular, was sold on the idea. She told me that a marriage was one thing, but you always needed a career.

We wrote to each other. He wrote more often, and though he was unpracticed at it—he spelled about every third word wrong, and his punctuation was a form of improvisation—it made me love him more, because I saw how I could improve matters. I used to tell friends at McCook that I had a boy waiting for me at home. They would nod or smile and I’d complete the thought; “He’s waiting to become a man,” I’d say.

Then we broke it off. That’s what I like to say, but really he broke up with me because he thought I was dating my teacher, Mr. Carr. This wasn’t true at all, of course. Once Mr. Carr and I went out to coffee because he said he needed to talk to me about my exam, but after about fifteen minutes it became painfully clear that he had nothing at all to say about the exam, and that he just wanted to tell me all about his divorce, and how his wife couldn’t give him any kids. I guess I felt sorry for him, because I went back to his house after that, but we didn’t do anything except sit around on the couch with the outsides of our legs touching each other. Then he leaned over and kissed my shoulder. His lips were cool on my skin. I didn’t tell him to stop, but I didn’t encourage him and I left a few minutes later.

I don’t even know how Berne found out. Maybe I mentioned it because it seemed like such a nothing. But it wasn’t nothing to Berne—he lowered his voice almost to a whisper, which was far worse than yelling. I went out with Mr. Carr only once after that, and then just to tell him that even though I respected him as a teacher (which wasn’t really true) and liked him as a person (which wasn’t really true either) I couldn’t see him anymore because I had a guy back home who wanted to get more serious. This time I didn’t say a boy, and that was true, and before I knew it, I was Mrs. Berne Moser, and I was throwing the bouquet over my shoulder. It stayed in the air for a while, and then Sarah caught it.

HOW CAN IT BE that my sister was in line to catch the bouquet when she had a husband who owned the local hardware store? Easy. He died. ED MCCAFFREY, 58, OWNED MCCAFFREY’S HARDWARE. That was the headline in the paper. Ed was a rough-and-tumble guy, always getting into a scrap over the silliest thing. Once he threw another guy through a window because the guy didn’t like Some Came Running, which was Ed’s favorite movie of all time. Sarah was always worried that Ed would die in a bar fight or in a motorcycle wreck. But neither of those things happened. He died of a sudden heart attack, behind the counter at the hardware store. It was the counter where I worked for hundreds of days, but when I went back there after Ed’s funeral, it didn’t seem like the same counter at all. It was still and quiet, with none of the glorious mess. The register drawer was open, which it never was, and it was empty, which it never was. One of the other clerks said that they buried Ed with his money, but I wasn’t sure whether that was a kind of knock on Ed for being a notorious cheapskate or a kind of joke about how much he loved his business, so I didn’t say anything.

ED HAD A SON from his first marriage, Dave. Ed always said that it was in honor of his uncle Dave, and not Frank Sinatra’s character in Some Came Running. Sarah always said that she never met Uncle Dave and didn’t think he existed. Dave worked in the hardware store with me when I first started there. I was nineteen and he was seventeen. Ed wasn’t my brother-in-law yet, just my boss. So Dave was nothing to me, until he was something. We locked up late sometimes, and one time he told me that I was looking pretty, and the next thing you know we were crouching down under the key counter, kissing. Every time he moved or I moved the whole thing jingled like Christmas, so he tried to stay still and so did I. We saw each other a few times after that, and then I started going with this older guy and Dave kind of got his feelings hurt. The older guy wasn’t Berne, not yet. Berne was two guys later, and by then Dave had quit the hardware store and gone to Lincoln to try to be a painter. Not a house painter or a sign painter, either. A real painter. Ed always joked about how any man who painted was a fruit, but I know that he was proud of Dave because he hung his paintings in the back office of the hardware store. One of them was of a woman standing by a window, looking out. She was real pretty and had a faraway look in her eyes, but faraway like she was thinking about something in her past rather than in her future. Dave told me that it was a girl who posed for him in Lincoln. He also told me that she was the second girl that he ever kissed, and that she wasn’t as good as the first. Go on, I said. Flattery will get you nowhere. I didn’t tell Sarah about the woman in the painting, but we both agreed it was a nice painting because it was mostly blue.

DAVE WAS ALWAYS REAL CLOSE to his dad. They drank together almost every day, from when Dave was just a boy until Dave left town. Ed wasn’t one to keep a boy from drinking. “Thirteen,” he said, like that was an

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