La Tamalera (The Tamale Lady)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Do you really know who's making your tamales?

Submitted: April 13, 2017

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Submitted: April 13, 2017



His knife sharpened, work-space sanitized and meat inventoried, Beto checked the thermometer. It was exactly 40 degrees. He was ready to start.


It was two hours before dawn in a weedy alley behind a row of nondescript Craftsman bungalows. At the end sat a tan Chevy step-van. It’s driver waiting impatiently. The alley was in a seedier part of Wellington Heights. If he were caught with this particular package he knew he’d never get out of here alive.


Beto was busy boning a leg portion when he looked up and saw the red light above the door come on. The boss was here. A few minutes later the cold room door opened and his strange employer walked in with a new carcass thrown over a shoulder. This one particularly small. Beto wondered who the supplier was but he kept his thoughts to himself. Work was hard to come by and a Peruvian without a work visa, even in East LA, had to keep his head down and his mouth shut.


The nervous driver sat up when he saw the old Buick’s headlights turn into the other end of the alley. His emotions were split between relief and fear. He couldn’t wait to be rid of the package but he was scared of the customer.


The LeSabre nosed up to the van and turned the headlights off but left the parking lights on. The large driver’s side door opened and the customer stepped out and approached the van with a purpose. The van driver snapped out of his daze, exited the cab and headed for the rear of the van. The driver rolled the cargo door up two feet, just enough to access the cold black plastic wrapped package resting just inside the door. The customer smiled a creepy smile and reached for it but was stopped when the driver pulled a large pistol out and gestured for the money.


Beto had seen a lot of bad stuff in the jungles of his home land. Things that haunted his sleep and sometimes his waking hours as well but he’d never imagined such things were possible in the city or even in America. Beto took the small package from his boss. He placed it down on the work table and slowly unwrapped it. With the eyes of a professional butcher, Beto scanned the meat for any imperfections or bruising. He turned the carcass over and ran a his right index finger down the spine, noting rib spacing and tender loin size. He then made mental notes on the shoulders and small rumps. He knew this wouldn’t take long but wanted to show some respect and take his time. He was also pleased to see the carcass had been fully dressed out. He didn’t always get them that way and it made his sleep come hard.


The December sun was rising again over the city of angels and Tita had the coffee ready for her friends. They came through the cyclone fence gate a few minutes apart, two of them arriving at the same time. Five old women sat on an old front porch silently drinking their coffee and watching the crows fight over something in the palm tree across the street. There would be plenty of talking later. By late afternoon they will have made another one hundred tamales and discussed, argued and then figured a solution to all the world's problems. By the weekend they will have made thousands of dollars selling their tamales in Walmart parking lots all over LA and the Inland Empire.


Beto had labeled and wrapped special cuts to be placed in one of the big Sub-Zero refrigerators and hung the rest in the locker for aging. All the refrigerators were full again and he knew he’d have some time off for a while. Beto pulled his blood smeared smock off and threw it in the shop bin. He sat up on the deep sink and lit a cigarette. Tapping ashes into the stainless steel canyon, he wondered if the world had gone mad. He chuckled to himself and thought “I just spent the morning flaying a seven year old girl. Am I mad?”


The red light came on in the empty cold room. The boss soon entered with a stolen Stater Bro’s shopping cart and headed for the refrigerators. Five minutes later the old woman left with a half a cart of prime young human flesh.


The old women worked like a maquina de tamales (tamale machine). They laughed, they argued, they cooked tender child meat and rolled them in tight little corn husk packages and shared pictures of their grandchildren.


She looked into the Saturday morning sky and smiled her grandmotherly smile. Tita popped open the large capacity trunk of her Buick LeSabre and took in the smell of her labors. She turned around and faced the full parking lot. She never had to say a word. She just let the aromas work their magic.

© Copyright 2018 R.Guy Barringer. All rights reserved.

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