The chrome fly bridges towering over the fishing boats glimmered in the sun as Lázaro approached the marina on the south side of the highway near Mile Marker 84. Crossing the bridge over Whale Harbor Channel, he watched the boaters navigate through the channel markers. He felt envy. Closing his eyes for a moment, he imagined himself motoring across the open water in search of a catch. A slight smile warmed his face and his shoulders relaxed. But as he left the bridge and drove onto Upper Matecumbe Key, his blissful thoughts of boating quickly turned to something much darker.
His stomach tightened and his pulse quickened as he looked east across the water past the road sign for Matecumbe. He veered off to a small gravel turnaround along the western side of the channel. Resting his forehead on the old steering wheel, he took a deep breath and shut off the ignition. Slowly, he climbed out. The seas were calm today, one to two feet at most, and the gentle southeasterly breeze felt good against the side of his neck. The weather was nothing like it had been on that day. He dropped his head and clenched his teeth, trying to fight off the rising nausea.
He looked up and saw a homeless man rummaging through garbage cans set along the edge of the gravel. The man was dressed in filthy army pants, a stained gray T-shirt, and flip flops that were loosely bound by electrical tape. He was at least ten feet away, but his odor overpowered Lázaro, making him feel as if he might lose the spicy Cuban lunch he had enjoyed so much. Emotionlessly and methodically, the man scavenged through the receptacles. His leathery skin was dark brown and pitted with deep creases, making it difficult for Lázaro to guess his age.
As he watched the homeless man, anger rose up in his chest until he was ashamed. He wanted to hate the man—a man he’d never met—because of the horrendous memories his presence evoked. It was too much for him to control, the ocean, the homeless man, and the Matecumbe sign. The sorrow slammed into him, weakening his legs and filling his mouth with an acrid taste. He leaned against the side of the truck and removed his thick glasses, tracing the long white scar that ran from his ear to his temple with his bony finger. As he set his glasses on the hood and wiped the sweat off his forehead, he felt his throat thicken until a quiet, high-pitched whine unexpectedly escaped. Once the memories took hold, he was powerless. The wrinkles on his face deepened and his lip began to shake as his grimace turned to a tortured expression of grief. Then, helplessly and embarrassingly, he began to sob the tears from a day more than sixty years ago.