From Writer’sDigest.com, July-August, 2012, p. 49 "First Things First" writing prompt:
Hector at the Beach
Hector was exhausted. He had been herding water-thirsty cattle all week on the ranch. All week he had been looking forward to some quiet days with his wife, Rosa, on the beach. But now, Galveston was hunkering down for a big storm, maybe a hurricane building in the Gulf. So, instead of relaxing with a cigar on the beach house front porch, he was hauling plywood from the garage to nail down the shutters. Finishing up that job, pausing for moment on the steps, he watched the sunset, purple and red, full of dark colors, he noticed, against the black water. All he could see was gloom.
“Hector, don’t just stand there. Take the lamp down to the shore,” Rosa encouraged from the still open kitchen door. “It’ll be awhile before the minudo is ready and you might as well enjoy the quiet before the storm.”
Of course, Rosa was right, as she usually was. After thirty-eight years of marriage, three kids—one recently buried in Arlington’s military cemetery and two kids still working on the ranch with kids of their own—Hector knew better than to argue with her. So, he moved down the steps, though he was so tired he’d rather just sag his seat down on the yellow porch chair, cigar or no cigar, and watch the sky turn black, watch the stars try to shine behind the thickening clouds. But, Hector wasn’t going to create an argument with Rosa, not when it wasn’t worth fighting about like earlier in the month. That’s when he reluctantly agreed to limit his cigar habit to just one a day, after Rosa and Dr. Samuels had told him, without a doubt, “the cigars would have to go.” Hector had dug his boots in on what the doctor wanted. He’d smoked his daily cigar earlier that day to celebrate getting the last steer into the pen. And he was digging his heels in now, walking down the steps, out onto the sand, lamp in hand. Walking further toward the water’s edge, Hector heard the silence, and the occasional crunch of his boots’ heels against the bits of seashells tucked into the sand.
Tonight’s moon, blanketed mostly by clouds, was waning. Three nights ago it had been full and silver as he sat with his seven year old grandson, Tobey, on the hood of the Chevy truck. Tobey was at that age when his “Poppi” was as close to a god with skin as a man could be. Hector knew from experience that those days of god-status were numbered. So when Tobey had pestered him to have just one puff of Poppi’s cigar, Hector had obliged. But, damn, if, just as Tobey put the cigar to his puckered mouth, modeling his small, agile fingers exactly as Poppi held his cigar, damn but just then, Rosa hadn’t come out of the garden and let out a scream that sent Roscoe, their dog, scurrying into the knobby hills. She lectured him good and hard and swatted the Levi-protected backside of Tobey as he fled to join Roscoe in the hills. That moment, Hector recalled, that moment when the moonlight made a soft halo around Tobey’s cow-licked crewcut, his tooth-gaped mouth in a small bow of a smile, anticipating that first puff of Poppi’s cigar—that moment had been perfect. But tonight, the moon was waning. The sky was getting ebony black and even the glow of the lamp couldn’t lighten Hector’s mood.
He was a dying man. This storm, building in the horizon beyond the water’s edge, might be the last of the season and of his life. He knew the truth behind Rosa’s fear and his doctor’s warning and that truth hung like a five pound rock around his neck. If he had a bigger rock to hang, he just might see if he could drop his tired body into the water and feel it sink. But, back at the beach house, there was Rosa, probably just now adding some cilantro and green onions to the menudo. The prospect of a bone-soothing meal and the promise of another night with Rosa under the bedsheets, waiting for the winds to rock them both to sleep, pulled his vision away from the dark sky and waters. Instead, he gathered up a softer rhythm to his walk back towards the open door.