by Hugo Esteban Rodriguez Castañeda
Xochitl climbed up to the diving platform that jutted dangerously over the edge of the lake. It was time for her own rite of passage: entry into the cool kids club. It was a haphazard contraption of wood and metal that had seen better decades.
She sensed her surroundings at the top, smelled the spring air and burning wood; felt the cool, rugged iron under her toes; heard her own breathing, deep and dancing with her own heartbeat; tasted the dryness of her tongue; and looked below at her twenty young classmates swimming in the lake, parents under the shade of gazebos nearby.
The platform wavered a little bit, creaking under the weight of time, and she looked down at her classmate Duncan slowly start ascending to watch, or more likely, make her jump.
“You won’t jump! You suck!” he shouted, just a foot away. She turned her head and saw the top of his head pop up on to the platform, his black hair plastered to his forehead.
“See,” he said, pausing to catch his breath. “You’re a siss—“
Xochitl turned back and ran off the platform and into the enveloping blackness beneath her. Water exploded from the surface with a splash, coating the faces and legs of the other children around her. The sound echoed all the way to the beach and reverberated through time.
She swam beneath the lake that used to belong to a Texian rancher who fought under Colonel Juan Seguin and General Zachary Taylor in two different wars.
He returned from the war to tend to his land and his family held the land for three generations before one of the heirs was lynched by the Texas Rangers. The rest sold their land to a white family and moved with their wealth to Monterrey, on the other side of the Rio Grande.
Seconds passed, then minutes.
Xochitl swam through underground currents that led her to that river, following algae, fish, and the bodies of three immigrants as the water flowed into the floodplains and into where the Gulf of Mexico disappeared into a political boundary that was neither here nor there.
Duncan scurried back down the diving platform and jumped back into the lake with the rest of his classmates, who were equally clueless as to where Xochitl had gone. When she didn’t surface, a few concerned parents looked around, thinking she had run off somewhere. Others stared into the ground, silent and impotent. When her parents were notified, they jumped into the lake, searching for their daughter in vain.
But she was there.
Xochitl continued swimming under the water, where she became the vessel containing fifty percent of her own genetic code through the bloodstream and into an egg, a mother, and the other fifty percent. She saw a young couple having dinner at Blackbeard’s in South Padre Island intertwining their hands as they saw the fireworks rise high in the sky over Louie’s Backyard, exploding like nocturnal orgasms the couple felt that night. Xochitl swam like an electrical current, pulsing like an ultrasound reflected her visage.
A reflection on the water.
The lake was dredged a few days later, and rescue crews found no signs of Xochitl. Her classmates had all agreed that she had been there, engaged in the ritual each of them took part in every spring. Only the cool kids jumped off the platform, a badge of honor that they would carry with them in the halls of their elementary and middle schools. But the honor would cease to be after Duncan’s cohort, as the diving board was torn down one month later. The city voted to fence in the area around the lake, a decision that the county commission decided to “yes-and” in order to build a community swimming pool to provide the children a safe area to cool off in during the endless summer months. The resolution passed, but it would take some time to get the funds to turn the lake and the area around it into a renovated park.
Meanwhile, after fifteen months, twenty news stories, and a feature on Headline News Tonight, Xochitl’s parents had not given up the search. One night, Xochitl’s father, Arnulfo, returned from work to see his wife watching the local news on the television.
“Turn that off, Melinda. There’s nothing there.”
She stared forward.
“They are finally putting in the concrete for the pool tomorrow,” her voice was distant. Xochitl’s last picture, snapped a few weeks before school let out, was placed on the coffee table in front of her.
“We should go.”
“You’re crazy, what for?”
“I want to see it before they pave over everything.”
“We should go.”
She turned to face him.
“Bueno, vamos. Let’s go.” he said.
They left their apartment and drove the twenty minutes to the area. Construction crews had left for the day, leaving nothing but the NO TRESPASSING signs and a few orange cones around the area they would be working. Weeds had overgrown the area that had once been so frequented by the community, the benches where only a few years ago they had sat and laughed at were rotting. They got to the fence that surrounded the rusting remains of the diving structure.
“I’ll be glad when they tear this shit down,” Melinda said, pressing her hands against the fence.
“Yeah, wait…did you hear that?”
Arnulfo held up his hand.
It sounded like splashing somewhere in their vicinity, just down the old concrete steps. The couple went through the fence and looked down. Xochitl looked up at them, dripping wet from the water that wasn’t there behind her. She had a broad smile on her face.
“Hey amá, hey apá,” she said, cherubic face still wet. “Where were you?”
Hugo Esteban Rodriguez Castañeda was born and raised in Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley. He received his MFA in Creative Writing through the University of Texas at El Paso and his fiction is forthcoming in Neos Alexandria’s Garland of the Goddess: Tales and Poems of the Feminine Divine and Dark Ones: Tales and Poems of the Shadow Gods.