Un pico no mas, and his venom was inside her. In the night, when the bed was an oven, he rolled on top of her, she felt the sting against her back, pain spreading towards her thighs, and still amidst her cries he felt the need to finish.
Amidst the kisses and frantic hands, he wouldn’t stop, and she felt the invasion just as she did the sting of the scorpion, one of many that folded themselves between her sheets, inside her shoes, in the corners and cracks. When it rained in the summer, they all came inside to look for sanctuary. Some were still clear brown, others black as the desert shadows. She thought she had grown cautious enough, known when to shake out her sheets and protect her body from the sting. She thought they could cohabitate.
After this boy left her shivering, she rolled off the bed to clean herself. Flat on the sheet was a brown scorpion body, crushed under the weight of them. In the mirror, she saw a red dot swelling at the base of her spine.
A year before, she spent a semester abroad in Durango, Mexico. There were men there called alacraneros. She remembered seeing their trinkets. These men overturned rocks, dug the creatures out of the dirt, and snatched them from people’s homes to make souvenirs. Even nail salons there specialized in alacrán acrylics — ladies with inch long nails that have baby scorpions stuck under the gel.
When she walked up and down the stalls in a mercado, she stared at the bodies of these poor arachnids, crushed and commodified, sold for the wealth of people willing to exploit what they deemed as pests. There was an amber necklace with a light brown scorpion encased inside. She bought it for twenty pesos and fastened the silver chain around her neck because, then, it felt badass to have this once deadly thing hanging close to her heart. These were the months she looked back on, when she had always worn her wavy hair down no matter how hot it was, just to feel the strands being pulled from her sweaty neck to be kissed; those months when she never wore a bra and felt it was her right to keep nothing on but that necklace when she went to a new man’s bed, insisting always on climbing on top so she could not be unseated. This was how she operated then, a mutual exchange in their territory, and then her, slipping away feeling powerful.
She liked the power of the necklace, though all her life she hated and feared scorpions. Their ugly bodies appeared all over her house as a child, and though she grew used to them living in the desert, she had always asked her mother to sweep them out of the house with the broom, too scared to do it herself. Living alone now, she was the one to sweep their furious little bodies across her doorstep like curbing the tide of sneaking invaders. When she returned from Mexico to begin her last semester of college, the scorpion necklace was tucked away in the dark of her drawer under her socks.
After that night, the pain in her spine increased and the dot grew larger. She didn’t go to the doctor. It would be her fault for not protecting herself and her home better. It was just an irritated spot, she decided, and would heal soon enough with a cold compress. She was reacting to stress as the fall semester began to wind down. She didn’t recognize her body’s reaction. She couldn’t sleep. When her body hair went smooth in patches and her skin started to harden into brown armor, she coated her body in aloe vera and took scalding showers. She only seemed to change faster.
She began skipping class. She covered the bald patches on her head with hats and wore baggy sweatpants to cover the bump on her spine.
Her nosy vecina in the apartment next door seemed to plan their encounters. Before that night, the old woman would hobble across the walk in her bata and house shoes to water the yellow patched lawn and offer to set her up with the old woman’s handsome sobrino, “a good Christian boy.” Now, the vecina let the water hose splatter her windows while she watched the girl pull her hoodie around her face, makeup no longer covered the darkening plates on her face. Once, she even dropped the hose onto the lawn and grabbed the girl’s wrist with unbelievable strength.
-You don’t look well. What’s wrong?
-Not really your business ma’am.
Every instinct told her not to talk back to this woman, that although she was appraising her every time she went in and out the door, she was the only one to inquire if she was alright. Her question still came as an attack.
-Just that I haven’t seen anyone come in and out since that young man left.
-Don’t worry, you won’t see much at all.
She broke the woman’s grip and stumbled off, pulling her hood strings tighter. From then on, she always peered out of the window before leaving home to make sure the nosy vecina wasn’t hanging around. Had the vecina seen her changing pupils, the cracks in her skin? She couldn’t take that chance.
A month after the attack on her body, she woke to find she could not peel her fingers apart; the skin of her hands was fused together. She could no longer steer a car. They were claws, bent and poised in defense.
Still, she did not go to the doctor. In the past, when she’d complained to the doctor in the campus health center about stomach aches and painful infections, he was quick to dismiss her pain and shove a prescription for antibiotics into her hand. The last time, when it hurt to pee, he had pressed her soft abdomen with his gloved hand so hard that she cried out. “It can’t be that bad,” he told her while she clutched the area where his fingers were. What would he say if she dragged herself into the clinic in this new form?
As a last resort, she walked to the house of a woman in her neighborhood that was known for conducting tarot readings and other healing rituals. She didn’t know if she was a curandera or just another wispy, mysterious woman preying on her neighbor’s superstitions. It was her only option. She waited inside the woman’s living room draped in red velvet hangings. A hundred flickering candles billowed and smoked around the room. The walls were covered in crosses and emblems from every religion she could think of, and she thought bitterly that at least her spiritual bases were covered.
When she was called to go to the back room—which was just the kitchen with a black woven tablecloth thrown over the kitchen table and candles around the perimeter—she sat across from the woman, who called herself Cleolinda, Linda for short, dressed in jeans and an oversized faded t-shirt. This was the woman who was supposed to read her fate?
-What can I do for you? Linda asked.
The girl removed her hoodie and shook her claws out from her sleeves to reveal her transformed self. Linda crossed herself, lit some incense on the table and wafted the billowing smoke around them both in what might have been a protective circle.
-My dear, what happened to you?
Here, she wanted to speak, but her words turned to scratches and clicks in her throat. She thought of the veiled judgement of older women that used girls like her as a cautionary tale. Linda leaned towards her to see past the scales on her face.
-Let’s cast the tarot and see what the cards have to say.
Linda dealt the cards. Then, she flipped a select few over one at a time. The girl envied her nimble fingers despite the raised veins and age spots that covered them. She leaned forward to see the cards Linda turned over. The Empress, The Tower, 10 of Swords, Death.
-Don’t be alarmed. The Death card does not mean physical death.
-What can it mean?
She was unsure whether Linda would understand her rasping and clicking.
-The Empress is your feminine power, your essential self. Death could suggest destruction, but with destruction always comes renewal, and sometimes even a fruitful decision. You are at a crossroads after a life-altering moment-the Tower. The sword can be destructive too, but it can also be your own defense. You may need to summon an inner strength and become more powerful. Does this mean something to you?
The girl nodded. She swept her pincer claws up and down her body to ask for a suggestion about what to do.
-Yes, I see. Your body is reacting to something, but I don’t know what. Medicine may not help you unless you accept what is happening and why. There are no ointments or cures I can offer unless you admit to yourself why this is happening. Something festers inside you. Your body is defending against the pain.
The girl sat back in her chair and rested her claws on her lap. A strand of hair floated from her scalp onto her arm, the last of her hair.
-There’s one more card here. The Moon. This can mean transformation, evolution, intuition.
Linda did not charge her for her services. The girl could not have reached into her pocket either way.
Your black sting is raised above you when the men come into your home. You dig a hole through the cement where the floor of your room used to be.
They come in with weapons raised, probably because there is a smell, like damp rotting and all the curtains are down, but you keep burrowing past tile, cement and into the warm dirt beneath the place that was your house. Powerful claws, digging claws are what you have now, and they scoop and separate, dirt flying behind you, to create a space just right for your new body.
A voice follows behind the men; that woman who wanted to help and just couldn’t seem to stay away. When they step on broken tiles behind you, they clatter. Your stinger is raised, but still you dig, even when one of the men picks up ripped clothes and locks of hair from the tumbled floor.
That was the girl you. The hard black plates of your back, your gigantic sting swaying overhead, is the only you left. They cannot hear your new name in your new voice, and you cannot remember the one they called you before. You crawl down into your hole and disappear into the earth.