—For Emily Carroll.
You squat by the TV and sift through VHS tapes in their worn boxes. The biggest rips and tears lie on The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, videos that you and Maya sat watching, warmed as though by a fire, until the tapes got fissures and a static wave washed over the screen and skipped parts.
Your boots bump your ass as you squat, and push your wallet against your butt. An alien name sits in place of “Fawn Inés Estés” on your ID.
You sit on the floor against the coffee table, and notice the note your mom left you. She left info about the security alarm, how to clean up the cat’s barf if she pukes again, and the number of the hotel. Before you realize it, you pull an old tin for loose leaf tea out of your backpack, tap the ash onto the note, pack the bowl, and light up. You breathe deeply and the sting hits the back of your throat. You cough and your eyes water. You crumple the note and, getting panicky about leaving a smell trail, tie it in a plastic bag and put it in your backpack instead of leaving it in the trash.
Your fingernail, with chipped-ass black nail polish, picks at the ratty cardboard of the tape boxes. On the Lion King box, the evil lion Scar is brown, mincing, scrawny, and literally limp-wristed. He’s thrown in darkness, below Simba and Mufasa, who are burly, strong-jawed, butch, and light. The cover of The Little Mermaid shows a petite, white, femme Ariel looking in horror at the wicked, fat, dark-skinned Ursula, who the animators based off the drag queen Divine. Both villains smile, all bright eyes and sharp teeth. They sit among their chosen family members, hyenas and eels.
The fan beats slower and slower. Your fingers vibrate against the stubble of your chin, and your tiny breast buds are stifled against your shirt. The weed helps sometimes, but sometimes it just accentuates that feeling of all the cells in your body trying to escape.
You hook up the RCA cables of the dusty VCR to the TV. The tape clicks and whirrs, and The Little Mermaid resumes right near the part where it always skipped. You saw the movie without this flaw, which started before the Sea Witch cut’s Ariel’s tongue out (wait, you’re confused it with the Hans Christian Andersen version?), and before she meets the prince on dry land. You saw this skipped part so rarely that you don’t remember what happened in between the jump. Snow-like static coats the screen, but the frames keep running. You don’t want to see this. Your cells vibrate. You click the VCR off.
You sit down on the toilet and try to slow down the rush of your breathing.
Disney animators held a plate of water over top of the images they filmed for Pinocchio’s underwater scenes, making the animated drawings undulate. You feel that panel of water between you and your hands and body, and the ceramic tiles on the floor and walls. A sense memory returns to you of all the years you sat in the bathroom, reading Goosebumps, or Swamp Thing comics. The bathroom door was the only boundary that was respected.
A wax candle sits on top of the toilet behind you. You take the lighter out of your jeans and flick the button, letting the wick catch the flame. You pick up the candle and place it on the edge of the sink. The automatic fan sputters and dies, and the lights above the vanity mirror follow. You smile and stand in front of the mirror. You drag your hands against the smooth porcelain of the sink.
“Bloody M—,” you say. “Bloody Mary.”
Your breath seems loud. You drag the syllables in your nasally voice, daring her.
A flicker appears, an unholy shape. She cracks a side smile. Her teeth are all fucked up.
Your image replaces hers. What did you see? Did she remind you of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, the image of her dangling from a beam, as Pip saw her during his first terrified visit to her mansion, and then later called a childish fancy? Did the woman’s image have the smooth grain of a Daguerreotype, or the rough lines of an Emily Carroll horror comic, stark red lips against charcoal grays? Was she in color? Was she wearing some Victorian dress, really, or was it your cousin’s frilly quinceañera dress? You stood to her side with her brothers, your chest caved in, covered in acne and hiding your face behind bad Robert Smith hair, wanting that dress so bad. All your aunts and uncles crowded her, calling her mija, mija. They called you mijo, and the difference was the gulf between standing in sunshine and being buried alive.
You don’t know what you saw. Darkness makes room for you to see what’s in your mind. It also desaturates and makes your vision something like black and white, closer to how wolves and dogs see.
You blow out the candle and open the door. You pull out a baggy cardigan and the standard issue “queer punk” jean jacket vest, and throw on your backpack. You tromp down the stairs, pull the doorknob, and let the cool air hit you. Boot soles sink into the frosted grass and you clomp through the backyard and into the woods.