Adela M. Brito

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Adela M. Brito, a Cuban-American from Miami, holds a BA in English from Florida International University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Memphis. She is a professional fiction editor and is presently working on her first book about the Cuban exile experience. Her work has been featured in Hieroglyph, MOKO – Caribbean Arts and Letters, and StoryBoard Memphis. She teaches writing at Nashville State Community College.

Miami, FL, August 23 – 24, 1992

         When Pedro got home on Saturday evening, his answering machine was blinking. There were three messages, which had all come in during the time it had taken him to wash and dry his clothes at the laundromat.

         The first message was from his cousin Marisela begging him to come to her parents’ house for the hurricane, so she and her husband wouldn’t have to deal with her mother’s hysterics alone. 

         The second was from his uncle Ramiro also asking him to come over for the hurricane tomorrow and to arrive early to help him take protective measures.

         Pedro already knew who the third one would be from – Tía Marta, in a frenzy, about this gigantic ciclón. Pedro had not heard enough details about this Andrew everyone was speaking of and that was fast approaching. “Ven mañana, you can’t be alone. La familia needs to be together.” Blah, blah, blah.

         He returned the call to his aunt first to assure her that he would be there early to help his uncle. “Go to el seben-eleben and get those gato- ray,” she requested. “You know, what the sporty people drink? There is no more water at el supermercado. We need a lot of liquids. Go now and get as many as you can. And some yunky things, like cookies and potato chips, in case I can’t cook.”

         “Sí, tia, I will go in a little while,” said Pedro.

         “I am going to cook a big meal mañana, so we can eat a lot before we have no electricity.” 

         Were they supposed to feast like the bears and then hibernate during a hurricane when it was brutally hot?

         “You want shrimp enchilada or pork chops?” Before Pedro could answer, his aunt said she’d make both. Pedro stopped listening when she began talking about everyone taking showers at the last minute, filling the tubs with water, and some other emergency actions. Bring all your valuables with you were her final words before she hung up.

         Terrible storms often passed through the Caribbean islands, where people didn’t have plywood or extra food to properly prepare; yet they survived somehow, so Pedro wasn’t all too concerned, since obviously his relatives’ houses here were not dilapidated like so many in Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republican.

         Pedro could place his valuables in one plastic grocery bag and pack most of his clothes in his one large suitcase, so he went ahead and packed quite a bit. He rushed to 7-Eleven, where a TV blared with panic over how Hurricane Andrew was going to be like nothing Florida had seen in decades.

         Pedro bought snacks and Gatorade, as his aunt requested, though he was sure his aunt and uncle’s refrigerator and cabinets had enough meat and other food for several people to last a long while. One good thing would be they could grill outside if the electricity went out.


         Early afternoon on Sunday was hectic as he helped Ramiro secure metal backyard furniture to the fences with electrical wire.

         Tío, won’t they blow away and break windows?” Pedro asked.

         “Pull, pull,” his uncle dared. The metal rocker wouldn’t budge. “This thing will stay tied till Jesucristo comes back.”

         The living room resembled a small jungle with several large potted plants they brought inside. They tied the doors of the aluminum shed closer, as there was a tiny gap where the handle had gone loose. Ramiro had already fastened items, like the lawnmower and boxes of tools and other supplies, to each other inside the shed.

         “Make things heavier by putting them together, then they don’t blow away,” Ramiro explained.

         They parked the cars between the house and the fences and helped the old lady next door secure a few items in her yard before her son came for her. Then Ramiro asked Pedro to help him build a contraption to keep the front entrance – two French doors – secure against the wind. Three pieces of wood bracketed together formed a right angle that would be placed against the door and under the knobs.

         An issue, at least aesthetically, was that one bracket had to be drilled into the floor, and Marta would freak out of she thought the Spanish tiles would be damaged. He carefully explained it would be between tiles and nothing would crack, and that he’d fill the hole immediately after. She reluctantly acquiesced, though she did comment he looked like a loco with his hair standing on end while doing these crazy things.

         “You look like that …. Alberto ...”

         “Yes, Albert Einstein! A genius! And when this house is the only one that doesn’t blow away, you will know you married a genius man. Call me crazy now, but you will see.”

         Lastly, and right before it got dark, they wanted to catch the stray cat Marta had been feeding for more than a year, so they could put her inside; the skinny black cat with yellow-green eyes was aloof and only made an appearance when she was hungry, but whenever Pedro called for her, she’d come.

         “It’s your job to look for her. That gata is in love with you. She only uses us for food.” Before long, Mimi was eating tuna bites out of Pedro’s hand and followed him straight into the laundry room that faced the side of the house.

         One of Marta and Ramiro’s daughters – Marisela – and her husband Jimmy came over; they’d simply locked their small townhouse, which they were presently renting, and brought valuables, like their wedding photo album and jewelry, and some changes of clothes with them. Ramiro’s mother had arrived that morning with her yappy dog, Pupi, who nobody liked. “If this hurricane doesn’t kill us, that annoying dog will,” Pedro and his cousin joked as they checked that all the flashlights worked.

         The other daughter and her husband insisted on staying in the home they had recently purchased; her in-laws, who lived on Miami Beach and had been ordered to evacuate, were going to be there, too. Naturally, Marta was upset that both daughters could not be there with them, but she calmed down eventually.

         They feasted and cleaned up the kitchen and filled up the tubs with water.

         “Let’s join Bryan Norcross, our chief meteorologist, for the latest update on Hurricane Andrew….” announced the newscaster.

         Marisela insisted they keep NBC TV on, because this guy was the best. The light-haired man, about forty-years-old, spoke with authority and wore a button-down shirt; he had removed his tie hours before and appeared to be sweating from the stress. He reminded viewers to keep their battery-operated radios at hand and tuned to their station, so they could remain updated after the power went out, promising he’d be there the whole night.

         The TV announcers reported continuous updates until everything went dark.


         As Marta and Ramiro’s mother, with the yappy dog on her lap, sat on the two rocking chairs in the family room, everyone else looked out the windows. The wind was so strong, it was actually visible.  Not exactly like a tornado funnel, but it was certainly as forceful, appearing to land and rebound upward. Thunder shook the house, and the lightning that followed was purple and lit up the night sky. It was like fireworks with only one color. 

         The three palms in front of the house swayed violently; the branches went from looking like umbrellas to going straight up as if they were being electrocuted, as the trunks bent to the insistent wind’s will.   

         The neighbors across the street had bought extra food and simply planned to lock their doors, according to what the woman told Marta earlier in the day. The back doors of the man’s landscaping business van hadn’t locked properly in years, and the vehicle was exposed to the wind instead of facing the house; soon enough one door flew open furiously, became detached, and blew away.

         Coño, don’t fly this way. You see, you can protect your casa, but you cannot do anything about the idiotas who don’t even protect their own things,” said Ramiro.

         Within moments, trash bags, gardening tools, including a weed whacker and rakes, that were in the van shot out like missiles through the open door, and then the other door blew open. The men watched to see if this door would detach too, and it did. It soared several yards up and went with the wind, followed by two plastic chairs and a small flower pot by the front door that lodged itself into the side hedges of the front yard.

         “I think we’re going to have a problem with our shed,” Pedro noted.

         , I think so, too. Air will get through that mierda door.” They rushed to look out into the backyard. The shed’s thin roof was moving, as if taking deep breaths in and out, before one panel came off and blew away. “Don’t worry, the lawnmower and the other things aren’t going anywhere,” said Ramiro. And he was right; not one more thing flew from that shed.

         The backyard shared a fence with a strip of land where a long row of electricity poles stood; they swayed, and sparks went off at the top. The house lights had been flickering for a while, before completely going out, while the phone lines still worked. As they looked out into the backyard, house by house across the way went dark as theirs had.

         They sat in the family room with only one flashlight on as the wind roared louder and louder, and the thunder made the house shake.

         Coño,” Ramiro cursed. “I don’t think my genius invention is strong enough.” He rushed to the front entrance and could feel a little wind through the French doors. “Pedro. Jimmy, vamos! Let’s push the table to the door. The wind is too strong. I can feel it.”

         The three men quickly pulled out the chairs and dragged the heavy dining room table into place against the triangular contraption securing the doors, then they set the six chairs face down on the table to weigh it down.

         A loud crash was heard from the kitchen, and Pedro rushed toward it with a flashlight.

         The blade of a shovel was halfway in the window, and though the window wasn’t completely shattered, there were large cuts in the glass that might crack open. Pedro and Jimmy covered them with duct tape to prevent the glass from breaking more, but the pane seemed loose, so they taped it along its edges.

         Car alarms blared, and the abuela’s dog barked.

         Papi, I think there’s a leak! I just felt drops, here by the couch,” said Marisela.

         They lifted their flashlights and saw two bubbles the size of quarters.

         “We can’t put a tarp or blanket up there, it won’t hold, or it’ll bring down a piece of the ceiling, but it needs to be a lot of water for that to happen. We have to let it drip,” Ramiro explained. “Let’s move these two big plants under it. The soil will soak up the water. We can place towels around the area.”

         “I think we will be safest in the bathrooms, the tile walls will protect us, and small windows…” said Jimmy.

         Vamos, familia! Tres y tres.” Ramiro led Marta and his mother, yappy dog in her arms, to one bathroom and Pedro, Marisela, and Jimmy headed to the other, only separated by the master bedroom.

         Several loud screeches stopped Pedro in his tracks. It sounded like a baby in agonizing pain. “La gata!” Pedro realized that Mimi the cat was crying. “I need to get her.”

         “Yeah, yeah,” said Marisela.

         He’d have to pass through the kitchen, which now felt like a wind tunnel.

         “Mimi, Mimi!” Pedro called.

         With one hand, he opened the laundry room’s door and aimed the flashlight in the direction of the meows with the other. The cat was on top of the shelf that held laundry detergents and cleaning supplies. Pedro descended the two steps and immediately stepped into a small stream of water coming in from the door that led outside.

         He grabbed a bunch of cleaning rags and placed them at the threshold. He reached up for the cat, who was shaking and wet. He placed the flashlight on the washing machine to grab her with both hands. He placed her securely under his arm and took back the flashlight.

         Pedro joined his cousins in the hall bathroom. The cat, wrapped in a towel, remained on his lap for a few minutes as he sat on the tile floor against the door, then she settled on the bath mat between the three of them. It was weirdly quiet in the bathroom, because the only window was small and shaded by tree branches, Pedro assumed.

         For a little while, the three young people tried making jokes to pass the time, then decided to turn off the flashlight to preserve its battery. Eventually, the wind could be heard again, then it stopped. 

         In that silence, Pedro began hearing voices – his friends’ voices, Lazaro’s voice, the sound of the shots that killed Lazaro, the shouts of the Coast Guard. He was reminded of the blackness of the sea at night, where a sound could be just about anything: a shark, another raft, a drowned body floating by. With his elbows on his knees, he placed his hands over his ears to block the noises. This only made his head spin, as if he was actually on a rough sea.

         “Pedro, que pasa?” Marisela asked.

         He didn’t respond.

         She moved closer and tapped one of his arms.

         “Are you feeling sick?” she asked.

         “No, no, not sick” Pedro finally said. “I don’t know. I’m hearing things… the waves… my friends… and seeing the bad things I saw…I feel like I am on the…”

         “Oh shit, the raft.” Jimmy finished. 

         Marisela softly patted Pedro’s shoulder as he began to shake. “Of course, this would bring back memories. I’m sorry, primo. But you survived, and we are going to be fine now,” Marisela said.

         The cat squeezed itself between them and rubbed her head against Pedro’s leg.

         “We’re safe here. Listen, no wind, maybe it’s over,” Jimmy added.

         “I know, I know,” Pedro said.

          “You know what the best thing is?” Marisela tried to lighten the mood.

         Que?” Pedro asked.

         “We are here with the cat and not the obnoxious dog!”

         The three of them laughed. Pedro caressed the cat, and she flipped over so he could scratch her belly.

         “I think Mimi should live with you,” Marisela suggested. “She doesn’t like the rest of us, and it’s clear you’re good for each other.”

         , that would be nice…for both of us.” Pedro agreed.

         Marisela turned on the portable radio, and Bryan Norcross’ steadying voice was still there, keeping everyone calm through the darkness.


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