The world had been sad since forever. Beyond the bridge was the giant island house and beyond the island house was the sea which had been crossed by so many neighbors by fishing boat, by sailboat, once by a flotilla of innertubes, ninety launched from Havana at night in the days of the revolution, sure, but the crossing she most remembered came in the afternoon, a sea-foam green 1953 Chevrolet Studebaker on a bed of truck tires, the rebuilt old engine powering a homemade propeller, the steering wheel yoked to a hand-carved wooden rudder, the truckboat driven across the water.
In the giant island house Pelaya prepared the trays of meatballs, melon, pigs in a blanket, spring rolls, chocolate cake, iced tea, and water. Men in suits with devices in their ears watched her studiously avoid poisoning anything anyone important might eat. Under certain circumstances they would kill her, but if they did they would just be doing their job. She needed a cigarette, and the taller suited man was happy to give her one so long as she didn’t smoke in the kitchen.
The yard backed up to the sea. Moonlight but no stars. The floodlights from the patrol boats left stripes of light and dark in the grass, so she didn’t at first see the body moving in the mud. He was dressed like a ragpicker. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud. An angel fallen from the sky or more likely fled from some self-appointed god, an old story she knew but not from a book.
Pelaya stepped into a seam where one side of her was bathed in light and the other in darkness. She turned her face into the light to take a drag from the cigarette, and then into the darkness to exhale, and in this way she could move her lips in the darkness without anyone reading them from some boat on the water. “It is not safe here,” she said. “It is not safe where I came from,” the angel said. “It is not safe anywhere,” she said, “but you know what I have to do.” “Do what you have to do,” the angel said.
She went inside fully intending to tell the men in the suits so they could bring the shackles and the armored car and take the angel away. Under certain circumstances they would kill him, but if they did they would just be doing their job. But when she got to the kitchen, she lost her will to protect herself. If asked, she would tell the truth. She saw the body in the mud. She knew her duty and was unwilling to perform it.
She was cutting bunches of onions into garnishes when through the window she saw the angel rise and unfurl his large, stiff feathers and flap his wings. As he rose toward the sky, men with suits came running from the house, and men in uniforms came running onto the decks of the boats, and soon fighter jets descended from the sky. They fired at him from every direction. Air, land, and sea.