Once upon a time, she believed that she would save the world, or change it, or at least see it. Now she's given it up for a ring on her finger and the promise that ten gold coins can provide.
She rests one hand on the jutting curve of her hip while I hook her corset (third row—she's not stick-thin like me) and her other hand toys with a dark curl that's come free from its bobby pins. I pull her hand away and pin the curl back up as she steps into her petticoat, adjusting it with deft fingers that once braided my hair and mended the torn hems of my ball gowns, offered me the best slices of avocado and taught me how to make a cross from the leaves on Palm Sunday.
She's still young enough to measure her weekdays by bell tolls, but she was my fairy godmother; beautiful, serious, natural and defiant as rose brambles. And now, smoothing the white satin that hangs off her hips and tugging the lace draping her shoulders she has been transformed into the white oleander that is the exclusive property of subdivisions, SUVs, and soccer moms. Her starched mantilla drapes over my forearm, rasping at my skin, the crunching noise as the veil crimps scratches at my eardrums. She should be adorned in Old Navy tank tops and Gap low-rise jeans; a collar of white puka shells instead of our grandmother's pearls.
She adjusts the tiara nestled among her curls, the same crown she wore only four years ago, attended by fourteen rosebuds of girls, including me. Now, she tells me many things, her voice slipping between accented English and half-understood Spanish. Of advice the women have imparted to her, the names of children not yet born, if Congressman so-and-so will attend the reception. I pull the petals off the underside of the bouquet, muttering "I love her" and "She loves me not" realizing late that those are the wrong words and they don't cancel each other out.
She studies her reflection as she applies pomegranate red to her lips, and I know I've lost her to that secret world of grown-up responsibilities. Our eyes meet and she suddenly whirls around, catching my jaw in her hand, careful to not ruin my foundation. Gently, she dabs the corners of my eyes with a tissue, absorbing tears before they fall and muss my mascara. She laughs at me, and asks what I'm trying to cry about. She sounds like my mother, so I don't tell her I'm terrified of loosing the nut-brown nymph who slides through the waters of my childhood memories.
Her sudden movements undo all of the careful adjustments and she plucks at the bodice, twisting as if to crawl out of her own skin, trying to avoid the stabbings of stiff seams. It only wraps her tighter, silk and satin bunching, wire tightening across her ribs, lace rough on her shoulders. No woman, with her arms bare, can touch her. I still her by helping her into her lace gloves. Once the gloves are on, she has no choice but to abandon her tugging on the dress and grasp the bouquet I hand her; the lace would snag the satin and catch on the bead work. Her gown fills the windowless crying room, crowding me until I can feel the doorknob against my spine. She was always the daring one and I wait for her to throw down the bouquet and hitch up her skirts. She starts to turn towards me and then stops, but she is not held still by the dress. I block door, and even though I love her she knows I can not help but bend under the weight of tradition. So we both stand silent and wait for her happily ever after to knock.
Author's Note: "Mi Prima" translates to "My Cousin." This is supposed to be a "Very Short Story," a.k.a. a fiction story under 500 words. The original version was, then my professor work-shopped it and now it's 143 words over. Any suggestions for what can be cut and why it could be cut would be appreciated. This is a loose adaptation of my poem, "Seventeen, to be married." The ages changed—now it's the narrator who is seventeen. I have worked very hard on this, and it's one of my better stories, although a different style than the rest of my writing. E-mail me with any questions—there are a lot of references in her to Mexican-American culture.