Authors: Anthony Hyde
A PRIVATE HOUSE
ANTHONY HYDE was born in Ottawa, where he still lives, though he frequently travels. After a brief stint as a political activist, he became a professional writer. He has written for the CBC and the NFB, and his earlier novels, including
The Red Fox
, have been translated into many languages and published around the world.
Also by Anthony Hyde
The Red Fox
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published 2007
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Copyright Â© Tusitala Inc., 2007
“Money (That's What I Want)”: Words and music by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford Â© 1959 (renewed 1987)
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Publisher's note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Hyde, Anthony, 1946â
A private house / Anthony Hyde.
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Condemn me if you will. It does not matter. History will absolve me.
IDEL CASTRO, SANTIAGO, CUBA
Money won't get everything it's true
What it won't get I can't use
Now give me money
That's what I want
That's what I want, yeah
That's what I want, wah
THAT'S WHAT I WANT
BY JANIE BRADFORD / BERRY GORDY
Sacha, special thanks for all your generous helpâtruly,
sine qua non
); also thanks to Marianne, for her lovely spirit, all the way, and for helping me find SantÃsima Trinidad; to Judy and John for so wonderfully rallying round about all things Spanish; to Trapper, for a crucial source; to Lukas for an important hint; to Incubay (the original) for guiding me through BelÃ©n; and to a wonderful couple in Havana, whom it's perhaps best I not name, who showed me their wonderful cityâalways, hugs and kisses from Ottawa.
A PRIVATE HOUSE
AY 2, 2005
A crumbling cement wall protected the house from the street and Lorraine, despite being so tall, had to stand on tiptoe to look over it. Leaning forward, she felt the hot Havana sun on the back of her neck, and then the tangle of shrubs and vines in the overgrown garden pressed damp, heavy air up at her face. And it wasn't ten, she thought. The tattered leaf of a banana plant sagged across her vision; she pushed it aside. Now she could see that the stone facade of the house was carved with foliage as intricate as the growth she was looking through, a rococo bouquet whose stems curved gracefully down to the doorway. The door, within a cavity of shadow, seemed to be open. On the left side of the frame, two wires wrapped in black tape stuck crookedly through a hole in the stone, and below this a pale spot showed where a house number might once have been fixed, but there
was nothing now. She let go of the leaf and settled back on her heels. Was it the right house or wasn't it?
A cock crowed lustily, a perfect cock-a-doodle-doo. A hen, somewhere behind the wall, clucked a reply.
Settling her floppy straw hat on her head, Lorraine walked slowly along the wall till she reached the entranceway, formed by two pillars leaning at crazy angles. Pale grass sprouted from the top of one of them; a stone urn, broken in two pieces, lay just at the bottom, overgrown with moss. The other supported a sagging iron gate, stuck half open, calcified by rust and paint into the stone of the walk. The walk was cracked and broken, petering out in patches of bare earth. A white hen pecked at one of these, then tottered toward the open door. And the door, she saw, was openâhalf open, at any rateâthough somehow not in invitation. There was no one to be seen. Lorraine stood a moment . . . then turned away and kept on down the street.
All the houses in Vedado were the same: ruins hidden in the jungle of their gardens whose present occupants, squatters, probably couldn't even remember the era their dwellings represented. The next along was derelict, too far gone even for Havana; a tree trunk propped up a teetering balcony, half of whose floor had broken away, and cardboard was nailed over the windows. Its neighbour seemed to be occupied; two white sheets and a collection of faded T-shirts were draped over the railing of the porch. But the garden was so thick with bananas and palms that she couldn't see the door. Across the street it was just the same. More washingâmore sheets. In the shade of a porch, a young man painted the sidecar of his motorcycle, the bright green paint shining wetly: hens squawked on a roof. Lorraine kept on. But then she came to a wooden gate, with a number crudely painted in black: 146. She hesitated; stopped; and then took a folded paper from her trouser pocket. It was written in Murray Stevenson's square hand and
still bore the impression of the paper clip that had attached it to his will. She'd long since learned the address by heart, but she looked around, as if there might be some mistake. No. She'd found the right street, Calle Kâand if this was 146, the house with the pillars had to be right. She flushed inwardly. And now she admitted to herself that she'd been hoping for any excuse not to go on. How like you, she thought. But she knew this judgment was harsh. She didn't lack courage, only needed a moment to summon it up. It was an aspect of her shyness; once over her initial awkwardness, she could rush on happily toward intimacy.
Decisively, she turned and walked back down the street. At the pillars, she stepped around the gate and followed the hen toward the door: it was still half open. Two steps led inside; standing on the first, she leaned forward, but all she could see was darkness. She took a breath . . . it had been her firm intention to call out
! but what emerged was a choked “Hello? Hello?” She cleared her throat. “Hello! Hello! Is anyone there?”
Then everything happened at once.
A man's voice called from above her, “
Yes! Yes?” And then, from behind her, she was struck by a shrill blast of Spanish, harsh and incomprehensible. She twisted her head: a fat, light-skinned Cuban lady in flip-flops and hair done up in big green rollers was lumbering up the walk. At the same moment a black woman charged out of the house to meet her, shouting and waving her arms. Lorraine stepped off the walk, getting out of her way. The hen, clucking frantically, flapped its wings and trotted off.
Lorraine looked up nervously. The naked torso of a man was bent down toward her; he was leaning on the balustrade of the first-floor terrace. He was small, but fiercely muscled, and tanned a golden brown. His head was shaved: it was as golden as the rest of him. And
a gold chain swung from his neck in a lazy arc. “Hello,” Lorraine called againâbut the two women began shouting even more loudly as a younger black girl appeared, peering around the edge of the door, her eyes wide. Lorraine summoned herself and called up, “I am looking for a man named Almado Valdes.”
The bare-chested man on the balcony straightened upâthe chain jerked up, like a fishing lineâbut at once he bent down again, the chain swinging out . . . and Lorraine noticed that his feet were bare. “Almado?” he said.
“That's right. Does he live here?”
“No, he doesn't live here! Almado!” The man bobbed up and then down once again, and he hissed, “Let me tell you, lady, Almado is a whore.”
“It's important that I see him.”
“You know what is a whore? You knowâ?”
But then the two women began screaming so loudly that Lorraine turned around, and the man, too, was distracted: he began shouting down at the women in Spanish, waving his arms at them. The girl in the doorway finally stepped into the light. She was beautiful. She was very black, her blackness enhanced by the pure, crisp whiteness of the brassiere she wore beneath her light periwinkle top: and when she stepped closer to Lorraine she smelled wonderfully clean and fresh. But now the fat woman saw her, and at once tried to step around the other woman, who blocked her way. But at least they were occupied and Lorraine took her chance and looked up again. “Please, what is your name?”
The man stopped shouting at the women and glanced down at her. “My name? My name is Enriqueâ” But then he turned away, shouting again.
“I've come a long way, Enrique. I must find Almado Valdes.”
At once his attention snapped back to her. His lips were full, his mouth beautifully chiselled; his black eyes glittered. He was hard, like a tiny boxer, a bantamweightâthe word came into her mind because the rooster crowed just then. He bent even closer, and she was afraid that he might actually somersault over the railing. “Almado is a whore. I told youâ” He broke off to spit something in Spanish toward the women, then came back to her, still in Spanish, spewing a torrent of words so fierce that Lorraine instinctively pulled back. She felt suddenly helpless. She knew she must look ridiculous, in her Anne-of-Green-Gables hat, a
for heaven's sake, trying to talk English while these dark people shouted Spanish all around her. The black girl leaned closer and said quietly, “They are gays. Enrique is telling you that Almado isn't living here and that he has no idea of where he is and that if he ever sees him again he will kill him and that he is a whore, as he said.”