Under the Aztec Sun
As he slowly regained consciousness, Martinez felt he was dreaming. Confined in a small dark space, he was being jostled up and down. It took several minutes for his head to clear, but once it did he was able to identify the steady humming noise as that of an automobile engine. In the dark he tried to stretch his legs, only to realize that someone had him hogtied.
Maria? He pictured his wife, Maria. God, why couldn’t he think straight? Straining to recall what had happened, Martinez drew a blank. He’d been angry with Maria. But angry about what? Each surfacing image was unclear. Like fragments of a faded photograph or puzzling scenes of a movie incorrectly stitched together.
Realizing he was in the trunk of a moving car was easy. Figuring out how he got there was not. He breathed in the hot musty air. Was he inside Maria’s Pinto. Wait. The Pinto was a hatchback. No trunk. By the roughness of the ride he easily determined the driver was speeding down some unpaved road. But headed where?
The bumping suddenly halted, the engine quieted. Martinez heard the driver’s side door being slammed shut. Footsteps crunched over gravel. Someone fumbled with a key. And then the trunk flew open and Martinez closed his eyes against the blinding sunlight. When he opened them again, he recognized the Indian blanket he sometimes spread out on park grass so Maria could sit without staining her clothes. He was in his own trunk. But who was outside? Martinez squinted, but only saw mottled colors floating against a dark silhouette. Maria? No. The silhouette belonged to a man. A large man.
Still unable to make out the shadowy figure, Martinez cleared his parched throat and said, “Who the hell are you? What the hell do you want?”
A solemn, low-pitched voice answered, “I’m the man whose life you destroyed.”
The big man slowly eased into focus. Martinez watched him pull a white handkerchief from an inside pocket of his black coat and wipe his pockmarked face. His hair was tucked beneath a tilted fedora. Behind the man, Saguaro cactuses stood apart at irregular distances with their limbs held up like scarecrows guarding an endless stretch of baked red earth.
“I don’t know you,” Martinez said, feeling dampness under his arms. He tried, but was unable to squirm free of his restraints.
Maria. Something about Maria filled his mind. A Taco Bell on Sepulveda. It grew clear. He remembered now that he had caught her coming out of the restaurant with another man. But it wasn’t this man who stood outside the trunk, was it? No. The man with Maria was much younger, much thinner. But who was that man with Maria? More importantly, who was this man in front of him?
The big man turned his back to Martinez and raised an arm. He removed his fedora and swiped a forearm across his forehead. For a long time he stared into the thick emptiness of the desert. When he finally turned around to face Martinez again, the man said, “It was my daughter’s fifteenth birthday.”
Martinez closed his eyes and tried to draw out the memory of this man. Nothing. All he could recollect was Maria. She and her companion had sat down beside each other at a patio table. They laughed and touched fingertips under the shade of a large green-and-white umbrella.
Martinez remembered the hurt he felt when seeing his wife with another man. The physical pain in his chest. The turning in his stomach. The wobbling of his legs. All that rushed back. But the man outside. Martinez had no recollection of him.
“She was all I had,” the big man said. He turned back around to face Martinez and slowly leaned his head into the trunk, so close that Martinez could smell the alcohol on the man’s breath.
“Who are you?” Martinez said.
The man pulled away and said, “I am a man with nothing left to live for."
“Oh, God,” Martinez murmured.
The big man shook his head. “You remember now, don’t you?”
While he’d sat watching from his car, Maria had leaned into her companion. They kissed. Martinez had gripped the steering wheel. His vision blurred. He recalled with clarity how he reached beneath the seat and felt the cold steel of the pistol. Then everything happened quickly. He pointed the weapon out the window and kept squeezing the trigger until the magazine was empty. Maria was on the ground. Her lover, too. But it was the table behind Maria and her lover. That was where he’d seen him. Martinez’s eyes widened. “God. I didn’t mean to hurt your daughter.”
The big man closed his eyes and raised his head to face the blistering sun. He breathed in deeply as if he needed his lungs to hold every bit of the desert air. His eyes welled. Red flecks were visible on his pulsing neck and his twitching nose.
Closing his eyes again, Martinez replayed the final moment in the Taco Bell parking lot. The big man was weeping, holding his daughter in his arms. Then when the man spotted Martinez, he had carefully laid his child onto the ground. When the man got to his feet and started across the lot, Martinez squeezed the trigger. But the weapon had been empty. He could still hear the hollow clicks. He had tried to restart his car. Then the big man was upon him. Nothing after that.
“Don’t kill me,” Martinez said.
The big man shook his head. “I’m not going to kill you.”
Relieved, Martinez sighed.
Once again the big man raised his face to the sky. “The Aztec sun will take us both.” He then turned and started across the earth. Martinez screamed, but the man continued on until he reached the nearest Saguaro. There he sat and closed his eyes. While Martinez screamed, the big man removed his cap and set it in his lap.
*** End ***
BIO: Robert Aquino Dollesin was still a kid when he left the Philippines. He now resides in Sacramento, where he writes now and again. Among numerous other venues, some of his work can be found on Storyglossia, Nossa Morte, Big Stupid Review, Thug Lit.