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November First, Breakfast

Mexico City is a great place to live.

No, scratch that. Mexico City – Distrito Federal – is the greatest place on earth to be alive.

Also the greatest place to be dead.

The radio was spitting out something by Tito y Tarantula: Dusk till Dawn. I took another drag on my Mexican cigarette, stubbed out the roach, attended to the task at hand – breakfast. Coffee was on the stove, pre-breakfast joint successfully smoked, orange juice poured and drunk. I lit a gas ring and poured some oil into a pan.

I had put on some underwear to make breakfast. It’s not like I’m a prude, but there something about hot oil, and flames, and genitals that make me reach for my panties. Ok, my mother was a Catholic, and I was brought up in that hybrid Christian/Aztec tradition that passes for Catholicism in this goddam country. But I don’t get hung up on it. It doesn’t weigh on me more than any of the other historical baggage we have to tote around.

I poured some leftover salsa into the pan and stirred it around for a while before tipping it into a bowl.  I crushed some garlic and threw it into the pan, upended an open can of beans and held my garlic fingers to my nose, whilst stirring with my other hand.

Multitasking, or what, cabron!

I inhaled deeply, not for the first time that morning. That smell of fresh garlic burst into my brain, resplendent with notes of tobacco, jism and sweat. I fingered my crotch idly with a garlic-free finger and brought my hand back to my nose. What a heady olfactory start to the day! The sun was already streaming through the windows, filtered through the blooms of the big oleander occupying most of my miniscule balcony up here on the 14th floor. There was no point opening the window. The noise of the traffic down on Avenida Revolución would be deafening.  And the fumes would ruin the rush I was just in the middle of enjoying.

I mashed the beans with a fork and sprinkled in some salt and chili, gave it a final stir and put the pan on the back of the stove, swopping over an empty pan for the eggs.

The eggs. I wondered if people ever had unexpected surprises with eggs. Like, sometimes you have two yolks for example. Not often, but it happened to me a couple of times. Little yet-to-be-born twin chickens. Not even started on their development. How did they control that? How come people didn’t break open an egg in the morning and find little chicken fetuses looking up at them? You’d just be making pancakes for your children and your smiling hubby with his briefcase discreetly parked in the corner of the kitchen, you’d just be cracking that second egg into that mound of flour in your special pancake stirring bowl, when out falls this little dead chicken, its head tucked down by its wing, its downy yellow feathers still bedraggled from whatever it is eggs have inside them. Amniotic fluid? Albumen? Who gives a flying fuck. But this little corpse plops down into your miniature flour volcano with its caldera full of yolk and transparent gloop, and your breakfast is well and truly chingado baby.  The children are naturally horrified. You gasp, and put a floury hand to your beautifully lipsticked lips. Hubby does the caballero thing and snatches up the bowl, pouring it all down the waste disposal where it is quickly liquefied to a short surge of proteins and carbohydrates, heading for the sewer system.

How do they stop that from happening? Maybe the little corpse is already decomposing. Add some stink to the scenario.

Focus, you silly bitch.

I smile, and feel a trickle of sweat running from the nape of my neck down my spine. I swish my hair back with wave of the head and catch sight of the feet protruding from the end of my bed. I had forgotten all about him. The guy I had brought back with me last night. Miguel? Jesús? Or maybe Francisco? No, I think it was a Miguel. Difficult to remember, after all that tequila.

Maybe our putative Miguelito would like some huevos rancheros?

I could bring him breakfast in bed. Wake him with a kiss. Give him a glass of orange juice. Trace my fingers over his muscled chest, his heavily tattooed arms. Maybe even get things kickstarted with a blowjob. Ah no, scratch that. Shower first, then blowjob. No wait a second, if anyone is going down first thing in the morning it ought to be him. I brought him breakfast for god’s sake. It’s the least he could do.

So, Miguel baby, what’s it to be? Have you got the cojones for what this little mama’s got cooking?

Miguel refuses to stir, unimpressed by the plans I have for him.

Eggs for one then.  Whatever.

I crack in the eggs, corpse-free, and grind in some pepper from a big old pepper mill.

The radio segues from Adios Papa by Los Renaldos to the news. As ever, nothing new. Twenty thousand people have disappeared in transit across the country this year, assumed kidnapped into slavery by the cartels. The army have arrested all the police in some town up north. For corruption. As if the army are less corrupt than the police. The remains of the Tijuana cartel have been dumping headless bodies up by the border with the USA. I slip a spatula in under the eggs and give them a shake around the pan.

The great thing about Mexicans is that we survive in spite of everything. We are a family of fabulous creatures that live at the bottom of the ocean, out there in the Pacific, in the Marianas Trench. We should be crushed by the weight of the ocean. An ocean of violence and fear. And the obligations we have to our dead. But we survive, and we thrive. And the pressure of the ocean distills our emotions to a peculiar concentrate. We have a thick carapace to shield us from all that is disgusting and corrupt and without hope, but if we let you in you are in, unequivocally and irrevocably. A place of unimaginable intensity. A place so different to your blinkered gringo vision of normality that it takes your breath away. We have our dead, and we have death, and we have life. And death being so close makes life all the more a thing of value.  And that ain’t just the peyote talking.

I slide the eggs onto a plate and wipe the oil out of the pan with some kitchen roll. I return the pan to the gas ring and put in a tortilla.

On days like this, death comes in smiling.

She’s a calavera.  A laughing skull. Maybe she has fine ornaments etched into the bone. Maybe she’s dressed in rags. Maybe she rides a fine skeletal horse.

Today she’s wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a broad smile. She hitches up her skirt and dances a little version of the jarabe around the room, gives me a friendly slap on the butt with her bony hand, clicking her heels and snapping her fingers. The radio obligingly plays Walk Don’t Rango by Los Lobos. I welcome her into the room, flip the tortilla, turn off the gas, pour her a mezcal. She pinches my cheek like all aunties do and downs the mezcal in one, which percolates through her ribcage into a puddle on the floor.  I feel the surf beat and screaming trumpets surging through my body. We dance around the room, me and mi tia Catrina, la Muerte.

Like any good niece I want my auntie to be proud of me. We have an obligation to our death, as to our dead. I show her the bunch of orange marigolds in a vase on the coffee table. I bought them yesterday, in honor of her coming. She nods encouragingly. I feel relieved. She catches sight of the bare feet in the bedroom, protruding from under the crumpled white sheet.

I am such a careless hostess.

Embarrassed, I start to explain, to apologize for my lack of tact. She places a bony hand on my lips to shush me up and takes me by the hand. She leads me towards the bedroom. I feel suddenly shy, reluctant to reveal the details of my sex life to my prying aunt.

Miguel, or whoever he is, lays still, oblivious to the music or the unexpected visitor. I feel guilty, a teenage schoolgirl caught smoking maybe, or with a hand down my knickers. I hold back, but auntie is firm, she will brook no resistance, no reticence, no false modesty. Her hand tightens around mine. I feel the cold hardness of her bony grasp.

We reach the bedroom. She lets go of my hand and gestures towards the bed.

‘Strains of Skeleton’ by Lila Downs drift in from the next room.

I pull back the sheets and show auntie my handiwork.

Miguel’s eyes glisten dully from the pillow, his handsome torso juxtaposed beautifully against the dark red of the sodden sheet beneath him.

Auntie nods and strokes my hair. I am flooded by joy, flushed with relief.

She approves of my gift.

I have fulfilled my obligations.

This day in November, this day of Our Lady.

This Day of the Dead.

Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England.  He’s a writer, translator, musician, coder, sailor, environmentalist and guitar nerd in no particular order.  He is the author of New Clone City, nominated as a “Hot Berlin Read” by Exberliner magazine. You can follow Mike on Twitter here:


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