She stood outside the store in the pouring rain, just beyond the awning. The first thing Pablo noticed about her was not the way her long hair fell in thick, wet ropes down her back, nor her blotchy red face, nor her unusually slender frame, outlined by the black cotton sundress, now soaked, that clung to her body, leaving very little to the imagination. No, the first thing he noticed was her eyes, bloodshot and tired, devoid of any hint of happiness.
Pablo recalled stories from his mamá of La Llorona, the weeping woman who had drowned her children for the sake of a man, doomed to roam the earth looking for children to replace her own. Children’s fairy tales — not even good enough to tell my own son, he told himself, and busied himself with the receipts at his station, trying not to look like he was staring at her.
The woman looked around, as if she knew she was being watched. When her eyes met his through the tempered glass of the display windows, Pablo thought her pupils grew larger and larger, until her irises had almost disappeared. He felt a slight chill run down his spine.
The phone at his station rang. Grateful for the distraction, he picked it up. “Macy’s El Paso, Customer Service.”
Silence on the other end.
Several slow clicks, and then what almost sounded like a sob.
Pablo tried again. “Hello? How can I help you?”
He waited for several more seconds, but then hung up.
He lifted his eyes cautiously towards the window. She was still out there, but now she had fallen to her knees on the sidewalk, frantically searching for something in her handbag.
Someone should help her, Pablo thought, and picked up the receiver to call security.
No dial tone.
Frowning, he tapped the hook several times, then pushed all the “line out” buttons on the phone he could find.
When Pablo was a boy, Mamá had told him that she had encountered La Llorona. A woman in a black dress had been searching for her keys by the river, she had said, and Jose had run over to help. Mamá had been pregnant with Pablo at the time, and she could not catch up to Jose before he tripped and fell head-first into the water and almost drowned. Mamá had begged the woman, who was not even two feet away, to reach out her hand and pull Jose out, but the woman just stood there. Finally, Mamá prayed to the Blessed Virgin to save her boy, and Jose had sputtered and flailed until Mamá was able to reach him. After Mamá had finished her prayer, the woman in black was nowhere to be found, and to Mamá that was proof of the woman’s identity.
The phone rang while the receiver was still in Pablo’s hand. His heart began to pound.
“Macy’s El Paso…”
“My children. Help me find them.” The voice on the other end had a raspy quality, as if she were inhaling the words.
“I’m sorry, who is this?”
The voice began to wail, and Pablo pulled the receiver away from his ear. He looked outside, and the woman standing up again, now with her back to the window, talking on a cell phone. The rain was still coming down, but she didn’t make any attempt to shield her electronics from the water. She turned her head slowly and looked straight at him.
A jolt of adrenaline hit his system, and he slammed down the phone. “Enough pranks!” he yelled, and several shoppers looked up in surprise. He strode quickly to the door, and pulled it open.
He squinted as he was hit with a bright flash of reflected sunlight from a car window. The rain had now stopped, and the woman in black was making a hasty exit towards the riverfront on the other side of the store. He ran after her, yelling, “Stop that woman!” at the top of his lungs.
Nobody paid any attention.
Something had drawn a crowd by the waterfront. Pablo thought he saw her by the railing, but when he reached the spot, she had vanished.
Frantic, he looked at each person’s face in the crowd, trying to find one which matched the woman’s. Not one person looked back at him. They were all looking at the water.
He heard his Mamá scream.
Slowly, he turned his head towards the water.
The body of a three-year-old boy — the same age Jose was on that fateful day — floated face-down in the river and bobbed towards Pablo. Someone used a stick to try to pull it out, and the body flipped over, revealing a face that looked almost exactly like his own.
It was the face of his only son.
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Michael gave me this prompt: A woman is talking on a cell phone outside of a department store. Her eyes and face are red. She is crying. What just happened? I gave Jester Queen this prompt: two turntables and a microphone.
I do have to apologize for the quality of this one…the week got away from me, and I ended up cramming the story in. Not good! Next time I promise I’ll have something more polished for you!!