“Growing up, the scariest thing I ever heard was La Llorona. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that.”
We were sitting on her back porch, finishing up our one beer each and our interview for a story due to run next week. A weak deck light cast a circle of dusk around us, a bit of gray against the black. A chill autumn breeze trickled up my spine.
Two dogs chased each other up on the deck, then out to the unlit Humboldt lawn. They were invisible the moment the left the porch.
“There’s a story that parents – it’s the equivalent of the Boogeyman, pretty much, but it’s got a story,” my host said. “The story is this woman had children, met a man, the man did not like the children, she kills her children for this man.”
She smiled as she talks. She smiled a lot on that dimly lit porch. She toyed with a beer bottle as dogs ran in and out of the light.
“They call her ‘La Llorona,’ which is the crying lady.”
The man left the crying woman, my host told me. She told me how the woman now roams Mexico, crying and wailing for the children she murdered.
“It’s basically she cries through the woods or through the streets. People have heard her screaming and crying for her children, like ‘¡Mis niños!’ looking for her children.”
She paused, leveling dark eyes at me. Her mouth was open slightly, paused as if she was about to keep talking but was back as a child, hearing about the crying lady.
I looked around the unlit yard.
“You know I’m going to be riding my bike back, right?”
“Ha! Sorry about that. But it’s just like, ‘¡Mis hijos!’” she said, doing a mock-dramatic impression of La Llorona’s wail. “‘¡Mis hijos!’”
We laughed. She apologized for freaking me out.
We talked for another half hour or so, neither going for a second beer. We left it friendly and I got on my bike to go home, past trees and houses and darkened lots.
I pedaled quickly, the gentle wrrrrrrrrr of my tires on pavement pitching up to a light eeeeeeee when the patchwork Humboldt streets hit a smooth spot.
I thought of other things, hummed songs through Humboldt, through Logan, through wherever the hell I was.
All the while the chill autumn breeze cut down my spine, sweat from biking cooling on my forehead and the imagined wail of “Mis hijos” following me through the night.
I started imagining feverish things – the angry cop slowly circling the block in an SUV had a list in his pocket that someday he would cross off one by one. That hipster straddling a fixie while programming his iPod had a knife in his pocket and a clinical room where he dissected the uncool.
The little girl holding her mother’s hand by Western would turn and look and her face would not be human. It would be a crustacean monstrosity, a nightmare squid-faced Ood of evil and madness. It would be… Childthulhu!
OK, so I wasn’t that scared.
I didn’t think the little girl had a mollusk face and any ghost story that ends “And then I went to Mariano’s for some General Tso’s from the hot bar” isn’t exactly Candyman level (or “Candyman II: The Candymanning.”)
But isn’t it nice?
Isn’t it nice to think a story can still make us feel that way? That we can still get the razor spike of fear up the spine, that we can still be moved to shiver and quake, even just for a moment.
Isn’t it nice to know a story first heard as an adult can make us feel like children again?
“These were stories that they told us just to keep from like not going out at night or coming back before curfew,” my storyteller had told me before I left. “It’s our version of the Boogeyman, the Candyman, whatever. Bloody Mary. That was Mexican culture stories.”
Her grandmother had told her about La Llorona, the wailing demon calling for lost children.
Her grandmother had told her about growing up without running water, too. Her grandmother told her about her life as an orphan and how the new generation should appreciate the blessings it has.
“A lot of that is Mexican culture. A lot of that is Latin culture, where we just share stories to teach each other to grow and understand the way life works,” she said.
She tells stories now, too. You’ll find out about that next week when the interview runs. You’ll learn names and such also, but for now you don’t need the storyteller. You just need her story.