That summer he sat under a beach umbrella and imagined himself Don Cristóbal de Arenas. Born Christopher Espey in Texas — a long story there — the transition to Don Cristóbal seemed appropriate. Christopher, Cristóbal: cognates, no? De Arenas? He was sitting in the sand, wasn’t he? He felt Don Cristóbal fitted the moment and linked him to the grandees of Spain.
Don Cristobal had four wives — not all at once but over many years, and he loved each of them fiercely.
The first was a dancer — tall, thin, eloquent, and tender to a fault.
She would burst into tears when he said to her, “Isabelle, I love you too much: my heart is swollen, my ribs are cracking, my chest will burst.”
“You are obviously terribly ill,” her friend Lenora would say.
He thought her friend Lenora terribly unimaginative until one day Isabelle went away with her. Don Cristóbal was left alone with his swollen heart and cracked ribs.
Don Cristóbal’s second wife, Elena, was very serious and did not care much that he loved her.
She went to university for many years. They had two children born in the university hospital. Don Cristóbal bought a truck and delivered produce to support them. He bought a second truck, a third; hired a driver, two, three; then a dozen trucks, a dozen drivers. They made lots of money.
The second wife was awarded degrees and prestigious publication and became ever more serious. In time she was offered a professorship at Case Western Reserve University. Don Cristóbal was troubled: he did not want to sell his trucks and go to Cleveland with her, but a young student she was seeing at the time did.
“Why?” Don Cristóbal asked.
“I love her.”
“I love her too, but I’m not following her to Cleveland!”
“You don’t understand her,” the young man said. “You are incapable of loving her.”
“It’s a sad thing to believe you must understand someone to love her,” Don Cristóbal muttered to himself.
The second wife left with the young man. She took their children. Don Cristóbal did not see them often after they left. Though he loved them very much, he did not like traveling to Ohio. For a long time he was very sad; he decided he would never marry again.
Don Cristóbal’s third wife was a massage therapist, Clarissa.
After his second wife took their children and Don Cristóbal was sad for a very long time, his office manager told him he must do something for himself. He bought five more trucks, two of them bobtails, but even five new trucks did not bring him happiness. He painted his whole fleet — thirty-six trucks, six of them bobtails — red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag. Mexicans were happy people. He remembered laughter in the barrios of the Texas town where he grew up and guitars and accordions playing joyfully far into the night. But red, white, and green trucks did not bring Don Cristóbal happiness either.
“You must do the thing for yourself,” the office manager said. “Go see my friend, Clarissa, the masseuse.”
So Don Cristóbal began to go weekly for a massage. Clarissa kneaded his calves, thighs, back, shoulders, neck, and he felt very good. The sadness he thought he’d never lose faded.
After many months one day, after a massage, he said to Clarissa, “I am very happy. I think I love you.”
“It’s not what you think that I care about. It’s what you feel that matters to me.”
“My heart is swollen,” Don Cristóbal said. “My ribs are cracking. My chest will burst.”
“That’s a lot,” Clarissa said.
They were married three years when she left him for a yoga instructor.
Don Cristóbal’s fourth wife was very beautiful and much younger than he — seventeen years. She was an accountant at the firm he retained to do the taxes on his trucks. She invited him to lunch to explain the many things he was doing wrong with his business.
“When you have fully depreciated a truck, you must replace it. It costs you money to drive a truck you have paid for.”
“If the truck is good, it makes no sense to replace it.”
“It makes all sense. What you deduct in depreciation on a new truck almost pays for it. What do you think about that?”
“I think we need to have another lunch,” Don Cristóbal said.
They had many lunches, then dinners. Theresa came to Don Cristóbal’s house to cook fine meals for him. They drank much wine and sometimes she dared not drive home and stayed over.
Don Cristóbal’s son came to visit and Theresa fixed dinner for them, drank much wine with them, stayed over, and was late leaving for work the next morning.
“She wants to marry me,” Don Cristóbal confessed to his son as they talked after she was gone.
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
“Why would a good looking young woman want to marry an old man with thirty-six trucks?”
“It’s probably the six bobtails,” the son said.
So Don Cristóbal de Arenas — aka Christopher Espey — married Theresa Rocca. They had two daughters quickly — These things happen. — and Theresa soon took over the trucking business. She had so many ways of making money Don Cristóbal had never thought of: contracts were renegotiated, warehouses leased, freight hauled and distributed. The business flourished. Don Cristóbal had no need to go to his office again. The daughters grew and thrived.
There was one flaw, however — perhaps even less than a flaw — a pesky quirk Don Cristobal had to deal with. His beautiful wife and daughters loved to take vacations by the sea. Warm beaches, warm water, brutal sunshine, barbaric heat. Hawai’i, Costa Rico, Florida, Mexico. Don Cristobal too loved the sea and beaches, but not heat. Norway, Oregon, Alaska, Nova Scotia had fine beaches too, he often reasoned.
Nevertheless, he went where his wife and daughters wanted and sat under a beach umbrella, the sky blue and hot above him, rechristening himself Don Cristóbal de Arenas in a heat-induced fantasy, going over the many surprising turns his life had taken, watching wife and daughters cavort in the waves, bracing for a shower of water and sand as they came out of the surf toward him.
He moved out of the shade of the umbrella to make room for them. The sun beat down mercilessly on his neck and shoulders. His heart was full, his chest about to burst. He loved them that much.
The sand under his feet was scorching. He shifted his weight from foot to foot to bear it.