For those who haven't seen Disney/Pixar's Coco... well, it's worth the time to watch! This is about Hector and Imelda.
Perhaps it was something of an irony that she would never have heard what happened to the guitar if she had not first heard Oscar whisper harshly, "Don't tell Imelda." Or perhaps it was dumb luck. It astounded Imelda Rivera how easy it was to confuse the two.
She was in the crawlspace above the shop, where Coco thought she was hiding her pile of dancing shoes. Imelda had found this particular stash three weeks earlier, and was seriously considering confronting her daughter about them. It might not be worth it. If Coco wanted to dance a bit, it was, Imelda supposed, all right… to a point. As long as Coco came back to the workshop and didn't hum, as long as Imelda herself didn't have to listen to those maddening rhythms, as long as they didn't bring back the dreams at night and hot fire of shame in the morning…
She tightened her jaw, pressing her tongue against the back of her teeth as hard as she could, until the pain in her skull erased the swell of feeling that rose in her as she looked at the scuffed soles of her daughter's handmade shoes. How she had danced once… how Hector had played, and Coco had danced, and the words to the songs had come from Imelda's own mouth, and how it had been later, after Coco was tucked safely into her crib, how…
She made a sound something like, "Tssssssh," and tossed Coco's shoes back into the corner. It wouldn't need to be a confrontation, not yet. She'd outgrow it, with luck. Meanwhile, a few more hours at the shop would keep her out of the plaza. There would be a big order soon. She'd give Coco more responsibility. Responsibility was the cure for everything. Responsibility was the only way to stop the mad melodies that had drawn Hector out, the wild rhythms she had never been able to compete with.
She had just made this decision when the twins rattled back to the shop, a heavily laden cart of leather between them. They were talking back and forth about a girl they both pretended to admire, though Imelda had privately given them both up for bachelors. "I would have taken her to the movies," Felipe said, "but.. you know."
"Everyone will be seeing it. Everyone is talking about it."
"I think we won't. And I think it's safe to say La Hermana will never spend a peso on a musical."
Oscar snorted. "The problem is the poster, Felipe." He sighed loudly. Imelda peeked out from behind the giant shoe. Oscar was now sitting on top of the piles of rolled leather. "I still can't believe it."
"Ernesto was always a snake."
"I don't mean Ernesto. I mean the poster, Felipe. You saw it. You saw what he's done." He shook his head. "Just… don't tell Imelda."
Felipe looked out toward the burning sunset. He didn't speak for minute, and when he did, his voice was quiet and thoughtful. "I didn't see his name on the poster."
Imelda froze. There was only one person the twins would speak of in that particular tone. One person whose name was never mentioned in full. She sat in complete stillness, a cat stalking in the shadows, waiting for whatever motion was coming.
"He wouldn't use his name. He knows we'd kill him for what he did to her, if we could find him."
"Doesn't it ever seem strange you? Of all people to… to do what he did?"
"Ernesto filled his head with crazy dreams," Oscar said. "And that's enough talk of that" -- he called Hector a name that he would not have used had he known Imelda was listening -- "for one night."
"One lifetime," Felipe magnified. "Let's get this unloaded."
Imelda remained in the crawlspace until they were gone, and the sun was down to a florid strip of rose petals on the horizon. Don't tell Imelda. Don't tell her what? Oh, but that was obvious enough. Hector had done something big enough for them to notice, something that her brothers thought would cause her to have what she knew very well they called a berrinche, a tantrum. In other words, when she put her foot down to keep her family together.
Whatever it was, it would be in the film that had just opened in the square, La Alma de Música. She was aware on some level, that Hector's partner, the shiftless wastrel Ernesto de la Cruz, had been put into a moving picture, one of the talking and singing sort. It was on the front page of the local newspaper that she had delivered to the shop every day. He was something of a local hero for it, almost as if he hadn't shaken the dust of Santa Cecilia from his boots ten years ago. It didn't mention Hector (Imelda had read it, absolutely not because she was looking for news of him), but wherever de la Cruz was, Hector would undoubtedly be found wandering around like an overexcited little puppy.
Really, Imelda? a nagging voice asked inside her head. Is that really what you believe inside? Was that Hector when he left? Was he bouncing around like the wild boy he once was when he kissed Coco goodbye?
She banished this thought. She had begged him to stay. He had left. And he had stayed away. That was all she needed to know.
She let herself out from under the sign and scrambled down the roof. It was a bit undignified for a lady who was bordering on well-to-do these days -- and planned to stay that way, no matter what the government thought of it -- but she couldn't very well put up a ladder without advertising her snooping into Coco's secrets.
She dusted herself off at the bottom, straightened her skirts and lifted her head. Mama Imelda was not to be seen in a compromised position.
Coco was bent over some scrollwork on a boot, and she smiled brightly when Imelda came into the workshop, her dimple deepening.
"Did you finish your school work?" Imelda asked.
"Yes, Mama. And I got my math test back today! One hundred percent right!" She reached under the table and pulled out the test sheet, which had indeed been given a perfect mark.
"Good. Your numbers are important. Someday, you'll need to know how to keep our books."
Coco's foot was swinging back and forth under her chair, hitting the rungs in a perfect two-step rhythm, as if she could still hear her papa's guitar in her head. Imelda watched it pointedly. Coco stopped, forcing her right foot to be still by stomping her left on top of it and holding it down. She went back to her scrollwork.
Imelda took her own seat and began shaping the upper for a sandal. The twins came in a few minutes later and unrolled a new sheet of leather. They began pestering her to branch out into saddles, even though they knew she'd tell them that saddles were a dying industry, while shoes would be needed forever. They worked together into the small hours of the night, none of them telling the others anything that had been going through their minds.
As always, Imelda was the last to go to bed, and expected to be the first out in the morning.
She dreamed, and in her dream, she sang while the soft, picked guitar guided her through the fog. She was young again, and hungry and half-wild herself, and all that had mattered (other than taking care of the twins, but they were getting old enough to care for themselves) had been the soaring feel of the song coming from deep in her chest, and the gentle touch of the guitar's notes that seemed to caress her.
She woke up dangerously close to tears, and clenched her jaw again, driving away the wildness with absolute control. A breath. Another. With each exhalation, the hateful fullness in her chest seeped away and the heat in her eyes cooled. By the time she heard Coco stirring, she felt confident enough to go out to the water closet and wash her face. Indoor plumbing was fairly new in Santa Cecilia, and Imelda had been proud to help make it happen. The new hacienda she'd built out from the workshop -- the workshop that had once been the hovel she'd shared with Hector, and hadn't it seemed grand then -- was the first in town to be built with a real working bathroom. It didn't have hot water of its own, and this usually bothered Imelda (she was working on a correction), but this morning, the ice cold splash from the sink was exactly what she needed.
This was now, the fine world of 1931, not the wild days of the tens, when war had swept over the land and music, once her ally, had turned on her and killed…
No, there had been no killing. Just a desertion. It would not be dignified with martial honors.
And it was ten years in the past.
She should be over it by now.
Yes, but Imelda, you know something is wrong. This is something you know. You know where de la Cruz is now, and he will know where Hector is, and you can yell at him as you like, but you will know that… that…
Her mind provided her with alternatives, as it always did. They rarely involved Hector finding another family, but she had seen a thousand deaths for him, from starvation in the streets to conscription in the fighting. Or voluntary fighting. Hector had always been a better Catholic than she was (except in the small matter of taking care of his family), and she could imagine him suiting up to fight with the Cristeros against Calles. Especially if he'd heard what had happened to old Ceci Lopez when they caught her smuggling guns in Jalisco. Ceci had tried to recruit Imelda to the cause, of course. Las Brigadas Femeninas de Santa Juana de Arco. Imelda had refused. She had a business to run and a child to raise; she did not have time for romantic military quests. Ceci had cut her off then, refusing to speak to her, even to say goodbye when she left her shop and went north. When Imelda had caught her at the door and demanded that she say something, she had said, "He was right, you know. You are not worth staying for."
And she had left, walking off into the rain just as Hector had, and the next thing Imelda had heard, she had been shot in a plaza in Zapopan.
If Hector had heard of it, he might have gone to the wars. He would fight for Ceci. He wouldn't do it well, because he didn't have much fight in him, and maybe that's what the twins saw on the poster. Maybe it was a memorial or…
She stomped hard enough on the floor that Coco heard her, and a few minutes later, they were engaged in their morning routines. An hour later, Coco was on her way to school. The twins left two hours after that, to pick up a shipment in Ocatlán.
Imelda was alone.
Don't tell Imelda… The problem is the poster…
She started toward the workshop, meaning to get started on a repair job that needed to be done, but the words came back again. Don't tell Imelda.
She took off her apron with a decisive motion. Nothing could stop her from going to the plaza if she chose to. She was a free woman. (In a way, Hector had done her one favor: By not dying, he had left her a married woman, so she had not needed an excuse not to marry again, and that left her in charge of her own life.)
But she was known. Doña Rivera's presence would be noted and reported.
She might have all the right in the world go come and go as she pleased, but she did not care to have her actions questioned by all and sundry.
She paused, possibly for a full minute, then marched back to her bedroom. There was a trunk beneath the bed. She knew Coco had been through it more than once her absence, another thing they did not talk about, but no one else knew it was there. She should have thrown all of it out, or given it to charity, but she couldn't bear the hurt look she knew would appear in Coco's eyes. And if Hector was going to haunt her today anyway, he might as well make himself useful for once.
She opened the trunk.
The first thing she saw was his crooked, infuriating smile, the ridiculous one he got when he had a scheme in mind. He couldn't help it, it was just the way he was built, but that smile… Of all the stupid ways to look in a family photo. If it hadn't been the only one she had from Coco's early childhood, she'd have thrown it away. Really. But photographs hadn't been as easy to come by back then, and they'd had the damned thing taken together on Coco's third birthday. She herself had been twenty-one, and Hector had been twenty. She had tried to look like she was taking it seriously, wearing her best dress, with her hair impeccably done. Hector had worn his charro suit, the first one, the one that Ceci had made for him. And he had insisted on having the guitar in the picture. The one she had made for him as a wedding present, working her fingers to the bone after her day at the shop was over.
She had always loved making things with her hands, and had disguised herself as a boy once to try and learn the trade of guitar making. It wasn't strictly forbidden, but the old man had made it clear when she'd come to him in a dress that he had no intention of letting her learn from him, no matter how much he enjoyed her singing. At the time, she'd only wanted to learn it for herself, thinking she could make coins in the plaza like the other musicians, and she had made herself a serviceable instrument at one point, but the one she built with all the love in her heart, the one that she'd thought held her very soul… only Hector had ever played it.
The master guitar maker, of course, had eventually caught on and sent her to Ceci's shop instead -- sewing was more fitting as a lady's occupation -- but she had used everything she did know to make that guitar perfect. For him. He had walked away with it strapped over his back, and was probably playing it for some other naïve girl now.
You know he is not, Imelda.
All right, that much, she knew. Hector may have had his many, many, multiple and myriad and manifold faults, but he had not fooled her, nor had he toyed with any other girl. His music was the only mistress he had ever needed.