Patty SomloThe heat was exactly as I remembered. A damp, smothering embrace, it hit me the moment I stepped out the Managua airport door, even though the hour was late, a few minutes shy of midnight.Nothing looked the same, though. You see, the last time I had been in Nicaragua, a war had been raging.

Nothing looked the same, though. You see, the last time I had been in Nicaragua, a war had been raging.

If I hadn’t received Ali’s letter, it never would have occurred to me to go back. I was thinking this very thought, as I stepped down the sidewalk outside the airport to where the taxis idled, doors flung open, drivers leaning against the sides, smoking. Spanish words batted back and forth in the air around me, like fireflies. I had this odd floating sensation, the way returning to a place when you are a different person can make you feel. Yes, the air seemed the same but it made me yearn for something—the young woman I’d been and a passion I hadn’t felt in decades.

But it was past midnight. I needed to make my way over to a taxi and give the driver the name of the hotel where I had an air-conditioned room waiting, and hoped the bar would still be open. What I needed more than anything was a drink.

*

The letter had arrived on the first day of February, when we were experiencing an unexpected snowstorm. I was surprised to receive it, since no one wrote letters anymore. Plus, I hadn’t heard from anybody in that country for over a decade.

“I’m still here,” my old friend Ali wrote. “Can you believe it? All these years, and I am still here.”

As I read, I brought up a picture of Ali in my mind. He had, I recalled, dark brown skin, the shade of burnt chocolate. Though he had lived for many years in the West, first in England and then in the United States, he spoke with the sing-song rhythm of his native India. Ali could consume enormous quantities of food and never gain an ounce. El Flaco, the locals called him. The skinny one.

It wasn’t hard for me to guess that Ali was falling in love with me. We became friends, instead of lovers, and frequent companions, because Americans stuck together there. Ali and I worked for different non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but often ended up on the same bus heading North.

“I read something about your old friend, Martín,” Ali noted several paragraphs down, and I could now see the purpose of the letter. “He has just been elected the Mayor of Matagalpa. I thought of you when I read that and wondered what you’d been up to all this time.”

The letter went on to explain that Ali was doing fine. He had secured a teaching position at the university in the capital, where he was tenured for life. There had been books published on development and agriculture, topics he thought might interest me still. He was even a grandfather. His wife Alma was well, though constantly fretting about her weight. His three daughters were all married.

But then Ali returned to the point.

“It seems that Martín is divorced. The article said he was divorced with two grown children.”

At the end of the letter, Ali finally revealed the reason for ending the long silence between us.

“There’s going to be a celebration of the anniversary of the Revolution in Matagalpa. Being one of the heroes of the Revolution and a public official, Martín will be presiding. I thought you might want to come.”

*

The fighting had been going on for three years by the time I met Martín. He and his colleagues were expected that evening, around six. But by nine o’clock, they still hadn’t appeared. Our group of NGO workers had arrived at the hotel in the mountains earlier that afternoon, met by the German owner, who in those lush volcanic mountains had attempted to create a little of Bavaria. There were monkeys, I remember, in cages we passed, next to the walkway, as we carried our bags up to the front door.

The dining room was narrow and long. I hadn’t eaten a thing since lunch. Oddly enough, the owner sat us at the far end, where we could look down and see an entirely empty room and an outer enclosed porch filled with tables and chairs, all of them unoccupied. The owner explained that before the war, tourists from the capital had jammed the place, staying for a week or two at a time, hiking the tree-shaded trails and enjoying the cool nights.

To save money, he kept many of the lights turned off. The farthest reaches of the dining room were dark. He brought large stained menus and passed them around to our group—Ali, Marion, the photographer, Juan, Janet and me. As we proceeded to order, he apologised, explaining that due to the war, he was not able to serve any of our choices.

We settled for what he had—some overly salted stew. It was dark brown, with globs of what might have been chicken or monkey meat, for all we knew. As happened so frequently there, where salt and the oiliest of oils and lard were liberally used to flavour poor cuts of meat that had been cooked way too long, I lost my appetite after the first bite.

We were headed north of Matagalpa the following morning to deliver several truckloads of donated supplies. The area was in the heart of the fighting. In fact, we were planning to visit a farm cooperative that had been attacked the week before and several times prior to that. We needed an army escort to go to the area. As the evening wore on and our escorts failed to arrive, I began to worry that we would be stuck in that miserable hotel longer than one night.

I fell asleep soon after locking my door and settling into the soft mattress that sunk in the centre. I woke to someone pounding the wooden door.

“Suzanne,” I heard Ali say in a loud whisper. “They’re here.”

I checked my watch. It was twenty minutes after eleven. Nearly five and a half hours later than they were scheduled to arrive.

Juan ordered beers for us. The owner apologised. The beer cooler had broken down, so he could only serve it to us warm.

Martín and a long-haired woman who resembled Joan Baez when she was young greeted us as we gathered again in the dining room. He was far younger than I had expected, tall and lanky, wearing a tee-shirt and camouflage pants, and a pair of brown, lace-up combat boots. As I walked up, Juan, the only native Spanish-speaker in our group, made introductions all around. When he got to me, he used the more Latino-sounding name I went by in that country. Susana.

Martín was the local army reserve commander for the rural mountainous region surrounding Matagalpa. He also served as an official with the farm workers organisation. I can’t say whether Martín’s eyes lingered on me, as everything that came after altered the facts in my mind. But as we talked about the war and our plans, I recall that I kept finding him staring at me.

He was not handsome in the way that so many men in that country could be. This might have been because he was so young. I guessed him to be a good ten years younger than me, twenty-five at the most. He spoke in rapid-fire Spanish. Even Juan, who was translating, sometimes had trouble keeping up. Martín joked about the war and the poor people we had come to help, not in a heartless way, but with an abundance of affection. After every joke, he laughed, a smile spreading across his narrow face. In the end, that smile and his joking manner were what I found myself incapable of resisting.

*

Lights were bright all around the hotel as the taxi circled the driveway and slowed down in front. From the hilltop where we sat overlooking the city, I could see lights blazing all around. It was hard to believe I was in the same country. What I most remembered about nights back then was that the streets and sidewalks, mostly unpaved dusty paths, were completely dark.

This hotel, though, had been here. The pyramid-shaped structure had survived the earthquake that toppled buildings, leaving only rubble and a few concrete shells in the centre of town. Reporters peered out the top-floor windows and watched as the dictator’s planes bombed the city, in the final days before the ragged young revolutionaries marched into the capital and took power. Through all the years of war, which was mostly waged in the mountains to the north, the hotel housed media from around the world. We Americans, who’d come down to help, met in the hotel dining room for the breakfast buffet. It was the closest thing to a real American breakfast any place in Managua.

After riding the elevator up ten floors, I walked down the silent hall. I could have been anywhere in the world, in any nice hotel. It was so odd that instead of New York, Paris or San Francisco, I was here, a place I’d almost forgotten.

The morning after I met Martín, he arrived at our hotel not long after dawn. Moments before, I had stepped outside, to get a better look at the place where we had come. Monkeys in the cages along the walkway chattered loudly at me when I walked by. I refused to look at them, since I’d seen how cramped those cages were the night before.

Unlike when we’d arrived late the afternoon before, the air was pleasantly cool, bordering on cold. I recalled that the truck from the capital had climbed, so the elevation must be higher here. The pathway circled the building to a patio at the back. Black metal chairs were turned over atop matching tables, as if the place had been regretfully abandoned.

The 360-degree view from the patio included black volcanic mountains with wide sections covered in deep forest green. We’d been told that the area included both forests and coffee plantations. A dirt trail I would have loved to follow started at the patio and led to a canopy of tall trees.

The restaurant owner had told us that the guerrillas who overthrew the dictator six years ago had holed up in these mountains for nearly a decade. Before that, the well-to-do travelled to these mountains for vacations. Not far from where we planned to head on this day, a new war raged, with antigovernment forces hiding in the forested mountains.

I had traveled to this country for my job. But the reasons I’d wanted a job like this, one that put me in danger, were complicated. I didn’t think of that, as I walked a little way out the dirt trail, listening to an array of birds singing and animals I couldn’t have named making all sorts of calls, amazed by the beauty, after the heat, dust and poverty of the capital.

When I woke up in the morning after my late arrival to the hotel, I wasn’t sure where I was at first. At that moment, I forgot the two flights I’d taken and the descent into Managua, glimpsing the extinct volcano Momotombo, which I’d become accustomed to seeing every day in the capital back then. The air conditioning was turned up so high, I had pulled all the covers over me, including an extra blanket I’d found folded in the closet.

“I am in a hotel room,” I whispered. Then a little louder, I said, “I’ve come back to Nicaragua.”

I closed my eyes, happy to bathe in that thought a few more minutes, before embarking on the day. I had made plans to call Ali first thing. At least, I wouldn’t be alone.

Hardly any place I spent time in back then had air conditioning. A fan was a luxury. The staff members of the NGO lived with families. I spent time in three different houses. All considered middle-class, they were primitive, compared to the United States. None had air conditioning. Clothes were hand-scrubbed and hung outside to dry by one of the too-thin women who came each day to cook, clean, wash clothes and iron. The mattresses were lumpy, my body inevitably slumping to the centre and down toward the floor. Food was oily and salty, vegetables rarely to be found.

Not long after the dictator flew out of the country for the last time and the guerrillas marched into the capital, the U.S. government instituted an embargo against the new regime, claiming they were Communists. Even the most basic staples, like toilet paper and soap, were nonexistent in stores, found only on the Black Market or for high prices in the diplomatic store, open only to foreigners. A lack of spare tires made every trip out of the city an adventure. You never knew if a bus or truck would get a flat and the driver wouldn’t have a spare.

The job with the NGO came to me almost magically. One morning, I got a call from Marianne Huff, who told me she had gotten my name from Susan Lee. I had worked for Susan the year before. After describing the job, Marianne said, “You will have to spend several months, maybe longer, living in Nicaragua.”

Living in Nicaragua. Those words repeated in my mind. For weeks, I had been praying to be rescued from my life. A love affair had ended abruptly, just as each one before that seemed to have done.

His name was David and we’d just driven back from the airport, after flying home from Mexico. He had been distant during the trip, drinking way too much. I wondered if the relationship would last, and whether I even wanted it to.

Rain was streaming down the windshield, faster than the wipers could whisk it away. He said, “I think we should take a break from one another.”

Take a break. I’d worried, that was true, but I hadn’t expected this. Take a break. It was as if our being together was exhausting him.

Single again, I couldn’t find anything to give me hope. The darkness refused to lift. That’s when I started to pray to the god I normally didn’t believe in to show me the way to a new life.

Unlike the first evening in that mountain hotel, Martín arrived on time for our early morning departure. He came in an olive green Army jeep, accompanied by two others. We were headed to one of several war zones, along the country’s northern border. A group of Americans taking supplies to the cooperative farms in the North would be easy targets for the forces fighting to overthrow the government.

Martín directed me to take a seat across from him, on the metal bench in the lead jeep. As we made our way up the rough, narrow mountain road, the roar of the engine and the rattle of the metal car made it impossible to hear. I did, though, manage when Martín pointed to a ledge overhanging the road and shouted, “Some soldiers were shot and killed three days ago driving under here.”

The countryside was breathtaking. Bright green coffee plants dotted the black volcanic hills, broken here and there by the red tile-roofed houses of peasant farmers. The passing landscape out the jeep window appeared idyllic.

We spent three days in the area, visiting cooperatives attacked by soldiers known as Contras, distributing tools, seeds and food we’d brought. Martín gathered the co-op residents at every stop and gave a speech, letting them know that the government was working with these Americans to assist them. During his speeches, I got the chance to stare at him. Many times I caught him staring back.

I stayed busy when I returned to the capital and thoughts of Martín faded soon. The heat and humidity were relentless. When the almost daily afternoon downpours arrived, I let myself stand outside, my thin cotton dress getting soaked, one of the few opportunities I had to get cool.

By the time Martín arrived in Managua, I was sharing a house with four American journalists there to cover the war. He looked the same, dressed in a pale blue short-sleeved knit shirt and army camouflage pants. But he seemed younger. And a bit shy.

*

Ali arrived at the hotel just before eleven o’clock. I couldn’t help but smile, ribbing him that he had gone native, being an hour late a sure sign. He was no longer thin, as I’d remembered, and even had a belly.

“You look wonderful,” he said, his eyes traveling from my face, down my body and back up again. “You’ve hardly changed.”

“No,” I said, giving him a loose hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. “You’re not wearing your glasses. Put them on and you’ll see an old lady in front of you.”

“I wear contacts,” he said, smiling, his head tilting to one side.

He hadn’t lost the sing-song accent of his native India, even after all these years in Central America.

The minute we stepped out of the air-conditioned hotel, the damp heat made it hard to breathe.

“My car isn’t far,” Ali said, as if he knew I was suffering.

As soon as we got in, he turned on the air conditioning full blast.

“How did we do it?” I asked.

“Do what?”

“How did we live here then, without cars and air conditioning and decent food?”

He looked at me and smiled, then shook his head.

“We were young. And in love.”

Yes, what Ali said was true. Mostly about love. Both Ali and I were in love with the country, its warm, good-looking people, the colourful streets full of small bright pink and turquoise stucco houses, and the roadside fruit stands piled with ripe mangos, guavas and watermelon. We were also in love with the Revolution, as everyone referred to it, its promise of a better life for the poor, including literacy classes and poetry workshops, free healthcare and enough to eat for everyone.

And, yes, we also fell in love. Ali with me for a time, though I never considered him more than a friend. And after his visit to Managua, I fell in love with Martín.

“They’ve fixed it all up,” Ali said, as we rode past the last of Managua’s buildings into the countryside.

“Fixed what up?”

“The Hotel Selva Negra. You won’t recognise it now.

I looked at Ali and smiled.

“You didn’t tell me we were going there.”

“It’s a surprise. I remembered you saying that you wanted to go back when there wasn’t a war.”

“You remembered that?”

“Yes. After the war ended, I heard that the Selva Negra was sold to a Canadian who fixed it up and tourists started going there from Europe and Canada. I brought my wife up for the weekend when they’d finished remodelling. We went for hikes during the day. The area is still beautiful.”

It was all coming back as we drove. In the mountains, everything looked just as I recalled. The vibrant green of the coffee plants and their contrast with the black volcanic rock. The red tile-roofed houses. I had always wanted to paint this scene. But I never did.

Thankfully, there were no longer caged monkeys bordering the walkway heading into the hotel. The outside looked as I remembered, but the interior was completely changed.

After checking in, Ali and I followed a trail into the forest, catching up on the last many years of our lives. I remembered then how easy it had been to be with him and scolded myself for not having realised that he was the man I should have loved.

Over dinner a few hours later, I fought back the tears when I explained to Ali why I’d never married or had children.

“It just seemed that I fell in love with all the wrong guys. As soon as I got close to a man, he would pick up and go.”

The following morning, I stepped out the front door of the hotel to a mauve-saturated sky. Ali and I had planned to meet in the dining room for breakfast at eight o’clock but I wanted some time alone. I followed the path that wound around the front of the hotel, where there was a glorious view of the surrounding mountains.

Ever since coming back, I had found myself in this in-between place, neither in my present life or in the one I had lived here. As Ali and I talked the previous day, I kept seeing the younger woman I had been, as if she were someone else. How could that woman have been so blind?

I found a bench and sat down. When I tried putting myself in that young woman’s place, I felt as if I were surrounded by high dark walls. The walls, I understood, were there to keep me safe. But they also made it impossible for me to see what was really going on.

Martín began to spend more time in Managua. I didn’t know where he stayed when he was in town and he never invited me over. We usually went out for dinner, often getting a table on the shady patio of Antojitos, not far from the capital’s one good hotel. I always paid, because in dollars, the meals were cheap, and I knew Martín didn’t have much money.

Some nights we rented a room in an inexpensive hospedaje. The walls were thin, the mattress lumpy and too soft. Most nights, though, Martín walked me back to the house where I stayed, about nine o’clock and said goodnight.

Eventually, he told me that he stayed with a woman in Managua. The woman was ill and he took care of her. For some reason, I never questioned this.

The road narrowed as we headed further north.

“It’s not the same,” Ali said, bringing my wandering mind back to the present. “When you were here, there was still hope that things could change, especially for the poor. The war made everything so hard. That was the point, of course. By the time it ended, all anyone wanted was peace and to be able to get basic stuff at the store.”

“It seems like a dream,” I said to Ali, after letting my mind travel back to that time. “You get older and your younger self becomes someone you don’t even recognise. Do you think everybody has this experience?”

Ali laughed and took his right hand off the steering wheel and patted his round belly.

“I think so,” he said.

One evening as we sat on the patio at Antojitos, Martín blurted out, “I have some news.”

“Good news, I hope?”

“Yes. Very good news. The government is sending me to study in Cuba.”

I suddenly felt dizzy, like I might faint. We were just getting to know each other. I had been considering the possibility of making a permanent home in Nicaragua, if the relationship lasted. And now he was going to Cuba?

“For how long?” I finally asked.

“Four years. I will go to the university and get a degree. The government will pay for everything.”

“When will you leave?”

“Any time. They have told me to stay in Managua. I will only get a few days’ notice and then I have to go.”

*

“You know, I forget a lot about the time I spent here, but I remember some things so clearly,” I said, when Ali and I were on the outskirts of Matagalpa.

“Yes. It’s the same with me. One thing I remember is our trip to Granada.”

“Granada,” I repeated, nodding my head.

It was Ali’s attempt to cheer me up, suggesting a trip to the colonial city of Granada. Two weeks had passed since the afternoon I got Martín’s call.

“I’m at the airport,” Martín said, after I picked up the phone.

“The airport?”

“I am on my way to Cuba.”

And that was that. One minute Martín and I were sitting on the patio at Antojitos sipping beer and eating crisp, overcooked fried plantain. The next minute he was gone.

“It will be fun,” Ali said to me a few days after suggesting the trip. “We’ll ride the train to Granada. It’s on the Lake of Nicaragua. We can take a boat ride on the lake and visit some of the islands.”

I agreed to go, though everything seemed dull and hopeless, now that Martín was gone. Sure, I had talked about one day visiting him in Cuba. But in my gut, I knew the relationship with Martín was over.

The train to Granada was jammed. Ali somehow managed to shove his way inside, pulling me along, and miraculously found us seats on a wooden bench facing the open window.

The train departed moments after we sat down. It crawled out of the station, metal groaning and creaking. We passed ramshackle, tin-roofed huts at the edge of town. Not long after, we entered the lush countryside. Bright green banana trees dotted the landscape. Children stood by the side of the tracks waving as we passed. I turned to Ali and said, “Thank you. I feel better already.”

We rented two rooms in an hospedaje a block from Granada’s main square. Unlike the gloomy places Martín and I stayed in in Managua, this little hostel was pleasant. We sat in the shaded inner courtyard surrounded by palms and bougainvillea, rocking on large cane chairs.

The following day, Ali made arrangements with one of the boatmen down by the water. All afternoon, we sailed through the enormous Lake Nicaragua, from island to island. The islands were out of a storybook, dark, dense and tree-covered. We spotted monkeys on branches and red and yellow-feathered birds. The only thing marring the day was that I kept wishing I loved Ali, instead of Martín. But at least the beauty all around me had started to cheer me up.

“I’ll go for a walk and leave you and Martín alone,” Ali said, the morning after we arrived in Matagalpa.

We were sitting on the patio of a café, sipping coffee and freshly-squeezed orange juice. The day was lovely, the sky that deep cobalt only seen in higher elevations. It was cool as well, a relief after the grinding heat in Managua.

“Are you looking forward to seeing him?” Ali asked.

He peered over his glasses at me, then took a sip of coffee and waited for my answer.

I didn’t answer him right off. Was I looking forward to seeing Martín? I had come all this way, taking two flights, then a long drive from the capital. The relationship with Martín had a strange unfinished quality. Sitting in Matagalpa with Ali, I realised that what happened with Martín and me was like watching a movie and falling asleep before the end.

Did it matter after all this time if I knew the ending? Having come this far, seeing the country again, the capital, the hotel where Martín and I met, the countryside and Matagalpa, and spending time with Ali, might this not be enough? What if I now walked away? What if Ali and I got back in his car and made the drive down the mountain to Managua?

*

I missed my period once after Martín left for Cuba but didn’t worry. My menstrual cycle had been erratic the entire time I lived in Nicaragua. I wasn’t sure why but assumed it had to do with my diet. The oppressive heat and over-salted, greasy fare robbed me of my appetite. I kept losing weight, even though I hadn’t been trying. By the time I was getting ready to head back to the United States, I had lost at least fifteen pounds.

When there was no sign of cramps or bleeding in the second month, I got worried. It was true that I’d put on some weight but figured this was just because I had good food to eat again, back home in San Francisco. I made an appointment with my doctor just in case.

There was no question of me keeping the child. I didn’t have it in me to be a single mom. Still, as I waited to have the abortion, two weeks that felt like much more, I cried. Even if I hadn’t gotten the test, I would have known. I felt pregnant. I knew there was a life growing inside me, a girl, I assumed.

I’d been writing to Martín but decided not to tell him. He was Catholic after all, and I feared his response. Plus, what good would it do? He wasn’t going to give up a free college education in Cuba and come live with me in San Francisco. Though I hadn’t seriously considered if I wanted to live in Cuba, I realised the day before the abortion that Martín had never asked.

I was glad the letter didn’t arrive before I’d gotten the abortion. Nearly a month passed while I grieved the child I would never know. I had never wanted children, assuming they would tie me down, making it impossible for me to live the interesting, complicated life I felt I needed. But in the weeks after I said goodbye to that barely-formed child, I grieved. I felt I hadn’t made a choice but that the decision had been made for me. I would soon be too old for children and there was no serious partner in sight. As much as I had imagined a future with Martín when we’d both been in Nicaragua, I felt pretty sure that that future might just be a dream.

It poured the afternoon I received the letter. I didn’t recognise the return address in Managua and wondered who it might be from. For a moment, I thought perhaps it was from Ali. But as soon as I started reading, I knew the letter wasn’t from him.

“Martín and I were married,” the letter began, the penmanship lovely, words flowing straight across the pale blue page, though it was unlined. I got stuck on those first five words, my mouth gone dry. I didn’t want to go on. What was the point? I could picture Martín on the dark patio at Antojitos, checking his watch. I heard him telling me the story of the woman he took care of, ashamed to realise that I never once made the assumption the woman was his wife.

Eventually, I forced myself to read the rest. Then I punished myself, by reading it again three more times.

*

Ali was staring at me, his forehead wrinkled, silently asking me the question a second time. Ever since he first asked, my mind had been back in my bedroom, holding that pale blue paper. For some reason, I couldn’t let it go. Nothing made sense. Maybe I assumed if I held onto that paper, I would eventually understand.

“You know what amazed me when I got that letter from Martín’s wife?” I asked Ali.

“No. What was it?”

“She didn’t sound the least bit angry. She started out by describing the day she and Martín were married. Then she went on to tell me about their two kids. It was like I had just met this woman and we were getting to know each other.”

I shook my head. “She was writing to tell me that the guy I had fallen in love with was married with kids. She let me know that they loved each other. Not once did she say, ‘Leave my husband alone’ or ‘I know you’re sleeping with him.’”

I laughed. “Of course, she didn’t have to say any of that.”

“What did you do after you got the letter?”

“I wrote Martín in Cuba and told him about it.”

“And what was his response?”

“I never heard from him again.”

The breeze lifted the dark pink petals of the bougainvillea that climbed the café wall. It was a beautiful day. The war that had raged in the mountains north of here was over, having ended years ago.

I made a life for myself alone in San Francisco. When I got tired of San Francisco, I moved north to Portland, Oregon. I bought a little Victorian cottage that needed so much work, I figured it would keep me busy forever. I dated some but eventually gave up. By then, I was so used to my life alone, I didn’t think I was capable of letting anyone in.

Every now and then, I counted the years, calculating how old the child would be. I rarely thought about Martín, what he might be doing, if he’d gone back to Nicaragua or stayed in Cuba, or whether he was still married to Elena, his wife.

“If you’re going to meet Martín, you’d better go,” Ali said.

He held up his right wrist and tapped on the face of his watch.

I turned to Ali and said, “Why don’t we go to Pochomíl?”

He didn’t answer right away, as if he were waiting for an explanation.

I had gone to the tiny beach town of Pochomíl with Martín a few weeks before he left for Cuba. We arrived by bus, late in the afternoon. After finding our simple, nearly bare room, we walked along the beach, letting the waves run over our feet. The water, like the air, was warm.

Mosquitoes buzzed our ears later that night when we tried to sleep. A little after midnight, the heat and bugs drove us onto the beach. We stretched out on lounge chairs under the stars. I recall thinking that this easy companionship had to be what love felt like.

Ali and I arrived in Pochomíl a little after one. We walked down the beach, headed for an outdoor café for lunch. The entire ride to Pochomíl, Ali hadn’t said a word about Martín and neither had I.

Suddenly, Ali stopped walking and looked out at the water.

“I was so jealous of Martín,” he said now. “I wanted to be him. Or like him. I thought if I was like him, then you would want me.”

I looked over at Ali, thinking of what I should say. He was a better man than Martín, I knew that. I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t capable of seeing the real Martín but instead fell in love with the man in my fantasies. I hadn’t needed to see him in Matagalpa, because I’d finally realised that the Martín I fell in love with didn’t exist.

Before I had a chance to say any of this, Ali said, “Life is funny, no? I mean, I’m the one who got married, had kids, and I still love my wife. You and Martín both ended up alone.”

I walked a little way into the ocean and Ali followed. I realised that what I loved about the beach was that you could look out and the view seemed to go on forever.

Ali took my hand and we stood there, letting the lukewarm water wash over our feet.

“I’m glad I came,” I said, giving Ali’s hand a squeeze.

“Let’s go eat,” he said, and we turned and waded back up to the beach.

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Patty Somlo
Patty Somlo has received four Pushcart Prize nominations, been nominated for storySouth Million Writers Award and had an essay selected as a Notable Essay of 2013 for Best American Essays 2014. Her second book, The First to Disappear (Spuyten Duyvil), was a Finalist in the Fiction: Short Story category of the 2016 International Book Awards. Her work has appeared in journals, including the Los Angeles Review, the Santa Clara Review, Under the Sun, Guernica, Gravel, Sheepshead Review, and WomenArts Quarterly, and numerous anthologies. She has two forthcoming books: a memoir, Even When Trapped Behind Clouds (WiDo Publishing), and Hairway to Heaven Stories (Cherry Castle Publishing).

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