THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK SEVEN: CUAHTENOTL EPACT
There was no true dawn in Cuahtenotl the morning of Tuesday, October 29th, which was, according to the old men of San Sebastien, the first of the village's unlucky days. The rainfall had subsided to a heavy drizzle, but the fog had deepened and thick clouds wafted past the Major's face like wisps of cotton... José pushed away the strip of tin and found himself as wet and chilled as if he had slept on the ground with nothing covering him. His head shook violently and he barely suppressed a sneeze.
When he finally tried to stand, it came as little surprise to him that his knees and ankles would not support the weight of his body... they were an old man's limbs, and he'd leaned against a crumbling wall of the derelict house for support until they remembered their task. Also, the Webley was soaked - so he knelt and tried to wipe it with his overcoat, which was wet, too, so he held it against his stomach and used his shirt to rub the mud and water away so that it would not rust. Finally, he ate one of the hard biscuits saved from the previous night, rinsing the fetid taste of the pan de muertos away with rainwater that had collected in one of the hollows of crushed stone where the roof had fallen in.
He stepped out of the hovel warily, but Cuahtenotl was as deserted by morning as by night.
Before and beneath him was a vista of astonishment as might, under a clear sky, have delighted the eyes of a child. But the steely vapors of dawn made of the Lord Kin, rising above the Eastern Sierras, an orb sallow as the skin of an ancient drunk... powerless, even, to evict the maggot-liveried moon from its promontory in the western sky, between peaks of the volcanoes. The refuse pushed out of the railroad cars of the Mexican line had tumbled and skidded to a halt in random configurations of faded crepe, splintered wood and decomposing plaster... here and there, an object of sterner construction: glass and metal, nitrocellulose and, from the fairs and pageantry of independence, two years previously, great sculptures and icons cast in the newly patented Bakelite (which some educated few preferred to call "plastic"). Because of the worth placed upon science and commerce by the Porfirismo so recently and rudely uprooted, there were as many larger-than-life-sized replicas of medicine bottles, cigarette boxes and motorcars as there were fallen effigies of Parsival, Victory and Juarez. There even was a small copse of half-grown, stunted trees amidst which lay ruins of the Porfirismo... evidently gathered into several flatcars at once, removed to this place and pushed down the mountain. Little remained of the bronzes save fragments, for metal could be melted down... and, in fact, José perceived what might have been a primitive smelter on the horizon... but wood and plaster Cientificos were scattered everywhere, like teeth from a broken jaw of Ozymandias. The Major recognized several Corrals, Limantour, a Lascurain and, of course, more than a dozen casts of don Porfirio himself... some lying prone, some head and shoulders busts upright, one even driven upside-down into the mud.
The skeletal ruin of fully half of one of the great Ferris wheels of Tivoli del Eliseo lay on its side, rusting, mounted by an enormous pair of spectacles... plaster, cracked but not broken, fastened to peeling wood upon which the legend "gafas por hombres de distinción, ambición, orgullo" was yet visible. Rising up beyond this, a great palanquin which could only be that centerpiece of the great Porfirian Centennial... brought to this desolate abode and pushed over the mountainside like Astyanax out his father's Trojan window...
The chariot of Malinche!
And it was as if José had himself fallen through a hole, in time as in space, to another feria, another pageant, another Malinche!
There was much, much more, but José's own eyes were tired... he rubbed them until tears flowed into the raindrops coursing down his cheeks, then lifted his bag and went to the periphery of the village itself... at the center of which were a few dozen miserable huts, which could have been occupied, or not, fronting vaguely delineated streets of mud and a few specks of gravel that converged on a sort of plaza with mud and weeds. Circling this was, on the northeastern corner, a block of shops and taverns, all shuttered, opposite a low, square structure of mud and straw that was evidently the government palace, or what passed for it. There was a Catholic church with a false front every bit as fine as some of those in the states of Chihuahua and Durango, but with few windows left unbroken and no door.
Perhaps, José thought, it was a symbol of welcoming any traveler into the house of God but, more likely, either the door had been stolen or chopped up for firewood.
Opposite this, at the southeastern quadrant was a block of... nothing. Mere rubble, and the discards of those who lived off others' discards... whatever had stood there at one time had been obliterated, either by war or, more likely, by boulders careening down a hillside.
The village of Cuahtenotl seemed a place doomed to extermination from the collapse of any one of those wet, sodden peaks that surrounded it on all sides, an Atlantis... a listless Pompeii of the last days, too corroded, even, to court its destruction by infamous vice.
The absence of humanity was an aberration that the Major attributed to the weather and, perhaps, the strange holiday season. The lack of dogs was, frankly, a relief. But the nonpresence of other livestock... especially the ubiquitous chickens, turkeys and other fowl of every Mexican village... haunted the Major, as did the utter absence of wild creatures and the stillness of this valley of drenched garbage. Why, he realized now, he had not had so much as one fly to swat at or brush away... no bee, no scorpion, not even a single mosquito. Well, there was the weather to blame or to thank for that... but with so much mud underfoot, why wasn't the ground populated with squirming, writhing earthworms? He kicked a huge clod away from the path... nothing lay exposed beneath.
He heard no cry of owl, nor croaking of frogs... only the steady, monotonous patter of raindrops. Even the wind of the previous night had died away to nothing.
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