In this section:
December 12th was a lavender kind of day. The last, crisp edges of fall were just beginning to harden into brittle winter, chipping the color from the maple trees and dusting the tips of distant mountains with snow. The colour seeped into my t-shirt and settled just beneath my skin, glowing softly as I lay in bed and watched the sun rise through my curtains.
I suppose I welcomed it after so many greys and blues, though it would’ve been nice to have a yellow or orange day. A tethered restlessness fluttered in my chest, and I imagined that it was a cocoon that could become a butterfly or a moth.
When at last I managed to extricate myself from my bed and stand, parts of my body seemed to hang from loose guitar strings. I opened and closed my hands, finger by finger, shaking my arms and rolling my shoulders, but the feelings of disjointedness persisted. As I stood before the mirror, toothbrush in hand, I imagined that each of my teeth was a piano key poised to fill the room with a minty melody. I tried to save some of the song to bring with me downstairs, but the last notes disappeared in a swirl of white foam down the drain.
The drive to school was quiet and strangely calm. In fact, the rest of the day was largely uneventful. Two of my teachers cancelled quizzes and one forgot to pass back our graded essays. As I walked home, I tried to place a finger on it. Everything had a muffled sort of feel, as if all the world were holding its breath, waiting for something or someone to happen. The sensation was both soothing and stifling, though I suspect the latter was compounded by the fact that the day was simply far too warm for the blue turtleneck that I had chosen to wear. I rolled the sleeves up as much as I could, scowling at the clouds as they fled before the sun. Even as I turned onto my street, the walk seemed longer than I remembered, each step across the cracked asphalt unusually heavy and slow. When at last I reached the front porch, a sheen of sweat coated my forehead, dripping down my neck and spreading across my back. I slumped against the house’s brick facade, cool to the touch because of the shade cast by a nearby tree.
The mailman had been here recently, and I thumbed through the various envelopes and magazines he had left on our doorstep. They all looked like the usual: tax forms, advertisements, a postcard from my sister in New York. But as I reached the bottom of the stack, my heart stopped. Suddenly the sweat on my back turned cold and clammy and blue. My hands shook almost too much for me to read the names of the institutions printed neatly on the top left corners of the envelopes. All the world telescoped into two words – yes or no, butterfly or moth, red or blue – as the next four years of my life quivered delicately before me.
The sun seemed colder, the sluggish breeze floating through the dead grass of our lawn stronger. I felt the weight, the desire, the burn to know what questions or answers lay inside those envelopes. But it was a lavender kind of day — the kind of cloying calm that creeps in from the edges and covers everything in cotton. And so I stood, shrugging my backpack back onto my shoulders. I tucked the envelopes beneath my arm as my hand settled on the brass doorknob. Whatever they had to say could paint another day. This was one to cherish for however long it lasted.
cw: death/femicide, relationship violence, descriptions of blood and gore, gun mentions
The air in the small chapel hangs hot and heavy. No amount of fans seem to churn the air inside, leaving people to half-fan their necks and faces, their hands too limp to even try sometimes. You bet half of the murmurs in the chapel are about the wild heat rather than the reason you’re all there. You sit in the front pew in your uncomfortable designated funeral dress, looking up at the high cement ceiling void of paint, wondering if the surface up there is sweating too.
Your mother elbows you, telling you to look forward and not draw attention. “No les vamos a dar lo que quieren,” she grits through her teeth. She’s been fighting back tears this entire week, and you’re beginning to understand why she’s keeping them back. People want a show, and your sister deserves one last scrap of dignity. You look back quickly, and a woman in the pew behind you who once pulled her child out of class because she didn’t want her playing with your sister dabs at the corners of the eyes. You understand your mother.
You hum in response and do as you’re told, although you don’t want to. You’re fifteen, and you shouldn’t be bossed around by your mother anymore. Not that you could do anything about that now, especially after this. Your line of sight falls on the coffin at the heart of the church, a terrible wooden thing in front of your family. Your palms are getting sweatier by the second y Dios te perdone pero you want to get out of there as soon as you can.
The coffin is simple, with no trimming or polish to it. The ejido’s families have come forward and presented the typical funeral wreaths that now adorned it, white flower petals falling on the cement floor beneath. It is a closed-casket funeral.
Marifer would have hated it. You tell your mother so, and she can only grimace more. She looks as if she’s about to ask you to leave when the metal doors at the back of the church close.
The high neck of the cotton dress you wear digs into your neck as everyone cranes to see who entered. If the air wasn’t running before, it now presses into everyone in the chapel. You feel like your sister’s ghost herself is covering your mouth, stopping you from saying something foolish and digging your family into a deeper grave. You feel your mother getting up, and you half-heartedly grab her arm to stop her from doing so. She sits down. You stare intently at your scuffed black shoes, the ones that had once belonged to your sister, but you know who’s behind you.
“Vine a pagar mis respetos a Marifer y a ustedes,” the man behind you lied to your mother. Bernardo, your sister’s former boyfriend. “La quería mucho, Señora Martínez. Lo siento mucho.” More lies.
You don’t kill the people you love, you want to say out loud. The church is silent, anticipating your mother’s response. You notice that your shoes
are not as dusty as they were when you walked in, looking a little damp. Are you sweating that much?
“Pinche bastardo,” you hear your mother start saying, getting up again. Things are heading south. “Pendejo. ¿En serio venistes solo a decirnos esas estupideces?”
“’Amá,” you start. You think of the hardness in her eyes when Marifer’s body was recovered from the ditch she was found in. Such grief had never crossed your mother’s face as one of your neighbors described the cuts, the blood, the way someone had just left her corpse sprawled in the mud and how it was a miracle the Río Bravo hadn’t swept her away. The wind stopped blowing that day, you recall. “’Amá,” you say again, louder this time, trying to speak over the insults she hurls at the young narco in front of her.
Bernardo laughs a dangerous sound. Your mother stiffens next to you. For the first time, you realize that he didn’t come alone. While he didn’t come with one, the two men behind him sport guns at the side of their hips. You feel sick from the anger you’re holding in, and the air inside the chapel seems to heat up another couple of degrees. Pinches ridículos, you think.
You know Marifer thought that, too.
“One day they’ll dig themselves into a grave they’ll never get out of,” she told you once while she helped you practice English. You were both lying under one of the mesquite trees as autumn came in. Your older sister had thrown an old blanket onto the mud-cracks in your yard and declared
the day to be dedicated to your schoolwork. You had complained, but it had been a while since you spent time with her, so you relented. You tripped over clumsy words while they came out smoothly from Marifer’s mouth. Eventually, the halting conversation led to her relationship.
“Do you love him?”
Marifer had shaken her head, mouth set in a thin line. You weren’t surprised.
“Nada bueno viene de gente como ese,” she had simply responded, promptly ending your time together. Breaking up with him was a long time coming, their fling from their secundaria becoming a one-sided shell of a relationship over the years. The knock at the door revealing frightened neighbors talking about the screams they heard by the nearby highway came as no surprise. As you felt your body heat up in anger, you felt no grief. No. You felt rage.
(We can’t prove anything, the police told you, hands dirty with the bribes they got from Bernardo’s people. Everyone in the ejido knew the truth, anyway.)
Someone at the back of the church tries not-so- subtly to open the metal doors, only to have them clang against each other. The doors had been locked, you realize. An ambush. You sigh. You feel something like a drop of rain on the back of your neck, but there’s nothing above you except the cement ceiling.
The people in the church slowly realize what’s going on. The previous murmurs grow into anxious questions of, “¿Qué está pasando?” and “¿Nos
irán dejar ir?” Your mother is still yelling, and the murderer is still standing and fuming, and all you want to do is break the metal doors open with your bare hands and bury your sister yourself to get this over with.
The coffin lid opens.
You expected a lot of things to happen during the funeral. You expected your mother to snap at whoever offered condolences when they were calling your family in the shack at the edge of the ejido every name under the sun every other day of the year. Once Bernardo showed up, you expected a bloodbath in the chapel, a warning to the rest of the ejido to not fuck with him. You expected to grieve, to cry. But you expected yourself to keep it together until you could get back to your one- room home and finish packing up your belongings and hitchhike to the city, maybe even cross the Río Bravo into new lands, new opportunities.
You weren’t expecting a resurrection.
The coffin lid opens and screams fill the chapel. You feel one, then two, then many raindrops on your burning skin. Your mother is gasping for air, her righteous tirade over, and turning to stare at the coffin with the rest of the ejido. You hear Bernardo and his men run to the doors. He commands them to bust the doors open, but you know that won’t happen now.
Your retinas burn and ache but you can’t look away; to look away would be to betray what your sister has become. Marifer stands in the coffin, exactly the same as when she was alive, yet completely different. The dress that she was buried in, from her secundaria graduation, has been replaced by armor, and atop her head sit the stars. Her hair is plastered around her face, wet with rainwater, framing the fire in her eyes. In her right hand she holds a blinding silver sword, which she raises and points straight at Bernardo.
The rain inside the chapel is now pouring, almost loud enough to drown out Bernardo’s screams. The divine horror that was once Marifer steps down from the coffin with supernatural grace, slowly but surely lumbering towards the pathetic man at the back. The crowd is silent, parting for her.
Your mother finally lets out a cathartic sob, filled with both grief and pride, and wind somehow picks up inside the cement walls. The being that was once Marifer raises her sword.
You have spent fifteen years on this Earth, and all you can do is wonder how, how have you gone so long without seeing one beautiful thing in your life until now?
cw: chronic illness and death
Sometimes, saying nothing is the easiest thing in the world. If your brother is dying of cystic fibrosis and has been since he was born, then you’ve learned that silence is the best option. You stay silent when your brother has a coughing fit and can hardly breathe. You stay silent when one of the nurses asks you if you want a lollipop. You stay silent at your birthday party when your mom tells you to make a wish. It’s just easier that way.
You used to be really funny. Like, keeling over, side-splitting, hilarious. At least that’s what people told you. When you were nine years old, you told everyone you wanted to be a comedian and they believed you. Your parents used to brag about you at dinner parties and say you were a Joan Rivers in training. You didn’t realize you were funny until you weren’t anymore.
You were so excited to have a baby brother. You hated being an only child, and even though you were sure the new baby would take away from the excitement of your tenth birthday party, you didn’t care. Because he was going to be your brother and you could do older sister things, like steal his candy and ruffle his hair. Your parents sat you down and explained that a baby is fragile and that once the baby comes, your life will change. Forever.
And it did. Evan was born 6 pounds and 11 ounces. He was underweight and premature, and his lungs collapsed just two days after he was born. Once he came home, the medical bills came with him. Your dad tried to support the family on a teacher’s salary, but since your mom only got six weeks of paid leave, she had to go back to work, leaving you to rush home every day when school ended to watch Evan so that your mom only had to pay the nanny a part-time wage.
Before Evan, you could afford to go to Starbucks with your friends after school and order whatever you wanted. Before Evan, you could invite your best friend Marissa over for sleepovers without being woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of ambulance sirens. Before Evan, you were just a kid. Now, you’re the one who has to take care of Evan when your dad takes on extra tutoring jobs and your mom stays late at work again. Now, every time you watch him, you’re terrified that if he dies on your watch, your parents will blame you. Now, you don’t speak.
Instead, you research everything about CF. You become an expert on the policies of United Health Care and how coverage works for dependents
like you and Evan. You join the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and organize a chapter in your town so that you can do a Run for the Cure type of thing. Your neighbors and classmates take part and your math teacher even offers extra credit for students who participate. You’re the girl with the sick brother who everyone thinks is so sweet, so brave, so caring.
The truth is you hate him. You hate him so much sometimes you wish he’d just go ahead and die already so that you can have your family and your life back and stop feeling so guilty for wishing he’d die. But he doesn’t. Life goes on and Evan grows up and so do you. Some days the doctors say he’s improving, other times they tell your mom that it’s unlikely he’ll live past the age of twenty.
The worst part is that he’s awesome. In every way you always imagined he would be. He’s the best brother in the world. He has your old sense of humor, the one you silenced when he came. He’s kind and generous and understanding and always asks you what you want to do. You know that you’re the opposite. You’re mean and selfish and keep your mouth shut, afraid that if you do speak, you’ll end up screaming and yelling about how unfair life is.
And it is unfair.
Evan dies the day after your eighteenth birthday. He’s nine years old and his lungs fill up with so much mucus that he can’t breathe. The hospital says he’s number thirteen on the transplant
list and even if he got new lungs tomorrow he probably still wouldn’t make it. Your mom cries and cries and cries. She always cries. She does nothing but cry for months after he’s gone. Your dad follows your lead; he stays silent.
Your wish finally came true. Now you have a new wish. You wish that if you closed your eyes tight enough, you could switch places. You’d be the sick one with the kind heart who didn’t deserve to die and Evan would be the spiteful older sibling who has to live the rest of his life with the burden of his own consciousness. You’d be dead and Evan would be alive.
You decide to study Biology in college. You want to go to medical school. You know a lot about cystic fibrosis, and a lot about science in general. Every night, you stare at the medical textbooks and think of nothing but the perky blonde woman from the hospital on the night Evan died. She had pearl earrings. Evan was pale and had blue lips and looked peaceful. They were going to take him away. The blonde woman gave your dad a clipboard with the bill on it. Seventy thousand dollars to let him die in their hospital.
Your parents are coming up for graduation tomorrow. They are so proud of you. Evan would be so proud of you. You buy a pair of pearl earrings for the ceremony and try them on in the mirror. They look perfect. You’re nervous because you’re giving a speech tomorrow in front of everyone. You speak a lot now. It started slow, with the occasional joking comment or mumbled agreement, but then it grew into long paragraphs, words strung together in patterns and prose. All your friends say you’re talkative. You never knew you had so much to say.
When you get to the front of the crowd, you try to find your parents. You spot them in the middle, waving and smiling. Your dad has a camera. The seat next to him is empty. You close your eyes and imagine Evan is sitting there.
You start your speech with a joke. Everybody laughs.
The City of Missing Socks
Every half-lit lonely moon, the Recruiter makes his rounds, sliding perfumed pamphlets in the cracks of laundromats where dust bunnies dance to the hum of washing machines. He targets orphaned socks on the brink of faithlessness, shows them pictures of the lazy river bubbly with fabric softener, staining the metropolis with the sweet stench of lavender. The City of Missing Socks: a destination for the destinationless. He promises them beds better than leftover lint and dryer sheets, beds built from the soles of hand-me-down shoes that smell just like home.
The City of Missing Socks, or COMS for short, has an approximate population of 2.1 billion. A majority of the residents suffer from abandonment issues, having arrived at the city without their twins. When cuffing season rolls around, these lonely patrons often opt into the city’s matchmaking program: Find your kicks / Fall head over heels. All inhabitants are required to work the Stockings Market. The climate in COMS is desert dry with an occasional night drizzle. When it does rain, the woolen residents receive paid leave. Demographics are as follows:
Compression socks have a difficult time adjusting to new routines. The COMS council mandates their participation in psychiatric care to relieve them of their tension. The psychiatrists, of course, are all Dollar Store fuzzy slippers who have been seamless for seasons. In session, the socks are taught to pull at their own threads, stretching themselves see-through until they learn to loosen up. Unraveling into cinched accordions, many resent their new shapes. The Recruiter does not mention these findings in his annual report.
Lottie’s Big Sister
That’s just it though. One day you’re begging your dad to let you sit behind the wheel of his ’08 Subaru Legacy, and the next you’re getting roped into all kinds of errands: buying your mom’s extra absorbent Maxi Pads, picking up your father’s foot fungus prescription, using printed coupons to purchase pounds upon pounds of off-brand kitty litter. And somehow you ended up here, chaperoning your baby sister’s shopping trip for a fifth-grade promotion dress. Lottie, or Charlotte, as she now insists you call her, has led you to the pink glitter walls in the junior section of Macy’s. Gaggles of wide- eyed, baby-faced middle schoolers have spread like a disease. They’re perched on the escalator handrail, draped over the check-out register, and clustered around the dressing room mirrors. Lottie drags you towards the formal wear. She is using you as a clothing rack, draping her favorite options over your arms: a neon, tribal print fit and flare dress with an open back, a rainbow-striped chiffon gown, a chartreuse glitter wrap dress adorned with plastic gems. You try to play along, but each time you suggest something, Lottie lets out a puff of strawberry bubblegum breath and shakes her head, her DIY blue Magic Marker highlights falling over her face.
Lottie doesn’t know it yet, but you’re supposed to give a speech at her graduation party. You’re not sure how to tell Lottie that you love her, so you’ve been sorting through your memories. You remember the day Jeanie, your black and white terrier mix, jumped up on the bathroom counter and ate Lottie’s three goldfish. You remember how you curled up with her on the couch, and you remember how together you ate three and a half family-sized bags of Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles without even stopping to lick the cheesy dust off your fingers. You remember how she wailed, snot and tears smearing her face. You remember biking to PetSmart that same afternoon, securing three new fifty-cent goldfish in your bike basket and presenting them to Lottie in a Ziploc baggie. You remember how wonderful you felt when Lottie took the bag from your hands and told you that you were the best sister in the whole world. It was only a couple of years after that, the summer before Lottie started third grade, when she begged you to pierce her ears. You were the expert because you had watched two YouTube tutorials and read an entire WikiHow article about ear piercing. You used your mother’s best sewing needle. You remember the way Lottie shrieked when you punctured her soft baby skin. You gave Lottie an infection so bad your mother had to drain the pus from her earlobes each morning. After the swelling subsided, Lottie asked you if you would give her a belly button piercing. And you would have agreed, too, if your mother hadn’t threatened you with a decade’s worth of house chores if you ever put a hole in your little sister again. That same year, for Halloween, she dressed up as you. She borrowed your acid wash jeggings, rolling up the waistband until they stayed in place. Your mother helped her paint her nails bright bubblegum pink. She wore Ugg boots and a velour tracksuit jacket. When the two of you went trick-or-treating, your neighbors asked Lottie who she was dressed as.
“I’m my sister. I’m my sister. I’m my sister.” She must have repeated it at least a hundred times that night.
Come, come away with me, Ocean whispers to stone.
Awash in foam and seaweed, stone clatters among the others into the embrace of hightide. It traveled miles beyond the shore, beneath the navy pool, tugged by currents, hoping to end up between the sweet lullaby of sun, dry sand, and the arms of the rolling waves.
Darkness hushes gull’s calls and cues cricket songs. The stone settles with the calming waters, cool and smooth and shimmering beneath a slice of moon. It is surrounded by many others, orange and teal, glass shards both red and green, brown bits floating along silver scales. The stone feels less alone, for the shore is where stones and sticks and shells are chosen.
In the morning, the stone warms against sunlight, streaked with white lines against grey. Small, like a turtle’s shell half submerged, it cowers next to the jetty. A little girl with pigtails and water wings wandering near the boulders squeals and grasps the stone for her sandcastle, placing it on top of the towering structure she has built besides driftwood and seaweed tendrils. Her warm hand presses against the stone, squeezing tight. Her voice echoes. Mommy, Daddy, look what I made.
Ice cream trucks arrive ringing with nostalgia and the promise of popsicles melting blue and pink along the smiling cheeks of children.
The stone is forgotten.
Against the wind and under a stampede of suntanned boys with water guns, the stone falls under the rubble of misshapen sand piles. Along the path, a man and woman walk with wild hand motions, venting frustration and fuming in the scent of sunscreen.
Look, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Don’t tell me there’s nothing I can do about it!
She’s going to be fine.
How do you know that?
The man has an idea:
We’ll get the plane ticket to visit your mother tomorrow. For now, why don’t you take this stone and throw it as hard as you can? We’re going to be here at least one more day and…
Fitting into her palm, fingers wrapping around, red nails shimmering, the woman contemplates the lines along the stone. Balling her fist around it, she grits her teeth and hurls it with all her might into the coming wave.
The stone slices the foaming crest of the wave, slamming into a storm of shell fragments. After more waves tumble it along, cold sounds echo as it washes once more into the light.
Scraggly paws take interest in the dark rolling object gleaning in the heat. The dog, its black and white fur knotted and tousled by the wind, runs to the tumbling object. The stone is as sharp as the dog’s brown eyes, and hard against its teeth, but the dog accepts this as a strange tennis ball? The dog belongs to a sailor and searches for someone else to play with, for his companion is working farther down the way. Hands wave in his direction––a boy with sandy hair, skinny legs, a lean muscular build. The dog drops the stone before the boy.
You want to play fetch, boy? GET IT!
Sand flying, the dog tears away after the stone, splashing along the shore. He brings the stone back to the boy over and over and over. When they grow tired, the boy pats the dog goodbye and the dog places the stone back into the water before running home to the whistle of his waiting owner. He smells of fish. He says, hungry, delicious, dinner, sleep, good day, good boy.
Come, come away with me, Ocean whispers to stone, but hands clasp around it, soft and warm.
I want this one, Mommy!
You want to take home a rock?
The stone rests by the window, still coated in salt, but not alone. It is loved by a girl who wants to hold the ocean in her palm.
Come, come away with me, Ocean hums outside the window to the clattering of stones and shells still waiting, still waiting to feel home.
Is it strange of me to still contemplate the stone if it contemplates me after all these years? It etches lines into my once soft skin, still cool, its lines no less defined. Oh, the things we carry. The moon drapes yellow light through my window and the ocean whispers between the curtains,