LA MANZANITA

(This is my entry for the Quarantine Writer's Club Flash Fiction Challenge II. I had 48 hours to come up with a 1,000 word story based on the prompts: Historical Fiction, a beach, and an apple. 

“It’s my last one,” the shopkeeper said. “Treat it like gold.”

 

“It may well be,” Rosa replied, taking the precious item into her hands. “It costs as much.”

 

Apples were a luxury in Cuba, especially in a remote village like Niquero. But Nico was obsessed with them, and Rosa promised to have one for him upon his return.

 

This apple wasn’t big, more a manzanita than a true manzana. But after two years away, Nico would appreciate the gesture.

 

Rosa wrapped the apple in a cloth and put it in the pocket of her skirt. Heading down Calle Cespedes, she met Bernardo at his house.

 

“Is today the day?”

 

“Let’s hope so,” Bernardo said, giving her a sideways glance. “It’s been three days. It won’t be long before Batista finds out.”

 

Rumors swirled around the Oriente province that Castro’s men would arrive by boat November 30th. Nico would be one of them. He fled to Mexico when Batista’s secret police burst into his parents’ home in Trinidad and killed his father and brother. Nico hadn’t been a revolutionary then; he was one now.

 

Bernardo handed Rosa a helmet as she climbed on the back of his ’49 Indian Scout. The pair made their way to the rumored landing spot at Cabo Cruz.

 

Rosa took off her helmet and sandals and walked to the beach. The sea breeze felt good in her hair. She removed the apple from her skirt, unwrapped it, and held it tightly.

 

Bernardo was not far behind. “Be careful, sister. You’re going to bruise it holding it like that.”

 

Rosa stared silently at the sea.

 

“You’re worried.”

 

“Of course, Bernardo. What does Nico know of revolution? He’s an artist! He knows nothing of guns and politics.”

 

“I’m afraid we will all learn of guns and politics. A new Cuba is worth fighting for.”

 

“A new Cuba,” Rosa muttered. “How many new Cubas do we need? Our grandparents lived under the Spanish, and believed nothing could be worse. Then came the Americans and their gangsters. Our parents fought with the Generation of 1930, and even Batista was a revolutionary when he first took over. Where does it end?”

 

Rosa began to sob. Like most young Cubans, Bernardo supported Castro, but knew not to argue politics with his sister now. He wrapped an arm around her as she buried her face in his chest.

 

“I just want Nico back, Bernardo.”

 

“Lo sé,” he whispered. “I know.”

 

The pair sat on the beach, staring out at the sea as other townspeople gathered, awaiting the arrival of their heroes. The silence was broken by the whine of approaching motorbikes.

 

“Amigos,” a voice shouted out. “The revolutionaries are arriving 15 miles to the south! But be careful, Batista’s men may already be on their way!”

 

Rosa wrapped up the apple again as she and Bernardo rushed back to the motorcycle.

 

“The roads are not safe,” Bernardo shouted. “I know a back way. Hold tight!”

 

Bernardo maneuvered the Indian along a bumpy trail through the mangrove forest. Rosa wrapped both arms around her brother’s waist, but periodicially checked her skirt pocket to make sure the apple was still in its place.

 

After an hour, Bernardo brought the bike to a point where the mangroves met the beach.

 

He pointed toward the turquoise waters. “There!”

 

Rosa peered into the mist. In the distance, she spotted what looked more like a shipwreck than a landing. An old dilapidated yacht sat askew on the beach, with dozens of armed men hurriedly disembarking. It was far too many men than the small boat could hold. But one of them cast a familiar shape.

 

“Nico!”

 

Rosa bolted from the mangroves, grabbing onto the apple as she raced toward the boat.

 

“Rosa, no!”

 

Bernardo chased after her, but she was faster than he realized.

 

Behind them, the hum of approaching fighter jets grew to a roar. Then, the angry, staccato beats of machine gun fire.

 

“Rosa!” Bernardo screamed, using every last ounce of his energy to leap onto her.

 

Rosa fell, hitting her head on a log that had washed on shore. As her consciousness waned, she could feel a warm trickle on her back and neck.

 

Blood.

 

***      ***      ***      ***

 

Rosa woke to the stare of a concerned young man, his face framed by the rising sun. She could tell she was in some sort of tent, and the roar of the sea replaced by the rustling sounds of the jungle. She tried to sit up, but her right leg surged with an almost unbearable pain.

 

“Shhh, you must rest.”

 

“Where am I?”

 

“In our camp in the Sierra Maestra. Our men found you unconcious with a bullet wound in your leg. The man on top of you saved your life.”

 

Bernardo. “Is he…?”

 

“He was dead when we found him. His blood is on Batista’s hands.”

 

Rosa disagreed. His blood was on her hands. She turned away from the young man and cried.

 

“They also found this gripped tightly in your hand. It clearly meant a lot to you.”

 

Rosa turned back around. He was holding the apple, bruised and battered and encrusted with sand from the beach.

 

“It was for Nico. Nico Flores. Is he with you?”

 

The man’s eyes darkened. “He was, but he too was murdered by Batista. Of 82 men who landed with us, less than 20 survive. He will forever be a hero of the revolution!”

 

Rosa glared at the apple. “Then it’s worthless to me. You keep it, Dr…?”

 

“Guevara,” the man said. “But my comrades call me Che.”

 

He held the apple in the morning light. “But this… is not worthless. I will take it to Santa Rosa with me. ‘La Manzanita!’ It represents the spirit of the revolution. Bruised and beaten, but the sweet taste of freedom lies inside.”

 

Rosa sighed as she stared through tears into the fiery eyes of the young revolutionary. “This time, señor, I hope the Cuban people get to taste it.”

© 2020 by Travelin' Tim
 

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