Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Thousand Word Thursday Story from Lee Benoit

Lee Benoit sent an excerpt from Azul: Bailame and it really fit this picture!

Though its chief custom came from overseas, the Café Montuño was no tourist trap. The musicians were the real thing, old school guys from Oriente province and young Nueva Trova pioneers. Lola recalled Valdez' words about dancing to a Cuban tune, and let his hips start to sway like breeze-kissed palms in response to the trumpet's blatted call to move, man, move.

Valdez at the piano wore the same clothes he'd had on at the rehearsal the day before, and his companions were no better attired. No mambo shirts, not even matching jackets and ties, but the motley group hung together in a way Lola had to stop and think about. Old, young, handsome, homely, and playing their hearts out for a scattering listeners, they were essentially, inescapably Cuban, right down to their dusty shoes.

Iddi sashayed to the "bar" which was little more than a big aluminum cooler on a wheeled stand, and chatted up the bartender while he waited for their drinks. There were empty tables, but Lola didn't want to sit just yet. He loved the music of the ballet, and the modern classical compositions that accompanied the more avant garde choreography his company was known for. He enjoyed the overproduced salsa and cumbia the DJs used to spin in the clubs before most of them closed. But this raw, street-level music, only a beat or two away from Santería rites and sugar-cane slaves? These earnest comments on the beauty of a woman or the plunging faces of the Sierra Maestra? Listening to it, letting it move his body in a subtle dance, felt to Lola like coming home.

"But I've been here all along," he murmured to himself.

Iddi pressed a drink into his hand. "They're making mojitos tonight!" he exclaimed delightedly. Even after several years in Cuba, Iddi was still infatuated with the cocktail. Lola took a sip -- it was the real thing, made with fresh mint and cane juice.

The band took a break and circulated a bit or sat smoking at a small table beside the low stage area. Iddi and Lola said hello and then found a table for themselves. While Iddi tried to remember the names of particular songs he wanted to request, Lola watched the crowd grow from sparse to respectable.

"What's that song about the two mountains?" Iddi asked.

Lola turned to answer when Iddi interrupted with a gasp. "There she is!"


"The girl, the one from outside your snooty doctor's office."

"He's not snooty," Lola said. How ridiculous to defend the man who clearly wanted nothing to do with Lola besides heal his shoulder. But he kept talking. "He's shy, and new to the job, that's all." His words trailed off when he saw Iddi's girl.

"I'm going to ask her to dance," Iddi said and sailed away. The band wasn't even reassembled yet, but that wouldn't matter to Iddi.

Lola smiled as he watched his friend frantically signal Valdez, who smirked and nudged one of the guitarists, who laughed out loud as he reached for his instrument. Who but Iddi could call a bunch of jaded old troubadours back early from a break with nothing more than calf-eyes? Lola settled back in his seat to watch.

The guys struck up the intro to "Quiero Estar Cerca de Tí" just as Iddi reached the girl, who was every bit as lovely a slip of a thing as a boy could desire. Sipping his mojito, Lola was forced to admit to himself that he felt a tug of desire. He shook his head and drank deeper. Iddi's feelings were infecting him, that was all. The girl inclined her head as she extended her slim hand to Lola's friend.

A few other patrons joined Iddi and his girl on the floor, but by unspoken agreement left the pair more than their fair share of the center. Valdez and the guitarist nodded together as one of the singers joined them. Slowly, the full complement of players finished their drinks and their smokes and waded into the sweet chorus. Their raspy voices lent the sentimental lyrics a bittersweet tinge, and Lola found himself singing along under his breath, alone at his table. "Yo no puedo estar lejos de tí, tus besos, tus carisias..."

Iddi danced well, without showing off, solicitous of his companion. The girl danced much more hesitantly, holding her shoulders very square and her head very straight, as if she were unaccustomed to dancing at all. It was too bad if that were true, for she was slim as a willow and graceful as one, too, in her simple Mexican blouse and trim dark skirt. More than once, Lola saw his friend move to say "it's okay, relax." She wasn't really Iddi's type, Lola thought, but then until very recently he'd had sworn Iddi's type was boys, so what did he know? As long as his friend was happy.

© Lee Benoit

Learn "Adina's" true identity and find out if Lola finds true love in post-Soviet Cuba in Azul: Bailame, available now from Torquere Press and enjoy other of Lee's multicultural stories -- I did!
And keep watch for Lee's new novel, Servant of the Seasons, coming this July 13 from Torquere.

Mèco is an architect driven from his safe, ordered Dome into the wilderness of a post-apocalyptic landscape and travels until he finds an abandoned riverside farm and contracts with a shifty neighbor to deliver a beast of burden to help him make a go of farming. When he finds himself instead in possession of a pair of slaves, he frees them immediately, and learns that they are Novigi, a people Mèco's never heard of. Their origins aren’t the only strange thing about them, and as Lys and Tywyll heal from the physical and emotional wounds of slavery, they begin to change with the seasons. Astonishingly, the land and its inhabitants begin to revive under their careful stewardship, its mundane and arcane aspects equally amazing to Mèco.

Mèco finds himself more and more drawn to the pair, and his sexual self, long suppressed, begins to assert itself for the first time. The arrival of a third Novigi, Cynar, raises for Mèco the possibility of true love in addition to a healthy sexuality. As the four men continue to work their land and become a family, they must face down an enemy from Mèco's old world, which they do with help from some very unlikely sources. The story ends with happiness as a work in progress, rather than “happily ever after.”

Keep up with Lee's news on her blog.


  1. Gorgeous -- the pic and the prose!
    Lee is so evocative.

  2. Aw, thanks, Syd! I loved writing about Lola and his friends in their changing Cuba. :)
    L xo

  3. Thanks so much, Eden! I loved my time in Cuba (1994 and 1995) and wanted to share a bit of its gritty magic with others. :)

    L xo

  4. I enjoyed the whole story and was really glad Lee matched it to the pic. Liked that scene a lot. ;D

  5. Thanks, Crys! It's seriously cool of you to run these prompts, and you have a great eye for images!

    L xo

  6. Wonderful! But I'm not surprised. :)

    How lucky you were, Lee, to have spent time in Cuba, and how beautifully you do it justice. I'm thoroughly intrigued now.


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