Creative nonfiction by Sofía Aguilar
Tía and I are stretching for sky. A curved thing, made holy in its color, perfect in its shape as though by expert hand. What I would give, I think, to tuck it into the lining of my letters like a fragrance strip, if I had anyone left to write them for, the will to send them.
As we lie with our backs against the grass, eyes swallowing the the sky, its bend over our heads, the clouds drift in half-asleep stupor, drunk on certain sweetness. We watch them like star gazers, reach our limbs out to touch, to caress as lovers do. We point with confident hands and make animals of dewdrops: a boy (no, a fox) peering over its shoulder. A bird nibbling at the feathers, thinning bones beneath its wing. Felines with tails caught midway through its climb, curved as a half-moon or set of stairs. A whole kingdom in the middle of the blue.
Even though I’m her sister’s daughter, even if my mother is in the room, eating from our dishes, Tía labels me as her own without thinking. I tell her I’m off for a walk with the dog, to expect me back in half an hour tops, and she says, Okay, mijita, have fun! Or I search the mail drop for a package, sifting through envelopes, eyes blurring the repeated black type of her name, and she points to the kitchen counter with a cloth, Over here, mija.
The most tender kind of possession, warm recognition of my body that makes me hide a smile, its quiet dimple growing louder with age, my spine rearranging itself into a straight upwards line, the thought glowing inside me like the first firefly I saw at nineteen—how I can be more than one mother’s daughter.
For all her life, she’s gone by different names. Olivia, her middle name; Grandma or Great Grandma or G.G. to the youngest children, Gloria to her sisters, her first name, and my mother’s preference. Gloria, glory, glorious woman in more languages than one. But from childhood, she’s always been just Tía to me.
She is the person I want to become, grow into. Living alone without envy or wishing for different. Commanding the kitchen the way I will never learn how, no matter how much I watch her sleight of hand or copy her recipes onto index cards, as devoted as religion—no ingredient, I realize, to replace her acquired ease. While the rest of us float through the hours, drifting skyward, unrooted, Tía uncorks wine bottles from the rack, organizes her china and glasses even during weekdays, soothes our worries with roots and herbal remedies, a doctor visit if necessary. Allows men into her house only if the husbands of her children or sisters, her sons despite the years of barbecues and carne asadas.
How big you’re growing! cousins would marvel. How beautiful you’re becoming, their gaze never really reaching my eyes.
Only for them to turn towards Tía in unison with her sisters, trying to tease her into dates and new restaurants to bring new men—Ravello’s (re-opening), The Brew (remodeling), Alice’s on Garvey and Sefton.
Instead, I hear her laugh off the idea of loving again, without bitterness, and it is the first time I realized I could live alone, unmarried, and be satisfied.
I adore Tía without thought, without really knowing the reasons. Perhaps her clothes that still carry memories of home, her closet swelling with its contents—Mexican dresses that sway past her knees, Huipil blouses with flowers embroidered into the cloth, seamed pants that breathe. Her mother’s hoop earrings, small silver raindrops and rings that move like the weather, cross necklaces nestled into her chest. Tortoiseshell claw clips, scrunchies, thinning hair bands, folklorico bows to hold her ponytail back, the size of a hand. Things that say see me, remember my face, don’t I remind you of somewhere?
We lose fear of one another’s bodies. When her hair grows too long past her neck, when she’s fresh from the shower, make-up half done, changing the softness of her face into something colorful and bold, I cut the locks with a small pair of scissors, even though I only have experience trimming dead ends. Stand on tip-toe, run the length of her hair between my fingers, snipping off centimeters until the length is the same straight blunt edge. So focused on my task I barely notice the fact that the only thing beneath my t-shirt is my underwear, above her waist a nude-colored bra constantly losing its foam cups in the washer. She says, we’re both women with the same brown skin, the state of our muscles a mere half century apart, that it’s okay for us to look away and laugh.
Lineage is meant for other women. I’m convinced I’m the end of my bloodline, the last heir, no river for my family to continue to flow. Nights returning to my own house alone, settling in the darkness, the mattress and cooking meant for one. The kind of quiet I’ve always hungered for.
Yet I also fantasize myself into the aunt Tía’s been to me, into the matriarch she’s been all along since eighteen. The most highly sought counsel, lips chatting from frequent wisdom like praying stones. Occupant of a house never empty for long, its marbled counters and peeling paint cabinets and plaster walls holding our history, a passing through place for pink lemonade and unplanned party nights, early morning greetings, the landline never at rest. Host to bulging pockets carrying grapefruit and oranges for the butterflies and heels, crusts of bread and corn kernels and wild cherries, their stems, sugar water jars, waiting for the hummingbirds. Lover of the kind of song that comes from beaks and hollow bones.
To me, these kinds of lives are not separate at the hip but intertwined.
Surprisingly, Tía shakes her head at my ideas.
One day, you’ll be eating your words, she says, envisioning for me, no doubt, a white dress drowning in lace, forgotten doilies, place settings, cloth napkins folded like birds, mason jar centerpieces while I swallow the black, inky letters of my thoughts, melted and mixed into the batter of the wedding cake, for taste.
She speaks of princes, falling, sweeping of feet as though I’m still a child, my life the chapter of a storybook, my love as straight as known things. As though I’m capable of surrendering my body to seed, stretch scars, someone else’s needs. Am I? I think.
Maybe it’s the way I stare at people we pass by in the street, at couples touching skin-to skin like instinct, inheritance. Or how my eyes soften when she tells me about the only man she ever wanted, Miguel with the too-big laugh and gold teeth glinting like stardust in the back of his mouth.
I don’t want you to write off love just yet, she says, and part of me longs to listen.
Already, beneath the fading blue, I can feel the rest of the evening on my skin—tea leaves steeped too long in water, the sunset playing peeking games between the blinds. The backyard figs grown and picked and split in two between our hands, the flesh as sweet as lips.
I peek at Tía through the side of my eye but can’t catch a glimpse of her face, no sign of her liberation or mine. Instead, we settle ourselves into the earth, raise our legs, then our arms—a new kind of yoga, she says—looking, if seen upside down, just like the cloud animals we searched for and named.
Sofía Aguilar is a Chicana writer and editor based in Los Angeles, California. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Orleans Review, Emerge Literary Journal, and Melanin. Magazine, among other publications. As a first-generation college graduate, she earned a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, where she received the Andrea Klein Willison Prize for Poetry and the Spencer Barnett Memorial Prize for Excellence in Latin American and Latinx Studies. 'STREAMING SERVICE: golden shovels made for tv' (2021) is her debut self-published poetry chapbook. You can find her at sofiaaguilar.com.
Image by Lucas Ludwig