Sofrito: An excerpt

This is an excerpt from Sofrito, a novel authored by Phillippe Diederich and due out in May 2015 from Cinco Puntos Press.

“In this entertaining debut novel, Frank Delgado tries to save his failing restaurant by returning to Cuba, his dead father’s homeland, to get ahold of a top-secret chicken recipe. But there is more than delicious chicken at stake here. Food is the road home—geographically, emotionally, metaphorically. Peppered with cooking advice from chefs, ordinary folks, and celebrities including Fidel Castro himself (an advocate of pork), Phillippe Diederich’s Sofrito is a love letter to the deepest recesses of nostalgia’s heart.”
Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban and King of Cuba

Sofrito by Phillippe Diederich

***

They had taken a taxi from Eusebio’s and driven along the Malecón to Marisol’s apartment. At the front step of the building, an old lady holding three packs of Popular cigarettes raised an eyebrow at Marisol. “Niña.”

Marisol nodded. “Señora Peña.”

“Y él, does he want any cigarettes?”

“No, Mami. Gracias.” She led Frank up the broken marble stairs. The building was textured by years of neglect. Exposed, tangled wires hung from rusted nails and ran along the length of the crumbling walls. In another life it had been something exclusive.

They reached the third floor. Marisol banged on the large wooden door. “Eulina. Yoselin. ¡Coño!”

“Marisol.” The neighbor poked her head around the hallway. “Mira, El Chino came by. He says he has shampoo for two dollars for a big bottle like this. I told him to come back. He might want to trade. And who is this—Italiano?”

“Yuma,” Marisol said proudly.

“Yuma, really?” the neighbor smiled at Frank.

“Have you seen Eulina?” Marisol asked.

“She’s in there, but she’s scared. That hijoeputa Chuck Norris came by last night and scared her half to death.”

“Eulina. Open the door, it’s Marisol!”

Finally the bolt turned and the door opened. Eulina’s eyes were bloodshot.

Marisol caressed her cheek. “Dios mio, niña, what happened?”

“When I came home last night, Chuck Norris was waiting for one of us. He grabbed me by the neck and told me he knew what we were up to and that we were going to be arrested for peligrosidad and that we were a bunch of dirty putas.”

“¡Hijoeputa! He has no right to do this to you. Are you okay?”

“Uh huh.”

“Did he do anything else?”

“No. He just pushed me against the wall. I hit the side of my head. Then he left.”

Frank touched Marisol’s shoulder. “Who’s Chuck Norris?”

“He’s the plainclothes policeman in charge of the neighborhood. He’s a little guy with a bad attitude who’s always beating up on everyone. Last month he beat up my neighbor’s twelve-year-old son for selling avocados in the street.”

Eulina glanced at Frank. “¿Italiano?”

“Americano.”

“Really? Miami?”

“New York.”

“Americano.” She smiled. “I have two brothers in Miami.”

Frank laughed. “I’m not surprised.”

“They took a raft in ’94.” Eulina turned to Marisol. “By the way, El Chino came by. He says he has shampoo.”

“Serenita told me.”

“And la vieja from next door has garlic and onions.”

“How much does she want for the garlic?”

“Tres pesos. She didn’t say about the onions.”

“¿Y nada de Yoselin?”

“Not since I saw her dance away with an Italiano.”

“Mira.” Marisol handed Eulina five dollars. “If the Chino comes back, get some shampoo, okay?”

Frank followed Marisol into her bedroom. It was small and cramped with a single bed, a plain wooden night table, and a tall antique mahogany dresser that had no doors. The walls were flaking with old paint and the ceiling was covered in brown spots. A large frameless mirror with a long crack rested against the wall by the door. On the dresser there were a couple of perfume bottles, a small stuffed animal and a dozen tattered books. A poster of Che Guevara from the famous Korda photograph looked over the room.

“I’m not much of a communist,” she said, “but you can’t deny he’s handsome. Maybe one day I can get a poster of Brad Pitt or Enrique Iglesias.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“But I saw you looking. You’re an exile, Frank. I know how you think.”

“I am not an exile.” He had never longed for Cuba. To him, Cuba was a word spoken in occasional newscasts. It was violence. And it was that eerie quiet that surrounded his childhood home.

Marisol opened a pair of large wooden shutters. Frank stepped onto the balcony and looked out toward the ocean across the avenue. The sun was low on his left, far in the distance, past the ocean, behind Miramar. To his right he could see the Morro Castle turning pink. A soft breeze carrying the scent of the Cuban childhood he did not have came and went in subtle waves that left him wondering if it was real, if he had truly smelled it. He rested his hands on the wrought iron rail that had been rusted and shaped by a hundred years of salt and wind. The texture of the wall, the exposed cement and stone of the building, bare under a wash of blue like the part of the sky that was closest to the sun, framed the view that had become a simple memory for thousands of brokenhearted exiles. His stomach twisted and his throat itched with a heavy melancholy he didn’t understand.

“Quiza,” he whispered without turning from the view that had captured his defenseless nostalgia. “In a way, maybe I am an exile.”

Marisol stepped behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. She rested the side of her face against the back of his shoulder. “Maybe,” she said softly, “we’re all exiles in our own way.”

He didn’t know what she meant by it. But in her eyes he recognized his own sadness, a quiet, simmering melancholy he always thought he’d been born with—in all the family photographs he never smiled. He thought perhaps she felt oppressed. Lost. And yet, he didn’t feel she would be better off in Miami or Spain. If she accepted the simplicity of Cuba, she could be happy. But that was naive of him. Maybe she was happy. He knew nothing of her life. Besides, he was focusing on the wrong thing. He was here for the recipe. He had to find another way to get it.

They stayed that way for a long while, absorbing the sounds of Havana that swept in gusts: the broken exhausts of cars and the pedaling of Flying Pigeon bicycles buzzing like insects below the window. The sky slowly turned to fire, covering Havana in gold dust. A group of children marched on top of the seawall in a broken line. Couples held hands as they walked past. From somewhere, the sound of a lone trumpet playing the morose notes of a bolero pierced through the tepid evening.

***

Phillippe Diederich

Phillippe Diederich

Phillippe Diederich is the author of the novel, “Sofrito” due out in May 2015 from Cinco Puntos Press. His short fiction has been published in over a dozen national literary journals. He has been awarded the Chris O’Malley Prize for Fiction from the Madison Review and received an Elizabeth George Foundation grant, a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature from the Florida Department of Cultural Affairs and a John Ringling Towers Grant in Literature from the Sarasota County Artist Alliance.

Before turning to fiction, Diederich worked as a photojournalist, covering news and feature assignments in the U.S. and Latin America for major national publications including The New York Times, TIME, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report and many others. His photographs have been exhibited widely in the U.S. including shows at the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona, FL, the Center of Contemporary Art in Miami, and the El Paso Art Museum in El Paso, TX.

He holds an MFA from the University of South Florida. He teaches writing at Ringling College and is the editor-in-chief of Viva Fifty!, a bilingual web-magazine that celebrates midlife.

Trackbacks

  1. […] with Paul D. Brazil, Philippe Diederich, Beverly Donofrio, K.A. Laity, and Ben Parzabok. Visual Art by Francis Denis, Sarah Katharina Kay, […]

  2. […] an excerpt from Sofrito, a novel authored by Phillippe Diederich and due out in May 2015 from Cinco Puntos […]

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