Her lips are cold and wet when she wakes up. She tastes creek water on her tongue. She feels it trickling down her throat.
Anna relaxes her fingers, and only then does she realize that she’s grasping at the sheets, holding the fabric bunched up in her fists. She feels cold. She feels alone. She feels like someone has been sleeping close beside her, and now they’re gone and all that’s left is a brush of air.
She can’t remember what she’s been dreaming about.
In the morning, Anna picks out a cardigan for Sam to wear to school. It’s picture day. She finds one her mother gave them last Christmas — pink, unwrinkled, woven from cashmere. She helps Sam into it and runs her hands down the arms and suddenly all she feels is coarse fabric, homespun.
She feels a lump in her throat, a burning in her nostrils. She grabs Sam’s arms a little too tightly.
Realizing she’s grimacing, she swallows her sudden disgust and turns it into a smile.
“Don’t make any faces when they take your picture,” she tells Sam. Chris, standing in the doorway, fiddles with his stiff, starched shirt and scowls back at her.
“I know,” Sam says. She’s waiting for Anna to let go of her; she’s patient, almost expressionless, but Anna knows her daughter well enough that she can tell.
She doesn’t let go yet. She keeps her hands on Sam’s arms, on the sweater. She waits for the peculiar feeling that she’s touching burlap to fade away.
She wants to feel cashmere again.
At night, when the children are sleeping, Anna drives down the highway for hours until she reaches a little town near the coast. Near the ocean is an estuary filled with crabs and burrowing edwardsiid sea anemone smaller than Anna’s hand. The water is cold; she trails her fingers through it, watching her skin disappear beneath that black surface.
All she can see is the moon’s reflection on the water, catching ripples as it trickles over rocks. She takes her shoes off and dips her feet in the nearest pool, careful not to let herself rest on the sharp shale bottom.
Here, she closes her eyes and sees herself wrapped in a long, white dress. She sees the sheer material turned translucent in the water, floating around her like dove wings on the waves.
She imagines the water rolling over her, clogging her nose, her throat, her ears. She reaches above her and finds she’s slipped beneath the surface, that she’s drowning. She reaches up until she feels cool wind on her hands and she scrabbles for something, anything to grab onto.
Her hands find the protruding root of a tree on the bank, wet and slick from the tide. She grabs it; she pulls herself up out of the water, until she can finally take a breath again. She treads water; she refuses to let go of the tree root.
And then, blinking water from her eyes, Anna sees La Llorona is floating in the estuary, too.
What is there to say? Has anyone ever been able to resist a beautiful woman, her face wet from the rain? There’s sea salt on La Llorona’s lips and she moves against Anna like she’s just another part of the waves, warm and soft and consuming.
She runs her fingers down Anna’s neck so softly it raises a chill. Her knuckles brush against Anna’s breasts beneath the water, then down to her waist. She finds her way beneath the twisted fabric of Anna’s white dress.
The water is cool but La Llorona’s hand is warm, and her fingers slip inside of Anna so sweetly. She kisses her and clings to her, and Anna’s arms tremble as she clutches the root above her head, holding both of them above the water, keeping them from drowning. She feels La Llorona’s left hand on her waist, the fingers of her right hand deep inside, her thumb on Anna’s clit.
It feels electric. Anna gasps, her legs kicking helplessly beneath the water, La Llorona’s lips on her throat. She feels those fingers thick inside her, stretching her, hitting every delicious spot.
And she can do nothing to reciprocate, not with her hands on the tree root, not if she wants to keep breathing. All she can do is sit there and try to survive it, overwhelmed by La Llorona’s clever hands. Intoxicated.
She wakes and for a moment, she can’t remember how to breathe. Her clothes are wet from the tide; her back is sore from a night spent on the shore.
Fuzzy-minded, Anna lifts her head and plucks at her shirt, bemused to find that she isn’t wearing a white dress. But why should she be? Where has that thought come from? She feels a dash of tension, of apprehension, of pure delight.
And then it’s gone. She puts her hands flat on the sharp rocks and pushes herself to her feet. It’s not yet dawn. She has time to drive home and get the kids ready for school; they’ll never know she was missing.
In the car, clothes clinging to her horribly, Anna puts her hands on the steering wheel and licks her lips. She tastes sea salt. She coughs and feels a hollow aching in her lungs, a burning on the left side of her chest.
Just a dream, she tells herself, hands shaking.
Just a dream.