Monday, February 20, 2012

Day of the Dead

The baby sized skulls adorned the foot of the grave, packed so tightly that they almost hid the name of the buried from view.  They all faced the front of the cemetery, their broad grins etched in black, blue, and red icing. Sprinkled among the skulls laid other offerings- a plate of tamales and red rice tightly wrapped in saran wrap, a small basket filled with pastries, and black and white photographs scattered among the weathered stone.

Jose looked at the photos and shook his head. “Shit Torito, couldn’t you find a couple of him smiling?”

“I told you not to call me that,” the man standing next to him said.

Picking the plate of food off the ground, Jose tore the wrapping and scooped a handful of rice into his mouth. “You too good for your name or something hermanito?”

Cochino” the man muttered, making a grab for the plate.

Jose ducked and danced around his brother’s fat, clumsy movements. He took a bite of the tamale, the masa crumbling and filling his mouth with cheese and spiced meat. “Looks like the little bull has grown some horns,” Jose said between mouthfuls. “Guess taking over for papi will do that huh?”

As if suddenly realizing how foolish they both must look, Torito stopped and glared at Jose. “This is what it’s all about?” he asked him. “Todavia estas enojado?”

“What? That el viejo left the business to you, instead of me? Why would that piss me off? Just cause I was running things while you were book learning with your gringo friends?”

“Now’s not the time,” Torito said.

Ala madre con tu ‘now it’s not the time’” Jose mimicked, dropping the plate and taking a step towards Torito. “It’s been a year since he” he pointed to the gravestone “died.  Un ano que te di sin decir nada”. Jose jabbed his finger into Torito’s chest. “A year I let you run things, and you’re still no closer to finding who killed him are you?”

“I have people…”
“That’s your problem” Jose interrupted, jabbing him again. “You never done anything yourself. ‘Member how you came running to me whenever someone threatened to kick your ass?”

“I have raised profits, expanded our stuff out of El Paso and Las Cruces.” Torito said.

“You found out who killed dad?”

“No but,”

“Then no has echo nada.” Turning away from his brother, Jose looked at the grave and thought about picking up one of the sugar skulls. He used to love them as a kid, back when El Dia de los Muertos meant nothing more than a half day of school and a chance to see the yearly parade. Unlike his friends, he never had to visit the graves and leave offerings. Not until a year ago.

“Torito” he said to himself. “I should have known you were his favorite when he gave you that nickname. I had to go out and make my own you know.”

“I heard. El Columbiano  huh?”

Jose grinned. “Got the picture El Diaro de Juarez ran to thank for it. They showed the guy’s throat and everything.”

Both men stared at the grave, and it was Torito who broke the silence “Why slit their throat like that? Why not just shoot them?” his brother asked.

Porque aveces tienes que ensuciar tus manos.”

“You need to stop, Jose.”

“Cause you’re fucking things up.”

“Go to hell, Torito” Jose said, reaching for a sugar skull. He never noticed his brother taking out a knife, and barely felt it as it slid into his side like a man slips in between his lover’s open legs.

“You think you’re the only one good with a knife?” Torito whispered, bringing his brother closer and twisting the blade. “And I told you to stop calling me that.”

Jose felt the knife now, felt it inside of him burning as if it been dipped in flames first. Blood poured from the wound and glued the brothers’ shirts together. “Why?” he managed to ask.

“You were right,” Torito said. “I need to start getting my hands dirty. And because the cartels are demanding an ofrenda for the bloodshed you caused.”

Torito held him tighter as the knife plunged into him again and again. “Dad…”

“Would have understood,” he heard his brother say.

Jose’s vision blurred and he felt himself being lowered to the ground. Craning his neck up, he saw two men walk up to Torito and stand by his side.

“You want us to take him away from here, boss?” one of them asked.

“No,” his brother said. “Leave him here.”

“Yes, Toro,” they replied in unison.