Story Pieces: “On the Death of John Wayne”

When she walked by my table, I made a point to say something.

“I like that bag. My grandmama has one like that.” I lied. I didn’t know my grandmama. She put her hand on the side of her bag and brushed across it, smiling.

“That’s real sweet, mister. Thank you.”

“Did you make it?”

“I did. Out of some of my oldest one’s work shirts. Bet your grandmama made hers too.”

I told her my grandmama did. I wanted her to keep talking, telling me things. She did. She told me her oldest was in high school. I told her she didn’t look old enough to have a kid in high school even though she did. She told me she had a daughter who was a year younger and another one that was only six.
“Del got a little too frisky one night, and all of a sudden we was parents again.” Del was her husband. She told me he worked at a warehouse, smoked cigars that she hated, and was the first man who ever made her feel like she was more than a “breed cow,” as she called it. I’d smile at her when she talked. I’d ask questions. I’d tell her that we shared things, even when we didn’t. I kept her talking.

“I feel so rude, what’s your name, mister? I didn’t ask.”

“Nolan.” I lied again.

“Nolan, nice to meet you. I’m Maggie. It was a real pleasure talking, but I got to get home. I got kids and a husband to feed.”

She walked out of the deli and got into a beat up green pickup. She didn’t look back at me, even though I thought she would. Maggie. Maggie in the yellow faded sundress. Maggie with the homemade bag made from the shirts of her oldest son. Maggie who close up smelled like flowery soap and a little bit of sweat, not enough to drink but enough to make you pay attention.

Maggie would be the first one I’d kill.

Horror Marginalia: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” & Who Deserves the Horror

One of the things I admire about Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is its refusal to explain much of the film’s horrors.

We don’t get any backstory for why the Family is batshit crazy. We don’t get an explanation for why Leatherface is wearing the faces and skins of other people (and, for that matter, we don’t get any explanation for why those faces change throughout the film). We don’t get any explanation for the decrepit grandfather who’s basically a corpse. We get very little justification for what’s going on.

The film also avoids justifying why the teenagers in the van are the recipients of the horror. They’re just the owners of some really dumb luck, they show up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they pay for it at the end of sledgehammers and chainsaws.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t decide for itself (and for its audience) why the horrors in it exist and are deserved. The horrors here aren’t the result of sins that slasher films fetishize: they’re just in the world, waiting for someone to turn over the rock and expose them to the light.

It’s one of the most important features of the film. No one deserves the horror. Not the teenagers. Not the insane family. The horror just is. It will do what it does.

And it will go on.