A Xicana Watches Slasher Films and Ponders Divination
I see my mother watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with her mother in a packed Fresno movie theater. It's 1974, and they're sitting in the first row from the screen. My mother's wearing the flesh necklace of a dull ache. She's watching through her fingers like a brown paper fan, and her corduroy jacket's draped over her torso like a butcher's apron. She pulls it over her head and wonders how her mother can keep watching. Under her jacket, she smells like hair spray and cinnamon candy and sweat, and the hot metal is wheeling in her ears.
I see myself at four years old, walking up the stairs of my grandmother's house. I wait for my grandmother to call out my name in the dark, to pull me back to her, like a ribbon of black videotape. She always scolds me for pulling at the tape, for getting my fingerprints on it. The movie won't play right if you do this, she says. The dust from the attic leans to the east, and I touch my hands to the walls as if they'll move to make room for my tiny body. I can hear the story my grandmother told me that night, about the baby that died in her body when she was young, how she had to wait a whole week for the doctor to come to San Joaquin and cut the baby out. San Joaquin is a small town, full of brown women and their daughters, little girls with coarse, curly hair who look like me. I stroll and hum a song to keep me company. I can see the baby floating in front of me. Little ghost fruit gashed out.
You're not supposed to tell your story in dreams. This is the rule that they tell us in writing class. After I give birth to my son, my dreams have many rooms like my grandmother's house, and they come the strongest in the morning. Morning dreams are like a rib cage with birds chirping inside.
Night terrors are not the same as dreams. Night terrors happen when someone disturbs your dreams. I'm seventeen, and my brother opens my door without knocking to get the VCR from my room. I'm in between sleep and awake. I can feel the gravity of him, crawling on my bed, like the incubus in Fuseli's painting, but I'm not the blonde doll draped over the bed like a prayer. My brother hangs at the door like a pendulum. I feel the demon's little feet stepping on my skin, sawing at the girl's bone beneath my neck.
I'm surprised at the invitation to my cousin's party because she's twelve and I'm only nine. She's having a fling with straight-to-video horror movies, so this is a slumber party, or rather, a viewing party. Her friends wear neon crop tops and have spiral perms, and the bottom part of their heads shaved to alleviate the heat that spits from the sun in our town. As the sun inches out of the window, I drink soda like it's the elixir to life. We're watching Slumber Party Massacre II. I don't know why we're watching these movies out of sequence. We try to predict who'll be the final girl, who'll be the one who makes it to morning alive. We're a bunch of slanted-eyed brown girls watching wide-eyed white girls being chased by a killer with a glossy black pompadour and a red guitar that doubles as a drill saw. When they're cornered and have nowhere to run, their beach tanned bodies pool red at the end of the metal, like they're on the spiral horn of a unicorn, their nightgowns a ruffled froth of pastels, and the guitar sings beautifully at their death.
I buy a box from a bruja in Sacramento. There is a wand of black sage wound tight in red thread and a set of numbers and a pendulum and a candle for divination. Flowers and glitter dot the candles like a universe, and I do a spell to have dreams again because this is the only way I can get to sleep. I set a gilded mirror outside my pink circle of salt to trap the good there. When you are dream scraping, rest is a promise. The first dream begins quietly. I'm with my friends at a restaurant, and we're sitting outside on a patio. The air is cool, and the night is starless, but I can see their faces because a string of lights hangs over us like beads. I step inside to find something I have lost, and then I began to run, and I'm a hunted thing again. I fell in too deep.
The Slumber Party Massacre series is the only horror movie series to be directed by women. When I was a kid, I swore that I'd film my low budget remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the fields outside of my hometown whenever I had a windfall of money. I'd direct the movie, and I'd be the final girl. I'd find my way out of the house, and I'd make it to the day scene. They say that if you stay in the dreamscape too long, you are a sham. I'm afraid my son will find out I'm a sham of a woman, that all my pieces are not set neatly to the bone, that my blood won't weigh the difference between vanity and sacrifice. So I keep running, the wheeling metal always inches from my neck, my mouth and cheeks patterned with my blood, the salt circle of divination, the smooth wounds between my mother's hands, splayed and shaking, the pull of my grandmother's emptied stomach, my bell-bottomed jeans ripped with clots of dirt at my ankles because I'm a short woman, not long-limbed or shimmering. I begin to gag because the air is hot and dry and bleating before the red rot on my breasts stains to brown, before the sun tips hello and welcome to my flesh.
I Google "pictures of texas chainsaw massacre house 1974." I see the deception of skin and feathers and bone. As a little girl in Texas, I see my grandmother before she came to San Joaquin, trading humidity for dry heat. I wonder what she thought was crueler. I see particles of dust and remember my grandmother's attic, the air I took in when I was walking alone in the dark. I only wait for the sound of metal because I want to. My girl's hands become these hands, and my legs are these legs, waiting to bleed and ready to run when they need to.