CL Fiction Contest Winner: The Tabaquero's Squirrel 

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Later, on the edge of Ybor, I stopped to smoke the rest of my badly rolled cigar. I felt as if the salted air that flew from the ocean blurred my vision with locura, because I swore I could see the patrón’s automobile with Vladi’s dirty knuckles at the wheel. But there was nothing wrong with my vision. Indeed it was Vladi, and indeed it was the patrón’s auto as well. I could see Vladi’s face when the light hit it just so, and I called out for Vladi, my voice overly loud in the darkness, frightening me so because I did not want to call attention to the crazy man. But Vladi could not hear me over the strength of his singing. Perhaps he had perfected the song and its words, because the whole time I listened to him he never stuttered a word. The Tampa grass was still moist and limp, and the bright sun was still dim past the wobbly homes and the lawns where women in their cloche hats would be playing obstacle golf later in the day, further out to the east, where all of them would be back in Ybor, sitting at their tables, piles of tobacco leaves all around them, but before that there — here — was Vladi, his voice macho like Vladi’s uncle’s voice was macho, and it was so pretty I felt I was back in Cuba, back in Havana, a king amongst kings listening to the prospects of the lands that lay ahead. And the funny thing? The funny thing about it, when the lights from the police car shone on the front of the patrón’s car, what stood there, shining like a lightning bolt in the troubled, in the humid night, was the maldito squirrel, or what looked like the squirrel, tied with metal wire, sparkling as Vladi hit the gas and the police, turning their sirens on and trying to turn around to chase that squirrel stealer, to chase that masculine, that singing, that non-stuttering voice, off into the heat of Florida, where, to my grief and yet to my adoration, we never heard it again, but hoped, one day, we would. Vladi, my friend. De puta madre, donde has ido?



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