A short story by Daniel A. Olivas
Early one Tuesday morning, Isabel Camacho signed for a package and observed that the return address belonged to her ex-lover, Humberto Reyes. She assumed Humberto had sent yet another exotic trinket he had purchased on one of his many excursions to foreign lands. For despite ending their three-decade romance two years ago, Humberto still adored Isabel and could not help remembering her when he wandered through distant mercados, bazzars and souks. Isabel found this particular habit of Humberto’s somewhat annoying though a tad flattering. Isabel placed the package on her fireplace mantel and proceeded to forget about it for a full day.
The next morning, as she drank her first of what would eventually be three cups of very strong, black Cuban coffee (which she preferred despite being Mexican), Isabel saw the package sitting quietly across the room. She sighed, wondered what Humberto found for her this time, and brought the package to the dining room table so that she could continue drinking her coffee.
After she carefully removed the brown paper of the type that Humberto always used to wrap gift boxes, Isabel lifted the note and read. Such notes usually told the story of how Humberto stumbled upon the contents of the box related in such a way that conveyed both pure, unadorned luck combined with incredible cunning and genius. But not this time. Isabel read the note. And she read it again. She blinked, coughed, looked at the package and then back to the note which she read a third time. In an elegant hand, Humberto had written:
Mi amor, I hope this finds you well. I returned from New Zealand three days ago but by the time you receive this, I will be in transit to a place I would rather not disclose, at least not at this time. While I am away (which should be no longer than a week), I ask you to protect what I have placed into this box. What is it? Well, to be blunt (something I attempt to avoid in my daily interactions, as you know), I have put my soul into this box for safekeeping. Why? I am afraid that I will lose it during my travels. I will explain more fully when (and if) I return. Con abrazos, Humberto.
Isabel opened the box and sure enough, there was her ex-lover’s soul resting in a bed of purple velvet. She had expected something a bit larger, perhaps more byzantine in appearance. But there it sat, a soul nonetheless. Isabel closed the box and shook her head. “Damn him,” she whispered. “Damn him.”
Seven days later, Humberto appeared on Isabel’s doorstep. To her eye, he looked ten, maybe fifteen years younger. Humberto had lost weight but not in a sickly manner, but in a way that made him look vigorous, youthful. Isabel let him in and poured two small glasses of sweet wine. After a bit of small talk and cheerful laughter, Humberto suddenly grew serious. He sat up in his chair, and then leaned toward Isabel.
“May I have my soul back?”
Isabel took a sip of wine and looked away.
“What do you mean?” she asked, keeping her eyes trained on the crackling flames in the fireplace.
Humberto let out a sound that was not quite human, a cross between a hum and a scream. He collected himself and asked again: “May I have my soul back?”
Isabel did not answer and kept her eyes on the blazing logs.
Finally, after what seemed years to Humberto, Isabel answered: “Isn’t the fire lovely? It has never looked more beautiful.”
[“The Lost Soul of Humberto Reyes” first appeared in Pilgrimage (2013).]