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Atomik Aztex

Art by Paul Lee

The following is from a satirical novel that takes place in an alternative universe in which the Aztex have defeated the Spanish and, with the help of their Russian allies, are colonizing Europe. Human sacrifice is basic to economic growth. In this excerpt, two Aztek warriors banished to Los Angeles testify to their experiences here. In their view, the city equates with the Underworld, the Land of the Dead. The characters speak, unsure as to whether they are alive or dead, but certain they are unable to escape Los Angeles.

I.

You know how it goes — sooner or later you have to get a real job. I had already moved on over to the Eastside. It was natural, with my skills as meatcutter & knife-thrower I went to work for Farmer John in the City of Vernon. Packing, working the saw, chopping that cleaver, grinding pork. Watch that lapse of attention at a fateful moment, I must say. These are the modern days, too much machinery. Lost the tip of my finger in the breakfast sausage. It shipped citywide in the early AM. Got off shift at 8:15, tied off my finger with a leather boot lace, grabbed my windbreaker, my bus transfer, a pay stub, my baseball cap & a chickenshit grin, bumping into the glass door on the way out. Just didn’t feel like my old self. Traipsed across to the diner kitty corner, dodging traffic like a bullfighter doing a gymnastic impersonation of a windmill on a shaky day. Ordered the breakfast special, three eggs over easy in bacon grease, huevos rancheros with apple sauce & habañero salsa, a short stack with fat glob of margarine melting on the side, coffee, black, thank you, more ice water please, change for a dollar, too, please, I punched Lyle Lovett & Freddy Fender on the jukebox, looking up & daring anybody to say anything, my finger throbbed & hurt like hell, it felt like it was ejaculating sparks & fire like a roman candle, I looked up & saw some kind of situation going down. Suffered two gunshot wounds subsequently in a failed robbery at the greasy spoon. Lost the tip of my tongue bitten off in the subsequent fisticuffs. Scalded my throat on too much hot coffee. Coughed & spit & strained my esophagus when they started shooting. Two black guys were robbing the place. They were wearing white t-shirts & white aprons & chef hats. I think they were former cooks. I think they didn’t like the food. I think they shot the waitress by mistake. I think she was a friend of theirs. I think she was the true love of the shorter of the men. I think he was from Las Vegas & she was from Bakersfield. I think he lost his soul mate right then & there on the linoleum floor. She dropped like a sack of Calrose rice. He dropped to one knee. Somebody screamed. Maybe it was me. The shit for brains had shot me by mistake too. Beside the stools along the counter, with a clatter of ceramic dishes. I think the other guy mourned silently for his partner as he licked his finger & counted out the money. I think they were collecting their back pay. I think they were planning a fast getaway to an island paradise, bargain basement prices, $275 one way. I think they had it all planned to a T. Except for the part where I looked down at my stomach & saw the blood gushing out between my fingers, had a salty taste & a stinging where a bullet had removed my upper lip. I came up out of the booth & slapped the shorter guy, bent over the waittress as if he really cared. I slapped him silly. He was about to get furious, his dignity had been sorely offended, he looked up at me with world weary bloodshot eyes as I shoved a water glass into his face. It popped against his cheekbone, causing him to jerk his head backward, leaking the vitreous from one ruined eye. He turned to run; his partner saw me coming, got off a couple shots in my direction, cracked the front window & broke the waterfall in a Hamms beer sign; they were both out the door before you could dial 911, report a double homicide, heart attack, carjacking, no fishing, no luck, conjunctivitis, receding gums, rotten teeth, bad breath, unfortunate circumstances, wrong number, the sky is falling, order an espresso. I think I heard the LAPD gun those two men down as they stood at a wall with their hands behind their heads. But I couldn’t really wait around, I just don’t have the time, I had a bus to catch if I was gonna watch my favorite TV show, Combat with Vic Morrow . . .

II.

Thru strange coincidence, I had found a job myself at the same locale, Farmer John’s Meat Company. How were we to know they hired illegal Mexikans by the truck load to run the meat processing & packing industry for the entire city, the entire southland region? The whole ekonomy was built upon the backs of our people, so-called illegals. Lucky for us. We just took our feathers off & shoved them in the pockets of our cheap swap-meet jeans, swabbed our garish paint off our war faces into a borrowed used snot rag, tied our hair back like lokos from who knows where in our stolen leather motorcycle gang jackets, brandishing our tattoos as we filled out the job applications in hieroglyphik Nahua script, never got our paychecks to no avail, needed a vacation all those years, supported the Social Security System with our taxes & our labor, we did what we could. I noticed a bunch of guys from the squad sitting around the personnel office at the plant pretending they didn’t know each other, glancing warily at each other but too shy to admit none of us could write any English. It didn’t matter. Slicing meat was right up our alley. Meat, flesh & blood, guts, menudo, gristle, chicharrones, pork neck bones, feet, tripe, puddled intestines, brains, carcasses split open & hanging upside down from hooks, strings of blood swaying like a beaded curtain across a doorway, fluids hosed down a steel drain, heads with the eyes removed, or sometimes not, sclerotic in a pile, floppy ears, tails, snouts, skin, yellow blubber, pieces of gray meat cleaned out of the machinery & off the floor — all processed into Farmer John wieners. 100% beef. We were right at home. That is to say, I mean, in the continuum of time I emerge thru the steam. I pushed a dolly, a cart. Rubber wheels on a concrete floor. Steam wells up around me. The steam always wells up from the ground like lowland fog. Ferns, broad green elephant ear plants seem outlined by mist. Usually I trudge thru the ground fog in the rubble of Stalingrad breathing out fog myself. Strapped across my back, a bag, a submachine gun? I better hustle. Sometimes I turn the corner of the meat packing plant. Garish fluorescent light glares on the yellow enamel cinder block hallway and the concrete floor. That always happens. The sound of wind rushing through the canopy hundreds of feet overhead, the stillness of the shadows on the rain forest floor. A window left open, a brown leaf on the floor in front of the urinals. A tub of guts, tubal entrails looping & snaking like white PVC hose thru the pinkish water. I’m forever finding myself sitting on the forklift, staring down at . . . whatever it is . . . a pallet of breakfast sausage . . . The wind rushing through the canopy, a bird flying, crying as if lost. The wide river delta, an estuary opening out on the sea below the mouth of the river. Sometimes I don’t know exactly where I am, which way next. Then, a tapping noise against the sheet metal door of the walk-in freezer. Someone wants in. Something rattles like machinegun fire in Stalingrad. Ruins of burnt out blocks of tenement apartments emerge thru the smoke, empty windows against the pall across the sky. It will continue happening. The world goes on & on. "Reality is infinite," says the Farmer John toilet stall door graffiti scratched in at eye level. "Shit is infinite," someone scratched below that, Stalingrad, our homeland, the sea, our world. It will never stop. I’m thinking that, later, too, (or earlier), staring at the lettering on the freezer carton, "Farmer John’s Finest Pork Sausage," the logo with the smiling farmer. Wasn’t this part of what I glimpsed one day, shuddering out of a nightmare vision, thinking about something else entirely, walking along my garden path, with a splitting headache? But when had that ever happened? I could no longer recall exactly when it began. But I knew that it would never end.

Sesshu Foster teaches literature and composition at Bravo Medical Magnet in East L.A. He is the author of City Terrace Field Manual, a finalist for the PEN Center West Poetry Prize. He is also co-editor of Invocation L.A.: Urban Multicultural Poetry, winner of a 1990 American Book Award. He lives in Alhambra.


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