Dina Polizzi’s first novella Two Apache Sisters and a Texas Gigolo was on my read-list for awhile, not only because Polizzi is my friend and neighbor but due to its marriage of magic, tarot, and its esoteric nature, which all interest me.
Two Apache Sisters struck me immediately as an allegory — the caliber that I haven’t experienced, really, since Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” — due to its penchant for placing big-motif meaning in occult-shaded trinkets and persons. There’s the coin, the many bags and satchels, the star, the green fairy, a shell, an arrowhead, a water bottle, salt, and even the Oriental man who recites philosophical tag lines — each in their own time.
The one-night jaunt of a tarot-reading go-between Thea feels like an odyssey: a modest one, perhaps, but also one that invokes major transformation, if not in Thea herself then in the three central characters Alice, Jane, and Jack. Thea is a strange character who, as a big, black voodoo woman explains, is “kinda the go between” for events that unravel around two Indigenous sisters and a tag-along gigolo in New Orleans. The kind of character that one does not encounter often in literature, Thea is suspiciously true-neutral. She might do a bump of coke with Jane, but the reader isn’t asked to judge her as they are invited to judge the junkie sister Jane. She may lead the group to an Absinthe bar that extends to some trouble, but at no point is Thea’s morality or character ever put up for question, as the green fairy Pheobe’s is. Thea is a curious one; she is immediately trusted by both sisters (who embody traits at odds with each other), desired by Coyote Jack the gigolo, and friend of all she knows and meets, really without any sense about who Thea is. Thea is a tarot reader. That is, apparently, all that needs to be revealed.
And, it’s enough. Thea can just be the tarot reader because, as readers learn very quickly, they’ve opened the pages to an allegory.
As a tarot reader, Thea holds in her palms the fate of the characters. She is able to see a big picture, and also spirits, which bring others toward their destiny, particularly of the healing kind. Healing is exactly what the Apache sisters require — and everyone else except Thea, come to think of it.
Alice is your quintessential codependent with a mother-wound to heal. After her mother dies, she takes her last words to heart, to protect her sister Jane. At great detriment to herself, Alice follows wild Jane over the country trying to save her. She does, in fact, have what it takes to save Jane — but it isn’t at all what she expects. Deep inside of her, level-headed, responsibly sober Alice has unacknowledged powers which, like Jane and Jack, she must discover by filling up her bag.
When young, Alice steals Jane’s bag which held significant spiritual trinkets. Alice fears that Jane would become too invested in these artifacts, so she throws them away and in turn leaves her sister open to become possessed by a motherly spirit trying to find her way back to her daughter. Jane believes that this spirit is her own mother, and that this possession has made her into a junkie.
In order to expel the spirit and heal, the sisters must fill up their own bags, like Yuji the Japanese Absinthe-swigger who recites quotes by everyone from Wilde to Nietzsche as if he scraped a Goodreads page. Yuji carries a satchel. In it is a beret (which is a hallmark of his personality and clue to his allegorical character, “oui”), a bottle of spring water (which he uses to cleanse Jane’s soul), and a flashlight (which provides guidance and light to guide others).
Jake the gigolo, who is kind of a side-car to the sisters through the tale, emerges from the shadows during Jane’s exorcism with more than his bag of cocaine. He has a connection to a coin, which symbolizes his luck, and also signals his (a little bit too) unexpected ability as a seer.
When reading the novella, tracking who picks up what and who ends up with what in their bags/pouches/satchels, is fun. A journey in which you pick up what is found and discarded and given in order to make you who you are, is picturesque, neat allegory.
And I have to admit, I enjoyed the adventure. I liked how Jane and Alice changed. And I appreciated the role of a solid community — even if just piecemealed during one night of drinking and drugs — to heal. In this work, a community can come together in a snap and aid each other in extraordinary ways…and then disappear.
A non-committal traveler will find herself swept up, taking what she needs, and then moving on in Two Apache Sisters.