"From the gut," "Drenched," "The Year of Tenacious Hair"
excerpts from Itzá, a novella
By Rios de la Luz From the gut
The only time Abuelita bit her tongue was in front of her great-grandchildren, Marisol and Araceli. They ran errands in the city on the weekends. Abuelita needed to visit the pharmacy. Marisol wanted to find her first tarot deck. Araceli wanted to watch the pigeons downtown to see if any of them were curious enough to follow her back home. As they waited at the bus stop for their ride home, a pale man with yellow hair stood in front of Abuelita, smirked, and called her a wetback. Go back to where you came from. Drown on the way back. In an alternate reality, Abuelita’s floral scarf covers Marisol and Araceli’s ears. The world becomes mute to them. Lightning scratches at the sky to distract them from an ugly moment on the planet. Abuelita spits on the ground and sticks her fists through the man’s chest. She asks him if the blood coming out of the orifice in his soul is just as brilliant red as the blood pumping into her vibrating heart. She slaps him across the face with her bloody hand and tells him to stop perpetuating the violence of his ancestors, stop being so simple and predictable, stop the infatuation with claiming bodies like hers unworthy of existing in the same space. She tells him in her gorgeous thick accent, I have always been here and I will never leave. I don’t owe you a god damn thing on this spinning earth because you are nothing, you are so small, so minute, I won’t even keep a memory of your face, you white demon piece of shit. In this reality, Abuelita says nothing because she’s recovering from the flu. The air is pushed out of her and she struggles to inhale. She is silent and looks past him. This is the silence that ejects you out of your body. It untangles every single hair on your skin and all of it stands up. You want to rip it out, you want to rip yourself into particles. It’s so much more than a word or a phrase or a look. It is detaching yourself from your own body to step outside of it and ask why anyone would go out of their way to belittle you. It is white supremacy embedded into this social fabric, it is this reality that wants you gone, it is desperate to erase you. It’s so much more and you cannot understand it unless it has happened to you. Unless, it keeps happening to you. You have to remind yourself about survival at all costs. You must survive at all costs. Abuelita’s hands shake as she grabs Marisol and Araceli by their small beautiful brown hands. The two girls stay quiet. Araceli breaks the silence. She exclaims to Abuelita, she knows for sure-for sure that they are a family of water witches. She keeps having dreams in aquamarine hues and she swears she was born to swim across oceans. Abuelita smiles and squeezes their hands. She begins to feel faint. She lets go of their hands and reaches for Marisol. She embraces Marisol’s face and tells her she is enough. She caresses Araceli’s face and tells her she is enough. We deserve to exist.
Rain poured out of the dark clouds. Araceli held her arms out, opened her mouth, and stuck out her tongue. She called the sky the ultimate hydration station. She called out to Abuela, and in a matter of seconds, in bare feet and a lemon yellow tracksuit, Abuela came out to feel the water on her face. Marisol followed with her shaved head. Her head was an homage to Abuelita during the Year of Tenacious Hair. The water trickled off her round head and landed on the shoulder pads of her tangerine dress. Araceli was obsessed with any pigmentation of blue. She wore matching sky blue shorts and a shirt with patterned white clouds dispersed on the cotton. Her teal socks were drenched and squished in between her toes. She loved the weight of wet clothes, she loved feeling heavier than gravity meant to make her, she loved flailing herself around and stumbling over her own body. She loved feeling spastic. Araceli watched her sister and grandma embrace each other under the rain then let go of each other to start dancing. Marisol spun around and sang words she was learning to use in Farsi. They were curse words and savory words. She was so proud to start taking on a third language. Abuela did the robot and howled out a laugh. Araceli and Marisol followed her moves then let loose with the cackling that was sitting in their guts. When Araceli thinks back to this memory, the three of them are frozen in time with their arms and chests pointing toward the sky. Their tongues are out for the sake of hydration. The rain continues to fall until the town floods. The three of them stuck in time underwater only to emerge to the surface with gills on the sides of their necks.
The Year of Tenacious Hair
Abuelita’s hair wasn’t a big deal until the year it grew at such a high velocity, she had to shave her head each morning to maintain some form of order on her scalp. Her hair used to be the color of clay in the depths of the earth, cooling browns, browns like dirt stained with fresh rain. One morning, her hair creeped under the gap of her shut bedroom door. Her Chihuahua, Pompom, snuggled inside. A few cucarachas sought shelter inside sleeping Abuelita’s hair. She woke up screaming out “mis amores, ayudenme” because her head hurt so much. Some of her hair was tangled around the nails in the walls and photos of me and Araceli. Her hair wrapped itself around her arms and legs. When we woke up she told us in a serene voice to find anything sharp and cut her out of her hair. Abuelita was always a morning person. Always. Araceli, Abuela, Mami and I found scissors and started battling her tangled hair. Cucarachas scattered and Pompom growled, but we were able to untangle Abuelita from her hair. The closer we got to Abuelita, the lighter her hair became. The roots of her head were all white and all four of us gasped. The next morning, her hair wrapped itself under the bed and wiggled into the cracks in the walls. The following months, we took shifts to help her sleep in peace. We stocked up on scissors and asked neighbors to help us with her hair on Sunday mornings so we could take short naps. As the sun fell, Araceli stayed up past midnight and I stayed up until 3 a.m. Mami took the rest of the shift until 8 in the morning. I was delighted to see Abuelita’s hair sprout out of her scalp and curl toward the sky. I braided her hair and stuffed as much of it as I could into my pencil cases and old backpacks. I hid her hair under my bed. Having it underneath me felt like a safety barrier. There was a thrill in keeping something hidden for myself, like she was shedding her legacy and giving it to me in clumps of magnificent shining white hair. White like the snow I saw one winter, sitting on rooftops like a light dust, swirling inside funnels, touching the earth and then dissipating back into the gray sky. I wanted to hold onto the snow forever, but it melted on my tongue and into my stringy hair. Abuelita’s hair was a tangible gift better than snow, better than eating hail, better than having to ask god to keep her here on earth until I have a face filled with wrinkles so she can take care of me into my old age. I knew I would have to say goodbye to her eventually, but having her hair felt like she was saving me.
Rios de la Luz, of El Paso, Texas, is the author of the novella, Itzá (Broken River Books) from which the excerpts are taken, and of the short story collection, The Pulse between Dimensions and the Desert (Ladybox Books). A "proud queer xicana and chapina" (Guatemalteca) as she says, her work has also appeared inCorporeal Clamor, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Entropy, Luna Luna Magazine, and St. Sucia.