Agua felt her head sink deeper within the depths of her pillow. Spread across the mass of her bed like a cluster of seaweed on sand, she found herself slipping in and out of her consciousness. She let the voices wash over her, and gave them as little notice as distant waves crashing in her head.
She can’t sleep forever…child
What has happened, I don’t know
Do you think that maybe
Footprints make marks on sandy beaches and are immediately weathered away by the coming tide. The distractions were forced outside the vacuum of her mind. She felt her arms and legs grow heavy and within seconds she slipped into a remote area of slumber.
Agh…a… It was the cry of a gull.
The waves crashed against the rock, sending sharp sprays into the air. The water froze. She winced and gnashed her eyelids shut, but the damage was done. Agua squinted as the image of Onda pierced her eyes. She was bending over Agua with a lachrymose expression painted over her face. Tears were gathered at the overflowing pools of her marble-like eyes.
“My god,” Onda murmured. “Agua!”
Agua felt her eyes glaze over and stared into the whitewashed ceiling plaster. Now awaken, tension gathered at her body and she felt still and unnatural outside of her dreams. Her mind felt soggy and water-clogged. Why was Onda still babbling?
“Why do you keep sleeping?” demanded Onda. “Why are doing this to yourself?”
Aqua ignored her. Water splashes, it does not strike when hurtled upon.
“Answer me!” Bony hands grasped at her shoulders and jerked her like a rag doll. Agua’s head rocked back and forth, but her eyes were unseeing and indifferent. Onda’s grip slackened and tears slid down her wrinkled face like rain stains on dirty windows.
Agua noticed Onda’s eyes glimpse over to her bureau, where her sleeping medication bottle conspicuously lay. The image hit her like a slap and Onda’s eyes widened. It wasn’t her mistake to leave them in plain sight. What did it matter if Onda knew or not?
Onda’s eyes flickered and she did something surprising. Seizing the bottle, Onda pulled her arm back and hurled it against the wall. A scream, like the discord of a violin with the cry of a wounded sea gull escaped her lips and shattered with the breaking of the bottle. Pink pills gushed unto the floor like a fountain.
As Onda turned back toward Agua, the muscles on her face tensed and her chin quivered.
“You’ve been sleeping for four days. Well, you’re not going to sleep anymore!”
Agua’s body was as stiff as a piece of driftwood and half as heavy. Onda easily carried the skinny girl into her arms. She made no objection and peered through half-lashed eyes as Onda took her down the stairs. The walls were the same sickening shade of yellow-gray. The stair railings were the same paint-flecked slate white. She closed her eyes and pretended to be drifting down a stream.
Downstairs, Onda set her carefully over the sofa and rushed into another room. Within moments, Agua could hear the pitiful choking sounds of Onda sobbing. Agua felt the room slowly evaporate as the sound of crying muffled into empty static. She closed her eyes and let the current of the waves take her away out to open sea.
I don’t know when it…
Maybe before, not a week ago
Enough to make her…
For four days…
Time had passed and Agua could feel the growing warmth of the sun through the window above her. She entertained herself by drifting in and out of sleep. Eventually the domestic noise of cooking, air-conditioning and footsteps would disturb her peaceful lull and she would meld the sound into the crashing of the perpetual waves in her head. After a half-hour, the trance was snapped again with the slamming of a door.
“Onda?” came a weary voice. Cascada had awoken from her all-morning slumber. “Onda?” she called again. “Why are you making this racket? What’s wrong?”
A squealing, whinny-like bleat was her response.
“What happened, Onda?”
“I can’t handle this anymore!” Agua could hear paper scattering, furniture scraping tiles and plastic vases clattering on the ground. Onda became a whirlwind of flailing arms and merciless destruction.
“I…I can’t stand her…always…always…sleeping!”
Crash, clink, shatter, pink.
Finally, Onda stopped and collapsed into the fray, howling between heavy sobs.
“Please calm down, Onda,” said Cascada. “Let me make lunch for you. It’s almost noon.”
“We only have leftovers,” she moaned. “You should go back to sleep.”
“I’ve had my fill of sleep. There’s rice that I can reheat.”
Agua listened to the whir of the microwave and the sound of food being scraped into plates. Cascada and Onda retreated into the eating room, where Cascada was comforting her.
“…thank you, Cascada,” she heard Onda say.
“Let me take care of the dishes,” offered Cascada. “You should rest yourself,”
She fretted but gave into Cascada’s advice.
Slow footsteps descended into Onda’s room. Cascada took the silverware and plates into the kitchen and took her time to wash them. Agua listened to the quiet clatter of clinking dishes with the swishing of running water. When the few plates were scrubbed clean with her meticulous cleansing, Agua heard gentle footsteps coming in her direction. They stopped by her side, and a slender finger brushed away the hair from her face.
“Agua…” It was a breath of cool mist.
Agua opened her eyes and saw her middle sister, Cascada bending over her. As she bent over Agua, her sleek dark hair fell over her shoulders like a waterfall. She was as beautiful as Onda was big-nosed and plain-faced.
“Cascada,” Agua whispered. Her voice came out in a dying fish’s wheeze. She swallowed some saliva to wet her throat. “I’m glad you’re here,” she croaked, in an undertone so Onda wouldn’t hear. Being only four years older than her, Cascada was a close friend she could trust with what she hid away from Onda.
Cascada nodded. “How are you?”
Agua greeted the question wearily. She had been sleeping consecutively for the last four days and her wake was greeted with a flood of whirling emotions from Onda and the slapping winds of reality. How was she?
Cascada waited patiently for a few seconds and sighed to acceptance of Agua’s silence.
“You’re as versatile as water, Agua,” murmured Cascada. Her voice was tinged with bitterness. “You move to your own accords, leaving everyone behind in confusion. I can never seem to understand you.”
She looked away and let it sink in.
“Why?” she added in a whisper.
“This is so unlike you, Agua. Doesn’t water always bounce back? Why choose to take your troubles in suppression, instead of letting it pouring out of you like a fountain? Speak, Agua. If nothing else, let your worries rest unto to me. Share some weight of your burden.”
Her simple solution seemed almost to be mocking her. “Stop it,” Agua croaked. “You don’t know what happened.” Agua drew an ailing, raspy breath and continued. “You couldn—couldn’tpossibly understand.”
Cascada’s eyes flashed and her demeanor darkened.
“Listen to me, Agua. Don’t let that that man put a dam around you.”
Suddenly, Agua’s body stiffened and the water drained from her body. Her body lit afire and drowned in blazes as her heart crashed turbulently against the wall of her chest. Thud…thud…thud… Hot smoke filled the holes of her nostrils and burned until tears forced out of her eyes. Was it the fire or the pain that made it so painful? Agua whimpered and shook her head.
“No fire can quench a mighty wave.” Cascada said. Her voice continued to escalate in emotion. “Rise above him, Agua.”
But I can’t…but he…
“Agua, nothing can change what he’s done to you. But it’s your choice whether you want to subject defeat to your burns and wounds or live them out until you heal. Do you understand?”
She could now see Onda, peering into their intimate discussion from behind a wall.
The wave of recognition crashed over her and her endurance buckled. Agua turned her eyes away and felt Cascada draw back. Not looking, she laid her head against the rough fabric of the sofa.
“Please, Agua,” she begged.
“Leave me alone.”
“Leave me alone!” Her words were icy and Cascada’s persistence faltered with frostbite. Agua could hear her taking dejected steps away.
Agua clenched her eyelids, squelching great blots of black until the splashes of color disappeared. Inside her, waves churned and whirlpools consumed her mind, scattering her thoughts like a typhoon.
Behind her, Cascada sighed, her breath plummeting like a downpour of misty rain.
“Well,” croaked Onda. It was more a statement than a question.
“Give her time, Onda. She’ll find her way eventually.” The last few words died away from her voice as she turned away.
Agua screwed up her eyes until they created a thousand crinkles on her face. Waves, storming, frothing, turmoil whipped like cutting winds inside her head. The quiet feet left the room and slipped away. With the debut of silence, the room washed away with the tide.
That lifeguard…told you about
One by the sea…yes…well
Maybe she doesn’t want to say why
The voices were gone and she stopped stirring.
By when Agua’s turmoil had spread to her appetite, there was only a bowl of rice left waiting on the table. She felt as drained as a well in drought. Fatigue had spread to every limb of her body and stomach was a dug-up hole. Like a wet paper doll, her body was flimsy, but each leg moved like a heavy weight. Agua pulled herself over a chair and crammed the dry, tasteless rice into her mouth. She realized that she had not eaten for four days. Agua came to realize that her stomach had dried up like a prune and could not accept food as much and as quickly as before…
She retched and the beige of the tablecloth was splattered with a mess of white viscous pellet-like vomit. Wiping her mouth with her nightgown sleeve, she meant to get away immediately. Agua tried to run away, but instead, fell into the arms of Cascada, who arrived just then. Feeling frail, weak and hopeless, she let out a torrent of tears suppressed for four days.
“Let it out, Agua,” murmured Cascada quietly. “Just let it out.”
Cascada retrieved some toilet paper from the bathroom and wiped Agua’s eyes as they leaked salty tears.
“I’m pathetic,” Agua whispered.
Cascada murmured something under her breath.
“Look at me, Cascada!” Agua screamed. Cascada did. “Look at what he did to me!”
“It’s only been four days, Agua,” she responded. “There’s still time for change. Isn’t the water always changing? You’re still young, Agua. Don’t tell me you’ve grown stiff already.”
Gently, Cascada caressed Agua’s head and held her against her body. “Listen Agua,” she murmured. “I never want you to forget this. When every tide in the ocean turns against you, I will still be here by your side.”
Agua moaned and her face screwed up in agony. Wetness streaked from the corner of her eyes. “I know, Cascada,” she choked.
A boat in the ocean, battered to the brink of collapse by the push and pull of the water, found the will to maintain ill-gotten balance. Cascada let her fall asleep in her arms.
The cool sea breeze swept over Agua; cooling her senses, kissing her face with feathery-slick strokes and tickling her feet as it glided over her body. She shivered.
Maybe something bad he…
To Her…Could it…
By the beach I think…
Agua’s eyes suddenly opened. Onda was in her room, rubbing her face with a cool towel and draping her body with an old towel. She drew her eyes over Agua’s lying form and her eyes hardened. Agua wondered how feeble she looked to Onda’s eyes. Onda roughly placed her palm over her forehead.
“Sick. You’re feverish.” She drew it away.
Agua sighed and placed her head back against the pillow, softly closing her fatigued eyes. She was tired of fighting.
Onda stepped over to the window and slammed it closed. The breeze was gone.
Then she stepped back and eyed Agua sharply.
“You are to sleep,” she said firmly. “Don’t cause trouble.”
A burst of rage swelled in Agua’s chest but she only wrenched her pillow until the bones bulged against her skin. When Onda disappeared, Agua noticed that the mess of the shattered bottle was cleaned. The shards of glass were tossed into the contents of her wastebasket. The pink pills were nowhere to be found.
Her mourning was over and she felt restless, amid her burning body and trickling perspiration. She wrapped her arms around her legs, coiled up like a shellfish. Agua wallowed in the puddles of her bubbling anger. Water was uncontainable, invincible, not to be bottled up or kept inside. If it were to stop flowing, it would eventually create enough pressure to break the glass of its surroundings. She wanted to become an earthquake and shake Onda silly, and then flee away from her house and drift away.
Agua gazed up at the clock. It was nearly six on the clock, but it was midsummer, and the sun was casting sleepy yellow rays on her bed sheets. Agua peered out of her window and saw the sun glinting at her. In the reflection, she could see a faint image of herself, staring back. Hallowed eyes, paled skin and a bird’s nest of stringy black hair stared back expectantly. She turned her face away.
Footsteps approached. Agua hastily fell into her bed and faked a sleeping position. The door opened. She could imagine Onda’s big nose sniffing into her room, deciphering her motionless form.
“She’s asleep.” It was Cascada’s voice. She carefully closed the door and Agua heard her enter the Onda’s room. The voices were muffled, but Agua could tell by their voices that it was about her. Carefully, she slid out of bed and crawled to the crevice of her door to listen.
“…I’m worried too. I think—”
Onda interrupted. “I don’t think we should let her go out again. Who knows what she’ll do this time? She might meet that strange boy.”
For mere moments, Agua stopped breathing. The blood in her neck rushed. She wanted to strangle Onda.
“I don’t think she will, but it’s best that she stay inside. We don’t know if—”
Her voice dramatically lowered to an inaudible whisper and Agua craned to listen. Onda’s voice matched hers and the only phrases she could distinguish afterward were “listen to me,” “let’s not try to rush her,” and “we will see.”
Onda began sobbing again. “This is my fault,” Agua heard her bawl. “I let this happen. If I hadn’t…those days when she were out I should have stopped her…I…”
“No, Onda. Shhh. You might wake Agua.” The two shuffled out of Onda’s room and outside to the garden.
She could faintly notice their voices outside. Afraid to break her charade by being heard opening her window, she decided to resign from eavesdropping. She crawled back to her covers, where the yellow had spread all around her room, but became a more tolerable, orange-ish color. For the umpteenth time, Agua prepared to sleep, and this time, the waters were indeed calmer.
No fire is too big to
Vanquish with water
The words echoed in her head. The sun was setting at a half-hour after seven. Agua imagined how much could change in a day. Such is the versatility of water. It can lay low in a dank well for two decades, but arise with an explosion in a matter of seconds when a lid pries loose.
You may have subdued me into hiding.
But I will regenerate and reincarnate.
Water is never-ending, reviving and restoring. It evaporates from the musty sewers and rises high into the sky, raining down into a vast ocean to continue the cycle. It can never be destroyed.
He was deceptive…
But I am more versatile than he is.
Like a phoenix, Agua arose from her bed. It was time for her boat to move into sea. She was about to walk out of her room when she looked back. Gorgeous, vermilion rays of red were now streaked across her room like the rising sun. However, her bed sheets were rumpled and covers where thrown astray like angry waves. Agua was usually very tidy. For the first time in four days, she made up her bed. She took her time and didn’t stop until every wrinkle left was insignificant and did not spoil the overall majesty of her bed. Satisfied, with a tiniest trace of a smile on her face, she opened the door and walked right into Onda.
“You’re up now?” she asked, seeing Agua on her feet for the first time.
“I need to take your temperature,” said Onda urgently. She took an old-fashioned thermometer from her apron and motioned Agua to the bed. Agua obeyed and opened her mouth for Onda to insert the thermometer. Two minutes passed and Onda checked the temperature.
“I don’t believe it,” she mumbled. “Your fever has gone down.”
“Yes,” said Agua. It was her first word to Onda in four days. The thermometer slipped from Onda’s fingers.
Agua slid past her and went straight to Cascada’s room.
“Sister,” murmured Agua thankfully.
A look of pure gratitude stretched across her face in a smile. “Water always bounces back. Welcome back, Agua.”
Agua nodded, rather than responding. “I want to go out for a walk,” she said.
Cascada hesitated and craned her head at the clock. “It’s going to be late soon.”
“I’ll be back soon,” she promised. Cascada shrugged and smile. The red rays of the sun illuminated in face in a halo. She was an angel.
“Go wherever your current takes you,” she said as Agua prepared to step out of the door.
Agua turned back, and for the first time in four days, she smiled.
She slipped onto her slippers and opened the door. She stepped out, feeling the cool summer breeze grace her bare legs.
Her house was only a few blocks away from the ocean and the pier. As she glided down the salty sidewalks, she saw the sun slowly melting down the sky like a drop of blood. Everything was immersed in red, from the clear water in the distance to the outline of Agua’s skin.
She continued moving through the neighborhood. Some people were outside, admiring the sunset, and a few of them recognized her and said hello. None of them acknowledged her four days’ disappearance. As she walked, road paved into sandy asphalt which paved into sand.
She arrived at the ocean, the water sparkling and dancing in the evening, beckoning her in. Agua took off her sandals and walked with her bare feet. She ran to greet the foaming waves rushing toward her. They licked her feet and pulled at her ankles, as if inviting her into the ocean. It was an invitation Agua could not decline to.
Nobody was around at the ocean at the hour except a couple of seagulls cluttered at a trash bin. Agua took her shoes up where the tide would not reach them and slipped out of her white gown. She shivered; wearing nothing underneath and carefully placed it next to her sandals. The gentle caressing of the water persuaded her, and led her knee-deep in salty water. Agua enjoyed the tickling sensation rimming the surface of her bare body. She walked in deeper until the water rose over her bottom and was brimming over to her stomach. She squinted at the red, fiery sun that was dipping down into the horizon, only half-visible.
Agua struggled to come closer as waves kept splashing around her body, hungry and forceful as she drew nearer. The water was still a little warm, but she cringed as the wind whistled through the curves of her breast and her tangled black hair, stinging her ears.
She wondered what somebody would think if they saw her. What would Cascada think? What would Onda think? The water was now splashing around her breasts. For a second she looked back. She was so far from shore. Was it too late to run back? Perhaps the waters would take it as an insult and drown her. She turned forward to advance.
Suddenly, a wave came over her head and drenched her. Agua gasped. For a second, she floated underwater, knocked backward and feet lifted from the ground. Was she being pushed by her own element again? She surfaced, coughing and spitting, and gazed into the reddened waves. The wave had pushed her back, closer to the shore. No, she wasn’t giving up. She was water; she would not be intimidated.
The sun was setting still and the skies faded from red to black. Splashing as quickly as she could, she waded through the water as if her water of life depended on it. She did not swim to avoid losing her glasses. Soon, the water was to her shoulders, her neck, and then…
Agua was standing in the water, and it seemed as if the waters grew still. Everywhere around her, the blues of water were mixed with the red blaze of the sun. She gazed into the sun, the water trickling and swimming around her, up to her face, sleeking down her hair and streaming through every part of her body. She was naked and perfect in the water, in front of the fiery sun.
Around her was water and in front of her was fire. The sun, in his resolute, unchanging and constant quality met the waters, unpredictable, uncontainable and versatile. She was in the mist of two powerful sources.
Another wave was coming…and the sun was dying, tiny shreds of red sinking to the very horizon to greet darkness. Agua gazed up and saw the stars, twinkling in the newly arrived blackness. Was the moon there as well?
There was nowhere to run. The wave escalated, but Agua realized that she wasn’t afraid. To be water would be to take in all water willingly. Was fire so different? In both ways, an excess of both could bring extraordinary results of their own.
The shadow passed over her and she felt the sun go under the approaching wave. The rays continued to linger for a second. Then…
She closed her eyes and willingly let the water engulf her.
Amy Fan is a writer living in Temple City, California.