The chain

that juju, that something extra, our little bit of luck

Sometimes it seems that my life is a story strung between events that I never would have expected to happen. Two days ago, I pulled the last bit of suture from my dog’s side that had had been left behind when the vet’s assistant (ineptly) tried to take out the stitches from her recent spaying. My dog, who weeps and bites and trembles when the vet (or his inept assistant) tries to get within a foot of her, stood there patiently as I got my fingernails around the purple-tinted stub end of the string and yanked as hard as I could until it came out. She didn’t so much as flinch. Then I sprayed her with more of the purple stuff, which smeared my hands again like I’d pulled the fire alarm in middle school, and then she smeared it on the grass in our garden. 

Five days ago, a tarantula larger than my outstretched hand was crawling above the opening where our bathroom door should be (for now we’re using the refrigerator’s cardboard box as a kind of curtain over the square gash in the concrete). I did not scream. I did not faint. I did hyperventilate, but I got that under control. Isma told me get a bucket and a broom. I stood from a brave, safe distance of ten feet away while he knocked the tarantulón onto the floor and then shimmied it into the bucket. He dumped it in a field far enough down the driveway that I have the fervent hope I will never see it again. When I was fifteen, I fell screaming out of an inner tube on the Potomac river because a katydid had landed beside my face on the plastic. Now, I pick up katydids the size of my hand from the kitchen and shimmy them back outside. Scorpions, though, I kill with heavy sandals, without hesitation. I feel bad for them, the way their tails twitch in shock and disbelief, the way their blood stains the unsealed brick. 

Yesterday, a bee buzzed under my foot as I was filling up a bucket for bathwater. When I swept it out, it stung my finger. I used my nail to push out the stinger and watched, sadly, as it writhed on the dirt, yellow string leaking out of the hole in its bottom like cartoon guts. The sting didn’t swell. If it hurt, I hardly noticed.

A few weeks ago, I forgot my dad’s birthday. The whole day passed, and I didn’t so much as flinch. I woke up with the sun, out of dreams no worse than usual. I did yoga, I fed the dogs, I typed some words and despaired over them, I watched the vultures flying in the evening, their harmonic skring as they cleave against the wind currents, delighting in the fading light, singing with their wings, going home.

Two months ago, I got married. We went down to the registrar’s office in the beach town four hours away. I wore a white and gold huipil, all local cotton spun and woven in a neighbor’s courtyard. I put my hair in tiny twists. I wore the same hat I always do, though I wanted a crown of flowers. It seems better that way, now: I got married, and we are family, improbable as we are, exactly as we are.

Yesterday, we got a new dog. I didn’t want to think about another dog after our puppy died six months ago, taken out by an overwhelming case of worms it was too late to fix (though I tried, I tried, I tried). But she’s here, and sleeping with me in the grass-thatched round house that my partner (husband, but I still hate that word) built as a guest room and my office. There is a window looking out onto the hills, and on a clear day you can see straight to the strip of sea, tight and shining as a seal skin, to the southwest. I think she’ll like it here. 

One week ago, I won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. I’m not sure what was the first novel upon which I noted the magical words “World Fantasy Award winner” printed in sedate type across the top, but it was probably John Crowley’s Little, Big. I’d dreamed of it, but in the way you dream of getting an Oscar, or going to the Olympics—just to imagine what it would feel like to be that kind of person. It turns out I’m still not sure what it feels like to be that kind of person. My hair is a mess and our plumbing still isn’t quite installed (not to mention the bathroom door) and over the last decade of moves I seem to have lost all of my clothes, or maybe they meant to get left behind, and I only really speak English to my telephone and my computer, and I don’t know how I should feel, other than astonished and proud and a little melancholy. The world has changed so much. Everything I touch these days seems dusted with improbability, like magic.

Eight years ago, I packed my (voluminous, though they didn’t seem like it then) belongings into storage and left for Mexico. In cafes in San Cristobal, where I mixed up my manteca with my mantequilla and my cappuccinos had three miraculous layers in clear glass mugs, when sometimes just turning too sharply in the sun made my chest crack and tears spring out of my eyes, I tried writing something new. I knew it was not commercial. I knew that the story I had already written was, by any traditional measure, finished. I also knew I didn’t want to let Pea or Dev or Tamara go. I had to show what happened after you made the last choice, after you’d somehow survived, after you’d washed off the blood. 

I was a marathon survivor, for years, for decades. I was a champion of deflection, of veiled words, of hiding in plain sight. It’s hard to remind your bones, which still ache in all the old places, that there’s no need to run anymore. That now there’s magic in everything you touch. Probability says I should not be here in this red earth, speaking a language unknown to my ancestors. Probability says Trouble the Saints should never have been written. Probability says that I cannot possibly see the reflection of the orange ball of the setting sun over the Pacific Ocean. But each sunset is another rough-hewn stone in the necklace of my life, and each word I write is a link in the chain that has pulled me free. 

Alaya

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Thank you for subscribing to this newsletter! Hopefully, it will get a little more regular in the near future. If you’d like me to answer a question in an upcoming newsletter, please leave one in the comments or email me. In the meantime, World Fantasy Award-winning Trouble the Saints is out in paperback, so please buy it if you have the funds and the inclination. You can also check out my recent short story collection, Reconstruction. If you have read them, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads; they really help boost visibility. The best way to get in touch with me via email, alaya [at] alayadawnjohnson [dot] com.