Yesterday, my mother's sister died in a car crash. Tia Pilar. She was driving down Via Pasito, past the strip mall with the Benihana's, when her '05 Corolla unaccountably careened over the center meridian and into oncoming traffic.
I dream that Tia Pilar and I are at a tea party. I'm so happy to see her that I start to cry. She thinks I'm crying over something else. "Carmenita," she says. "Don't cry. No boy is worth your tears." She pours me tea and hands me a galleta. I feel better.
But then I realize we're sitting in the bottom of an empty swimming pool. The concrete walls rise up all around us. We're in the deep end. Slowly, the pool fills. Water soaks into my shoes, my socks, the cuffs of my jeans. I try to bite into the cookie, but it's turned to plastic.
The water rises up past my knees, my hips. Tia Pilar smiles at me, buttering a plastic muffin. She is wearing the loose red sweater she wore at Christmas, the last time I saw her. Her hair, dyed brown to combat the gray setting in, is cut in a fashionable bob. She and my mother were never particularly close. My mother called Tia Pilar spoiled and vain; Tia Pilar said my mother was jealous of her superior bone structure. I usually only saw Tia Pilar at Christmastime. Except for the summer I turned eight, when I went to stay with her for two weeks as my parents worked out the particulars of their divorce. That was back when Tia Pilar lived in New York City. We went shopping and got pedicures and saw Sesame Street Live. I was too old for Sesame Street but I feigned excitement because Tia Pilar seemed excited. She kept glancing over at me during the show to see if I was smiling. During the final number, shiny streamers fell from the ceiling, imitating rain, and for the briefest of moments I thought the raindrops were real. Tia Pilar must have caught the amazed look on my face, because she squeezed my hand and stuck out her tongue as if to catch a raindrop.
"Don't worry, Carmen," Tia Pilar says now. "You don’t ever have to talk to that pendejo again." Her red lipstick is blurred around the edges – or is that blood? The water is at my shoulders now. I close my eyes. It rises up past my nose, my forehead. It soaks my hair. I'm going to drown.
I wake up gasping for breath, my body clammy with sweat, my face damp against the pillowcase.
Dallas Woodburn is the author of two collections of short stories and a forthcoming novel. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Dzanc Books "Best of the Web" anthology. Currently an MFA student at Purdue University, she is also the founder of "Write On! For Literacy," an organization that empowers youth through writing and reading. Projects include writing contests, a Summer Writing Camp, and an annual Holiday Book Drive that has donated more than 11,000 new books to underprivileged kids. Learn more at http://www.writeonbooks.org.