The Cenote

by Angela Kempe

My knee cried as I bent my leg to ascend one more step. I shuttered at a sharp pain on my right ankle as it bared the heavy weight of my body. Standing there, I silently stared up at the stone stairs while a few local children raced ahead of me. As the Yucatan sun blazed down on my lightly sunburned shoulders, I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and inhaled a thick wet breath. This was something I must do.

“Grandma, are you sure you want to do this?”

It was Jenny’s smooth voice standing behind me and it was a rhetorical question. All of the arguments about this had been done and repeated at home. I came to Jenny as a last resort when my daughter threatened to take me that very day to the Saint Mary’s Home for Senior Citizens.

“Cancer is a serious disease, Mother,” my daughter Vanessa had told me. “It’s not just cancer, but stage 4. You should live out what you can with your family. Not go on some vacation or stupid suicide mission!”

I had left a note for her on the kitchen table propped up between the napkins and the salt and pepper shakers. And I hoped that one day she’d understand why I took out the rest of my 401K to purchase the plane tickets and resort reservations. If this was my last trip, I intended to be completely pampered. And if I made it out of the cenote alive, I’d have a lot of money to give away before I returned home.

“Come along, Jenny,” I told her, ascending the steps. “I’m not getting any younger.”

As we climbed the steep stairs, I gazed apprehensively at the deep teal pool. Ik Kil is forty meters deep and no one has ever hit their head on the bottom while diving from the top. It was once used by the Mayans for sacrifices and some believed it was the gate to the afterlife.

“Hola, señora. Creo que eres demasiado viejo para esta salto.”

The man was heavy set, sitting beside the cliff drop. He was wearing a t-shirt and some swimming trunks.

“Sorry. Uh- Lo siento. I don’t speak..”

“Lady, too old!”


“Cannot jump. Too high.”

Jenny started arguing with the man. She knew a little Spanish and was speaking it broken and with an audible American accent. I just stared out at the deep sinkhole. It was horrifying to gaze over the ledge. But, everyone at the bottom was so peaceful and perfect. Another woman dove in when she realized we weren’t going to jump. The line started moving again beside us.

My toes buried themselves in the cool soil. The tree roots dangled down over the ledge like thousands of long ropes.

Twenty-six meters. Either do it or don’t, but you’re still going to die.

I turned away from the edge of the cenote. The man looked at me and gave up a satisfied grumble. Jenny was about to turn away when she caught my eyes and knew.

As I fell, I felt a deep contentment. My white hair floated above my ears and a calm smile spread over my face. I pressed my fingers together and rolled my body into a ball. Flipping, flipping. I used to be a professional diver you know. And for that one moment I was again.


Dedicated to my mom, who dove into the cenote.


Author: angelakempe

A songwriter, musician, and writer

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