My abuelo met La Llorona on a riverbank when he was seven-years-old. He tells me this on his deathbed, muttering over heart monitor blips that mesh with the heater’s static and clunky hymn.
“I washed my family’s clothes in the murky water,” he says, his milky gaze set beyond the desert shack’s smudged window. “I sung lullabies with the rustling reeds, our murmurs accompanied by the babbling river. And there she stood, clad in an ivory dress, her veil billowing beneath a crown of thorns.”
He wheezes these words, these ramblings of a dying man, of an oxygen-starved brain.
I sit at the foot of his bed, my hand resting on a blanketed shin, waiting for the inevitable, for the sound of the flatline. Just make it peaceful, I think.
Outside, sunset sucks light from the parched, cracked earth; dust whorls flitter over the mesa, ascending upwards into the nightfall, particulate matter transformed into starbursts.
“She slipped secrets in the wind with death’s dried tongue,” he says. “Terrible visions of unrealized inevitabilities. Blood seeped from my family’s festering flesh.”
My abuelo’s breath hitches in his chest, his tobacco-stained mustache twitches at the gloaming’s onset.
Coyotes yelp at a rising, orange slice moon buoyant in an inky molasses. Inside the shack, flames pirouette catastrophic in a limestone hearth, casting a glow against the encroaching darkness.
“‘These things will pass for all my children,’ La Llorona said to me. ‘But not yet for you.’”
My abuelo weeps to his God, his hushed mewls dampened by a mesmeric dreamscape. Consciousness sputters black and I dream the scene by the river.
My abuelo’s just a boy. He wads into the river, the water rising up to his waist, heading for La Llorona’s open embrace. Skeletal arms ensnare him; she hugs him to her breasts. And with a swift motion, she dunks him in the river and holds him there. My abuelo struggles against her weight, his limbs flailing. She holds with all her might, until her arms feel flaccid and ache with numbness. She wrangles and twists, until the snap of breaking bones prickles my brain. Doused in water up to her tattered blouse, she holds until the thrashes hiccup and quell, the water oscillating in the aftermath. And then she lets go.
Now, a crimson caul marbles the moon’s pocked surface. A death rattle pierces the atmosphere.
Awakened, I see her hovering above my abuelo’s bed. Her cactus maw spreads wide, splitting his dry lips. My abuelo’s eyes shine black oblivion in the blood moonlight.
“These things will pass for all my children,” La Llorona says, turning, allowing death’s gaze to glimpse me. “But not yet for you.”
A writer living in California, G.D. Watry recently received his masters degree in science writing from Columbia University. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Pantheon Magazine, OCCULUM, Shotgun Honey, The Molotov Cocktail, and The Blue Route, among other publications. His journalism has been honored by the New Jersey Press Association. You can follow him @GDWatry