The black sand burned. I had to walk quickly, over pebbles and shells and pieces of plastic and mangrove seed pods until my child’s feet reached the soothing cold of the sea. There was nobody there, except an old Mayan up to his waist in the waves, fishing with an almost invisible line that he’d cast and then wind back, palm to elbow.
“Give me your hand,” said my father. “The waves are very strong.”
“No. On my own.”
“I said, give me your hand.”
We stood there for a while, in silence, him gripping my hand awkwardly, both knee deep in the cool, foamy water.
“I drowned in this sea.”
Baffled, I looked up to see his face.
“I was about your age when I drowned in this sea.”
My father paused, watching the flight of a perfect line of pelicans, perhaps eight or ten pelicans, their white bellies skimming the surface of the water.
“I didn’t drown here, at Sipacate, it was over that way,” he said, looking to his left, “off the beach at Iztapa.”
On the horizon, an immense cargo ship was going nowhere.
“I went swimming one afternoon, despite the warnings, and before I knew it I had gone too far from the shore. No matter how hard I struggled and kicked and tried to get back, the current kept getting stronger, pulling me further out to sea. Until I drowned.”
I felt something in the pit of my stomach that now, today, I would describe as fear.
“I was rescued by a soldier from the U.S. Marines.”
I was listening to my father speak, but I didn’t want to look at him. I started counting waves.
“There was an American soldier there that day, sunbathing or just walking along the beach, who knows. Anyway, he saw what was happening, or maybe someone alerted him to what was happening, and he dived in, swam out to me, and dragged me back to the beach, dead, and there he brought me back to life.”
That was all he said, and I stood watching the old man fish in a delicate balance with the tide, with the waves, and I shuddered as I understood that my father had been my age then, that my father had died at my age before an American soldier – whom I pictured at that moment as a colossus – pulled him from the sea and gave him back his life. There were things I wanted to ask my father. Ask him what would have happened if the American soldier hadn’t been there, sunbathing or walking, the afternoon my father died, when he drowned in the sea. Ask him who, then, would have been my father if he had died that afternoon in the sea. I wanted to ask my father who I would be without my father.
“Time to go,” he said or perhaps asked.
For some time after, I could still feel in my legs the sway of the sea.
Translated from the Spanish by Alba Griffin, Avgi Daferera, Bridget Lely, Hugh Caldin, Jim Knight, Lucila Cordone, Michael McDevitt, Ollie Brock, Sabrina Steiner, Samantha Christie, Shazea Quraishi & Tom Bunstead with the collaboration of Eduardo Halfon and Anne McLean.
This translation was first featured on the New Spanish Books website here.