I walk these mad cobblestone streets, these San Francisco alleys sick under the glow of gas lamps, dragging my hem through dirt, kicking dust up from under my boots. I am the mother of four daughters: Josefina, Virginia, Zarina, and Mercedes. No. I am the mother of three living daughters, one dead. Dead and only twenty years old. She was nothing like me. Delicate and musical and smelling of honeysuckle.
Zarina, my golden child in life, now a ghost that haunts me in her death.
I dream of ripe pomegranates dripping off branches, a bloody pulp rotting on the ground. My daughter will not let me sleep. I plead with her to meet me at the kitchen table, but she will not come home. She is angry at me for not wrestling with the angel of death, for allowing her to die on my watch. These dreams disturb my consciousness. They wake me at midnight, calling me to Zarina. I throw the blankets off the bed, pull a red dress over my nightgown, and walk to the ocean, prowling the streets like a madwoman or whore. I keep a dagger in my belt, ready for danger, but my deepest fear is that she will never find peace.
I walk for miles through the darkness until blisters form on the soles of my feet. When I reach the shoreline, I find her standing knee-deep in the cold, dark water, waiting to torment me. She drowns again and again, and each time she dies, Zarina makes me a witness to her pain. She compels me to watch the waves crash over her head and batter her body. I must listen to her scream as saltwater fills her lungs.
My grandmother once taught me that when a soul forsakes the body, a silent sound escapes the throat and travels to the end of the earth, a stillborn song.
A memory blooms in the garden of my mind. My four girls surround their father. They sit at his bare feet as Emiliano plays the guitar, humming along with his song. When Emiliano reaches the chorus, Zarina stands and dances with such passion and grace that I think I must be stealing glances at the heart of god.
“Daughter,” I call out to her. “Fate has reversed our fortunes. You must learn to dance with death! Feast at his table. Break bread with your ancestors. Drink wine with the saints. Smoke cigars with the angels. Make music with your bones. There will soon come a day when you must teach your mother how to die.”
Jane Hawley received her MFA in Fiction from Texas State University. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Pinch, Memoir Journal, Amazon's Day One Journal, Southwestern American Literature, The Eastern Iowa Review, and Because I Was A Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages.