By Angela BetzienDrama Currency Press
Mortido is a crime drama, revenge tragedy and morality play all rolled into one.
Jimmy is a small-time dealer and Monte is a biggish-time distributor. Grubbe is a detective. They all want the same thing: to live out their lives in leisure. And a water view would be nice. But for Jimmy and Monte to win, Grubbe has to lose. Same goes the other way.
It begins with a Mexican fable about death and ends in the Western suburbs of Sydney. In between it takes in the public housing on Belvoir Street, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, quinoa, Nazi Germany, Qantas, Coca-Cola, a seventh birthday party, the Surry Hills police, the property market and a body in the harbour. The connective tissue? Cocaine.
A relentless, almost classical play that sees the inevitable 'tragic' consequences of violence and crime played out across contemporary Sydney and the world. With a plot and structure that is epic and complex and dialogue that is always razor sharp, the distinct characters, clear themes and ideas make for a passionate and compelling work. There is chilling, theatrical force in the figure of the tortured child who returns endlessly to capture the children of his torturers.
Once there was a boy born in the barrios of Chilpancingo, Mexico. Now the boy’s Mother was poor. Her husband was a good for nothing drunkard who beat his wife. Fortunately he died when he fell off the back of a cempasùchil truck after drinking too much mezcal on an empty stomach. Everyone said the boy’s Mother was better off without that lazy chuntaro and although The Mother wept for him, she had her son and he was a blessing and all a mother could pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe for. Without her husband, The Mother did not have enough tortilla. She went to all the maquiladoras begging for work but there was none.
So, the boy said to his Mother.
Madre, let me go into the city to work and bring home some pesos so that you and I can eat.
The Mother sighed.
My child, you are only seven. What would you do?
I can shine shoes Madre.
For she knew that without pesos they would surely starve.
The next day the boy did not play Quietos in the dirt with the other children. Quietos is a game of freeze where you turn your enemies to stone. A game that the young hermanos of Mexico grow up to play for real. Instead, the boy left the barrio with a stale tortilla folded in his pocket. He walked down the mountain and into the city. When he arrived at the Plaza he set up his shoe shining kit and waited. Before long, an Old German appeared.
How much for a shine?
Fifteen pesos Señor.
The Old German scowled and turned away.
Today a special price for you Señor! Only ten pesos!
Still scowling, the Old German put his foot on the box and the Boy set to work. When the Boy had finished he said...
Are you hungry boy?
I am always hungry Señor.
Come with me.
And so the Boy packed up his shoe shining kit and followed the Old German through the streets.As it grew dark they came to his butcher’s shop. Here the Boy grew nervous.
You’re hungry aren’t you?
Come inside and I’ll feed you.
So the Boy, listening to his growling belly, followed the old German inside … As he stepped over the threshold of the shop he saw two Resistoleros, the ones who sniff glue to forget. The Boy turned to runbut the Resistoleros blocked his way.Before he could cry out, the Old German sliced the boy’s stomach wide open with a carving knife. The Boy watched with great surprise as his blood and viscera flooded the floor of the shop.
As the Resistoleros stared glassy-eyed, the Old German deftly gutted the boy like a pollito.
When the Boy’s belly was entirely empty of intestines, the Old German began to pack the cavity with small white packages.
Perhaps you can guess what was in them?
The Old German then stitched the wound shut and dressed him in new clothes. He put new shoes on the Boy’s little feet and a new hat on his little head. When he was finished the Boy was dressed better than he had ever been in his life. Looking at him you would think that he was only sleeping peacefully and not dead at all.
The Old German’s cunning plan was to send the Resistoleros across The Border with their brother asleep inthe back of the car.When they had safely crossed into the United States of America, they would cut open the stitches, remove the precious contents and dump his little body in the desert where coyotes would gnaw on his bones until they were dust.
Now as Mexican luck would have it, the Resistoleros were stopped at the border. The guardordered the boys from the car. Of course one of them would not, could not wake up.
On the wings of many miracles, the Boy’s body was returned to his barrio home. The Mother wept and wept and wept and before long her tears of grief and rage filled a large cooking pot. In this cooking pot of tears The Mother made mole negro, a rich Oaxacan sauce from a recipe passed down from Madre to Madre to Madre since before the Spanish came with theirraping cocks.
To the pot, The Mother added cinnamon, garlic, banana, onion, fat, raisins, bread, thyme and the most powerful ingredient of all, Coca Cola.
When the mole was rich and ready, The Mother filled her dead son’s belly with the black sauce. The other women in the barrio clucked their tongues. After all there were living children who were starving. But The Mother, in her grief, in her rage, paid no heed to her neighbours.
The Mother took her best needle and thread and stitched up the belly of her child with fine stitches. Each time she pierced her son’scold flesh she winced as if he could still feel the needle’sprick.
Now The Mother knelt on the dirt floor and prayed, not to Our Lady of Guadalupe, no, she prayed to Santa Muerte, Our Lady of Death.
That night the dead boy sat up and asked for a Coca Cola. The Mother embraced her blessed son and wept tears of joy. Santa Muerte had answered her prayers. The Mother swore from this day forth she would worship Santa Muerte and no other.
Now the Boy lived but he was no longer a sweet angelito. Instead he was filled with a rage like a young cock in the pelea de gallos. The Boy became known as El Gallito, The Little Rooster. El Gallito grew up to be the most fearsome cartel leader in all of Mexico. While the people feared El Gallito, they also loved him, especially when he ordered his sicarios to throws truckloads of pesos into the streets for the poor to peck like hungry hens. El Gallito was rich and powerful and had come from nothing, from dirt just like them. If The Little Rooster could make it, why couldn’t they?
And no one, not even Santa Muerte could bleed La Madre’s hatred of the Old German, he who had slaughtered her son like a pollito in that butcher’s shop so long ago in Mexico.
And so began a war that would have no end.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist