When the bus dropped me off, I checked the mail for my grandma as I always did. In the stack, there was a letter for me, which felt odd and exciting. Letters don’t come often for most sixteen-year-olds.
It was from Harvard.
I brought the envelope close to my face and inspected the logo. The crimson shield was unmistakable. So were the words Harvard College Office of Admissions next to it.
I tore open the envelope and read the first paragraph. I was accepted.
After I learned that I’d aced the SAT, the first thing I did was go online and apply to Harvard. It took forever. The fee was $60 — I had to use my grandma’s credit card, but I paid her back with money I’d saved mowing lawns in the summer — but of course, I had the feeling that I’d just wasted my time and money after I submitted the application.
I burst through the screen door to find my grandma on the couch watching Family Feud. She was picking at one of her big-toe nails with her finger. Her eyes were laser-focused on the television.
“Grandma, I got into Harvard! I got a letter from them!”
She kept her eyes on the TV.
“Harvard?” she asked.
“What do you mean you got in?”
“Well, let’s see,” I said, sarcastically, “I applied online. They reviewed my application. They accepted me. Then, they informed me of their decision via mail.”
My grandma finally looked at me.
“Don’t talk to me like that, young man.”
There was a brief silence. I heard John O’Hurley’s rich, baritone voice from the TV.
“Why Harvard?” she asked.
“Why Harvard? I mean, it’s wonderful they accepted you. It really is. And you’ve always been a helluva kid, but still. Harvard is just so far away. And expensive.”
“Grandma, it’s not like I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“I know that, but still. I thought you wanted to stay local?”
I’d never said that.
“Well, now that I can go to Harvard, that’s where I wanna go.”
“I understand, but is that the right choice?”
She must’ve noticed the frustration on my face.
“Look, sweetie, I’m not saying you’re too young to be thinking about college. Not at all. But do you know how much Harvard’ll cost? We don’t have the money to send you to places like Harvard.”
“That’s what scholarships’re for. I’ve gotten some already, remember?”
“So right now, would they even cover your meal plan at Harvard?”
Now I was really upset.
“Bad joke, sweetie, bad joke. I didn’t mean that. Look,” she said, shutting off the TV with the remote, “staying local just makes more sense to me. Harvard isn’t for people like us. Hell, why go over there and pay them an arm and a leg when you can probably get a free education here? Free.”
“Are you serious?”
“Listen to me, sweetie. I’m telling you this because I care for you, I love you. No one’ll love you more than me. I want you to consider staying close to home. What if you go to Harvard and it doesn’t work out? You’ll be alone. I’ll be alone. And we’ll be slapped with a huge bill.”
“And if it works out?”
My grandma smiled, as if she’d rehearsed her counterarguments.
“The thing about big ideas, sweetie, is they’re like weeds: Once they start growing, they keep growing until you’re all tangled up in them. Your grandpa had ideas, ‘course you were too young to remember. He wanted to be mayor of this little town. One day, he was convinced God put him here to wear the hat. He told me that just about every morning. He wanted to do something great. He was so obsessed with fulfilling ‘God’s plan,’ he spent most our life savings on the campaign. When he lost, it killed him. All for nothing. That’s big ideas for you.”
She paused. I stayed quiet.
“When I say I’m looking out for you,” my grandma continued, “I mean it. It’s just you and me now, sweetie. Do you understand that?”
I realized the letter was still in my hand. She never even asked to see it.
“Loud and clear, Grandma,” was all I said.
I walked away to my room. I anticipated she’d apologize and call me back with food.
“Sweetie, I’m sorry. You know your grandma likes to talk too much sometimes. Look, let’s celebrate with your favorite: a chocolate Pop-Tart!”
I shut my bedroom door, dropped my backpack to the ground, and threw the letter on my bed. I got under the covers and stared at the ceiling. There was nothing there I hadn’t seen a million times, so sleep came fast.
I was at the top of a snow-covered mountain. The sky was beautiful and blue. I must’ve been thousands of feet in the air. Below me were clouds. The scene was breathtaking. I took a deep breath of crisp, cool air and exhaled white smoke.
Suddenly, a tangle of black weeds slithered up my body and into my mouth. Where they came from, I had no clue. They gyrated like a sinister octopus’s tentacles. I started to gag.
I tumbled down the mountain with the fury of an avalanche. My view, obscured by the crosshatch of weeds, changed from white to blue countless times.
I woke up with my shirt clinging to my skin.
For a second, I thought the ground was snow, but realized, with relief, it was just the old cream-colored carpet.
I sat up and scanned the bed for my letter. I couldn’t find it.
I wondered how long I was out. It was still daylight. I heard a shrill laugh come through the walls. It was my grandma’s laugh. Was she still watching Family Feud and picking away at her hideous toenail?
I decided to take her up on the chocolate Pop-Tart. They really were my favorite.
I’d look for the letter when I got back.
Alex Z. Salinas lives in San Antonio, Texas. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from St. Mary’s University. His flash fiction has appeared in escarp, 101 Words, ZeroFlash, Nanoism, and the Pecan Grove Review. He has also had a poem published in the San Antonio Express-News.