She arrived at the mountain hideout on horseback

Comandancia de la Plata, Sierra Maestra, CubaShe arrived at the mountain hideout on horseback
By Bryan Harvey

She arrived at the mountain hideout on horseback—rain evaporating from the leaves in a gray shroud. He couldn’t see her. Having tossed his spectacles to the ground, he had stomped the fogged lenses into fragments of dark earth. Before she descended her horse, she revealed a brand-new pair of spectacles glistening in the dusk’s archipelago.

“For the comandante,” she said.

“Just as I ordered,” he said, but he had made no such order. He was as shocked by her arrival as anyone else in the camp.

She won his trust with such miraculous foresight and swung down from the saddle. In his blindness, he awaited her with open arms, a big-toothed grin macheted through his beard.

He promptly gave her a tour around the premises. He showed her where the men slept, where they trained, where they ate, where they told truths, and where they believed lies. She saw everything and perhaps understood more. She noticed how their uniforms were rags. She saw how the guns were not cleaned. They were not ready to fire, and the men were not ready to fight. She noticed their empty bellies and rotten teeth. She started making calculations.

In the comandante’s tent, he half-filled two cups with watered down rum. One was obviously half-full and the other half-empty. He tucked the empty rum bottle away as if it might be of some later use. The tent leaked, puddling rainwater in the mossy boards warped from the jungle’s humidity. He offered her a cigar butt. He relit it, telling her, “It’s the finest tobacco on the island.” She could taste the spit curdling in the brown wrapper as she took a long drag and released a plume of peacocked smoke.

“Paper,” she said, and he pulled out a scrap the same texture as papyrus.

“A pencil?” He offered her a worn-down stub of number two lead.

“No, I have my own,” she raised a ballpoint pen.

She began marking bullet points. One of the items on the list was ammunition. Midcentury revolutions tended to require such items.

“You will need these materials.”

He received the list and examined it with his elbows on his knees. His head and jaw sagged. The list deflated him.

“Do you have the funds?”

He removed the cigar butt from his mouth. He gasped dry air. He rubbed the list against his scalp, attempting to shape it into a beret.

“Don’t worry,” she said with the cool confidence of a woman used to doing everything herself, “I will take care of it.”

He leaned back in his director’s chair and sighed. He laughed, “I like you.” He levered his cigar butt in her direction. “I like you very much.” He downed his glass of watered-down rum and spent the rest of the night ranting poetry. She recorded his lines in her own words. She consecrated his authority. In the morning, she climbed atop her mighty horse. She rode away with her head in the jungle’s canopy and the horse’s hooves kicking up plenty of rich, black earth.

Bryan Harvey’s writing has appeared in Hobart Pulp, Rejection Lit., Former Cactus, Gravel, The Florida Review’s Aquifer, The Cold Mountain Review, and elsewhere. He blogs about the NBA for Fansided’s The Step Back. He is a father and teacher. He lives in Virginia. He has many miles left to run. He tweets @Bryan_S_Harvey.

Photo of Comandancia de la Plata, Sierra Maestra, Cuba by Anagoria, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.