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The girl’s hands smell of vinegar, chilis, something devil-spiced and cauldron-stewed. Her perfume is a country that she will never visit. She has no patience for people who would stoop to call her breakfast spicy, Tabasco dripping from her fingers like the blood of some slain enemy. An Aztec pyramid glints and winks at her from the bottle’s label. Their stone steps once bore witness to a sacrifice more gruesome than her own, and she takes some comfort where she can from this small consolation. The Aztecs believed that their gods had no hearts of their own, that they relied and starved, ravenous and savage, for the tributes of mortals to keep up a pulse at all. The gods did not bleed. The gods are heartless. But then again, the girl learned this young, reminds herself of this as she licks the Tabasco from the cracking of her knuckles, mouth salivating at the blood-orange bagel that looks everything like a heart staring up at her from a dessert plate beside her morning coffee.
The Aztec kings would crush chilis into their morning hot chocolate, until the drink swam as crimson and thick as blood in their cups. The girl slurps her coffee, her lips still swollen and burning with the skin stained hangover of peppers birthed from a language she will never speak. This is the morning drink of conquerors, tyrants, and she bites her cheek at the irony, because she has never in her life had any reason to feel herself powerful.
The girl had gotten ghost-pepper sauce in her stocking one year for Christmas, had stowed it in the belly of her purse like a weapon. The man she had loved at the time had found it once, had excavated the bottle from where it was tangled in the entrails of receipts and lipstick tubes and headphone cords in the bowels of her handbag. He unscrewed the vial, as if it were his to open, as if this, along with everything else regarding her, were his for the taking.
“Be careful,” she had half-heartedly warned him. She knew better than most, that if you chose to uncover something with a warning label, than you had best be willing to pay the toll. A drop, a sliver, a glint of ghost pepper cried from the lip of the bottle, seeking out a body to possess. It soaked into the bed of his fingernail and settled in for a long winter’s nap. Tired, always tired from sleepless nights and the glass-blown kisses of too many beers, the boy rubbed his eyes.
The hurt started in his corneas, the agony spreading like wildfire to his pupils, irises, the whites of his eyes bloomed bloody as a poppy. Tears streamed girlish and unrestrained down his face. The boy cursed the gods, his mother and everything that had ever brought him to this woman who carried fire in a vial in her purse, this girl who could swallow hell without flinching before most people were even out of bed in the morning.
The girl rolled her eyes at his theatrics, it was after all, just hot sauce. The boy looked stoned, looked demonic, his eyes a flaming rapture. He blinked at the girl, a mirage of black and red through his tears. Her silhouette flickered like bonfire, her figure a heretic posted at the stake, laughing against torment beside him. What the boy never understood, was that it is a witch’s destiny to burn, just not always in the way you’d expect. She took the vial from his shaking hands, slung back a sip like a shot of tequila. No, like holy water.
“You’re such a baby,” she cackled, "didn’t anyone ever tell you that the gods were heartless?"