THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK EIGHT: THE SECOND of the BOOKS of CHANGE
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
The Jardin de Recuerdos had had two new large plate glass windows installed, as well as the best imported furniture, for the Kirmesse of death that this year of 1915 had brought had enriched Baltazar Martinez beyond his wildest expectations. There was scarcely an empty hour for the principle mortician of Merida now that Alvarado had relented and begun allowing the stiff, sun-dried corpses of the gente decente to be cut down and buried. Martinez had refinished his altar in fine marble and a dozen tables draped in gay red linen formed an agreeable place for the bereaved to gather to rest their elbows or to partake of cups of strong Greek coffee that the undertaker's daughter provided to mourners. Most of the funeral parties brought snacks... tortillas filled with turkey, peppers, onions, and a few such plates lingered, half-empty, on the table as the shadows fell and Saturday began to slip back into the sleep of memory.
Don Antonio had expressed his intention to remain with Rigoberto through the night, and the poveda manager permitted this indulgence for the patron of Idznacab had always shown him respect, and Alvarado's men had been around, paying Martinez a benefit in gold, not the General's own currency. The undertaker was not unduly curious... there were many of the estanciónes upon which the surviving montes still dwelt; their property not confiscated, outright, but subject to all of the great variety of arrangements as could be contrived by a Socialistic but very pragmatic Governor. It was nothing of Martinez's business and... while the mortician considered himself a counselor to the living, as well God's own disposer of the dead... Don Antonio Macias clearly expressed unwillingness to discuss his circumstances.
A number of visitors had passed by, a few even entering to pay respects... to take a "Greca" and offer condolences... but none had long remained. A great fear gripped the city, fear that one of Alvarado's spies might report that their farewell to an enemy of the state had been overlong.
Martinez knew fear and how it grows when decent people do not stand in opposition to tyranny. He had heard the whispers planted and the threats, the rumors, seen the last of Argumedo's minions shoveled into common trenches, doused with gasoline and burned. Alvarado's soldiers had padlocked his door, the new Governor's men had derided his concern. "The General's orders are to leave the dead to rot as an example."
Finally he had gone to the Governor.
"Your institution sanctions the sacraments of superstitions which, having exploited those who live, follow them into death," the Governor had said. "In the wonderful Socialist society which I shall make, there is no place for superstition."
A more prudent man than Baltazar Martinez would have thanked Alvarado and left, perhaps inquiring if a passage to Cuba was still available; a fool would have lost his temper and joined the overflow of corpses. However, a lifetime of dealing with the aftermath of death had taught the operator of the poveda something of the psychology of rage and fear.
"Distinguished Governor," Martinez said, "it is my business to be of service to the dead, whether they may be Christians, Evangelicals or other... Jews, Mohammedans, heathens." His undertaker's eye searched out Alvarado. "Even atheists, General, especially so. As a believer in scientific Socialism, the Governor surely knows what terrible things are the inequities of life in our imperfect society. In my Garden, however, all of those who come under these hands achieve the equality and fraternity Marx himself dreamed of. There is neither slave nor master, officer nor conscript, rich nor poor. The humble and mighty are the same before don del Muerte; the Socialist and Cientifico, even the man without ideologies... all are the same."
Alvarado, frowning, had removed his glasses and wiped them with a handkerchief, his pharmacist's memory repeating that the truly evil things of the world are not so different than dirt... a little scrubbing and they will be gone! But when he replaced them, Baltazar was still in his office.
"Further," the undertaker chided, "it is your duty to protect the public health. I know of your intent to vaccinate the children of Yucatan, and the territory, too, even indians. You are an educated man, sir... how does one responsible for the health of thousands countenance so many corpses in his city? Is your intent to breed plague?" This offended the Governor, but was a reasonable statement. His rubbed his glasses again... certainly the despicable man would be gone when he put them on.
But he was not.
"Allow me to reopen my Garden," persisted Martinez "and useful work will be created for those who stand idle in the streets... those streets which are not befouled by pestilential bodies. There shall be work for carpenters and stonemasons, and for strong arms to dig graves… many, many graves. If we may come to terms, there will be need of one more cemetery... perhaps one of those estates which the State government possesses could be sold for such a use. Is it not the responsibility of Socialists to make health and employment available to all?"
One last time... Alvarado merely blinked and, of course, Martinez was still there. Since the conclusion of the fighting, Alvarado had turned towards economic matters but, after the present surplus was disposed at Alvarado's and Carranza's price, there would little henequen for export, the peons... freed at last from the grip of their oppressors... had planted corn instead. Outraged by what must clearly have been a Zapatista plot, the Governor had ordered dozens of them fined, a few ringleaders shot, but they still evidenced no interest in Yucatan's "green gold". There would be factories... but only after there was a government in Mexico City to send administrators to manage them. Alvarado also held out hope for a tourist industry, a steamship line had contracted to bring American sightseers to Progreso, but employment remained one of Merida's more insoluble aggravations. His beloved working classes were growing weary of speeches. They must have jobs; so Alvarado would have the last word with this Martinez.
"Very well, I find your arguments in favor of the public health convincing," said the Governor. "This display of bourgeois fruit upon the people's trees is dearer to de los Santos than myself, but I am authorized to end it. You will recognize, at once, a Sindicato of coffin-makers," Alvarado told Martinez. "More cemetery space shall be allotted, but its use shall be reserved for those who pay a tax to this office." Alvarado groped for something else. "Religious services shall be permitted, but a fee of ten pesos shall be charged, payable to myself as exclusive agent for don Venus in the capital, and your Garden shall, by law, be open Sundays and its facilities made open to all. There is a dearth of credible eating places at the moment – you will be provided with a manager whose duties will include the provision of wholesome fare to the public and obedience in the collection and forwarding of my levies. This other business,” he made a circle of his left hand and waved it in the air, “that shall remain your province." And so, he had dismissed the master of the Jardin de Recuerdas... because anyone who dared speak back to him could not be wholly evil, and because even the poor, on whose behalf he had marched all the way into Yucatan, were beginning to complain about the presence of so many unburied corpses in Merida.
Now as the sweltering May streets grew dim, Martinez stared out his fine new window, observing the black and orange clouds that had gathered and, against them, a solitary perplexed bat, which had wandered off its course from the Paseo. "I must be going," he said and Don Antonio nodded. He was the last of the mourners, and could be trusted to let himself out after dark. Sometimes a whole family would remain through the night, but the hacendado's wife was frail and Elena had already escorted her home. There were no other relatives.
"There is a hard case," thought the mortician. "One of his sons is dead, the other is missing somewhere, a feather in this whirlwind sweeping Mexico. I wonder what is in that telegram he keeps reading and rereading?" He had, but once, mentioned José's name and Don Antonio's eyes turned stony; Martinez knew not to speak the name of the younger son again. Nothing in this city was as he had remembered it, the gente decente were all dead, dying or flown, and none had emerged to take their place save transients that had come with Alvarado, and the mob. "A final cup?" he called to the old hacendado. Alvarado’s despicable steward had long-since departed… he rarely remained on the premises after sundown… but he customarily left his implements out for the proprietor and his family to clean, and the liquid in the coffeepot might be bitter but, at least, would be warm.
"This is not my world," whispered Don Antonio. "I am he who should be resting, absolved of all care for the future... no longer responsible for this terrible, wondrous century. I... coffee? Yes, I'd appreciate that.”
Baltazar Martinez nodded and went through the back door in search of his daughter, leaving Don Antonio with his wandering memories.
Soon the door was pushed open and the hacendado looked up... but it was not one of his dead son's clients, nor part of his wife's family but two pale Americans, a man and wife, the latter crowned with an enormous purple hat whose feathers nearly brushed the roof of the poveda. They began to gesture and to shout at him in English, a language that he could read but understood poorly, with... here and there... a Spanish phrase of command.
The American husband pointed to his mouth while his wife held a gold coin towards him as though it were a holy host.
"Menu!" the Yankee cried and rubbed his stomach, looking past the tables and to the casket, which was open but, from the American's perspective, might have seemed only a serving table... a buffet of unnatural, Mexican design. "Hungry... hombre, ahh... carne!" he pointed. Don Antonio's eyebrows flew upwards. The foreign woman plopped down at a table and pantomimed eating motions. "Poveda," frowned the husband, "izzat the name of this restaurant? Ristorante Poveda?"
Don Antonio now recognized the origins of error. From the street, the window of this Jardin de Recuerdos, through which could be seen the brightly covered chairs and tables, could, indeed, be mistaken for a restaurant and, in fact, was among those places occasionally recommended by a hotelier with a sense of humour. He smiled, beckoning the Yankee towards the coffin. Rigoberto's powdered face showed no terror at the appearance of the hungry tourists above.
"Carne?" Don Antonio said, but was immediately sorry for his jest. He grasped the lid and closed the coffin carefully while the horrified tourists backed off; their eager glances wholly wiped off by repulsion. "There is a fine restaurant at the Gran Hotel dos cuadras... two blocks to the right," he said in a precise but hesitant English.
"Con permiso, me gusta informarlo somos Mexicanos, pero nada mas son devorados de cuerpos... (I am relieved to inform you that we in Mexico no longer eat our dead.)"
"Garcia!" exclaimed the American, pushing his wife towards the door. She looked over her shoulder, shuddered, gave Don Antonio a sickly wave and they hurried off.
The patron of Idznacab waved stoically back at the foreign visitors still glancing hesitantly backwards through Baltazar's fine window.
"Do enjoy our city, and its ruins," he called after these benighted travelers.
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