BY RIOS DE LA LUZ
Daisy was covered in egg yolk and uprooted plants. She crawled under the bed and started praying. Daisy poured piles of salt into the corners of the room and hid yellow pieces of paper under the mattress with scribbled prayers. She prayed to the spirits on her father’s side of the family. She prayed for guidance from the spirits on her mami’s side of the family. She wanted to know if the blood rushing inside her meant she was like her father. Why did she have to share matter with him. Why did his actions only get him kicked out of the house and not into a hole under the earth. Why was he such a coward. He fled the house after he was caught with his hand cupped over her sister Rosa’s mouth as Rosa pretended to be asleep. Daisy prayed harder. She asked her ancestors to make her stronger than any man who ever decides to cross her.
When Daisy started losing her teeth, her father placed quarters under her pillow and as a ritual, he hung watercolor paintings of birds on the wall of her room. When Daisy woke up, quarters were stuck to her cheek and a tiny bird looked down at her. It was a red cardinal. She swears it started singing, but sometimes her ears rang on account of allergies. She tongued the empty space on her gums and tried not to panic because she woke up from a dream about all of her teeth falling out of her mouth and circling below her feet into the ocean.
Rosa hid the bruises and told Daisy they were changing colors like nebulas in the deepest parts of outer space. She told Daisy people are like trees, we shed and we change colors, in the winter we are most vulnerable, but as soon as it is over, we always bloom. As the months passed, Rosa became quieter, a shrinking dot. She didn’t say much, so Daisy started writing down stories to tell her. If you see a crow land in our backyard, ask it to stay. Tell it the darkest secret you know and tell the crow to stay quiet, stay quiet until it reaches the tallest pine trees on earth. Once it’s up there, it can scream what you said. The crow will scream what you can’t say. This was the first chapter in her bruja handbook. Chapter two instructed Rosa to wink at black cats and offer them a place to stay. Even if they run away, they’ll know you have a kind heart and they will protect you in the shadows as you sleep. Chapter three was about avoiding ghosts. Daisy told Rosa if she felt a chill up her spine to turn around and shout, “You’re not supposed to be here” and inhale deeply and exhale as hard as she could to show the ghost it was not allowed to invade her.
When Daisy was younger, her father told her a story about the ghost in the house he grew up in. You knew the ghost was around if your skin grew colder and colder. Your throat became tight. Your hands became numb. If you opened your eyes while the ghost was in the room, everything around you turned into blues, like you were under the sea. The ghost only stuck around for a matter of seconds, but it always froze him with fear. He could never sleep after feeling the cold touch of the ghost on his skin.
On one of their walks home from school, Rosa asked Daisy how to get rid of nightmares. Daisy grabbed Rosa by the wrist and took her into an abandoned desert field. They waited for the sun to start setting. Daisy told Rosa they could start the spell as soon as a mixture of pink and orange filled the sky. Plants scratched at their legs and Daisy carefully plucked a yellow flower from the top of a cactus plant. She picked some sage leaves and told Rosa to keep the flower and leaves in her pocket until they got home and then place them under her pillow. Daisy explained: The sage will clear your head so you can fall into a peaceful deep sleep. The spines of these nopales will protect you. They will pierce into the hearts of those who are trying to harm you while you sleep. This became chapter four of the bruja handbook.
Daisy walked into Rosa’s room without announcing herself and she saw her father lifting Rosa by one arm. Rosa cried silently as she tried to get out of his grip. He grabbed Rosa’s face and put his face to hers and shoved her small body onto the bed. Daisy ran out and knew what it meant to see a ghost.
Rosa believed in the powers of her little sister. In those moments where she froze in nausea and it felt like her thoughts escaped at a velocity she could not follow, she thought of her sister. It calmed her to think of Daisy scribbling away into notebooks, chanting up to the sun or the moon or whispering on windy days in a language she invented. Rosa pulled strands of hair from her small head when she started to panic. She fell asleep with patches of her head bleeding, leaving spots of her DNA on her pillows. The blood gave her proof she was still alive, she was still a human, even if she felt emptiness in her chest no adult could explain to her.
When it was winter time again, Daisy’s guts filled with guilt. She kept these prayers to herself, but she needed evidence she could get rid of the traits passed down to her from her father. She spit and spit on the watercolor paintings he gave her until the birds were blobs. She hung the new portraits to dry and once they were hardened, she burned each page. She sobbed as the ashes landed into her trash bin. She wanted the ashes to be her father’s skin. She wanted him to burn so she just asked her ancestors to give him permanent heartburn. Anything to make her sister feel better. Anything she could give to Rosa, she would try and put a spell out there to be carried in the wind. Spring felt better. Daisy sneezed as many times as she could each day. She claimed the sneezes were particles of her father leaving her body.
Rosa woke up in screams. She tried to pull out as many strands of hair from her head as she could grab with her fists. She punched herself in between her legs and she screamed for someone to stop the bad man. Stop him from finding her when she fell asleep. Daisy burned white sage and told Rosa they could sleep in her room from that point forward. She didn’t have to sleep alone.
He showed up in the summer and tried to convince their mother (Xiomara) he would never touch Rosa again. The matriarch said no. He sat outside with his legs crossed in front of the entrance door. Xiomara, Rosa, and Daisy peeked out of the front window and the man’s name who they would not speak sat there with a red face. Daisy grabbed Rosa’s hand and then her mami’s hand and she prayed. When foul men try to come back into your life, find other women, other heartbroken people and hold their hands. Once you feel strong as an interlocked unit: Scream. Shriek. Howl. Pretend the devil is in front of you and scream from another dimension in your guts.
The three of them held hands and started screaming. Xiomara repeated get out and leave, hijo de puta, rot in hell. Rosa howled and howled. Daisy screamed at her father and told him to stay away, he was not allowed back. She bit down on her tongue when she wanted to cry. She wanted to cry because this was a man she loved before knowing the pain he caused her older sister. The man tried to shout something at them, but their ritual was working. They were drowning him out with their voices. Rosa exclaimed, this is a war. He caused a war on my body. She cried into her hands because she knew it wasn’t over.
The bruja handbook became a giant stack of overflowing pages in Rosa’s old room. Daisy and Rosa started working on spells together. They painted their faces gold and wore crowns of dandelions as they chanted. Sometimes the spells were silly. For instance, they asked for a puppy on multiple occasions. Sometimes, the spells kept them in silence for hours after working together to protect their home from malevolent people. That was the reality, there are definitely good souls, but there are also the unstable souls, the ones who do not rest, even after shattering someone’s spirit.
Rosa waited for thunderstorms to ask angry ancestors for clarification on her own bitter thoughts. There were still moments where she froze and fell to the ground wanting to crawl underneath the earth. There were still memories of a man spitting on her, hands always grasping for parts of her body. They tugged at her even when she covered herself with her sheets. She was only brave enough to go under the bed once and he was there. He looked into her eyes and smiled. She screamed and ran outside so the rain could protect her.
Daisy and Rosa peeled bark from a white birch tree. They collected white petals from daisies and lilies. They poured salt onto the ground of Rosa’s old room. They draped white LED lights across each wall of the room. They took white sheets and draped them over the salted ground and the old spells they created and chanted together in the past. They dressed in black gowns with veils over their faces. Rosa wanted help dismantling the cycle of nightmares. Daisy wanted a baptism. They asked for a definitive signal when he was finally deceased. Whether it be from the earth or the sky or a dream. They only asked their ancestors for this final favor having to do with him.
Rios de la Luz is a queer xicana/chapina living in Oregon. She is brown and proud. She is in love with her bruja/activist communities in LA, San Antonio and El Paso. She is the author of, The Pulse Between Dimensions and The Desert via Ladybox Books. Her work has been featured in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Entropy, The Fem Lit Magazine, World Literature Today and St. Sucia.