The Hide-Behind by T. D. Storm

Fiona confides to her ghost-friend that her aunt has been brought to their lake house to die; by T. D. Storm.

Fiona scuffled over the sand at the resort playground, eyes closed and hands extended so she wouldn't run into the play structure. "Cherry bomb!" she shouted.

Violet didn't answer. There was only the sound of gulls crying, tourists at the marina hollering to one another, and cars passing on Highway 42 - the typical sounds of summer.

Fiona's hand met a pillar of the structure, and she felt along the bars. Nothing. She froze and stopped her breathing. She thought she heard Violet snort a little, like she was trying not to laugh. "Are you cheating?" Fiona said. She heard a thump in the dry leaves behind her, and quickly turned and opened her eyes. The sound was real. She hadn't imagined it.

"Holy crud!" Violet said from atop the structure. "Is that a squirrel?" She said it just as Fiona noticed the subtle movement on the forest floor. "I think it fell out of that tree!"

Violet jumped down and ran into the woods and Fiona followed. There, snuggled into a bed of dry leaves and twigs, a squirrel lay curled on its side, its chest rising and falling with slow breaths.

"Aw, he's so cute," Fiona said.

"He's dying." Violet picked up a stick and poked at the squirrel's belly. It twitched, kicked its back legs twice, then lay still. "Its ghost must have caught it."

"What are you talking about?"

"Ghosts," Violet said. "You know. You can sometimes see them." She pointed into the woods.

Fiona looked at the trees for movement. "There's nothing there," she said, mostly to herself.

"Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there."

Fiona squinted, looking for some smoky wisp. But there was no movement.

The squirrel seemed to be sleeping, and Fiona wondered if people looked this peaceful when they were dead. She thought she'd probably find out soon enough. Her tia was coming to live with Fiona and her parents. She wasn't actually Fiona's tia. She was Papi's. But she basically raised Papi, so she was also like Fiona's grandmother. It was complicated.

"Ever heard of the Hide-Behind?" Violet asked.

Fiona was still just figuring Violet out. She started showing up soon after Fiona learned that Tia would be coming to die at their house. Fiona imagined her to be about three years older.

"It's a creature that haunts the Northwoods. No one's ever seen one and lived to tell about it because each time you turn around, it ducks behind a tree. It sneaks up on you that way and then snatches you!" Violet grabbed Fiona's arm with both hands. "I mean, that's how the story goes, anyway." She shrugged, skipped back to the play structure, and then started singing a song that sometimes came on the radio station Papi listened to: "One way or another, I'm gonna find ya, I'm gonna getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha. One way, maybe next week, I'm gonna find ya, I'm gonna getcha, I'll getcha."

What a weirdo.

"Hey," Violet said. "What was that noise?"

Fiona turned. She'd heard it too. A rustle of ground cover, like a cat tongue on plastic.

Violet hopped down from the structure. "Keep your back to mine and keep moving your head left to right. That way, we'll cover 360 degrees."

"It's not a Hide-Behind," Fiona said. "People walk on this path all the time." Which was true. But she backed up to Violet and swiveled her head side to side.

"Fiona!" someone shouted.

Fiona let out a breath. "It's just Mom."

"Fiona! Tia's here. Come down and see her."

Violet cartwheeled onto the sand beneath the play structure, then smirked at Fiona. "It's okay if you're scared."

"I'm not scared," Fiona said. She took a deep breath and whispered again to herself, "I'm not scared." If she said it enough, she might make it true.

Fiona met Mom halfway down the bluff path. Together, they walked to the parking lot, saying nothing.

Tia had arrived in a big white van with the words "Lifeline" on the side, and just under it, "Chicago's #1 Choice." It sat in the handicapped spot. Tia was in a wheelchair with her back to Fiona, talking with Papi and some woman with frizzy hair Fiona had never seen before. "How long does she have now?" Fiona asked Mom.

"I don't know," Mom said. "It doesn't work like that. People aren't stopwatches. We just need to make her as comfortable as possible."

The last time Tia came up to Gill's Rock, Fiona was six. Since then, she'd seen her a couple times down in Chicago, but this Tia looked a lot different. Her cheekbones stood out. And her hair was thin and gray. Honestly, she looked like one of those Halloween laughing skeletons rich people put out on their porches in October.

"Jeez. That's Tia?" Fiona asked as they crossed the parking lot from the bluff path.

"Yeah," Mom said. "Don't say anything, please."

Fiona hoped she wouldn't have to speak at all. "I won't."

They went to Papi's side and listened to the ongoing conversation. "Then we'll play it by ear," the frizzy-haired woman was saying. "If she's feeling okay, you could wheel her down by the docks." She crouched and put her face about eight inches from Tia's. "How's that sound, Lourdes? Would you like to see the water later?"

Tia had been zoning out, but she snapped to, and said, "Yes." Then her eyes met Fiona's and got large. "Rosa?" she gasped. She reached for Fiona like a hungry chick. "Rosa!"

Fiona grabbed Mom's arm and stepped back.

"It's okay, Tia," Papi said. He touched her hand. "That's just Fiona."

"Fiona?" Tia looked confused, like she'd never heard of a girl named Fiona. And then she let out a sigh, and her tensed shoulders relaxed. "Dios mio! Fiona! You look just like my sister."

Papi squeezed Tia's arm. "She does, a little."

"I'm sorry, child," Tia said, reaching for Fiona. "I thought I was dead."

"Do you want to die?" Fiona said before she could catch herself. Tia had reached for her with such longing. She didn't seem scared of the ghost she thought might be standing before her.

Everyone looked shocked. Except Tia, who smiled at Fiona before Papi turned the wheelchair toward the house.

"What happens when you die?" Fiona asked Mom. They'd gone back up to the bluff path, where Fiona had pointed out the squirrel lying motionless on its bed of leaves.

"Well, if you're a squirrel," she chuckled, "you get rigor mortis and then a vulture eats you."

Fiona looked at the soft belly of the squirrel and pictured a bird pecking at it. "Yuck."

"I'm sorry," Mom said. "Come here." She pulled Fiona into a sideways hug. "Different people have different ideas about what happens. Papi would say you go to heaven or hell after you die."

"But you wouldn't?"


"What do you think happens?"

"I don't know." Mom clasped Fiona's hand and pulled her close to the bluff's edge. They looked down the steep embankment at the trees below and the water of the bay lapping at the shore. A few boats hovered just off the docks of the marina. "I don't think you should live your life thinking too hard about things you cannot know, Fiona."

Fiona noticed a crow fly up to the ash tree that leaned out over the bluff. She looked around for a rock so she could scare it off. She didn't want it pecking at that poor squirrel. "How do you know which things you can't know?"

Mom laughed. "Oh, God. You're getting way too smart for me." She dropped Fiona's hand, then pulled her head in for a kiss on the temple. "Listen, I've got to welcome the new guests. Tia wants to talk with you later, okay?"

"Okay. Sorry about what I said to Tia."

Mom shrugged. "I don't think you upset her. She's not the flappable type."

Fiona watched Mom go and then found a rock. The crow was still lingering. "Speaking of flappable," she said to it. She had a good throwing arm. She pulled back.

Something rustled behind her. She froze and listened, thinking immediately of the Hide-Behind but willing herself not to look. If she didn't, it proved she wasn't scared, she told herself. A gust blew through the trees; seagulls whistled in the distance; branches at her back rattled. She turned to face the noise and readied her throwing arm.

Violet peeked out from behind a tree and smiled. "I can tell you what happens after you die."

Fiona smiled as she fingered the rock in her hand. There was a fearlessness to Violet that Fiona envied.

"Your spirit leaves your body and goes searching for a new home."

"What kind of home?"

"Like an unborn baby of some kind. Doesn't have to be human. Could be a rabbit or, like, a sparrow. And then you start a new life."

"So you just wander around as a ghost until then?"

"No, no. A ghost is different. Lots of people think a ghost is like a spirit who can't let go of its past. But actually, a ghost is the thing that kills you." Violet paced and gestured like she'd rehearsed this whole speech. "See, everybody has a ghost. It follows you your whole life and then one day, boom! It catches you and it's over." She drew a finger across her throat dramatically. "It's the Hide-Behind, pretty much."

Violet was hands-down the strangest creation ever. Fiona watched her climb up the play structure, pointing toward the clouds, and clucking. "What are you doing?" Fiona asked.

"I'm trying to coax this crow to come land on my hand."

"Do crows come to people who cluck at them?"

"You don't believe me, do you?"

"Um, I don't know," Fiona said. "I don't think he'll fly onto your hand."

"No, I mean about ghosts and the Hide-Behind and all that."

"Oh." Fiona didn't know what to believe, but she knew what Mom would say. "No, not really."

Violet dropped her arm and glared down at Fiona. "You know what's creepy? Maybe you've already seen your ghost. Ever think about that?"


"Yeah. I could be your ghost."

Fiona scoffed. "Yeah, right," she said. But Violet did look a little bit like her.

"Has your mom ever seen me? Has your dad?"

"Um -" Definitely not.

"But I know all about you. I know you live in the blue house with the white trim and I even know which bedroom is yours. I know all sorts of things about you. Like your last name is Lopez. You didn't ever tell me that, did you?"

Half the tourists who came to the resort knew that. "No, but -"

"It's funny. You don't look Mexican."

"I'm not Mexican."

"I mean, your dad doesn't look Mexican."

"He isn't. He's Argentinian." That's why their house was blue and white.

Violet pursed her lips in frustration. "Fine. Well. I could still be your ghost. Or, you know, someone else could be." She gave Fiona a meaningful look, and Fiona thought of Tia's hungry look and spiny fingers reaching out. Maybe Fiona was Tia's ghost. No, that didn't make sense. But maybe Violet was Tia's ghost. Violet's eyes got big as if she knew what Fiona was thinking, and then she ran off, zigzagging through the trees like a squirrel. No, like a deer.

The crow cawed in the ash tree. Fiona threw the rock at it and missed. It flew away.

Tia sat at the kitchen table in her wheelchair, eating a smoked whitefish. "God I love this stuff," she said. The frizzy-haired woman, who'd introduced herself as Claudia, sat next to her. She was Tia's hospice nurse.

Fiona watched Tia's bony hands tremble as they pecked at the fish, tearing off chunks.

"You want any?" Tia asked.

"No, thank you."

"So what you do all day, mi hija?" Tia had fish all over her fingers. Bits of it on her face. She really looked pretty bad, so shriveled.

"I help out, like when guests leave, I sometimes help Mom clean the cabins."

"Don't you play?"

"Yeah. Over there on the bluff, at the playground." Fiona pointed toward the path on the other side of the parking lot. "I go there a lot. Usually it's just me, but sometimes there are other kids from our cabins or from the Neuhauser's."



"They come and go."

"Yeah. There's one here now whose name is Violet."

"What she like?"

"I don't know. She says some weird things."

Tia asked Claudia for a glass of wine. Claudia's eyebrows shot up, then she smiled, shook her head and went poking through the refrigerator. Tia looked Fiona in the eye.

It was a cue to continue, Fiona realized. "Like she talks about monsters that follow you everywhere you go and -" She didn't want to say "kill you," so she just stopped.

Tia took a glass of white wine from Claudia. "Sounds like she grew up in Argentina in the 70s."

Fiona didn't know what to say about that.

"What you know about your abuela, Fiona?"

"Papi says she was a hero."

Tia nodded. "That's true. That's true." She took a gulp of her wine. "They kidnap her, you know."

Fiona was silent. She didn't know. All Papi had told her was that Abuela died fighting for her country. Nothing about kidnapping. Fiona had always pictured her in camo gear, sneaking through overgrown forest with a machine gun.

"Your Papi was four years old, and they came and rounded up all the people they thought were causing problems. Your abuela had some connections with professor types. Well, she was profesora before your Papi was born."

Fiona knew that. She knew Papi's Papi had died in a car accident when Papi was a baby. She knew Tia moved in with Abuela after that.

"They came and took her. No questions. Just took her from our home. Pulled her out of there, she was kicking and screaming. I remember she grab the frame of the front door as they carry her out, shouting to me, 'Look after Javi!' That was the last we saw of her." Tia stared into space and went silent. By the refrigerator, Claudia stood rapt, a hand covering her mouth. "They probably drop her in the ocean from a plane. That's what they did. Imagine."

Fiona thought about Papi telling the tourists all the old stories of the wrecks at Death's Door and the Potawatomi legends of battles with the Winnebago, canoes dashed against the rocks as winds whipped up suddenly. He was obsessed with those stories. The way he described the cold, dark, unforgiving water - Mom sometimes told him to scale it back a bit so he wouldn't scare the tourists.

"I wish they take me instead," Tia said, wiping at her eyes. "I tell you, Fiona. If you ever lose someone, you want to see the body. Not knowing is horrible." She looked at Fiona with watery eyes and said, "Come here, child."

Fiona scooted her chair close to Tia, who pulled her in for a trembling hug, then held her head and kissed her on the cheek and forehead. "You really do look like her," she said. "We used to have so much fun together."

It was a nice thing to say, and Fiona smiled. Tia wasn't so bad. She wasn't scary like Fiona thought she might be. But her breath sure did stink, and Fiona worried there were now fish chunks on her back.

The next morning, after breakfast, they wheeled Tia to the marina to see the water. Papi, Mom, Claudia - they all came along, down the steep hill, past the boat landing, to the docks by the Bait and Grill. Fiona was already sweating in the muggy air, but Tia was wearing pants and long sleeves and had a blanket draped across her lap. She hadn't said much at breakfast, and now, as Papi pushed her along the road shoulder, narrating the scene as if for a tourist, Fiona wondered if Tia was starting to fade. Was it going to happen this soon?

Round the corner of the Bait and Grill, past the coke machine crusted with dead bugs, they rolled onto the long pier, wide enough to walk three across. Tia's chair rattled over the wood planks. A sailboat, docked at the deep end of the pier, bobbed in the wake, its halyard dinging against the metal mast.

"And these guys," Papi said, pointing to a Boston Whaler at dockside, "are scuba divers, probably headed out to Death's Door."

At this, Tia perked up a bit. "How they get there?" she asked.

Mom and Papi exchanged a glance.

Claudia interjected. "Where's Death's Door?"

"It's just around the end of the peninsula," Papi said. "About four miles by water."

A man on the boat called, "Javier! Did you hear what we found yesterday?"

Papi stopped wheeling Tia and turned toward the Boston Whaler, where a man in a wetsuit held up what looked like a piece of driftwood.

"Buck says it's a canoe paddle, thinks it's about 200 years old."

"You're kidding!"

"Almost impossible to verify, he said, but that's his best guess. You want it for the resort?" He held it out for Papi.

"Serious? Of course I want it." He grabbed the paddle and examined it like a little boy.

"Don't drop it in the water," the diver said. "It'll sink right to the bottom. Waterlogged cedar."

Papi whistled. "Thanks, Joe!"

Fiona watched Joe jump back on his boat. Just beyond him, past the Bait and Grill, Violet stood on the opposite shoulder of the road, waving her arms and pointing to the bay urgently, as if the Hide-Behind were about to attack.

Fiona turned and saw Tia, wheeling her chair down the dock alone. "Holy crud!" she whispered.

Claudia jerked in surprise. "Lourdes!" she shouted.

Tia spun her wheels expertly, heading straight toward the dock's end, where there were no boats blocking the water.

Papi screamed, "Tia!" and he and Claudia sprinted the length of the dock.

Even before Violet's wild gesturing, Fiona had heard the rattling of the wood slats, she now realized. She just wouldn't have guessed Tia would take off on her own.

Papi caught Tia just a few feet away from the pier's edge and turned her to face the shore before dropping to his knees.

"Oh, Javi," Mom said. She walked out to him.

Fiona watched the four of them come back up the pier.

"She's in a lot of pain right now," Claudia explained. She gripped Tia's hand and said, "It comes and goes, Lourdes. It comes and goes."

Waves rolled in and whooshed against the rocks. Gulls cried overhead. Fiona scanned the roadside where she thought she'd seen Violet, but she was nowhere.

That night, Fiona lay awake in bed for a long time, thinking about Tia and what would have happened if she'd rolled off the end of the dock. She tried to will herself to think about something else - the Babysitter Gang books she'd been reading, the huge marble maze Papi said he'd build for her once tourist season wound down. But her mind kept coming back to Tia sinking like that old canoe paddle.

Just as she was drifting off to sleep, she startled awake by a sensation of falling from the sky and hitting the water hard with a brittle crack. Abuela! she thought. Is that why Tia had tried to drown herself? To join her sister?

Fiona sat up and looked around her room. Had she heard a sound? A clinking of glasses, maybe?

A breeze coming through the open window ruffled the moonlit drapes. A shadow flittered on the floor in the rectangle of moonlight. Fiona walked to the window. Violet was standing just outside, about to tap on the glass with a long, bony-fingered stick. "What are you doing?" Fiona asked.

"I think you mean 'gee Violet, thanks for saving my grandma's life.' It always pays to watch your own back, doesn't it?"

"She's not my grandma."

"Yeah, but she pretty much is, isn't she?"

"How do you know, anyway?"

Violet nodded. No, she smiled an evil smile. "Maybe I'm your ghost."

"Yeah, you already said that," Fiona said. "If you're my ghost, why am I still alive?"

There came that sound again, a clattering of dishes in the kitchen? Fiona looked at her clock. It was eleven. Her parents would be in bed already. They always got up at 5am during tourist season.

But Tia wouldn't be up now, would she? Fiona hadn't seen much of her since the morning excursion; Tia had planted herself in Papi's Lazy Boy and slept all afternoon and evening, her neck craned awkwardly, her mouth hanging open. She truly looked like a corpse.

Fiona tiptoed down the hall to the kitchen. Tia was sitting at the table, drinking from a teacup. She held a finger to her lips, shushing Fiona before she spoke. Then she pointed to the living room, where Claudia was sitting in a rocking chair, her head tipped back, snoring occasionally.

"Let's go outside," Tia whispered.

Fiona wheeled her out the door and up to the parking lot. Swarms of gnats and moths flitted around the flood lights. A mosquito buzzed in Fiona's ear and she slapped at it.

"Are they biting?" Tia asked. "Let's keep walking, get into the breeze."

Fiona pushed the chair toward the driveway. She looked around for Violet.

"Tia?" Fiona asked. "Do you believe in ghosts?"

"Yes." No hesitation.

"Have you ever seen one?"

"Not exactly. But they always around, no? My sister, I think I see her everywhere."

Fiona checked over her shoulder.

"Let's head down the road," Tia said. "The lake breeze will keep the mosquitos away, no?"

Fiona pushed the chair into the lane. There wasn't much traffic this time of night, but she wondered what a driver would think if he came upon a girl pushing a skeleton down the road in the middle of the night. He'd probably think they were both ghosts. "Mom says that when people see ghosts, it's just their imagination playing tricks on them."

Tia was silent for a long time. Fiona leaned forward to see if her eyes were open. They were. But she wasn't moving much.

"The imagination does a lot of things," Tia said. "But it does not play tricks on you. It tell you what you need to know."

Fiona was suddenly aware of the roar of waves on the shore. The wind blew in from the bay and rolled the water into white caps, which rushed up the concrete ramp of the boat landing. Up ahead, the coke machine near the Bait and Grill cast a red glow on the pier. Fiona hadn't been paying attention. She brought the wheelchair to a halt.

Did she see Violet behind the coke machine?

"Let's go out there," Tia said, pointing a skeletal finger toward the bay.

Fiona decided it was best to play dumb. "We can't go on the water, Tia. We don't have a boat."

"No, I mean the pier."

"Um, we went out there this morning, Tia." She began to turn the wheelchair around.

"Hold on, now, hold on. Let's just go a little ways out onto the dock."

"I don't think so, Tia." She pushed the wheelchair back toward home.

"You know what's happening to me, no, Fiona?"

Fiona stopped.

"I don't have many wishes left."

Waves crashed against the seawall by the marina, spitting fountains. The wind whipped a flag into something like a leashed mad dog. That stupid sailboat kept dinging, dinging, dinging.

"You'd be doing me a great kindness, mi hija."

Fiona wheeled around once again, back toward the red glow near the Bait and Grill. She pushed slowly.

"Thank you, mi hija."

Fiona thought of Mom and Papi, back home in their bed, of Claudia, asleep in the rocking chair. She shouldn't have ever wheeled Tia down the road to begin with.

She could barely hear the wood planks rattle under the chair as she eased it onto the dock. The rush of wind and waves and rustling leaves drowned out the noise. The air felt cooler. A front was moving in. She watched Tia closely, half-expecting her to lunge out of her chair toward the water.

She stopped halfway down the dock. Tia didn't complain.

"You know what's funny?" Tia shouted. "I always thought white caps look like arms reaching up and out of the water, trying to escape something."

Fiona watched the water curl into white peaks that collapsed back into the inky blackness.

"Now they seem to me trying to pull people under," Tia said.

Jeez. What's there to say to that? Fiona wondered. She wiped her misty forehead.

"After Rosa die, I see her. She follow me here to this country. I see her in Chicago. Not like I see you right now. Always, she just out of sight. I want to see her again clearly. Just once."

Fiona took a deep breath to muster her courage. "Tia," she said. "I'm not going to help you kill yourself."

"What?" Tia shouted. "Kill myself? I don't want to die, mi hija. I never have. I make promise to my sister to watch Javier. I cannot leave him without Rosa's permission."

Fiona felt her cheeks flush. She shouldn't have said anything.

"I just like the water," Tia said. "It scare me, but that's why I like it."

On the way home, Tia was silent. Probably asleep. Fiona leaned into the wheelchair as she pushed it up the hill. And then, suddenly, there was Violet, walking beside them. Fiona jumped and said, "Holy crud. Why are you always scaring me?"

Violet skipped. No, she walked with her hands behind her back. "I scare you so you know there's nothing to be scared of."

"That doesn't make any sense."

Violet flashed a mischievous smile. "Your grandma, man! I thought you were going to push her right into the drink. Plop!"

"I thought she was going to try to do it herself."

"Goodness! I mean, for a second, it seemed like you were her ghost, out there on that pier in the middle of the night with a storm front moving in, getting ready to tip that old lady into the sea." She shook her head dramatically. "What would your parents say if they found out what you did?"

Fiona stopped the wheelchair right at the driveway of the resort. "Nobody's going to tell them."

Violet smiled. "No. It'll be our little secret."

Fiona was growing tired of Violet, of all her little dramas. She was weird, and for a while, that was helpful. But now?

Violet pointed to Tia. "Is she dead now? Hasn't said a word since you left the marina."

Fiona flipped the brake and came around to face Tia. She wasn't moving. Fiona looked closely for the rise and fall of her chest, but saw nothing.

"Are you scared?" Violet said.

Of course she was scared.

"There's no such thing as the Hide-Behind, you know?" Violet didn't say. It's not something she would have said. "Tia's fine. It'll all work out," she didn't say.

Violet was like all the other tourist kids, just there to mess with Fiona because they knew they'd be gone in a week or two, knew they could pretend to be someone they weren't.

Then again, Fiona was guilty of pretending, too.

She watched Tia closely for any signs of life. "If you're there, Tia's ghost," she said, "come out and show yourself." She felt tears welling in her eyes. She didn't want Tia to go quite yet.

But there was no ghost.

Fiona blinked back the tears, squatted, and put her hands on Tia's knees.

Tia's eyes popped open and her head jerked up. "Who on earth you talking to?" she said.

Fiona nearly fell over. She put a hand on the pavement to catch herself and then stood.

Tia's head swiveled as she looked wide-eyed at her surroundings, clearly disoriented.

"I'm sorry," Fiona said. "It's okay."

Tia locked eyes with Fiona. "You," she said. Tia looked so scared and so confused. And Violet was behind her, making faces. But Fiona made Violet disappear.

"It's okay," Fiona repeated. "It'll all work out."

Tia's look became hopeful or pleading. There was a question in it, and Fiona didn't know what the question was, but she answered it anyway: "I'll look after Papi. Javier. I'll look after him. It's okay. It'll all work out."

Tia's eyes softened and she took some steadying breaths and nodded.

"I'm sorry, Tia," Fiona said. "I didn't mean to scare you."

Tia nodded again. "You'll look after Javi?"


"Okay," Tia said. "Okay."

In the morning, Fiona woke to Mom sitting on the bed, gently stroking Fiona's hair. Light streamed through the windows, and it was already hot. "Hi Sweetie," Mom said.

"What time is it?" Fiona asked.

"It's almost ten thirty."

Mom never let her sleep that late. Fiona sat up and threw off her sheets. She was sweating.

Mom sighed, which she only did when something was wrong. Had they discovered Fiona's midnight excursion with Tia?

"I've got some bad news, Sweetie."

Fiona held her breath.

"Tia died early this morning."

Immediately, Fiona wondered if Tia had gone back down to the water alone somehow. It was just past midnight when they'd gotten back home last night. She had pushed Tia inside, and went to wake up Claudia, but Tia said, "Wait, mi hija," and pulled Fiona into an uncomfortable hug. Her grip was so tight, and she held Fiona for so long.

"Would you like to see her one last time?" Mom asked.

Out in the living room, Tia's chair was over by the windows, pointed toward the bird feeders. She looked like she did yesterday, but the air smelled different. "Ooh, disgusting," Violet would have said.

Papi was sitting on the couch next to Tia, clasping her hand. "Hey Fi," he said, his voice nasal, his eyes puffy. He tried to smile, but his face just wouldn't.

"Hi Papi," Fiona said. She kept her distance. Tia's body sagged in the chair, her skin loose, her face droopy. Tia wasn't in there anymore. Where was she? Fiona looked for a remnant, lingering over Papi's shoulder, over the teacups on the table, at the front door. She was eager to get some air.

Fiona went to the door and opened it. She squinted into the light, looking for a wisp of spirit floating over the grass.

"Fiona?" Mom said. "Are you okay?"

Fiona didn't answer. She walked out the door and crossed the parking lot to the bluff path and ran up to the playground. Violet was sitting on the structure. Fiona climbed up and joined her, sat down and put her legs through the wide spindles of the railing, letting them dangle. She could see the marina down below, scuba divers getting ready to go scour the wrecks for ghosts or spirits or whatever. Wind gusted through the trees, turkey vultures glided in the drafts, the smell of lakewater swam through the air. She turned to Violet. But it didn't feel right anymore. She didn't know what to say. She didn't know what Violet would say.

She stood, leaned out over the railing, and closed her eyes as the breeze caressed her face. Then she climbed back down the play structure alone.

Tia was there, standing with her toes in the sand. No wheelchair.

"Hey Tia," Fiona said.

"Hola mi hija," Tia said. "Want to play Cherry Bomb?"


  1. Death from a child's viewpoint, with an interesting backstory of life in Argentina in the 1970s. Enjoyed Fiona. Enjoyed working out Violet, and Tia.
    Gentle pace. Fiona and Tia's characters distinct and well-drawn.

  2. Very well written. The dialogue was intriguing and captivating. It was somehow a comforting story to me... especially the ending.

  3. There were some lovely sentences in this piece. Also loved the ending. Well done.

  4. A well constructed and delivered story with good characterisation.

  5. A very contemplative tale. Interesting to watch Fiona trying to figure it all out. I enjoyed the different perspectives given by the characters of different ages.