News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Last Journey of The Three Kings

[An excerpt from THE SKINNY YEARS]

Skinny opened the Christmas songbook he’d brought home from school and pointed to the smiling fat man on the first page. “This is Santa Claus, Abuela. That’s who I was telling you about,” he said to his grandmother.

Sitting beside Abuela on the living room’s frayed couch, Skinny was taking great pains to show her how Navidad was celebrated in America. The last thing Skinny wanted was a repeat of their first Thanksgiving.

Gathered around the table, their mouths watering, the family had watched anxiously as Juan began to carve the turkey. As the family’s guide to Thanksgiving, Skinny had explained this was always done by the man of the house. Abuela had basted the bird for hours and it was now golden brown and smelled like heaven—until Juan plunged the knife deeper. Suddenly, the acrid odor of burned plastic filled the air.

No one had told Abuela that American turkeys came stuffed with a plastic bag holding the neck, heart, liver, and gizzard.

That disastrous meal was now driving Skinny to make sure his family got Christmas right.

“In America, the Three Kings don’t bring children their Navidad presents—the presents come from Santa Claus,” he said slowly to Abuela, hoping it would sink in. “And children get their gifts on December twenty-fifth, not on the sixth of January like in Cuba.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Abuela said scowling. “Everyone knows the Three Kings brought the gifts for the baby Jesus in the manger, not someone who looks like Karl Marx after four shots of rum,” Abuela said, pointing to Santa. “Look at him. He’s got a beard like Castro and he’s wearing a red suit—that’s the color of the communists! My God, Victor. What are they teaching you in this country?”

Marta, who had been serving high tea to her dolls in the corner, perked up at the talk of presents. “Are the Three Kings coming soon?” she asked, remembering the bounty of toys during Navidad in Cuba.

“No, Marta,” Abuela answered. “In this country children get their gifts from a fat degenerate.”

Disgusted, Skinny slammed the book shut and stomped out of the living room, certain he’d be the only kid in the neighborhood without any gifts on Christmas morning. 

Surfers, soul brothers, hippies, and thugs — they’re all part of Victor “Skinny” Delgado’s world growing up in Miami during the turbulent 1960s. Fleeing the Castro regime in Cuba, Skinny’s once-wealthy family moves from a mansion in Havana to a roach-infested bungalow in Miami’s low-rent Wynwood district. Over the next ten years the Delgados struggle to survive in this strange new land—a place where fat men in red suits enter your home through the chimney, demons appear at the door begging for candy, and young women go on dates without chaperones. There’s only one constant in Skinny's world as he grows from 8 to 18. He longs in vain for the girl of his dreams: his neighbor Janice Bockman who seems everything American—and everything he’s not.

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