Keep reading to get a taste of Devil's Kitchen in this excerpt from the novel. Thanks to Clark for sharing this with us today.
The Day of Dead chapter
from: Devil’s Kitchen by Clark Lohr
Oak Tree Press, First Edition, June 2011.
Gustavo Ortiz's mother moved him up Calle Reforma at a steady pace, even though he was in no hurry. There was too much to see. The motorcycle police had the street blocked off so the traffic could only go one way—toward the graveyard. Every fourth vehicle was a truck with a gaggle of kids about Gustavo's age sitting in the back. He would stare at them and they would stare back. Nothing better to do, the traffic was hardly moving anyway.
It was after ten in the morning. Gustavo's mother felt ashamed, getting out this late to visit her husband—to visit his grave, anyway. Her husband, less than forty years old, and dead from cancer. His parents would already be there.
The Americans located manufacturing plants just south of the border, to avoid the inconvenience of obeying US pollution statutes. The Mexicans themselves had no real regulations about pollutants. Pockets of cancer were popping up all over
, on both sides of the border. Nogales
There was no sidewalk along Calle Reforma, so they picked their way along until they got to the open air market, located on both sides of the street, just in front of the graveyard, which ran up the raw desert hills on either side of the street.
Gustavo could see a little ahead and he felt the excitement, knowing they'd be in the middle of the market soon, but he was not tall and he kept his attention close to him.
He noticed right away when an alert, lean man with narrow tiger's eyes turned a purple flower sideways and it became something else, something powerful and sleek. The blossoms were furry purple clumps. Beneath them was an expanse of brown that widened up to the blossoms. The shape of a mountain lion's paw.
“What is it?” he asked the man.
“Manopanteras,” the man said. Panther paws.
Gustavo glanced at the vendor's other flowers, the yellow ones. Then his mother pulled him away, into the crowd.
People sold coronas, wreaths of cloth and wire, for the graves. The outside edges were triangular spikes of bright satin ribbon, folded back across itself from two sides, forming a point. The coronas had mounds of paper roses in the middle, often in white or in pastels. The spiked edges of the wreaths, in reds and yellows, spoke to Gustavo of the sun, of a burning that never burned out. The paper roses looked as if they were exploding out of a spiked sun.
He felt the shiver on his neck again. He had felt it only once before, at his father's burial. Something picking him up by the hairs on his neck.
At his father’s burial it had been as if his father was showing him a picture and saying: One piece of advice: Don't look here. Feel the sky pull you up by the back of your neck and look out there, over those hills, at that horizon. The earth is soft but it is not enough. Part of you is sky. Stand up. You can have your death when you die, not before. Until then, stand up and stay in places where you can see for some distance.
The graveyard climbed the brown hills on either side of Calle Reforma. In front of its two parts was the open-air market with its maze of stalls, tents and signs: Taqueria
They went by a sidewalk restaurant under a ramada covered with blue plastic. Red-orange tables and chairs sat underneath it. The words Coca Cola were stamped in white on the backs of the chairs.
The boy's mother led him into the graveyard from the north side of the street, just behind a man who carried a huge load of cotton candy on one long pole. The servings of cotton candy hung together, somehow, like the top of a bushy pink tree.
Gustavo kept looking at the people thronged in the graveyard, in the bright sunlight. Younger people in T-shirts, baseball caps and jeans. And men dressed in snap button cowboy shirts, white straw hats, boots and jeans.
Gustavo saw the Tohono O’odham symbol of a figure standing at the entrance to a circular maze. It was burned into the flat leather face of a man's belt buckle. When the man turned his back, Gustavo saw that the name John Bravo tooled into the leather of the belt itself.
They arrived at the grave. Gustavo's grandparents were there and they had put down their flowers and waited, drinking sodas. They gave Gustavo a broom and he began to sweep shriveled flowers from the cement slab. When he had done that, his mother held a trash bag and he dumped the old flowers into it with his hands. Then they all began to wash the slab with water, and to wash the cement cross above it that bore the name of Gustavo's father.
“No!” a woman said sharply and Gustavo turned to see her putting out her hand to stop a photographer, an Anglo, from photographing her and the grave she attended. The photographer kept walking, up the hill toward where the wealthier people were buried. Some of their graves looked like plaster and marble houses to Gustavo. You could go inside and walk back and forth. He could see a few flowers there, and he could see the names and the image of Jesus Christ on the walls. But the odd thing was, no one attended those graves, it seemed, even on this day, November second, The Day of the Dead.
He got permission to wander when they were done washing the grave and laying their yellow flowers on it. There was little danger of being left behind. This was also a wake. People would stay here. Women sat now, by graves, holding umbrellas against the sun. People were everywhere. He was standing half way up the hill and he could look across at the opposite hill and see the same images he saw here.
He decided he would go down through the graves to the market. Perhaps he would go, also, to the other side. He passed a man holding a fine-tipped paintbrush out in front of him. The man was skillful. He was touching up the white letters of a name on a thin black cross.
Gustavo had no money to buy a soda from the men who kept them in tubs of melting ice. He was thirsty and he stopped and drank at the spigot at the bottom of the hill, where people filled gallon plastic jugs to carry back to the graves. A pile of refuse lay nearby. They had given him the bag of old flowers. He left it on the pile.
Turning toward the sound of mariachis, he saw them a little way up the hill, playing at a gravesite. A woman with a bushy head of graying hair sat on the narrow cement wall by the grave. She was alone. She smoked a cigarette, blowing the smoke out tensely, sometimes shaking her head as if she were someplace else. Yet she was very self-conscious and looked around sharply from time to time.
Gustavo could see into people but he could not decide on what he saw. He felt these things and wished he could think about them so that they would make sense. She was there and wanted to draw attention to herself. That might have been important to her. Perhaps she thought about the little deaths in her own life, as well as the death of the person she had paid the band to serenade. He looked to the opposite hill and saw mariachis there too, playing for other people beside another grave.
The boy went down to the market. A pile of grasshopper-green corn sat on a plastic tarp the color of red wine. A man stood and sliced sugar cane. The chunks spat from the blade, one after the other, two or three in the air at the same time. Gustavo watched with pleasure. Behind the worker, looking like thick stalks of bamboo, tall as a man, the green poles of uncut cane leaned against the chain link fence around the graveyard and waited for the knife. The sections would be cut again, this time in half. People bought them and sucked out the sweet pulp.
Gustavo was on the south side of Calle Reforma now, looking at more wares for sale. He saw a tall Anglo and his two sons in their jeans and baseball caps buying shovels from a vendor who had the tools stacked on the ground. It was clear from the way they moved that they were intent on their own purposes and wanted nothing to do with the Day of the Dead. They kept their heads down and walked off, carrying their new shovels, looking a little like grave diggers.
He stopped when he saw a fresh mound of rich, dark earth, piled high. Red and yellow flowers lay on top. Someone had poured water over the whole mound and the water had run down it in rivulets that narrowed and came to points on the flat, dry ground. Gustavo saw this as a wet starburst, and this wetness passed through the areola of colored stones around the base. White Styrofoam cups lay in the dust. A woman hoisted a purple umbrella. Another painter loaded his brush and touched a cross with it. A faded name began its way back to life.
Wreaths in reds, whites, pinks, bright blues and lavenders hung on crosses and grave markers at different heights. Gustavo liked the picture: coronas so bright they made the background disappear, seeming to suspend themselves in midair like pinwheels.
Gustavo turned, standing where he was in the bottom of the south section of the graveyard, and saw a man covered with balloons. There was the yellow Smiley Face. Mickey and Minnie. Tigger in orange.
He looked down on the rectangular grave of a child, edged by a border of cobalt blue cement. On the cover of this grave, in its center, someone had placed an infant who stared at him from a shaded white carrier.
The sun was bright and warm, but somehow not harsh and white. He saw the Anglo with the camera. This time, he had it up to his eye and was weaving up and down, fighting with it, trying to get a shot in the direction of the sun without the colored sprites of halation entering the lens. Halation, the noisy, unwanted signature of pure light.
Gustavo could see the photographer was trying for the cotton candy vendor, who was still carrying his tree of pink bundles, each one partly sheathed in plastic, like bouquets. And the light was so full and near as the sun slipped west that it concentrated on the top of the candy tree, fell upwards, danced whitely, and slipped off into pure blue sky while long, rich shadows of people and crosses threw themselves over the ground, violent as lovers in full embrace. This was the sun's work, in November, in
Staring as he wandered into the street, he almost walked into the white truck. It was big, a two and a half-ton Chevrolet. Square headlights stared out from behind its elaborate wrought iron grill. Somebody had painted the grill chalk white.
The truck was parked facing the sun and Gustavo felt as if the truck was bearing down on him, driven by no one. A velour curtain, of a certain color of scarlet, hung, rich folds intact, behind the windshield. It was drawn all the way around the inside of the cab.
The scarlet curtain could have been a blouse for a black haired woman. Could have been a matador’s cape. Could have hung in a puppet theatre, or lined a casket. The truck had high sides around the bed, the front frame of which came up in the center in three points, like a kite. The triangular top had a gray tarp pulled down over it so that the truck looked a little like a Spanish sailing ship, unstoppable.
On the front bumper was a white license plate with very green numbers. Under them, the letters MEX MEX. Did it mean the truck came from
wondered. But, anyway, he thought, it
means Mexicali .
for sure. Mexico
It was time to turn back. He was a little tired now. He waited for his chance, because there was still plenty of traffic past the graveyard, and crossed to the north side. He went straight up to his father's grave, felt the pain of memory, kept his head up, and found his mother and his grandparents still sitting and talking about the most ordinary things, hardly noticing, as if he had not been gone at all.
They had saved a soda for him. He sat down with them and drank it. Then he decided to go up to that high place where there were no people. He liked the black iron fences around many plots, which he saw as he walked. The tops of the vertical bars formed individual crosses, small ones. Wrought iron in the shape of black hearts decorated the verticals between cross sections of metal.
In the clutter of the larger graves, the ones so big you could walk inside, he picked out a particular roofed monument and stepped into its deep shadows.
Looking down, he saw a man lying there. Gustavo ran.