“There’s no magic here.” She said. Her hair was black ice, slippery shine. Her fat lips formed around the words as if she were praying to the god she couldn’t find again. She’d tried. Time and again, she’d tried. Bending knees never led her back to Mexico–the sharp incline of rock where her grandmother had taught Marisol the old ways. Stirring and praying a mixture of what looked like the starchy water after boiling macaroni, I didn’t know what she meant by magic. She told me her grandmother had spooned it to her. After her father had tried to sell the cattle so Marisol could visit a medical doctor in Mexico City. After the cows died of starvation. After her home turned to ash. After months of waiting on her father. After knowing he was killed by a stretch of highway in Arizona more spiteful than the Devil it was named after. No death certificate. It kept his bones.
“This land only takes.” She said after boiling the liquid her grandmother had wrapped her in and sung a song from the mountain she was born.
She hummed the tune every so often. A low bubbling melody that always woke me. When she was cooking. When she was distant. Marisol sang it after we fucked on her couch. She never wanted to look me in the face when I came. Her stare focused on a small decaying rot on the ceiling of her bedroom. There was a chicken in her living room the first time I came to her. She broke its neck in front of me over the kitchen sink. I never wanted to fuck anyone else again.
I had come to her the first time for a promotion at the Plant. A word of mouth visit and a superstition I’d been harboring since I was a boy. Since all of us were boys. I sniffed dead things and she chanted, only now I knew for my benefit. A tourist show. I paid her my savings. And she let me taste her pussy. It’s flavor like red-pepper flakes–heat that stung my nose long after I had left her trailer. I put red-pepper flakes in a vial and wore it around my neck. Like a talisman I had found on vacation.
“There’s no magic here. No life.”
“You have to give it a chance, Marisol.” I was always convincing her to stay. That there wasn’t just death here.
“I’ll die here.” She said over stove coffee and a West Texas stench. Knife in her hand, her nipples always hardened when she cut garlic in the morning to keep the meat pack smell out of her flour. There was something ancient about the curvature of her body. A secret I had never known. That I would never know, even after I’d had her twice that morning. Even after she’d found god again a year later.
“You don’t know magic.”
She screamed at night sometimes. She wasn’t sleeping or having nightmares. She was awake. She told me she could feel the bones of her father cracking under the weight of this sky.
“You won’t die with me, I’ll keep you.”
I didn’t know that I couldn’t. I didn’t know that red-pepper flakes weren’t ever mine.
(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)