Published on August 18th, 2015 | by Sarah Maria Medina


The Necessity of Not Drowning by SARAH MARIA MEDINA

The cherry trees along the road pop pink buds that fall now like snow, and summer comes hot and sweaty inside the cabin. Ripe field air rushes through the main avenue like too sweet cotton candy. My ex-girlfriend, Honor, comes, a short trip from Havana. She stands in her worn Converse canvas high-tops, her butterscotch laugh an open mouth of perfect white teeth. She stays the night on an extra mattress that we lay against the wood floor.

In the morning, she holds six-month baby Divinity while I skillet pancakes. The smell of egg yolk weighs on my tongue like pennies. Divinity drools a line of spit from her teething gums, and Honor, a loose white A-frame draped from her shoulders, teachers her to spit bubbles. Love Joys deep croon from the turntable—reggae bringing back city mornings. Honor forks pancakes loaded with maple syrup. Sunbeams streamline in from the windows. In the wild yard below, a deer steals figs. Honor wipes a lick of syrup from her chin, then grins. This is what it almost would have been like, except soon she flies back to Havana, to Emea’s double bed.


We walk down the grey beach, stones a slip of seaweed below rubber boots. Divinity sleeps tucked like a dove against my chest. “It will all be okay, Nena,” Honor promises, and I believe her, because I always believe her— she’s Honor.

I stumble, grip Honor’s shoulder, then let go again. We walk past empty homes with floor to ceiling windows, the smell of dried seaweed and dead crab stinging the back of my throat.


When Honor leaves, and I sing alone to Divinity in the cabin, a flock of birds swims the bluing sky. Loneliness hums through the walls. I miss Honor’s nervous bounce, the way she flips back her short gold curls from her hazel eyes. The Love Joys continue their croon and I punch in my phone card to Havana.

Yuli, Divinity’s aunt, answers on the second ring. Her voice echoes like the sound of a fish tail breaking the distance. She lies in a single hospital bed with placental abruption, bleeding, gestational diabetes, and low iron. The phone line breaks to her sentences nickeled with English between the Spanish.


A week crashes across the sky, bruising it purple each night. I call again to check on Yuli. Another phone card, another Benjamin. Yuli lies in her own bed now. Wild dogs bark outside her bedroom.

“El se murió.” Her voice battered.

The phone connection cracks and I think I must have heard her wrong. I think she said the baby died after a cesarean— it can’t be right, but I hear it in her voice. The sound of blued sorrow. A dead sparrow held in her hand.

“He died, my baby died.”

My free hand flies to my collarbone. I hold her words to my breast. Her son came out of her belly blue and tiny and already an ancient man. Her son floated up to the sky. And now that hollowness in her belly, her breasts a burst of milk toward her son’s absent mouth.

I promise to plant a tree for her son, one that stretches to the sky and roots the earth, a damn tree that will do nothing to let our children run the street outside their house, bloody knees skinned over from the rusted merry-go-round. She gave him a name – an African warrior from a movie she saw, but when she tells me it, the automated operator cuts in and announces the last minute. My rawness as a new mother hits me. A pit of desperation sits curdled in my stomach.


I hold Divinity naked against my chest, her soft skin a perfect black peach. After she sleeps, I step outside to the cold damp night, the smell of wet pine a choke of childhood: both innocence and buried child fear that begged at the crash of riverboat. A white owl circles over me, the tips of its wings stretched like fingers, cutting the cold air. It’s been four months since Divinity’s father, Yuniel, wrote to break our engagement. He flew to Caracas and hasn’t flown back to Havana. He still hasn’t held his daughter.


Divinity’s passport arrives, crisp and dark blue. I hold it in my hand like a choice, then call Yuniel in Caracas. I sense Chiquinquirá, his new girlfriend, standing in their kitchen, cooking arepas, heating thick coffee.

“No te preocupas, si ella viene al mismo tiempo tendrá que alquilar un apartamento.” He promises she won’t be there, says yes, not to worry. He wants to meet his daughter. His voice spills copper and sadness.


After I buy my ticket to Nassau, everything changes. Yuniel sends an email of false promises buried between broken ones. Chiquinquirá insists on staying in the house. They say we can all stay together – that the house is big enough for all of us. They must think I’m crazy. I fall into the forest. My tears break in the forest.


My hair a week unbrushed, I lie in bed next to Divinity, and the phone rings. I’m quiet at the sound of her voice. Chiquinquirá speaks English with a German accent. I’m quiet at hello, like a wolf listening to her enemy.

“You know I didn’t know about you at first,” she says.

“I know.” I turn to Divinity’s sleeping exhales.

“When I visited him, we were just friends.”

“You’re lying. He told me you hooked up again after you knew about me. You don’t have to lie anymore.”

“I don’t know why he told you that.”

Probably because I begged him for the truth, I think, but I stay quiet, rub my swollen dark peony eyelids.

“Look,” she says. “Yuniel asked me to call you. I’ll only be there a few days. We can be respectful of each other. And then I fly back to Caracas.” She pauses, and I hear Caracas swarm like a cloud of insects beyond the payphone. “You know I was with Yuniel when you gave birth. He cried in my arms.”

I step out into the forest, Divinity nested in the red flowered quilt. I walk into the circle of trees and vomit onto the cold pine covered ground.


In the morning, my mouth still tastes of salt. A fevered sickness from my conversation with Chiquinquirá weighs my limbs. I slick a line of sweat across my forehead then beg myself to believe I can make it through this and still come out shining. I drape a cherry red knitted poncho over my chest to cover Divinity, and walk through the island town to the library. I take stacks and stacks of books: cookbooks, photography books, art books, weighted poetry editions, anything short that I can read while Divinity naps. Their heaviness will ground me back from all the fever.

Before I walk to the pool to swim laps, I write to my friend, Titilayo, in Havana. I’m worried and sick and sleep deprived and I know I must sound like a crazed mad woman in my letter. I’m worried about Santería, uncertain of Chiquinquirá’s practices. I believe in the beauty and goodness of Santería, of the protection of Yemaya at the sea and Eleguá at the crossroads, but I’m worried about the bed, about the mattress if I lie down to rest. My landlady in Buena Vista left paper saints below the mattress to protect me as I slept, but what if Chiquinquirá leaves something else?



Excerpted from the forthcoming memoir A House by the Sea in Havana

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About the Author

Sarah Maria Medina is a poet and a fiction/creative non-fiction writer from the American Northwest. Her writing has been published in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Midnight Breakfast, Educe Journal, Winter Tangerine Review, Raspa Literary Journal, Codex Journal, Semicolon Journal, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. She’s also the author of a chapbook of poetry titled Girl Turnin’ Queen and Other (Broken) Havana Love Stories. She lives in Mexico with her daughter, and is at work on her memoir, A House by the Sea in Havana.

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