Volume 34, Number 3

La Llorona Sky

Erik Priedkalns

Janet wakes up around 4 a.m., there's nothing else moving.

It snowed all day and into the night. From her low bed, she peers out of the window and only sees the sky. Above the ceiling of thin clouds, the three-quarter moon gloomily pours out its cool light and stains the sky murky, blue-white-sea green.

Janet brushes her straight, orange-red hair from her eyes and rubs her silvery white stomach where the smiling, light purple scar sits below her belly button. She rolls to her right side and feels her shoulder pressing into the sheets and mattress. She wraps her legs around the special pillow that is as long as her body. She squeezes the pillow hard with her thighs and hugs it tightly with her arms. She pushes her nose and mouth deep into the pillow and watches the sky.

The pillow's dusty smell comforts her by pushing out the scrubbed, bland, stale memory smell of the hospital that constantly sits in her nose.

The harder she squeezes the pillow, the lonelier she feels.

Janet imagines that the sky looks back at her. La Llorona face, she thinks. She isn't sure why she has the thought, but it reminds her of friend Stacy and everything else.

Janet shivers a little, raises halfway up and looks over the windowsill. The Minnesota landscape glows silver and phosphorescent white. She wonders what she would do if she saw La Llorona, if the mournful figure of the folktale woman floated across the wide expanse of her parents' dairy farm right now.

This is the darkest time. She thinks.

Janet feels scared and a little queasy.

She remembers Stacy telling her the story of La Llorona. They were thirteen and having a sleepover at Janet's house. Stacy told her the story to try to scare her. She and Stacy were born and lived their whole lives in this same Minnesota town.

It had snowed a lot the day before, and Janet was glad Stacy could stay over. It made her room warmer.

The wind was so strong that you could hear the tiny pieces of snow tapping against the window.

They had turned off all the lights and were lying on sleeping bags in the middle of the floor. A multicolored, oval throw rug was underneath them. Janet's bookshelf was nailed to the wall of the room, and a mirror hung on the opposite side. The closet light was on, and the door was slightly cracked. The yellow-orange light from the closet struck the left side of Stacy's face, making her look distorted and a bit scary.

“There was a lady,” Stacy whispered. “She was married to a terrible man.”

“Why was he terrible?” Janet asked.

“He would put her in the closet when he would go to work and tell her he'd kill her if she came out.”

“Why'd he want to kill her?”

“He was very jealous.”

“Why'd she stay with him?”

“He was her husband.”

“Was the closet big?”

“You must be quiet to hear the story,” snapped Stacy.

“Okey dokey,” said Janet as she rolled her eyes.

“Well, one day, she got hungry, so she came out of the closet to get something to eat. She knew she had to hurry, or her husband would come home, find her outside of the closet and kill her. As she ran to the kitchen, she looked to the street and saw a handsome man walking outside the front yard fence.”

“Was he hot?” asked Janet.

“Yes. All the women liked him. His name was Miguel. He was a poor boy, but very handsome.”

“You already said he was handsome.”

“Yes, but he was veeerrrrry handsome,” said Stacy.

They both giggled.

Suddenly, Stacy frowned. “Shhhh. The bad part is coming.”


“Maria and Miguel fell in love, and Maria became pregnant.”

“Wait, who's Maria?” asked Janet.

“The woman who was married to the mean man. Pay attention,” said Stacy. She had turned onto her stomach and had her chin in her hands. Janet slapped her on her squishy bottom. “Ouch.”

“Sorry,” said Janet, “too hard.”

Stacy sat up and leaned closely towards Janet. Frown lines appeared between Stacy's eyebrows as she got to the bad part of the story.

“Maria's mean husband went away for a long trip, and the baby grew in her belly. The bigger her baby grew, the more scared Maria got.”

“He must have gone on a long trip,” giggled Janet.

“Shhhh,” said Stacy.

“What about Miguel?”

“Well, Miguel got very afraid when he heard Maria was pregnant, and he left the town forever. He never even told Maria he was going. The whole time, the baby was growing in her, Maria would go every day and wait for Miguel outside his home, but he never came back. One day, Maria saw Miguel's sister, who lived close by. She told Maria that Miguel had left to become a pirate.”

“Oooohhh,” said Janet.

“Janet! Stop interrupting.”

“Okay, mom.”

“I won't keep going,” threatened Stacy.

“Fine, I'll be quiet.”

“Okay. Well, Maria didn't know what to do, and then the baby came. She had a boy. She didn't tell anyone she had the baby, and every day, she sat with the baby in the closet. She loved the baby, sang to him, held him and cried to him. She cried so hard because she knew that one day her husband would come back.”

“Did they ever come out of the closet?”

“No. She made a little bed for the baby and would wash him with her tears. Then one day, she heard her husband was coming back.”

“No,” said Janet.

“Yes. And one Saturday, she heard her husband's wagon coming down the road. She held the baby, and the baby was crying. Maria's heart was beating very fast.”

Bump, bump, bump. Stacy hit her chest and it thudded dully.

“Whaaaaaaa!!!!!” Stacy made a high-pitched cry that tore along the underside of Janet's spine.

“Stacy,” Janet whined. Her heart started flip-flopping from the sound.

Stacy ignored her. “Maria heard her husband's wagon coming, so she ran out the back door with the little baby boy. She ran into the thick woods, just like the ones outside your parents' farm, over the back fence.”


Stacy made her voice deeper and more urgent. “She came to a little creek, and she screamed, Eyyyeeeeeeeee.

Janet yelped and giggled, surprised by Stacy's scream.

But Stacy didn't giggle or even smile. She continued with the story. “…and she looked around. The trees were reaching for her with their long arms. They were trying to take the baby. She heard footsteps crunching on the forest sticks and leaves. She heard her husband call her name. 'What should I do? What should I do?' Maria kept asking herself. Finally, there was only one thing she could do.”

Stacy paused.

Janet's pulse was speeding. Her breath was shallow and quick. “What did she do?”

“Over and over, she kept saying, 'What should I do? What should I do?' Then she saw it. That dark, black, cold stream. Maria walked over to the stream. She didn't look at the baby's face. She turned the little baby over, and she pushed the little baby face-down into the water, down into the mud. She pushed and she pushed.”

Janet's stomach clenched in on itself, and squeezed tears out of her eyes.

Stacy continued in a hushed whisper, just loud enough for Janet to hear. “Finally, the baby died, and Maria went home that night.”

Stacy paused again.

“What happened to Maria?”

“Shhhhh,” said Stacy “I'll tell you.”

Stacy changed the expression on her face from the hysterical mother to the old gentleman. “'Why are you so muddy, Maria?' her husband asked when he saw her. Maria didn't answer. 'Excuse me,' her husband said again. 'what happened?' Maria realized he was talking to her. 'I fell,' she told him.”

Stacy's face was getting darker because she had closed the closet door a little more. “Maria waited for him to go to bed and walked back to the creek. But when she got there, right at the exact spot where she left him, the little baby was gone. Maria looked and looked but couldn't find him. She walked all night calling the little boy, 'My child, oh my child, where are you?' she said it over and over. 'My child, oh my child.'“

“What was the baby's name?”

“He had no name.”


“She was the only one who ever knew him, so why did he need a name?”


“When morning came, the lady, Maria, knew she'd never find the little baby. She looked up at the sky and screamed so loud that the entire village heard. Her heart broke. She fell down and died. When the people found her near the creek, nobody knew who she was because her skin had turned so white, and her eyes were so red from crying. So, they called her the crying woman La Llorona.

“Stop, Stacy, I don't want to hear anymore,” Janet said. But her voice was so quiet that Stacy must not have heard.

“But she could never rest, even after she died. She needed to find the baby. Even now, La Llorona is still looking for the baby. She left that forest and keeps looking in every forest in the world. Even the one outside of here. She comes around at night, and all she says is 'My child, oh my child, where are you?'“

“Stacy.” That was all Janet could say before she started to cry.

Janet lifts her head from the long pillow and peeks over the bottom of the window out into the snow-covered fields of her parents' farm. The scene blurs, and she brushes a wet strand of hair out of her eyelash.

“Lonely sky,” she whispers.

She concentrates on the ground until it becomes a dying man's ancient face. It looks like it's wincing under the press of the sky's sorrow.

Janet remembers. Her face burns with shame. She remembers how tall she stood when she told them. Sixteen years old. She remembers all the plans she had made. The job she would get, the little clothes and shoes she would buy, the preschool, the Sunday school. It would be just her and the…

But the town was small. Then there were her parents, him, and his parents.

Janet closes her eyes and does a quick, small shake of her head. She opens her eyes, and the eerie glow of the sky has grown whiter and bluer.

After she told them, she started to feel like the woman in the closet. The only time she could think was when she'd go to bed. Everyone started a constant stream of talking at her. Not just her parents, everyone who knew.

“You should see the pastor.”

“Let's go to the doctor now.”

“Read this pamphlet.”

“What do you think?”

“Your father and I.”

“Aunt Joan did it. You should talk to her.”

“That's crazy.”

“My parents would kill me.”

“Get checked for…”

People are so loud, Janet thinks. They all wanted to make it something different than what it was.

After a while, she started to feel like she was standing on a single rock in the middle of an icy lake. If she took a step in any direction, the ice would break, and she'd freeze and sink.

Since that time, she knew that only solitude would let you keep your thoughts and peace. When people were around, they liked to shake you, bump you, push you, tell you. And it's such a shame, she thinks.

It had all been worked out before the hospital.

“It's not because of Jesus,” she had told Stacy, when she made up her mind.

“Why?” asked Stacy.


“Because why?” Stacy had persisted.

“I don't know,” she finally said.

But Janet did know. It was because of a daydream she had one afternoon sitting on the couch on a Friday. She was so tired. She had closed her eyes into half sleep and had a daydream. There was a smiling, bright face laughing at a squirrel. The face was shining so bright she couldn't see anything but a small mouth full of bright teeth, and big cheeks pushing grins into squinting eyes.

Then the face changed and was in a car, and the car stopped at a Dairy Queen. And there were three soft serve cones on the counter.

They all thought she was so young, but Janet knew that she knew she liked squirrels and ice cream. The next day, she brought in one of the pamphlets to her mother, and that was it.

Janet thinks. It wasn't evil that made La Llorona scream and cry, it was something that lasted a lot longer.

When Janet and her parents told the pastor, his grinning joy made her sick. She was so angry that she let go of her parents' hands, stood up from the brown, wooden chair and walked out of the booklined office.

That was the last time she had control. After that, the world, her parents, his parents, counselors, they all just took over, and she didn't have to do anything. She didn't even have to push. They just took it out. The only thing she could remember was her mother telling her that she made a man and his wife happy. Janet was too scared to ask anything else.

And after it was all over, Janet was surprised at how quickly everyone stopped talking about it. Even Stacy didn't mention it. The pastor moved on, the counselor moved on, and even her parents found other things to talk about. Sometimes it made her wonder if it happened.

When they turned eighteen, Stacy went to college, but Janet couldn't leave. How could she? She told her parents that she would soon fill out some college applications, or do something, but for now she just wants to stay, work, and pay rent. They said she didn't have to pay, but she insisted.

Janet gets up and sits on her bed. The early morning darkness is starting to grow gray. She studies the rise and fall of the snow scape. Little snow-covered rocks pop up in shadowy statues, like tiny monuments.

She thinks about ghosts and how terrible it must be to be one. The thought paralyzes her and almost stops her breath. To wander the places you've lived, seeing everyone you remember, being so close to touch it all.

But not even the bloodiest screams or loudest moans could ever bring it back.