Heat by Kirsten Vail Aguilar


My mother told me the following story a few weeks before she died. At the time, we didn’t know her death was lurking so close. I am surprised now, looking back, that I could not feel it like an inevitable sun waiting just beyond a dark horizon.

Once there was a woman who felt she was always blue. She wore this blue like a velvet cloak. It was soft but painful and so heavy. When she walked, she sank. To take a step, she had to extract her feet from the earth’s sharp teeth, only to sink them back down again. One day, a stranger paid her a visit. Their hair was as bright as flame, produced a heat comparable to a sun. The woman admired the stranger’s hair, envied their brightness, their heat. The stranger admired the blue velvet cloak, asked if they might borrow it for a while. They had been feeling too light and hollow, as if they might float away. The woman lifted the cloak from her shoulders — it was cumbersome — but what a relief. She skipped across the earth and there was no sinking, no pain. She watched the flame-haired stranger snuggle into the cloak, face breaking open in a smile. They both walked easily across the earth. They both felt whole. They thanked each other. Perhaps this was happiness. But then there was a great rumble and beneath them the earth shook. It was the Earthquake that had been a long time coming. The surface broke open, the Earth’s sharp teeth revealed. The woman and the flame-haired stranger struggled for footing. They reached for one another, but the chasms were too wide. They fell, were swallowed, chomped and chewed. The blue cloak snagged on an earth tooth and hung there in shreds long after the quake subsided.

It might be obvious from the metaphors here that my mother lived with and struggled against depression. But that is not what killed her. Instead it was an icicle on a bright winter day that fell from the awning of a tall building. It struck her on the head as she walked beneath it returning home from lunch with an old friend. She collapsed, died from the blunt force. Although I didn’t see it, it plays over and over in my mind. Later, the friend told me that for lunch my mother had eaten a whole tuna sandwich and a cup of minestrone soup. At least she died on a full stomach, the friend said, as if my mother had embarked well-nourished upon a long journey.

These are the type of stories that are difficult to believe. But I believe them: my mother, lit with sun, having momentarily shed her blue cloak to relish a rare heat.




Kirsten Vail Aguilar is a prose writer from Sonoma, CA. She holds an MFA from the University of Notre Dame and is a co-founder of the Chicago-based JKL Collective, a multidisciplinary arts group exploring the intersection between movement, words, and visual media. Her work has appeared in Entropy, Crazyhorse, Cleaver Magazine, and the Boiler Journal, among others. Find her on twitter @kirstenvaguilar or at kirstenaguilar.com


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Art Magdaline Nicole Pexels














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Art Edvard Munch public domain CC0