Home > Writing > The Wailing Woman… a spin on an old folk tale

The Wailing Woman… a spin on an old folk tale

Growing up in South Texas with a very superstitious grandmother meant I was often told the story of La Llorona, or, “The Wailing Woman”. Legend has it that she was spurned by her rich lover and drowned their kids in a fit of rage. As she was sentenced to death by hanging for the murders, she began crying for her dead children, wanting to know where they were. She joined them soon enough.

I’m not sure exactly where this story originates; some say Spain, others say Mexico. Regardless, my grandmother had us kids convinced that this woman haunted our particular town, and if you were a kid walking around at night and heard crying, that meant she was coming to take you with her. We totally fell for it, too.

So, if it happened to be nighttime and us kids were at her house misbehaving, she never had to spank us or even raise her voice; all she’d say is “I’m going to put you outside for La Llorona to get you!”. Worked every single time.

This story has stuck with me in the years since. No, I don’t believe she haunts my neighborhood. But, it is an interesting tale that has stood the test of time. I wrote my own spin on the tale, hope you enjoy:

Mexico City: the late 1700s. Mexico is still under occupation by Spain. Many well to do Spaniards live in Mexico City, in large haciendas with locals as servants. Horses click by on the cobblestone streets, pulling carriages or carrying riders to and fro.

In one hacienda lives the Sanchez family, recently arrived from Madrid. The father, Don Diego, works in textiles and comes from a wealthy family. The mother, Doña Rosaura, is wealthy in her own right as well. They have three teenage children, a daughter (Lourdes), and two sons (Rodrigo and Gabriél).

The children are educated privately so as to refrain from mingling with the locals; the parents think anyone who is not from Spain is inferior and have tried to impart this way of thinking on their children. Lourdes and Gabriél have followed this thinking, as they are very snotty and overbearing to the household help. Rodrigo, on the other hand, has secretly made friends with Lilia the cook’s children, an adolescent boy and girl (Esteban and María). When the parents are away, they play together outside in mock battles and read books.

Rodrigo is happy with the friendship because it’s his chance to be free from his parents’ restrictions. Eventually the Don and Doña find out and aren’t pleased. However, they allow it to continue on the condition that Rodrigo not settle for María, as she is merely a commoner. That is fine with the two of them as they quarrel and fight just as any brother and sister would. They read books together and discuss world affairs, and talk of launching expeditions to discover new spice routes and learn of new civilizations.

Over the next few years, the friendships flourished. When Rodrigo turns 18, his father urges him to attend university in Spain, in the hopes that he may find a promising bride to be while he is there. Rodrigo obliges, but doesn’t really seem interested in any of the eligible girls presented to him. They are quite vapid and don’t have much to say other than the standard courtesies. After he graduates, he returns to the Sanchez hacienda in Mexico City, with the aim of working with his father in the family business. His parents are proud that he excelled in his academics, but are disappointed that he did not bring back a bride.

As he goes into the house, he sees a beautiful young woman running down the stairs. He thinks he recognizes her, but isn’t quite sure. She yells out his name and he realizes it’s María, all grown up! They embrace, and he feels his face flush a bit in embarrassment. She doesn’t notice and expresses her joy at seeing him, then yells for her brother and mother to come greet him too. Esteban is very happy to see his old friend. However, while they are greeting each other, Lilia notices the way Rodrigo is looking at María, and becomes concerned. She keeps her own counsel on the matter for the time being.

The Don and Doña are not at home, having traveled to a friend’s vacation house on the coast. So, for a few days, Rodrigo is able to catch up with Esteban and spend more time with María. In the evening they go for a walk in the garden, and he kisses her. She, who has never been kissed before, is slightly alarmed, and he lets her go. However, she realizes that she enjoyed his kiss and they kiss again before making love under the stars. Shortly after, as they embrace each other, she tells him she loves him. He says the same, but knows that they must keep their love secret from everyone.

And so, they begin to meet for trysts away from the hacienda. Both love the time they spend together and look forward to nothing else. By this time, the Don and Doña have arrived at home, but suspect nothing. A few months go by, and Lilia begins to notice a change in her daughter, a change that makes her suspect a pregnancy. She finally confronts María about it, and María admits that yes, she is pregnant.

Lilia knows that she needs to send her daughter away before the Sanchez family finds out. She confronts Rodrigo about the pregnancy, and Rodrigo agrees to pay for a house for María a few towns away. He continues to visit her, and she eventually gives birth to their first child, a boy (Manuel). Rodrigo officially claims Manuel as his firstborn son in front of María, but does not discuss the boy with his family. They continue this way of life for some years, with Rodrigo supporting María financially and acting as father to Manuel, and eventually two more children (Chriselda and Nicolas). As no one knows him in this town, he is able to carry on in this manner. They love their children very much and it is a very happy life for all involved.

María loves Rodrigo very much, but knows he will never propose and make it publicly known that she is his intended bride to be. In the meantime, his parents are still bringing eligible girls over to the hacienda for him to meet. They throw lavish parties and spare no expense. At one of the parties his father finally confronts him and asks why he has not chosen a bride. He says he is love with María and wants to be with her. His father says this cannot happen, for if he doesn’t marry a wealthy woman with a title, he will lose all financial support and be stripped of his birthright. He must choose. And, that night, he finally chooses another girl.

María is unaware of what has taken place, and waits for her beloved to come and visit her the next day, as he always does. He does not show up. She wonders why, but thinks that perhaps it had something to do with his work, so she lets it go. The next day goes by, and the next, with no visit. In her heart, she knows something has gone wrong, but doesn’t know what it is yet. And so, she decides to visit her mother, still working as a cook for the Sanchez family.

The day she goes to the house, she notices preparations are under way for a large lavish party. She asks her mother what was the occasion, but her mother doesn’t give her a direct response nor look her in the eye. What could it be? Perhaps Lourdes is finally getting married?

Yes, her mother finally says, they are preparing for a wedding. And so, María decides to hide in a corner in the family chapel and watch the festivities. Perhaps she will catch a glimpse of her beloved Rodrigo. And she does… as he takes his place at the altar next to the priest. To her horror, she realizes that he is waiting for his bride, who makes her way down in the aisle in a beautiful white dress with a long train and veil. He is getting married to someone else! María covers her mouth for fear of crying out and runs out of the chapel without being seen by anyone except her mother.

María begins losing control over her sanity as she makes her way home. She begins talking to herself, not really noticing anyone around her. As she gets home, she sees her beloved children playing. In her mind, however, are thoughts swirling of revenge, how to get revenge on Rodrigo for breaking her heart forever? What does he cherish most in the world? His children.

She write him a letter saying that she knew about the wedding, and she wanted to request his presence one more time to say her final goodbye at her house. He decides to go to try to explain himself.

When he gets there, he senses something is wrong. Where are the children? He cannot hear them. She tells him they are inside. He goes in, but does not see them. What is this game she’s playing? “Oh, they are not in the house? Well, they must be in the lake then for that is where I left them”. She has drowned their three children. He screams in horror and runs out of the house for the sheriff.

Maria is brought to trial, and admits to what she has done. She reveals that the children were Rodrigo’s, and she killed them because he rejected her. His bride is shocked, as is the rest of the family save for his father and Lilia.

The judge sentences Maria to death by hanging. As she is led to the gallows and the noose is placed around her neck, she looks down at Rodrigo, standing with the spectators and screams, “I loved you so much, but you broke my heart!” And then, it was over.

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