Short Story Die Cuban
Listo had suspected the curse since the hospital, but after his first full moon it was a fact.
“You sure about this, carnal?”
The Cuban links sat on the wooden counter. Three silver snakes. One was Listo’s, one was his old man’s, and the other one was his brother’s. The blood hadn’t fully washed off them yet, but Listo had decided it didn’t make much of a difference. Not if they were going to be melted down anyway.
“How much could I get out of these?”
“Let me think,” Aníbal said. He studied the chains in his hands. The place was run-down and hot as hell. The furnace behind him was blazing. Cumbia music, chopped and screwed, bumped out of heavy amps sitting on the ground, too heavy to mount. The vibrations tickled Listo’s feet. In the corner, a skater kid rolled up a spliff, balancing the shag on his knee. Listo looked back to Aníbal. He’d finished doing the math: “I don’t know, man, like two bullets tops.”
“Hell,” Listo said. He wiped the sweat from his forehead. “And they’ll fit in this?” He placed his brother’s empty revolver on the counter. Aníbal studied that next.
“This a .38? Yeah, that’s easy enough.”
“Okay,” Listo said, “then let’s do it.” He took out roughly eight hundred dollars in crumpled bills and put it on the counter next to the gun and the chains.
“You sure? If this don’t work then you’re out of your links for nothing.”
“If this doesn’t work, I have bigger problems to worry about.”
The next full moon was in three weeks.
Getting rid of his links was an easy choice because he couldn’t wear them anymore. Literally. Once the curse metastasized, silver became a problem. The links his father had gotten him and his brother, the Cuban links from a Cuban man given to his Cuban sons, had begun to burn Listo’s wrist. He thought he could get used to it, but he couldn’t. The light irritation turned into a stinging and then, suddenly, a searing burn that had him fumbling for the clasp. Turning them into bullets made sense. It seemed poetic.
After his first full moon the burning silver had made a lot more sense. He could no longer deny it after the four teenagers and the bloodbath outside of the state fair, when, stark naked, he dashed a dying girl’s head along the cement lest she heal over like him. He had suspected it since the hospital, sure, but now it was a fact. In the night, when he couldn’t sleep and would instead pace around his New Jersey flat wondering about how he’d track down the man who bit him, he’d comfort himself by imagining his dad refusing to give up the silver. How his old man would wear the links and, screw it, pile on more just to show he wasn’t bothered. He imagined wisps of smoke coming from his dad’s skin and him acting like it was all a joke, sniffing around to see what was burning. Listo chuckled to himself about it. These Latinos. To be raised by one. To be one.
A Jamaican lady named Lynne was the one who told him the advice that set him on his journey. She was a keeper of this type of lore, and Listo’s homie—through another homie—had made the connection. He traveled to somewhere deep along Eastern Parkway before he found her. The place was littered with flags and garbage left over from the Caribbean Pride parade. Curried beef and jerk chicken hung in the air as men scrubbed at their grills. She sat in a fold-out chair with a bottle of Prestige. She had only agreed to meet him in broad daylight.
“He’s a full-moon guy,” his homie had said. “You’re thinking of the ones with fangs.”
“They all have fangs,” Lynne said, without blinking.
Listo moved his tongue over his teeth. They were normal at the moment, but he recalled when the young kid’s hair was tangled in them like fishing line. He decided not to argue.
“Get the guy that got you,” she said in a drawn-out patois. “Shoot him with a silver bullet. It’ll clean your blood.”
“Is that it?”
“You give the curse to anybody?”
Listo thought of the teenagers. “Almost, but no.”
“Then they’re dead for real, huh?”
Listo balked. She had read the implication correctly, but it still stung to hear it out loud. “Yeah, that’s right.”
“It goes like that,” she said. “Full or not, I don’t want you around when the moon comes up. So get moving.”
He recalled when the young kid’s hair was tangled in his teeth like fishing line.
From there he went to Aníbal and his furnace and all the while he was looking for names. All he had to go on was that the assailant was a white guy. The memory was always with him: hazy and horrified, Listo had woken up among branches and soil, holding his chest together, feeling the blood soak into his waistband, and seeing a naked white man curled up a few yards away. His father’s limbs were separated from his torso. His brother’s entrails were hanging from a tree branch, dangling like party streamers. And his mother was on her back, cavernous in how she was ripped open, twitching still as synapses and neurons fired blankly. The tent was ripped. The fire was demolished. The mini coupe that had laboriously and hilariously huffed and puffed along the trail to the campsite was torn and smashed. And Listo held his guts in and felt the light feathering of the curse bloom in his blood. And he saw what he saw. That it was a white guy.
He was found by hikers and woke up, miraculously healed, in a rural hospital. He was discharged with three dead family members and a medical bill in the five figures. When he was wheeled out of the hospital, he was overwhelmed with the smell of things. Everything had a scent that begged for his attention. The peeling birch, the motor oil on the gravel lot, the dusty heat from the power lines, even the nurse’s ashy skin as she wheeled him down a concrete ramp around the corner of the hospital and into the rear entrance of the morgue. There he identified his family. More smells. Things he should never have to smell.
His mother was ripped open underneath the thin paper sheet. He could smell her blood, her meat, her fecal matter, and even the undigested meal of fried plátanos she’d eaten out of a Tupperware in the car. His dad smelled like tobacco and hand lotion. His brother smelled like Hennessy. Listo leaned in and tears streamed down his cheek. The nurse grew stiff in the far corner of the room and looked down at her feet. Her no-slip shoes smelled like rubber and ammonia. Listo leaned in closer and discovered new scents entirely. Sea salt, tequila, beaches, sunscreen. Florida. Somehow his brain landed on that and refused to budge. Florida. Florida. The smell is Florida. What does Florida even smell like? This, pendejo, this is what Florida smells like; breathe it in.
The nurse called him a cab back to his house and the whole time he kept those images in his head. A white man curled up on the forest floor. Florida. A white man from Florida. Okay. Got it. Now what? He didn’t know what these ideas meant, but they refused to be ignored. They blinked and flashed and grew definition when he closed his eyes. They were intrusive and stuck like rusty nails out of every idea, snagging his skin, pulling at the thread of his being, threatening to unravel. Find this guy. Why? What happened to me? He’s like me. Find him. Why? He’s like me. I’m like him. Get him. Why? Why? Why?
The clues he had weren’t enough, and the days were slipping by until the next full moon and Listo was growing desperate. Aníbal gave him the bullets, which he kept on the kitchen table, and Lynne had told him what to do. But how? The scent of the Florida man wasn’t enough to find him. It wasn’t enough to do anything other than make him mad and hungry. One afternoon had him back at the scene of the mauling, following the trail like a sniffer hound, working through the trees and moss, turning over stones and rubbing the soil to his mouth. The scent was starting to fade and he needed more help.
Reluctantly, cautiously, he reached out to his ex. Her name was Cali and she was a Colombian girl, a bruja with deep-set heroin eyes and a raspy voice. She was the first girl he dated after swearing off white girls. He had grown tired of white witches and what they fought for. Brujas proper were so much more passionate and personal. In his experience, the white ones were nice enough but were always banding together, doing a cause, putting together their energy for a movement. A real bruja worked alone. A real bruja was driven out of spite and love and sex. After they broke up, a real bruja, like Cali, had him sneaking through the back window and grabbing his hoodie from a pile of clothes lest she pull a hair and cast a spell.
Credit where it’s due, though—Cali was the only one whose scrying was worth a damn. When he texted her about it—a simple crystal ball emoji—he was prepared to owe her big. The last time she helped him, he had to plant a witch’s bottle in another girl’s backyard. He had stalked through the night holding a mason jar full of Cali’s blood, shit, and piss. Contact lenses too. A used tampon for good measure. This time, for better or worse, Cali felt bad for him. She did it for free.
The scent was starting to fade and he needed more help.
On her velour tablecloth, the mirror sat on little pegs. She had shifted from the crystal ball to the mirror a few years back. The mirror was easier to handle and the flat surface was easier to read. Alternatively, when you weren’t reading it you could cut lines on it or, hell, even use it as a regular mirror. The drawback was that it wasn’t as portable and wasn’t as traditional . There’s gonna be old heads for everything.
She sat on a chair and held Listo’s bare stomach with her two skinny hands. He pointed to where he’d been cut open and she took out a small knife and cut him again, but only a little bit. A small line of blood formed and she collected it with her finger and then rubbed the blood in a square along the mirror’s perimeter.
“If what the lady said is true, then you have his blood in you,” Cali sang.
“So then what?”
“We can find him easy peasy.”
She said a few words and dimmed the lights and the image on the mirror shimmied and cleared and clouds came in and out. Cali muttered to herself and Listo kept one hand on the table and the other on his stomach. The image of a white man came into view. He was smoking on a small veranda. Cigarette butts and empty Coronas surrounded his lawn chair. He looked sunburned to hell and he was talking aggressively to someone out of frame.
“His name is Peter. He’s in South Florida,” Cali said. “Really South Florida. He’s in the Keys.”
“Gimme an address.”
“He looks poor.”
“I’m just saying.
“I can see all the guys. I can see the guy that bit him too. And the guy before. The lady before him. The other guy after. I have them all right here.” She worked her fingers along the mirror. Her long coke nail tapped lightly with each sweep of her palm.
“I want to see my real bloodline,” Listo said. “I wanna see my tío and my abuela on my dad’s side. I wanna see who I have left. Show me them.”
Cali frowned and looked up at Listo. “The curse is too strong. It’s his blood until you cleanse it.”
“Then I guess that’s that.”
Driving down to Florida he got to thinking about if he could pull this off. If he couldn’t, and the next moon came, he would have another month to try again. But it was during that full moon he didn’t want to be held accountable. He couldn’t bear the humiliation of putting handcuffs on himself—not the way he looked, not in this country—especially if it was because of someone else’s negligence. He wondered about how he wanted to die. It wasn’t just a question about dying beast or dying man. He had to die on his terms. He had to die Cuban.
He had set the parameters early on, maybe even as a kid, idealizing growing old and withered and playing dominoes until his time came. But that was a fantasy, wasn’t it? What about everyone else? His family? His brother’s friends from the block that got jumped? His relatives who never made it over to the States? How did they die, if not Cuban? The situation was complex. Muddled. No matter how he died, though, it couldn’t be with his blood like this. But even still, Listo had a sense of honor. He knew that killing himself was the right thing to do over risking another full moon and hurting innocent people. Lynne’s question still haunted him: “Then they’re dead for real, huh?”
Yeah, Lynne. They’re dead for real.
He pulled into Peter’s driveway and cut the engine sometime in the morning after Peter’s kids went to school and his wife went to work. It was important for Peter to be alone, Listo decided, so he could ask him some questions, privately, before he shot him in the head. He looked at the revolver in the passenger seat and at the two silver bullets next to it. Yeah. Alone was best.
His wrist was sore from the drive. It was a hell of a trek from New Jersey, and it was made even more unpleasant driving in his late father’s mini coupe, the cloth top ripped to shreds and the stick shift all too stiff and unwieldy. He massaged his wrist and rotated his hands in and out. He was still getting used to the nakedness of them. The wound of robbery reopened, the injustice of this curse never-ending. Peter took his family, his blood, and his links too?
He had to die on his terms. He had to die Cuban.
Get the guy that got you and break the curse. At least that’s what he’d been told. There had been some back-and-forth about whether or not Listo could kill Peter as a human, or if he had to wait for Peter to be a wolf, but at that time Listo would also be a wolf and all the planning would amount to beans. This was better. This was the plan. He loaded the revolver, tucked it into his jeans, and stepped out into the Florida heat.
It was ninety-eight degrees out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The forecast said that by the end of the week a hurricane would be touching down, but Listo intended to be far away by then. According to the app on his phone, he had seven days before the next full moon.
Peter’s house was a beach shack behind on some bills. Chickens pecked across a lawn covered in darts and kid toys. A lawn chair sat on the porch surrounded by a grave of empties and cigarette butts. The screen door opened silently and Listo turned the knob of the front door. Unlocked. Inside, the air-conditioning hummed loudly and the sweat on Listo’s forehead grew cold. He let the door shut softly behind him. The TV played the morning news, more about the hurricane and the rising levels and the new variant and the this and the that. An ironing board was horizontal before it. The wall had photos of families and the countertops and shelves had a clutter of South Florida bric-a-brac that left kitschy and somehow went earnestly into items of culture. A frog with a sombrero and a bottle of tequila. A camel, for some reason, wearing shades and swim trunks. Random garbage that conveyed it’s hot outside and I’m drunk .
Listo moved along the carpet and listened closely. The small kitchen was on the other side of the wall. He listened to Peter open the fridge. Listened to him putz around, making coffee or breakfast or whatever the hell it was. Listo pulled the revolver out of his waistband and held it to his chest.
It sounded like a chair was pulled and someone settled their weight. It was now or never. Listo turned the corner and raised the gun, and Peter leapt out of his skin. He threw his hands up and the coffee mug shattered on the stained tile. He froze and Listo got a good look at him.
He was in his fifties, a white guy with a few strands of hair on his head. His nose was red from drinking and his neck was red from the sun. He was shirtless and wore a shark-tooth necklace. But wait. Listo looked closer. It was a shark tooth and a wolf tooth. Motherfucker was proud of it.
“I ain’t got nothing here, man,” Peter said. “But take what you want. Go ahead.”
Listo had to force himself to get the questions past his lips. Everything was saying pull the trigger and run , but he had to be sure. Finding this man took too long. He didn’t want to blow away some poor sap just making coffee. But the wolf tooth didn’t lie.
“Are you Peter Keller?”
Peter nodded, but his brows furrowed. He lowered his hands. The initial surprise had faded.
“Do you know who I am?” Listo asked.
“Uh, yeah,” Peter mumbled. “I can smell it on you. I know exactly who you are. Jesus Christ. You’re like me.”
“I’m here to break the curse,” Listo said. He flicked the gun, “These are silver.”
“Whoa, whoa. Hey. Think about this. You don’t have to do this.”
“You ruined my life.”
“It wasn’t personal.”
“Well it sure fuckin’ felt like it.”
Peter looked down at the table. He took a breath. He was trying to control his fear, but he couldn’t get a grip on it. Listo was happy to watch. It was nice to see a white man afraid, even in the margins of the world, wherever this encounter sat. What a world though. What a fringe, unfair world indeed. Listo’s parents had immigrated from Cuba, worked and found happiness in the working class, and had two sons: one in and out of jail, one trying to keep the peace, both translating documents for them. They’d dealt with racist neighbors. They’d found their own community of minorities, a hodgepodge of conservatives and liberals and more than a few just keeping their heads down. Everyone tried to do right when nothing made sense. Then, like nothing, all of them get massacred, massacred by a feral monster not even two nights into their camping trip. A beast with digitigrade legs and a row of teeth like ivory spears. And now the same blood that killed them all coursed through his own veins. Listo pulled the hammer back.
“It’s one day a month,” Peter said, looking up at Listo slowly. Eyes shaky.
“It’s one day a month. I’m only bad for one day a month. Not even—one night. One night . Usually I’m on top of it and I tie myself down. What happened was a freak accident. It was a slipup. I don’t know why I was even in New Jersey.”
Listo raised the gun with both hands now. Shifted his feet around.
“Please,” Peter begged. “This sickness you have, the sickness I gave you . . . You can live with it. I have a wife and a kid, man. A young daughter. One night of the month I’m chained away in our shed. The rest of the month I’m a father and a husband and I go to work and pay my bills and I try to be happy. Twelve nights in a year. That’s 353 days of normalcy. Of love. I’ve thought about killing myself. Of course I have. But I didn’t ask to get bit. I can’t throw it all away because someone did something to me .”
“Then why didn’t you get your guy?” Listo asked. The gun was getting heavy in his hands. He looked at his barren wrists, where his links should be. His adrenaline was going stale. If he pulled the trigger now, his soul would feel it even more, no longer numbed by the excitement of it all. “You should’ve gotten your guy,” Listo said, “and then you would’ve been cured and I wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“You don’t think I tried?” Peter said. “I tried, man! It took forever but I tracked him down. And I fucking drove around his block and I watched him. And I had this pure-silver knife and I was going to do it, man, I swear to god. But then I saw him with a family and I couldn’t. He was just a guy. He was trying to be a normal guy, and I couldn’t take that from him.”
“But fuck my family, right?”
“You know it wasn’t like that.”
“I don’t get the leeway you get. My family never did. I’m not allowed twelve bad nights.”
“Just please. Wait.”
The gun stayed pointed. Listo had pressed his back against the fridge and he could feel the odd shapes of the magnets behind him. Little postcards and wedding invites and drawings in crayon. Toward the right, next to the oven, a window opened onto the sunny lawn. The grass was browning in the heat.
What a world though. What a fringe, unfair world indeed.
Peter lunged at Listo and grabbed the gun. They wrestled for it, yanking it left and right. Peter put his foot on the fridge and kicked off and the weight of the two collapsed onto the small Formica table. The gunshot was deafening.
Listo scrambled back in a panic. He patted his stomach and his legs and his arms and then stopped when he saw Peter’s stomach reddening. Only it wasn’t a kill shot. Listo cussed. He wasn’t supposed to waste two bullets on this guy. The other one was for him in a week.
Peter wasn’t giving up though. He had been shot with silver, but his blood was trying its best, his skin healing and burning at the same time. The revolver lay between them in a puddle of blood, and Peter reached for it, but Listo was quicker. He snatched the gun and scooted back, still on his butt, sliding around on the wet tile floor. He pointed it at Peter and the two made eye contact.
“That necklace sucks,” Listo said and he pulled the trigger. The melted-down links blew through Peter’s head and out the back and he died instantly. His blood sparkled on the wallpaper.
Listo got in the car and drove back up the hot, coastal spine of Florida. The whole time he was pissed. The clock was still ticking. In one week he’d know if the curse was broken or if he was still screwed. And now he had to find enough silver to make a third bullet. Because if that full moon showed itself and the tunnel vision suddenly came back and he felt so, so, hungry, then he’d have no choice. He’d put that gun in his mouth and eat it. He’d think of his brother, his ma, his pops, his tío and abuela back in Cuba. He’d think of how unfair it all was to be wiped out by a man who didn’t even remember why he was in New Jersey. But swallowing a bullet was still the best option. The caveat of twelve bad nights didn’t apply to people like him; he knew that. And he definitely wouldn’t let himself get domed by some kid while he was having his morning Folgers. But he was nervous. Only time would tell. He’d either kill himself with another man’s blood in him, or the night would pass and he’d be Cuban again. And if the full moon came and nothing happened, he’d feel relieved for a moment, yes, but not out of the woods, because there were other problems a human Cuban had to watch out for. But maybe, after enough full moons, like a thousand or so, it could happen. The childish parameters would be filled. He’d be old. He might be happy. But he’d definitely be old.