They are sleeping, just sleeping. This is what Llorona would tell herself when she closed her eyes; gaping mouth, black night, too tired to remember to forget. Her babies, her seven angels and all seven of her deadliest sins, had died peaceful, their skin unbroken, their mouths closed against any chance of a scream. They hadn’t struggled when she scooped them from their beds. They had not cried out when she submerged their impossibly small faces in the tub she had bathed them in just hours before. They had known it was not the boogeyman, a bruja coming to drag them away into the night. The skin that grabbed them smelled of vanilla and chili powder, the arms had smelled like their mother and so they snuggled closer to her chest, even as she drowned them. They never had the chance to wake up.
Llorona had laid them down across the dirt floor in rows like baby teeth, gapless and straight as a pin. It had to be this way, she had told herself. He had left them and how could she feed seven mouths on her own? How could she continue to feed the legacy of a love that was now dead? These were not questions that could be answered accurately by sane people— people who still had things to lose.
She piled the stones in her skirt pockets and the belly of her apron until she almost looked pregnant with them. This would be enough to sink her. She kissed the golden cross that hung like a pendulum in the hollow between her breasts. She looked at the seven babies, sleeping, in rows as neat as headstones across the floor. She kissed each cooling head in turn, brushed the raven hair from their shut eyes. She tried her best to ignore the shade of blue that their lips were blooming. “I will see you soon, my babies,” she cooed to them before taking the candle that lit the room in her hands, leaving the dark to swallow them whole.
The night was cool, and somewhere in the village a single guitar was still strumming at a slow and mournful tune. Llorona was sure that the words to the song must be something like the life she was living: regretful, love lorn, hopeless. The stars winked above her head, blinked off the surface of the river. They seemed to laugh at her, jibe at all that she had done, all that they had seen that night. We know what you did, they seemed to say.
“But did anyone ever tell you how he left?” she wanted to ask them in return, but she didn’t have the time. Her babies were wandering around the after life with no one there to guide them. She had to go now or never.
The river felt like bath water, lukewarm and urgent. Inky black. It’s wake swallowed up one slender foot and then another, an ankle, a calf, knee cap and birthing thighs. The stones in her pockets tugged against the seams of her skirt, her apron. The water swallowed her navel, the battlefield skin of her stomach, riddled with stretch marks from all the ways she had shrunk back in on herself. The current swallowed heart and the cage that held it. The teeth of the river clenched over infant bitten breasts, over shoulder blades as pointed as wings. The water swallowed up her chin, her pretty mouth that had named seven children, kissed a man who loved her once, had whispered prayers against all of this into the dark half of the morning too many times.
It was a vain thing, this mouth and the futile tongue that it housed. What good was it anyway? Her hair swirled around her, raven black, like a curse finding its way home. She dunked her head under the surface. She recalled each baptism that she had stood in attendance of, each little skull being pressed beneath the surface on the promise of salvation. Llorona clasped the cross around her neck. She’d be with them soon. The world faded, became muffled into a blackness as deep as her hair, as all consuming as the night sky, as dark as her babies’ eyes. A piranha nibbled at her big toe but she was beyond caring. Llorona did what she did best, she practiced the fine art of letting go.
What Llorona didn’t know but everybody should is that, if you kill your children, God does not let you have them back. Llorona awoke on the other side, but the river bed was empty, the house, the floor where she had bid them down to rest was bare. She tugged at her raven hair in frustration, until clumps of it came out in her closed fists. Her eyes grew strained and bloodshot with worry. She screamed loud and desperate enough to curdle blood.
“Please. There was no other way,” She shrieked. But God had no pity for her. He would not tell her where her children had gone. He would not tell her anything at all. “Please.”
But Llorona would not stop looking, she could not give up. And maybe that is her curse, and maybe it is ours. Without her children, Llorona cannot rest. She stalks the riverbanks at night, weeping to beat the devil. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself alone, overlooking a river, at night, I caution you to plug up your ears. For if you hear it, Llorona’s weeping will be the last sound you ever know. For Llorona, desperate and blind from tears, will reach for anything, anyone that reminds her of the babies or the man she once held in her arms so long ago, when she was loved. And if you’re not lucky, that might just be you.