Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

American Ships

Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

American Ships

Article excerpt

When the American ships arrived, they looked like giant white women swimming toward us on the horizon. American marines shouted orders from the crooks of the ships' pale elbows, readied guns in the corner of vicious smiles. I was pushing Pablito's stroller on el Malecón, and the people around me said, Look, what is that? But I knew. I had seen them before, decades ago in the first invasion. I ran into a restaurant with tables and umbrellas by the sea and called my husband at his office. I told him to buy all the nonperishable food he could find; I told him to clean out the mercado and prepare for a blockade. I ran home pushing the stroller with my heels kicking up stones from the street.

The ships surged out of the sea like the daughters of Titan, their decks gleaming like mirrors, sailors crawling like ants across the aluminum chests. When they grew airfoil wings, I knew they were not here for merely blockades. They were coming to us. They were coming, I assumed, to quell the civil war already underway on our island, to inform us who was in the right and who was in the wrong, what kind of people we would be, which president among the many contenders we deserved, by which they would mean, the one most like them.

I turned over the pots, the back of the closets, the secret drawers in the desks, everywhere we had hidden our money from the government and Constanza, the maid. My husband was no longer near a phone, so it would have to be me that prepared us for invasion and not just blockade. The baby left at home with Constanza and the money tucked in a pouch in my bra, I ran through the stampeding crowds. I hunted for guns and bullets from the secret armories of various political associations my husband and I had been a part of, arms hidden in churches and tombs, dug into the backyards, and secreted in our stone monuments of independence, the ones we had used against ourselves.

Then the American ships danced, rolling their hips in the sky like clouds foretelling storms. I got home just as they dropped like bombs out of the sky. Constanza screamed and ducked, and I told her to get inside until my husband came home. The guns hung over my dress like necklaces. I laid my Pablito in his crib. I unslung the guns from my arms, and I hid them underneath him while he screamed back at the wailing of the American ships, the American planes. I rocked him to sleep. My husband came home, his jeep sunken to the ground with the weight of cans and sacks and tins of food. Then we waited.

When the American ships squatted with huge hulking metal legs over our city, they birthed out in a great crying agony a battalion of green soldiers that clung to rope spilling out of their yawning wombs. The soldiers landed in lines on the street, they dropped through roofs, they smashed through windows. We heard a whistle and then a crash, and one landed in our master bed. Constanza fell upon him with her metal bucket, bashing the soldier in the face, and I cracked him in the head with the butt of a rifle. My husband was more clever. He yanked the soldier's pinky and snapped it right off. Meanwhile, the soldier had not struggled, not made a peep.

Look, my husband said, holding out the green finger. There was no blood. The finger was stiff plastic, like the rest of the man, whose face was frozen in a wide-eyed, green grimace.

We pulled off the rest of his fingers, bending and twisting until the molded plastic faded white at the seams and we could snap them off like sausages. Still, he did not move. Outside, the rest of the toy soldiers dropped in lines in the streets and the sidewalk and fell over like rows of dominoes. The sirens from the American ships still wailed overhead.

Constanza began to tell us in a very loud voice about how she would bathe the man in a tub of acid to eat away at his plastic.

Be careful, I told her. He is dumb and silent, but perhaps not deaf or dead, and he might remember us. What if something we do wakes him up? …

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