A Dance in the Rain by Sarah Garcia
Long ago, in the coastal village of Soltriste, while dreaming, a woman named Dolores met Death. Santa Muerte was wandering the shore not far from Dolores’ home, her bare, skeletal feet sinking into the sand. The early morning sky grew overcast with dark gray clouds, and the wind blew tremendously, its howls causing Santa Muerte’s robes to flutter and her bones to clack. The diosa stopped where the waves could perfectly kiss her ankles and stared out at the open sea. Dolores turned to find what captured the skeletal woman’s attention only to discover a fishing boat: her beloved Rio’s boat, undoubtedly loaded with the village’s men at work. Her Rio, who had weathered her through her family’s fever-induced deaths, who had saved her from all her pain, sorrow, and grief.
The water, wind, and sky morphed at alarming speeds, churning and blowing and darkening into a much different landscape. Rio’s boat shook violently, bobbing and weaving out of control. Santa Muerte raised her arms with palms turned upward, and realizing her intention, Dolores screamed, begged, dropped down to her knees. She tried, quite futilely, to grab at the diosa’s robe, but her hand simply passed through, her words failing to reach Santa Muerte’s nonexistent ears.
Trapped in this helpless hell, Dolores could do nothing but watch as the clouds, at their stormy peak, unleashed a lightning bolt that struck Rio’s boat, splintering wood and setting the deck ablaze. After a brief second, which stretched into infinity, Dolores awoke following the boom of thunder, tears streaming down her cheeks, to a cold and empty bed, a terrible storm raging outside, and a bright pinprick of orange light sinking from the horizon into the sea.
For days and weeks and months afterward, the remaining villagers of Soltriste found the sailors’ bodies washed up on shore, distorted into unrecognizable, bloated forms. A heavy melancholy dominated over lost fathers, sons, family, and friends. The air, already so salty, carried an even more distinct tang as tears were shed, their salt evaporating into the communal atmosphere. Dolores did nothing but sit on her porch day after day, legs tucked close to her chest, arms wrapped around, body facing the ocean, waiting for a return that would not come.
One particularly foggy, rainy day, Dolores was curled into herself upon that porch once more, a dash of color amongst the gray in her yellow rebozo. As she kept her dull-eyed vigil, Santa Muerte suddenly materialized from the fog, condensing from airy mist into solid bone in a matter of seconds. The diosa approached, rain bouncing off her figure as it dared not to soak her, while Dolores looked down to hide her anger. Stepping onto the porch, silent as if she glided rather than walked, Santa Muerte knelt to Dolores’ level. Up close, she could smell the diosa’s compelling floral scent, Aztec marigolds and roses among her robes, which, mixed with the rain’s rich, earthy aroma, evoked the coming of spring.
“Hello, mija,” Santa Muerte said with her ancient voice, reminding Dolores of her long passed abuela. “I sense you are quite angry with me, so I have come to listen.”
“I-I am not angry with you,” she denied.
“Now, we both know that’s not true.” The diosa spoke with such authority that Dolores couldn’t object. “Mi niña, I am here. Speak what you must.”
A long moment hung in the air before Dolores said, her voice cracking around the edges, “Why did you kill them all? Why didn’t you spare them, spare him?”
“Because I am death, mija. All living things must die; it is my duty to carry away the souls of those departed. I am not the arbiter of when or where or how.”
Dolores’ rage and despair twisted into a messy knot inside her tattered heart. “But why him?! Why Rio?! He was a good man—I loved him—he didn’t deserve this!”
“It was his time, mi niña. Nothing can change that, not even I.”
“Liar!” Dolores’ impudence poured freely from her mouth. “You didn’t need to do this! You didn’t need to take him from me, why couldn’t he have stayed?! Why have you done this-”
“No one’s ever really gone, Dolores,” the diosa replied kindly, despite Dolores’ harsh words. “Everywhere and in everything, you can find those you’ve loved and lost. All you need to do is keep an eye out for the remaining traces of their time on this earth.” Santa Muerte raised her skeletal hand and cradled Dolores’ cheek, her bony grip smooth, warm, and gentle. Her skull’s eyeless stare bore into Dolores with a depthless wisdom. “Go on, mija. Hurry, and take that look.”
Weary, Dolores obediently turned her gaze around, desperate for any hope. And there, astoundingly, she found it, him, in the rain. Rio didn’t look the same as before, constructed now with water, translucent and nearly featureless. But she could see his outline, his figure, tall and slender and strong—she would have recognized him anywhere. She jumped up from the porch, Santa Muerte already vanished before her, and rushed into the street, her rebozo dropped into a puddle in her haste. She threw herself into Rio’s arms and found him surprisingly solid, droplets from the downpour hitting his aquatic skin and incorporating into his being. Dolores clutched him close, and he embraced her back, running his wet fingers through her hair as she sobbed and professed her love, his only means of comfort without a voice. The two lovers swayed together in the street, locked in a simple, affectionate dance.
And as she calmed, Dolores finally noticed her fellow villagers, greeting their own loved ones, all as ethereal and diaphanous as her Rio. Tears fell, smiles bloomed, and laughter abounded as everyone delighted in the company of the dead, who soon faded from sight with the storm’s passing. None despaired however, for they knew that no matter what new sorrows sprung up, they could always look forward to the next rainfall.
Sarah Garcia is an MFA Creative Writing student at Mills College. A self-described Chicana bisexual disaster, she loves fairytales and writing the weird, horrific, and fantastical. Her writing has been featured in UCLA's FEM Newsmagazine and Westwind, and she received honorable mention for Mills College's Marion Hood Boess Haworth Prize.
Cover: Amanda Bergloff Twitter @AmandaBergloff Instagram: amandabergloff