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The lighthouse.

That all three swore on the Virgin of Cobre to set out the night prior to the start of the baseball season did not bother Lazaro. Other things did. That they were setting out on a Wednesday, for instance, the day reserved for Oya, and neither brother took the time to visit the shrine in Regia for their ebos, their offerings; that neither wore blue, Yemaya's color, as he'd instructed them to, for safe passage across the ocean waters; and worst of all, upon posing the question, that the brothers teetered on the brink of the ultimate of all sins: neither brought the statuette of the Virgin of Cobre, the patroness of all Cuban rafters.

"Relax," Barbara said, pumping air into twin tire tubes beneath the raft. "Teresita's got la Caridad. She'll be here soon."

Lazaro's tongue went numb. Pedrito, the younger brother, on the opposite end of the raft, dropped the paddles he carried. They'd all agreed: no one was to know they were leaving.

Lazaro felt betrayed. All his years as Santera had assured him of one thing: the gods knew arithmetic well. He panicked. He thought if he raced up the sand, back across the Malecon's snaking seawall, past the prostitutes and pimps and salivating tourists, and if he sweet-talked Yeya out of one more dove and a quart of rum, ripped into the tiny throat, and let the blood flow down the sacred ceiba tree, spurted those tired mists, and prayed, Oya, Orisha of the Wind, of Wednesdays, I did not know, one more, please; then Oya, She would be appeased.

He turned to go, determined to make things right, but not before Teresita shuffled down the dune. The young mulatta glided wide hips to a stop before Lazaro, a blue muscle shirt, no bra. She owned a long, dried tobacco leaf face, with lips like stitches on new baseballs cheating pitchers chewed on for better grips. She looked far from the lipstick-crazed prostitute Lazaro remembered; the same both brothers bedded on winning nights. She carried nothing else with her but the statuette of the Virgin in her hand.

"Here," said Barbara, taking the idol, handing it over to Lazaro. He tossed the pump onto the raft. "Let's go."

And it seemed to Lazaro at that moment that music warbled down from the moonlit palms. There, he heard it, an old Benny More guaguanco, the kind Yeya loved dancing to. But the title escaped him, and he hated he couldn't remember.

--You coming or not, Lazaro?

Teresita before him. He watched her stand on her lanky toes, stretch her neck out, as if the swelling blackness that was the vast ocean could be looked over like some backyard wall.

--Now or never! What's it gonna be?

His dream of American baseball. It tugged on him from the inside. The Virgin in his hand he remembered. He loosened his fist, afraid he might snap the figurine in two with such a grasp.

--Lazaro!

He sighed. He stuffed the Virgin in his pocket. He hefted his bag with all he owned onto the raft--his catcher's mitt, a few shirts and shorts, an old Russian compass--and eased between the brothers, and the three pushed the raft into Yemaya's domain.

He dreams this:
   He is staggering in for a mug of guarapo after five consecutive
   0-for-4 nights. The sugarcane juice is warm and it feeds his
   tired limbs. Yeya tries, but she's unable to nudge him into
   conversation. He decides on the mud-laden back roads back
   home, hoping the change in scenery brings his game back
   and fast. He is trudging along with cleats still on because he
   doesn't care. He is racking his brain for the hole in his swing
   like the hole in his life. Stormy whispers breathe through the
   palms. The tocorroro late-night carols. Pulsing croaks from
   river frogs beneath the lazy, metronome moon. Then, a tap
   on his shoulder, and he is turning. Caked feet. Thin ankles
   and knees and a lush 'v' between legs and mamey-sized
   breasts. A mist in her breath. She is wrapping arms around
   him, making her body heavy, and into mud she is pulling
   him on top of her. Like a throbbing worm with cleats still on
   he feels, from his uniform wriggling, digging in, loving in
   mud and muggy grass. He is biting her neck and the necklace
   around it. Red beads around her wrists and the jostle. And
   she is moaning, she is chanting, she is urging--!Asi! iEso! On
   top of her. A thrusting and a rhythm. The moon is blurring,
   and cool pinpricks on his shoulders, and his rhythm, and
   Mfff!, and changing, and Mfff!, and faster, and Mfff!, and the
   sky rolling, and the sea inside him overflowing and breaking,
   and Mfff! Mfff! And it rains. Days later, on puddled fields, he
   is unstoppable after five consecutive 6-for-6 nights. "Shango!
   Shango!" Yeya is celebrating, and she is taking her necklace,
   her bracelets, her love, wrapping them on his, Lazaro's, neck
   and wrists and recharged heart. She is kissing him, adoring
   him. She is pulling him, rushing him over to Shango's, the
   Warrior's, altar, and showing him the Orisha's dance of
   praise. And Lazaro is dancing, dancing.


Gagging sounds woke Lazaro. He opened heavy eyes to a throbbing sun with the taste of salt thick on his tongue. He reached for his canteen and swallowed the taste away. He watched Teresita, hunched over in front of him, heaving her insides into the ocean.

"Everything's arranged, I tell you," Barbara rapped to his brother, his bald head shimmering like fried boniato, while Pedrito fumbled with Lazaro's compass. "Look: we get to the States, get the asylum from los Americanos, and then Chito's cousin, the lawyer, we call him, and Chito said he'll have us playing in a few weeks. Believe that? Us, in the Majors. You, pitching. Lazaro, catching. Me, first basing. Hitting 'em hard. Hitting 'em outta Yankee Stadium. Hah!" Barbara soaked in his dreams for a bit before finally paying attention to Teresita. "Cono," he said, prodding the small of the girl's back with his heel. "And you said your father was a fisherman. You're throwing out more than I've seen you eat since Havana. Hah!"

"Leave her alone," Pedrito said.

And the brothers' eyes met; Teresita's spit and hawked the glue.

Tight-browed, they inched closer. As catcher, Lazaro was no stranger to fights between pitchers and batters, but he'd never played on a liquid field. He slid over, tried to cut between the brothers, just as Barbara flexed a fist-topped arm to show who was in charge and Pedrito thwarted the blow with a knobby elbow, and the compass escaped his grasp and flew into the scuffled air, and it arced, and the ocean swallowed it whole.

Smooth-browed, the brothers dove in. Lazaro watched them dip and swerve and gasp and curse in the blue-green like hooked fish in despair. They clambered back onto the raft after a while, empty-handed, shoulders flaccid, dripping their stares down onto the swollen raft boards.

"And now," Barbara said.

"The stars," Pedrito offered.

"The stars," Lazaro agreed.

"The stars," Barbara repeated.

And Teresita, still retching. And they plunged into their places and waited for the night.

He remembers this:

Drums. Rattles. Shhhhhhhhhhh. Shells. Sunday is Shango's day. Hollow rhythms in a humid shack, and Eleggua, Yemaya, Oggun, Oya, Shango, all of Them, the Pantheon, plunked on Their altars. Shots of rum. Scented candles. Fat, steaming cigars. The Negro babalawo stretching a crescent smile in leafy smoke and whispering to the Ancients. Thick chants from Yeya, from the others--"Bajen los Seres o suben los Seres"--over and over, pleading Them down, drumming their feet, palms held high. The sting from the cock's blood, warm, trickling down his face. The Orishas taking over. All of Them. A force from Heaven, slipping him on like a uniform, and a burning and a bearing up and away, and a soaring. Up and over decrepit, salt-tempered tenements and monuments raised to the Revolucion, and over sugarcane, tobacco fields, thronging stadiums with rice-rationed, horse-fed, carnival crowds, and over fleecy-foamed oceans, to a pitching mound of a rocky shore, and to a lighthouse, it's light-soul burning, brimming, moving--ALIVE! Then the sky falling, and the wind wisping skin like a lover's razor-tipped tongue, and howling, and the lighthouse extinguishing, and darkness.

Awake. Asking the Negro babalawo what it all means, his eyes rolled over white with red rivers inside, still grinning, as he swallows his brimstone-tipped cigar whole.

--Which one, Lazaro?

--Which one do we follow?

They ogled him, the brothers did, with those same eyes that earlier cursed each other. With eyes that begged for answers now, like pitchers on mounds, prompting Lazaro for perfect pitches. Teresita stared too. She sat in her spot, immovable still, as pale and pathetic as ever, her knees up to her chest. The three of them, like hungry-eyed children in line at a government store back in Havana, silent, waiting for their rations.

But why did he have to choose, Lazaro wondered. He couldn't understand it. Why him? Pedrito had been the first to suggest the stars, not him, and he'd agreed on impulse, nothing more. He caught himself thumbing the Virgin in his pocket, over and over, picking at her crown with nervous nails.

--Tell us, Lazaro.

--Yeah. You're the Santero. Ask your Orishas. Show us what they can do.

Lazaro lifted his glance up into that blanket of stars, vast and unending. He felt small in the universe, like a makeshift raft set against the ocean. He couldn't understand it, the trembling inside that started him with the sacred mumbles and jolted him into prayer, the Virgin gripped tight:
   Baba Mi Shango
   God of the Sky, of Thunder, of my Soul
   Which one must we follow?


"That one." Teresita spoke for the first time, and her voice lapped into Lazaro's ears like the soothing waves around him. He followed the girl's arm, then her forefinger, all the way up to a brilliant diamond blazing down in light. He smiled. The star pulsed thick to the syllables in Shango's name.

--And how do you know?

--Yeah. How?

"She knows," Lazaro rushed to the girl's defense. "She's ... a fisherman's daughter, remember?"

Teresita half-smiled. Her crumpled face had smoothed, thought Lazaro, and what once was her sickly pallor now resembled a nimbus mist on her wet-brown skin. Bracing her stomach, cringing with her pain, seated as she was in her niche, she reminded Lazaro of Yemaya gawking at him from Her altar back home, and worthy of all praise.

"That one, then," said Barbara, clapping his hands. "No use arguing with a Santero and a fisherman's daughter. Hah!" He slid over to Lazaro and broke the spell. "Move over next to Teresita. I'm rowing tonight."

Lazaro crawled over and eased in carefully next to the girl.

"You be careful now, Mami," diddled off Barbara. "We've all seen Lazaro on winning nights, and this is one of them. You tell me he tries anything, okay?"

"I don't care about that," Teresita said.

"You don't, eh? Sick bitch. We'll see what you care about when I'm cranking 'em outta Yankee Stadium, the girls lining up for me outside the locker room doors. We'll see."

Lazaro settled in next to Teresita. He shifted with the last of Barbara's words, and the Virgin in his pocket poked into his thigh, and it hurt.
   And with the game on the line, he, the Batter, checks into the
   batter's box. The Negro babalawo is huffing behind home plate and a
   catcher's mask. In deep center, the lighthouse illuminates all. He
   is digging in, the Batter, gazing out into the ocean of a field, at
   the brothers, at Teresita, there: first, second, third; inching
   restlessly off foamy white bags. Like thick pine tar he is rubbing
   blood into his bat, staring out at Shango magnificent on the mound,
   who is looking to first at Olokun, who yells out to Obatala at
   second, who is open-mouthed behind Her glove to let Oyd at short
   know She'll be covering second on the double play; Yemaya creeps in
   at third, ready for the throw home in case of the squeeze. And
   Shango, a grin like a crescent, stares in for the sign from the
   Negro babalawo, and He contorts into a celestial wind, and the
   collective gasp from the stands as He lets the ball go. Swinging
   from his heels, the Batter is, whacking it good, throwing the bat
   on the ground, marveling at the ball arcing up-up-up-and-away, all
   the way to the lighthouse, shattering its beacon of a soul. He
   can't run.


--Wake up! Wake up!

That a giddy Barbara hadn't existed since news of the slugger's batting crown sounded on all the Havana radio stations was of no consequence to Lazaro; or that he willed crusty eyes open, only to find the burly brother balancing himself at the center of the raft, shuffling into a groggy Pedrito's hair, pointing out into the ocean.

--We're here! We're here!

Other things bothered Lazaro: his stiff back; that taste in his mouth again; Teresita pressing warm into his ribs.

"Where ..." The girl rubbed her eyes as Barbara typhooned in with the news. "Here, mujer. No more Fidel or rationed rice or meaningless homeruns." He giggled like a schoolboy. "Get ready, Teresita. We're eating American steaks tonight. Get ready for American baseball and American dolares!"

Teresita laughed. Lazaro did too. He couldn't help it. In the midst of other wide grins and malnourished teeth he found he could breathe easier, freer. America! He pictured himself in the future, in Yankee pinstripes, crouched behind that irregular pentagon, swallowing forkballs, knucklers, screwballs, anything thrown his way, and the crowd adoring him. He thought of Cadillacs and day games on the road and, well, the occasional woman, of course, prostrate on his hotel-room bed after rum and more rum, and sex and more sex. But, not yet. He wiped his mind clean. The Orishas would need to come first. He thanked Them in his thoughts. He promised all of Them elaborate altars and prayers, rum and cigars after he got settled in. In the space between, where no one could see, Teresita wove her fingers into his. His heart warmed because the Orishas understood.

He picked himself up to get a glimpse of his new home, struggling to see anything through the light morning mist, just as the monument fizzled into view, and he couldn't believe his eyes. He blinked furiously, stumbled forward a bit, let go of Teresita's hand. In the distance like in his dreams, plunked on a rocky mass, the lighthouse loomed before him like the last rotten tooth in the mouth of Freedom.

He hurdled into the water with the brothers, as amazed as they were ecstatic, and sloshed up the shallows, the raft in tow behind them, all the way up to the wide sandy shore. He reached for his bag along with them, started the trek inland, the terrain going from sand to hard coral with undergrowth that crunched beneath their eager steps. The sun pounded a hot rhythm on Lazaro's shoulders but he ignored it, focused on the lighthouse clawing ever higher in front of him. Faster and faster the brothers moved towards it. He felt a clammy hand latch onto his forearm and pull him out of his spell. He turned to find Teresita, keeled over and out of breath, and he felt shame for having forgotten about her. He hollered out to the brothers to stop.

"You don't get seasick on land," Barbara said, racing back.

"Go," the girl feebled out. Her face resembled the color of dry sand, thought Lazaro, her eyes paunchy clams. "Just... tired. Need to ... rest."

"Let's go, then," said Barbara.

"Leave her here? You crazy? Come on," protested Pedrito, helping Teresita stand straight by her elbows. "You can make it. You see the lighthouse? We're almost there." But the girl vomited her answer, sprinkled Pedrito's feet, and he dropped her in disgust, and Barbara laughed. The girl turned her eyes to Lazaro. They reminded the catcher of those championship wads on dugout floors no one ever paid attention to. No one but him. Sacred wads he never stepped on, but others did, again and again and again.

He looked a second, then a third time, just to make sure. The sun died, then rivulets of life appeared again through the massing clouds. A distant swell. Crabs dashed off sideways and sunk into their dark, wet holes.

He glanced far. Nothing but a seaweed silence. No buildings, roads, cars, human beings. Nothing but the lighthouse, its rusted dome where its beacon once shone. He wondered when last it had burned, how bright. He caught his hand in his pocket again, rasping sand grains with his thumb over the smooth, carved wood.

A soft gale like the breath of anger, and with it sand that stung his face, his eyes, his soul.

Her hand slipped coolly into his.

He finally asked her about the restless wave rolling beneath her skin.

"Four months," she whispered to him, and, then, "Lazaro, I don't know why. I thought ... I picked the star because--"

The sun fainted for good. And thunder. Thunder inside him. Thunder beyond the majestic clouds.

"!Mierda!"

"It's here," pointed out Pedrito to his brother, crouched at the base of the lighthouse. "That's what it says."

"Impossible!"

"Look, Barbara," and Pedrito read from the weathered stone just as Lazaro and Teresita approached them:

ADELMIS NORIEGA TOO FAR FRIENDS WELCOME TO CAYO SAL BAHAMAS

"Shit!" Barbara thundered with the sky. He reached into his bag, brought out his bat, swung wide and wild, casting stones with his eyes at everyone. "Follow the stars, eh? What was it? Trust her? She learned the fucking stars from her fucking father, right," and he pushed Teresita to the ground.

"Son of a bitch," Pedrito shouted. "It's not her fault."

Barbara's nostrils flared. "I told you: I say what I want, do what I want to her. See," and he rolled the bat in his hands, "I got the wood. You got nothing."

"You can't hit what I throw," Pedrito said.

"Prove it, then. Right here."

"Fine!"

"Lazaro," Barbara said, "get your glove out. This ends here and now."

Those cool pinpricks on Lazaro's shoulders. He leered at the lighthouse. Teresita, pleading him not to listen, but her words falling from their altars. He hawked a thick, salty wad on the hard ground, dug into his bag, brought out his mitt, slid it on, twiddled his fingers inside, relished in the thought that he was alive. He stepped on his wad and crouched down. Thunder, cracking the sky, but Lazaro didn't care.

Pedrito started his windup, looped his left leg down, and delivered something wicked, right past Barbara's roundhouse swing, and the ball popped warm into Lazaro's glove, and the catcher was sure it was all that mattered. "Good one," Barbara said, gearing for the second pitch, rolling his shoulders. His brother slurved a smile through the growing rain, stared in with revolution in his eyes, and he curled like a fetus propped on one leg, and birthed a pitch faster than the one before. The bat chopped into nothing but wet air. Barbara barked, cracked his neck to the right, to the left. "Come on," he challenged. And on the third day the third ballet, and Pedrito let the ball fly. Lazaro lost sight of it until--thwack!--Barbara put his bat on the ball. Pedrito ducked for dear life, but the ball lasered off to the right instead. It struck Teresita in the face, splashed her back like a dying wave.

They rushed to where the girl lay, dead. Lazaro picked up the bloodied ball, wiped it off on his shirt, placed it in Pedrito's glove.

"Foul."

"Foul."

"Foul."

They trotted back to their places. Lazaro went into his crouch again. Caught in that same defiant fold in his shorts, the Virgin poked into his thigh as hard as ever, and he laughed, the ball blazing towards him.
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Author:Moreira, Robert Paul
Publication:Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature
Article Type:Short story
Date:Mar 22, 2014
Words:3360
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