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Cast From Paradise
Hello Readers. I just want to thank you for stopping by and give you a little heads up.
The story you are about to read was written some months ago, before Fidel Castro died. I wrote it several months after visiting a Lighthouse Museum, featured in the story and like always, I have edited it.
At the museum in question, I was particularly struck by the the Cuban Raft Exhibit, homemade floating coffins, little more that Styrofoam and cloth, which were on display. Surely, these death boats had no earthly right to be upon any ocean, much less deliver the lives of thousands of Cubans fleeing tyranny and deposit them safely on our shores, here in the United States of America. An America, I fear, that each day grows more forgetful of the sacrifices humans made to escape a similar set of circumstances, a mere few hundred years ago -- on this side of the Florida Straits.
Oh and one last thing, as I edit I make mistakes. I apologize to you in advance and will endeavor to clean them up as I re-read and re-gear this story
1971: Dover, Delaware
Mrs. Margarete was seventy-nine and alone. She'd outlived her husband and her three children. She had no grandchildren. All that was left was for her was to go quietly and yet, she wasn't quite ready.
Most nights, when she could get up her energy, after few cups of black tea and maybe just a drop of vodka, Mrs. Margarete drove her pea green big boat 1963 Cadillac DeVille down Kitts Hummock Road to visit her dead sister. There, she would allow her eyes to search the moonlit waves in hopes of catching a errant reflection, a spark in the heaving Atlantic, and know that her older sister Theresa was somehow here with her.
One night, when Mrs. Margarete had driven out Kitts Hummock Road as usual, she parked in the well worn spot and watched the cruel Atlantic, but something was different. Ice chopped waves cut the salt air and spoiled her mood, which was odd. This was no night to see her sister, she thought. Instead, it was a night to be home, cozy up with her cat, Sparkles, and stoke the fireplace and maybe sip more tea, just to get the ticker jumping.
She turned the steering wheel and it squealed in protest. Only it wasn't the usual squeal. Mrs. Margarete stopped the car. Let the caddy engine rumble and listened again. Nothing. She shut the engine off, but left her headlights on and immediately she heard the crying. Her heart leaped.
If old legs could be young again, it happened that night.
Mrs. Margarete, wrapped in her worn house robe and soft bunny slippers, padded quickly into the snowy sand. She'd restarted the DeVille and left it running, its headlights pointed toward the sound from the beach; and she knew that sound. Knew it better than most mothers. Knew the cries of birth and ones the dying make, but this cry, this one, was definitely a lively one. It could only be that. It could only be a child -- a very young child. Balling so loudly it was a wonder nobody came earlier.
Impossible, she muttered. It simply could not be. A young girl, no more that a few years old, standing there in the icy sand. She had her little hands wrapped around herself, shaking, staring.
Their eyes met just as the child folded like an accordion, head first in the sand, out cold -- literally -- nearly frozen.
Mrs. Margarete never told anyone about Susanna, however. How she found her on the beach. Small and naked. Sand in her hair. Eyes crusted over with salt.
Mrs. Margarete thought she was dead after a few moments. But the child coughed and out came a flood of cries and seaweed. From that night on, Mrs. Margarete began to live again. No longer was she thinking about giving up and letting it go. Now she as thinking only of Susanna.
Knowing what the authorities would do, how they would take the small child, likely move her from orphanage to orphanage and make her suffer, Mrs. Margarete made a choice. At age seventy-nine she was more fiercely determined than ever. She would find this child's mother, even if it killed her.
In the meantime, well in that interim, she thought, she might need to do some mothering -- again. So be it. Screw the cops, she said to herself. Then she wondered if such language was wise, even if only imagined.
Susanna learned English quickly, as the young always do. Soon she had forgotten about that night on the beach. Bad memories were replaced with new experiences, school and boys. Nature took its course. And eventually, even her name became Americanized. Now she was Susan. The name Susanna, a fleeting and painful memory, to come only in dreams.
Mrs. Margarete had searched, discreetly, for information about any shipwrecks or missing children, but in the end, she found nothing. How or why Susanna washed up on a cold deserted beach in Delaware remained a mystery.
But Mrs. Margarete had suspicions.
Lies were told to keep Susanna -- Susan -- happy and to gain her confidence. But as the years passed and happiness became bliss, Mrs. Margarete no longer spent the time and effort to discover where Susanna had come from. She contented herself in knowing that she had saved her from certain death and in that knowledge she was peaceful and ready for what might lay ahead.
But there was a small thing she was too afraid to ask about. It was an object that she had kept to herself. Repeated to herself that it did not matter. It could not help now. Maybe some day she would bring it out. Make Susanna remember again. And lose her then. But not until then. Not until she had turned over every possible clue. Only at that moment, would she ask. Ask Susanna if it meant anything to her.
No, Mrs. Margarete, reminded herself. Not yet. It was was not yet that important. But when that time would come, she was not certain.
More lies compounded themselves over the years. They became inescapable and as age ebbed at her mind, keeping the lies straight became a chore in itself. White lies about a long lost niece and a car crash became a long lost granddaughter. How had she forgotten? She knew. She was in that final stretch and soon she could face the ultimate loss. The car crash became a skiing accident or a plane accident and then Mrs. Margarete simply ignored the inquiries altogether.
But nobody ever questioned Mrs. Margarete after a time. They left her alone to raise Susan. All they needed to know was that Mrs. Margarete loved her.
Susan grew up, went to school and later married, but at last Mrs. Margarete was too old. It was time, she thought, to tell Susanna. Before the lies melted away the last truths.
At ninety-nine, Auntie Margarete gave Susanna a piece of a tooth. She was on her death bed by then, but in her case, it was a chair on the beach. A wheelchair, with a diminutive elderly lady ensconced in a blanket, like a mummy on holiday.
At first, Susan, now twenty-one -- or at least that is what the records said -- thought that her Auntie had finally lost it. But she listened, respectfully, as Auntie Margarete had always demanded.
"I found you here, Susanna," Auntie Margarete said. She pointed at darkening Atlantic, mean and restless in the dimming day. Susan was not used to being called that. But somehow, it felt right.
"Auntie?" she asked.
"Here child. You came to me here," she said impatiently.
"I don't understand, Auntie..."
"You remember me finding you and the white lie we kept?"
"Yes, Auntie. I remember. You found me in the street, in Dover. I was abandoned..."
"No." She paused. "There is another lie I kept and I was selfish. You were too young to remember." Her wrinkled hands were shaking now.
"Are you cold, Auntie? Maybe we should..."
"Hush, Susanna. And listen." She fumbled with the blanket. "Before I'm to old to remember even this."
"Auntie, it's too cold..."
"There was a boat, child. I found you on the beach." She pointed her gnarled digits at the shoreline, near a clump of rocks. "There, by those very stones."
Susan was confused. "But you said that you..."
"I know what I said, but..." A tear worked it's way from one rheumy eye. She let it drop to the blanket. "I had to protect you. So I made you forget. I am sorry for that. But now it's time to figure it out."
"Figure it out?" Susan replied. "But how?"
Auntie Margarete appeared to tire. "The tooth," she said. "I took it from a piece of twine you had around your neck. The tooth -- a shark's tooth -- it's broken. When you were wearing it..." She looked away. "I think someone else could have the other half."
"But my real parents are dead," Susan said. "I remember Papi...he drowned and..."
Now Susan was crying.
Auntie Margarete was gone.
Bitter winds whipped Auntie's still form and yet, she seemed serene. In Susanna's hand a yellowed shark's tooth danced on its twine.
2016: Key West, Florida
"I was just thinking," Clyde said.
"So?" Tammy answered.
"I was just thinking about my 1971 Ford Custom."
"Nothing, Honey. Just a car."
"Good crab sandwich," Clyde offered, trying to change the subject. Juices dripped down his chin. He put his beer down on the sun stained picnic table and looked over his shoulder at the February Atlantic.
Tammy sat across, studying her cell phone intently and ignored him as always.
"Is that the Atlantic? Or is that the Gulf?" he asked.
Tammy lifted her wind-burnt chin, mushed her chapped lips together and winced. "Dunno and don't care," she said. "I hate the Florida Keys and Key West, now. Except for the shopping," she added. Her over-sized hat fluttered in the mild breeze as she returned to her cell phone.
"It says that sundresses are on sale at that place we passed. You know that one next to the museum?" Her thumbs were raking the phone's screen and she tapped something. Her eyes lit up.
"So pretty! Look Clyde, isn't it nice?" A flowery dress was displayed.
He swallowed his food, made a sour face. "You spent an hour and eight hundred bucks in there already. Is anybody even American in there? Jeez, I mean we've met an Israeli, a Russian, loads of Japanese and what were they? Cubans? Load of them too. Unshaven, half-dressed. Jeez."
Bits of bread cascaded down Clyde's floral button-down, as he spoke. His cheeks burned red.
"Shut up, Clyde! Don't be rude. And I'm sure you don't mine the half-naked women around here."
"Half-naked, hell. Some are all naked, except for little paste-on flowers in conspicuous places, I might add."
Tammy met his gaze. "Those were guys, Clyde -- pay attention."
Clyde spit out his beer. "What?"
"Jeez, Clyde, you made a mess. Look at your shirt."
"It'll dry," he said. "Those were guys? No way, I saw..."
"That's how they do it, they," she paused, "tuck things away and add padding. You know that."
Clyde finished his beer, disgusted.
"All right. Fine, but I need to get back to the hotel for the game. I'm tired of all these foreigners and you know." He paused. Looked around again. "And those guys too." Duval Street, he thought, just another Sodom and Gomorrah. Better yet, Sodom and Gonorrhea. He smiled at his own joke.
Tammy shook her head, disgusted. "Just finish your beer."
But he didn't care what he said. Clyde felt free in the Keys. He didn't want to put on a show, like back at home. He wanted to let his hair down a bit, that is, the remaining hair he had on his balding pate.
To hell with appearances, Clyde thought. It was always about appearances, especially for these dumb southerners anyway. Under the veneer of politeness was dirt. Like everyone else everywhere -- just look underneath and there it was. So Clyde decided to let some dirt out.
Clyde scanned the cafe. Nobody seemed to mind or maybe they didn't even know the language, he thought. Key West was a foreign land he felt. Florida itself was one big backwater cockroach infested, mosquito swarmed beach town to him. And the Spanish owned it anyway. At the same time, it was fun.
An elderly Hispanic waiter, in a white apron, was cleaning the bar and tables nearby. His skin was tan and tough, but his face was stone. Like he died years ago and didn't know it yet.Clyde watched him move from table to table, cleaning methodically. Taking his time to inspect his work afterwards.
Tammy was in 'ignore-mode' again and he was getting uncomfortable sitting, sweating. Jeez, she thought. Still hot in February?
"Check, please!" Clyde yelled. The old waiter glanced over, nodded, then wiped his hands on his apron. A gold plated shark's tooth dangled from a necklace. How ugly, Clyde thought.
"Damned Cubans," he said. "What do they think? I have all day? Come on, idiot."
The waiter straightened suddenly, as if struck by an invisible hand, threw his cleaning rag down, then relaxed and finally, smiled. He heard the remark, but had chosen to let it go.
Tammy fidgeted. Pursed her lips. "And such low class jewelry," she said when she took in the necklace. "The tooth is even broken."
Clyde glanced at the shark's tooth again. Tammy was right. It was only half a tooth. The waiter was flipping through a small pad, looking for their bill now.
Clyde was wearing shorts, a hat he bought from a street vendor at Tammy's urging and expensive sunglasses -- made in China. He watched the sailboats go by through those glasses and eyed the bikini clad girls (he hoped, it was hard to tell) as they bounced down the street. He stole a glance at Tammy to make sure she hadn't seen him scanning the wildlife.
But Tammy knew. She let Clyde ogle. They had an open marriage, anyway. Clyde could ogle and have affairs, just as long as he didn't tell her. And Clyde was getting up in the years anyway. Except for his weekly needs, brought on by his testosterone injections, Clyde was a not a problem anyway.
The waiter came over, quietly placed the bill on the table, smiled and retreated.
"You wanna go look at some more paintings in those shops? Maybe bring one home?" Clyde asked as he watched the waiter go.
"No." She didn't even look up. "I told you, they are all overpriced and crappy. You just liked the erotic ones anyway."
"True." He paused, thinking.
"I guess we couldn't hang those up in the living room," Clyde said. "But I liked that other one too. What was it called?"
Tammy looked up then. "You mean that disgusting one with the Cuban on that raft?"
"It said a lot," he deadpanned. He started to grin.
"Escape from Cuba," she said.
"That's what the painting was called."
She was angry now. Shoving her phone in her over-sized bag, yet another street-vendor hand-woven multicolored waste of money. Probably made in China too. She stood.
"Don't make a scene," he hissed.
"Señor, your check." The waiter was pointing at the check that was blowing away. Clyde snatched it up, nodded.
As Tammy walked off, Clyde paid the bill, in cash, minus the tip. The old waiter smiled at him again. The weird gold toothed necklace twirling around his neck.
Clyde caught up with Tammy out on the sidewalk. "Jeez, can't you wait?"
"You, were the one making a scene, Clyde. Making those racist remarks again." Her cheeks were flushed. Eyes burning with anger.
"Why do you do that? We're on vacation. Can't you relax?"
"Fine. But what about the painting?" he asked.
"Clyde, I'll not have that painting hanging in our house. I don't care how much you think it means. It's gross. Can you imagine the Gutheries coming over? Can you imagine Susan? I guess Frank wouldn't care. You know Susan is half-Cuban and well, she might think something bad about us and..."
"Okay, okay, Tams. Let it go. I was just kidding. It would have been a joke, you know. Something to laugh about when we thought of the Cubans escaping paradise."
She starting walking. "You ready to go?" she asked.
"I think that waiter was Cuban, Clyde," she whispered. "And I think he's mad at you." He looked back at the restaurant, but didn't see anyone. The cafe seemed dead.
As they walked back to the hotel, Clyde thought about the painting. It was of a guy dangling his hand in the ocean, from a homemade raft that was slowly sinking and sharks were circling. He's just over the horizon in the clear blue ocean. The day is beautiful. The Coast Guard hasn't seen him, but you can see the ship in the background. The Cuban is trying to lift his hand, but he can't. He's too exhausted. A baby son and a wife are dead. Their skin is gray. A little girl, with a bleeding hand, clings to the guy. He is obviously her father. You can tell he's near death himself. He's maybe in his twenties. But he won't die as long as his daughter lives.
In a second scene of the painting, the guy -- the father -- is slipping away. He's in the water. The Coast Guard boat is nowhere to be seen. The little girl has made him a necklace. Twine and a shark's tooth. She places it over his head. He reaches up and places a similar necklace over her head. He drifts away. She then sees islands, the Florida Keys, but it's too late. Her father is gone.
The final scene of the collage-like painting is of the guy. A daughter-less man washed up on the shore. There is a restaurant and a woman. She cares for him. Gives him a job. He becomes the owner in the years ahead. But he is a sad man, with a shark's tooth necklace. Later he gold-plates the tooth, but keeps the twine. Never takes off that necklace. At night, he stares at the ocean. He has more children after that, but his first children cry to him from the waves each night...
Clyde laughed at the painting. Dumb Cubans. Why did they take such a chance to come here? He kept tumbling it over in his head. He didn't notice the man two blocks down, watching them as they made for their hotel. An elderly man, wearing an apron. He was talking to a gallery owner and pointing their way.
Clyde never made the connection between the gold-plated shark's tooth, the waiter and the painting. All the dumb Cubans are just illegal immigrants, he thought. They should stay in Cuba.
Next Day: Ponce de Leon Inlet, Florida
"I'm glad to get out of there," Tammy said. They were driving north on I-95 the next day.
"You mean the Keys?" Clyde responded.
"Yep. But can we stop at the lighthouse?"
"Ponce de Leon Inlet?"
"Yes. There's a little shop there that Susan went to last year when she and Ben came down and I want to get that clock -- but the bigger one!"
"Heck, why not. Vacation is almost over."
Clyde took the next exit and happened to glance in his rear view. His mind did not register the dark sedan that made the exit with them.
By noon they were in the shop and Clyde was wondering about the lighthouse. He was getting hungry, but wanted to give the little park the once-over just to say they did.
Some guy in the shop, just another tourist, said the lighthouse was an easy climb and the guy was old like him. Besides, he'd get some bragging rights after they got home.
"Hey, Tams -- you ready for a tour of this place?" She was at the register buying the clock.
"Let me dump the bags in the car and I'll meet you there."
Clyde made the short walk to the towering lighthouse. A few people were walking around, but the place wasn't that popular apparently. A giggling young couple exited the lighthouse ahead of him and made for one of the other exhibits.
Clyde cursed under his breath. "She's not coming," he said to himself. Probably on the phone to Susan again.
He'd do it himself. Couldn't be much to it. He looked around. Nobody. Just young guy hanging out by the back of the shop.
He walked into the lighthouse, read a notice about heart issues. If you had one or if you were old, it said to be careful. The steel spiral staircase wound upwards into the shadows above. He could make out different levels above, like little steel landings.
Clyde dialed his wife, but she didn't pick-up, then his phone went dead. "Christ," he said. He shook his head. "Hell with it." He started up.
The first set of spiral stairs seemed easy. A little huffing, his heart rate jumped, but he rested at the first window. Out of shape, he thought. His heart calmed and he started up again.
"You know, this lighthouse is a killer." The voice came from below.
Clyde peered down. At the first set of stairs a man was slowly coming up behind. "You gotta be in shape." He couldn't see his face since the guy was wearing a hat. His arms were thin and he seemed younger.
"Yep, it's a killer," Clyde answered as he started up again. "But you gotta stay positive!"
The man didn't reply, but Clyde could hear his steps clang on the stairs below. The stranger whistled as he climbed. A steady thumping up the stairs.
Clyde moved faster. Men don't let men pass them, especially younger ones.
Two more landings and Clyde was really puffing. His head felt like a melon and his heart was not beating right. It was almost vibrating. He passed a First Aid station. It was just a dusty cabinet, but it made him think twice.
"Hey!" Came the voice from below.
"Yeah. I hear you," Clyde answered through his puffing. He was perspiring profusely now.
"You don't like Cubans?"
Clyde's mind reeled. Cubans? Who was this guy? He leaned over the railing and looked down the twisting metal staircase.
"Huh?" he heard himself grunt in reply.
"You made my uncle pretty mad, Señor. I've never seen him that way."
Clyde stopped climbing. Sweat dripped off of his arms. It felt like someone had poured a glass of foul water down his back and his groin was wet.
"Your...your uncle?" he asked. Clyde started up again, but more slowly. He could see the guy below now. He was climbing with little effort, about two flights below now.
"Yeah, Señor. My dear old uncle -- the one who wiped your table and overheard what you said." He paused.
"He talked to some art dealer to, Señor. Said you made fun of us Cubans. You remember yesterday, don't you Señor? In Key West?"
Crap, he thought. The realization struck. The waiter. The painting.
"I don't want any trouble." It was all he could think to say. Clyde tried pick up his pace again, but his legs weren't cooperating.
Clyde wasn't moving now. He was frozen in place. Feet like magnetized metal, affixed permanently to this steel staircase. The guy was only one flight below now. Maybe he could make a run past him, when he got to this landing. He looked up, but the top seemed too far away. Round and round it went. He checked his phone again. Dead. He smacked it. Nothing.
Then Clyde ran upwards. Heart racing. Pressure building in his head. Jaws giving him a funny tingle and nausea chumming his gut.
"Chill out, Señor. If I wanted you dead I could have done that already. I've been on you since Miami. I'm glad you stopped at this place." He paused again.
"My uncle wanted me to deliver a message, but I got a better idea." he stopped then.
"When you get to the top, look into the parking lot, Señor. Look at your car." He turned and began to retrace his steps.
Clyde was at the top of the lighthouse puffing and wheezing, about five minutes later. Legs like rubber and cramps working their way into his calves. Heart hammering so fast he couldn't even count the beats because he was so out of breath. He cast his eyes down the ribbon of spiral staircases, but the guy never came up. He was gone. There was nobody behind him.
He did as the guy said then and looked for his car. From the top of the lighthouse he took in the view. The shop, the many buildings and there, next to the shop -- the parking lot. It was easy to spot, but what he saw next made him shiver in the February heatwave.
Tammy was leaning against the hood of the car. Her head was tilted up and that crazy hat she'd bought in Key West was flipped back. It had to be her, but she was so small.
But that wasn't the bad part. The part that made his heart hammer all the faster was the guy next to her. A large dark skinned guy in short pants, similar to the guy who had chased him up this lighthouse stairs. But the large guy was wearing a different shirt and he was holding what had to be a gun and pointing it at Tammy's head. He waved the gun, then pointed at him. The message was obvious. Come down.
"Jesus!" Clyde yelled, then spun and opened the door to once again use the lighthouse stairs, but his time, down.
Clyde made it to the bottom in minutes. His heart protested the trot on the hard metal stairs, but the going was easier. Cramps threatened to stop him, but gravity seemed to loosen old muscles, as long as he didn't stop. Finally, when he made the exit and stepped out on the concrete landing, legs rubbery, the first guy was waiting.
Clyde started and his legs cramped all over again.
"Glad you could make it, Señor. Now, if you want Tammy to be, you know, safe, I'd like you to follow me."
The guy was in his thirties, tattoos of spiders and chains and what looked like crowns, ran up and down his arms. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of khaki shorts with a lot of full looking pockets. He smiled and his gold teeth beamed in the sun.
"Wait a minute..."
"No, Señor. Listen to me. If you call out or make like you know, you are going to cause me a problem, well, it might not be good." He put his hand through his jet black hair.
"And I just want to show you something, right over there. A boat. Not cap your..." He didn't finish. An elderly women rounded the corner, pushing what could only be her husband, in a wheelchair. He smiled at them, but kept his gold teeth hidden.
The man in the wheelchair grumbled something to his wife and both stared at the tattoos. The couple passed by.
"A boat?" Clyde asked. His legs were feeling better.
"Yes, Señor, but a certain boat. One my uncle really likes. Come, Señor. Come."
The guy, possibly a gang member, motioned Clyde to a display of what looked to be ugly rafts. A moment later they were both standing in front of a short white fence with a plaque commemorating Cuban Rafts.
The guy didn't say anything at first. He pointed. "That one, to the right."
"Okay. It's a raft. A poorly constructed raft. What of it?"
"Are you crazy, Señor?" He stuck his hand in his pocket.
"No, no. Uhm, but it's a raft. I can see that it's a..." He read the plaque. "Okay, it's how Cubans floated to the United States...how they left Cuba?"
He turned away. "Señor, now I know why you ticked off my uncle. I'm surprised he let you live."
"Well, what can I say?"
"It's not about that, Señor. It's how you don't get it. People -- my uncle for one -- come over on one of these things to get to a better life here in America. He didn't leave Cuba, he escaped."
"Okay?" It was all Clyde could say. Apparently he was being taught some weird Cuban history lesson by a hood.
"You mean it's like what's going on in Europe now? All those walkers -- immigrants?"
"No, Señor. Not like that at all. All that jazz is recent. This raft problem, it's been going on for decades. And..." He looked at a young couple as they walked past. It was all it took. They turned around. Left them alone.
"And you disrespected my uncle, Señor. But I'm not going to kill you today. Here," he said. There was a gold plated tooth in his hand.
"What is it?"
"It's a shark's tooth, Señor. It's something to remember us by. It's from the shark that killed my auntie when my uncle could no longer fight them away from the raft." He paused again.
"I don't know why he's giving it to you," the tattooed hood frowned. "I thought about keeping it. It's the most valuable thing in our family. If you ever lose it, I will come for you. It's like your life Señor. Keep it safe and you will live."
Clyde took the tooth. His hand was shaking. I was gold-plated. It looked just like the one the waiter was wearing in Key West, yesterday.
"That painting you saw in that gallery. It was of my uncle. It was a true story. Don't dis' my family again." He turned and started to walk away.
"Disrespect," the hood said over his shoulder. "He lost his whole family. Floated to the beach in Key West, naked. Except for that tooth." He was shaking his head.
"But, wait, where is my..." He cut himself off. Tammy was walking his way. Her eyes were as big as saucers.
"Adios," the hood said. "And don't come back to Florida. You've been," he nodded at the ground, "trespassed." He turned around again.
"Don't loose that tooth." He flashed his golden smile. "Uncle said you needed it." He shook his head and was gone.
"Huh?" Clyde asked.
"Shut up, Clyde," Tammy hissed. "Let's just go."
Clyde felt the twine and gold plated shark's tooth in his hand. This makes zero sense he told himself.
Six months later: Dover, Delaware
"Where did you get that shark's tooth, Clyde? A broken one at that."
Ben was from the office. He was over with his wife. He had a drink in one hand and was nosed to the special glass picture frame in the foyer. The one with the gold-plated shark's tooth displayed inside.
"I mean, aren't these things cheap junk? My kid had a dozen of them in drawer. Not gold though." Ben took a sip of his scotch. "It's the first thing you see when you walk up to the front door of your house, Clyde -- right through the window, I mean. But the gold-plating is a nice touch."
"Yep," Clyde said. "It's a special tooth..."
Susan was standing in the kitchen listening to Clyde and her husband Ben talk about the shark's tooth in the glass frame. Her mind had been nearly blank when she'd first noticed it. She also knew that Clyde hadn't bought it in a shop in Key West.
Susan rubbed her hand absently. There was a scar there. A scar from that very tooth. The tip of the shark's tooth that had broken off in her hand. Her father had removed it, at sea, using his own teeth. And still attached to that tooth was the twine she had tied to it years before.
In the glass frame was a shark's tooth. It was plated in gold, except for the missing tip, which was white and plain.
"Where did you get that tooth!" Susan screamed. She couldn't hold it in any longer.
"Huh?" Clyde said.
"That tooth! Where on earth did you get it?"
He told her the story.
"What are you doing?" Clyde asked. Susan had grabbed the framed tooth off of the wall and began ripping it open.
"Honey?" Ben chimed in, "I don't think you..."
Susan hissed him quiet.
"Okay...okay," Ben said and stepped back as Susan opened the case. She removed the tooth and then reached under her shirt for the other half.
"They match!" she screamed.
Five Minutes Later...
Tammy searched the internet and found it. Susanna's Cuban Beach Bar and Grill in Key West, Florida. It was late, but she made the call.
Pedro Martinez answered on the third ring. The caller was from Delaware he saw. Probably left something at the bar. They always did. He looked away from the dimming Atlantic. The one that had stolen his soul so many years before.
"Papi! It's Susanna!" came a strange but somehow familiar voice over the phone. He almost dropped the cordless. Fingers groped, found purchase.
"Señora, I am afraid that you have the wrong..." he finally responded. But he knew. He couldn't believe he knew. He even regretted trying to ignore the voice. It cannot be, he thought.
"Papi, I have the tooth. The other half! You sent the gringo your necklace...because you were mad...that gringo...I know him...how did this all happen? Papi!"
Clyde was sitting in the living room -- in Delaware -- and knew he was the gringo in question.
Pedro's throat tightened -- in Key West. He could not speak. Just hold the phone like it was the most important thing he could do right now. Little choking noises erupted. His face was streaked with tears.
"Where?" he finally managed to say, wiping his nose on an apron.
"Delaware! Dover, Delaware. A woman found me. Raised me." Susanna waited. She could hear sobs. Sniffles. She put her hand over her mouth.
"What's the matter?' Clyde asked. Tammy was hugging Susan. A string of Spanish was echoing from phone.
"He's coming." Tammy said.
"The waiter? When?"
"Yes, now," Susanna said. "Your ignorance found my father."
"Well, I'll not tolerate that in my..."
"Clyde," Susanna interrupted, "if it wasn't for your bad manners I'd have never known that my dad was still alive." She sobbed. "I love you, you ass." She grabbed his neck, cried on his shoulder.
"But..." Clyde started.
"Shut up, Clyde."
Over 70,000 Cubans have died in the Florida Straits trying to escape...
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