I DANCE, the American way: One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, rock! hold up my ponytail with one hand like my sister and her amigas up the hill, side-step across our backyard—you have to make sure to move your hips when you do this. Right before the song ends, I shimmy pretend titties, kick high my right leg, and throw myself back. And that takes a lot of believing: that a pile of dirty laundry is your sister, that she’ll catch you before you fall.
Sweaty and salty, I jump in the backyard sink that our criada uses to scrub our clothes up-down the washboard and shampoo a stinky Laika, the Spaniel we named after the dog the Russians sent off into space. It’s fun to take a bath in that sink, naked outside in the sun. I stretch back, look up at the blue of the Havana sky, and make a plan: I will build a beach in our backyard. Anything to do with water—even though I haven’t yet learned to swim—I love. So I slip on my flip-flops, find Mami smoking in the kitchen and ask her, Will she take me to Avenida Malecón? Where Ché, Camilo, and Fidel smiled wide and waved high on olive green tanks past giant ocean waves that crashed against the vast expanse of legendary seawall.
Back from the Malecón, beach bucket in hand, I pour the salt water across our backyard, the same way Mami pours her cake batter round and round her baking pans. The next morning, I jump out of bed like I do on the 6th of January, the Day of Epiphany, celebrating the showing of Baby Jesus to the Three Wise Men. Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar. I race to the backyard. But the water is gone. “Evaporated,” my sister says. She says it like this: “E-va-po-ra-ted”—puts her hand on her waist—“You’re so stupid”—pushes her hip to the side—“You’re a dreamer.”
Magda Montiel Davis is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, where she was awarded an Iowa Arts Fellowship. Kissing Fidel: a Memoir of Cuban-American Terrorism in the United States won the 2020 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction and will be published in the fall. “Ashes Over Havana” won the 2019 Earl Weaver Baseball Prize and was selected for inclusion in Best Women’s Travel Writing. Magda is a former Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, an immigration lawyer, and was the first recipient of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s national Pro Bono Award. She divides her time between Key Biscayne, Florida, and Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature.