Stephanie Dickinson has lived in Iowa, Texas, Louisiana, and now New York City, a state unto itself. Her work appears in Hotel Amerika, Mudfish, Weber Studies, Fjords, Water-Stone Review, Gargoyle, Rhino, Stone Canoe, Westerly, and New Stories from the South, among others. Her
novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her recent novel Love Highway, based on the 2006 Jennifer Moore murder. Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg was released in 2013 by New Michigan Press. Her work has received multiple distinguished story citations in the Pushcart Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Mystery Stories.
Big-Headed Anna Walks Across the Border and Becomes the Blue Virgin
PACHUCA DE SOTO, 1917. The half-ton pickup trucks ride the dust toward Pachuca de Soto, and when one stops for me, the bed jiggling, full of squawking chickens and the girls who tend them, I climb in. I tell them I walked from Texas searching for the half of me that has been stolen. I show them my feet to prove my journey. Still the girls do not believe these soles without calluses or blisters could have trod the Valley of Mexico. Its volcano axis. Am I not the big-headed Blue Virgin, daughter of the old god Teotihuacan, the one prophesied to return to the scorched land? The girls with long black braids touch my head; they use their palms, the tips of their fingers. A hen, brown and forgotten, settles in my lap. I stroke the clucking from her feathers, and she rewards me with a lapful of warm russet eggs. Wrists against my ears, the chicken girls say they hear messages from heaven and the serpent world, doves roosting in my ear lobes, manna snakes sunning in the hollow of my breastbone. I tell them I am a chicken-tending girl like them, the knots they fondle my great-aunt left on my body, her raised cane thrashing me. Into the hen house with you and the one who put a brat in your belly. Sleep with the droppings on the roost. Wash each blood-speckled egg with your vile tongue. Nine months later, after my baby was taken, I left for Mexico. I am still sacred, the girls insist. My skin next to theirs looks blue, etched by purple tributaries that carry the forgotten rituals. Friend to the silky anteater and the giant leopard moth, Blue Virgin, listen. The first people (mud people, the conquistadors called them) are still dying of the influenza, the shivering and coughing. You are the big-headed deity prayed for by their parched lips. The Blue Virgin appears barefoot. Not a mark on them, a braided girl says. She’ll turn the brackish waters fresh, another mouths. Coyotes yowling from the deserted haciendas cower before her. Fires set by lightning, she quiets. The extinct lakes Texcoco, Zumpango rise from the earth at her beckoning. She’ll will the breeze to sift through the heat-walking mesquite, the clouds to float three-headed birds. The hen’s agony of watching death with her unblinking golden eye ends. No longer fodder for the kit fox’s supper. I wait for the girls to laugh. Their words fill my head until there is little room left.
Big-Headed Anna Wades Across the Rio Grande with Help of the Brown Madonna
NUEVO LAREDO, 1919. Like a herd of prayers a whole caravan of them thundering over the roadway, beasts tusked with headlights, noiseless, as they rattled over the desolation. More donkeys pulled wagons of pickers from the fields of charred thorns to the tomato vineyards of El Norte. They passed me as I tramped south into the land of revolution, of one-eyed dictators, who mashed pear avocadoes with the brains of horses. They would bring bullets and rifles and dynamite death on their return south. Nothing stopped the great metal beasts, unfurling their long red tongues down dirt roads, licking up starving people of the mud huts, ravenous for those who will sweat pinpricks of scarlet, grind their own meat to gristle. There’s the Rio Grande, where intestines of thirsty cattle blackened the water. Brown Madonna, Lady of the Guadalupe, you appeared in the swift current in your maroon robes, your heart showing its blue proof of unquenchable burning. You led me to dry riverbank and down the road into the marketplace where the sellers of watermelon drinks turned their noses up at me. They did not see your gaze traveling up and down the blankets, your dark eyes huge and solemn as churches. Looking for what? Brown lady, they would not sell me a night’s warmth for the peso I clutched. I crawled into a bakery oven after the loaves had been taken out. I slept in the warmth left behind. I am comforted by the smoke in your perfume and the sounds of the journey. You told me that I was made by the old gods, my mammoth’s jaw scrapped with a warrior’s obsidian blade, the songs of heartbreak my lullaby. My head was a gingerbread house in the distance of the wandering soul. My head was flan. Sponge cake. Three kinds of milk. My head was tested by a snake, who shape-changed and was sometimes half-bird, half-woman, who never carried off children, but sometimes clutched in her talons wicked adults.
Big-Headed Anna Gives Comfort to Silvia
POPOCATÉPETL, 1920. The gringo cabecilla’s bitten the brown girl everywhere and called it kissing. From under the brim of my hat, I saw the white devil’s blue-green serpent eyes, while I washed the taste of him off her in the water trough, the privies’ stopped up with dirty papers like bloated water lilies. He’d taken her from her thatched roof hut, threw money at her father, promised the girl work in his hacienda of stuccoed walls and flowering vines. She was his dusky camellia, his inner courtyard. The girl Silvia pointed to the kiss bruises, the green-toad funny shape of them. Shivering, she said she could feel the other women who had been touched by him, those he had consumed, this pure girl carried the unclean man’s child in her belly. The pickup dropped us on the shore of an extinct lake, spunky brown water dripping from secret creek. Rocks like bronze shields reflected Silvia’s small head and my own wheel head, our eyes glazed over like an armadillo vanished into its past. This was the land of charred and blistered chiles, shaving brush trees, passion fruit dances, and Xolos, the seed pearls of its paw nails left to chip. Lye soap, the girl still runs like sandpaper over herself, but she can’t scrub off his mouth—that place where the sacred hairless dog was brought down and put in a cooking dish. She trusted the dimples in my cheeks even when I wasn’t smiling. Wait, I told her. You’re not alone. I left the United States that stole my baby, that said I was too simple to raise it, that my mind was an unfit womb, and then they neutered me. They wanted me for the work farm, to give them my back-breaking labor for nothing. I rode the rails south. I will care for you and your baby. White vultures, gringos. Montezuma saw the pale ones as dead gods returned to life. The adventurer Cortés he believed to be Quetzacoatl, the god who fled Mexico years before on a raft of snakes and vowed to return. The god did not return, only the raft of snakes.