In the 1931 "now" storyline (not the flashback interludes), pretty much all that's happened is that Imelda has dressed up in Hector's old mariachi uniform to go watch Ernesto's first movie. Other people were coming in. She recognized that the opening song was "Remember Me." (I realized that I'd put in a different movie title back in part 1, so I changed it there.)
Repeated part underlined, then when the underline is over, it's new.
She sang because Hector's music called her to sing, because the words he'd written were meant only for her, because it was his heart and his soul, and they were also hers. She sang to the strangers in the seats, but mostly she sang to Hector, her husband (in all but the most technical of senses). And it was theirs, only theirs, and no one could
ever come between us, my darling!" Ernesto de la Cruz said on screen, to the silly looking comic woman who was supposed to be his wife. He was looking over his shoulder at the man playing his friend, as if to say, "Help me out, amigo."
Coco knew the dialogue. It was her fourth time at the show, her second today. She'd skipped school to come as soon as she'd seen Papá's guitar. She didn't know why. It didn't make her happy.
But the songs.
Papá was gone.
She had always thought so. Papá would have come home to her if he could have. But knowing it was different from seeing Tío Nesto carrying his guitar and singing his songs.
She had almost not recognized it at first, it was so… different. She was glad it was different. She couldn't have borne him singing it like Papá. This was a song for strangers.
But Papá would never have let him use it. He had told her once that there were songs for Tío Nesto, and songs for the family. "This is Coco's song," he'd told her as he taught it to her. "We will sing it together every night, and no one else will sing it, except maybe Mamá. And that way, we will be together!"
And at first, Mamá had sung, despite being angry. She'd thought she was hiding it, but Coco had heard the fighting before Papá left, the pleading for him not to go. It was fighting in whispers, not screams, because they thought she was asleep, but she had never been able to sleep when they weren't happy.
"It's a chance, mi amor. A real chance. It's not forever…"
"We need you, Hector. We need you more than the world does."
"I'm not leaving you! I'm just… there's nowhere to work here. I don't have a thousand gifts like you do. I only have the one. And I can't use it here in Santa Cecilia…"
"You're such a liar! You want only to play for the crowds. You want the applause. The laughs, being Nesto's performing monkey. Your talent is a gift from God, Hector. You're better than the Carpa shows!"
And back and forth. Coco didn't know how long it had gone on. She was halfway past four when he left, and she didn't think it had been going on at the last birthday they'd spent together. Mamá had even offered to move to Mexico City, where Papá could find work with an orchestra or some other respectable thing, where he could stay with them. Papá would disappear for a few days on road shows and come home, and there would be a fight about longer tours that Tío Nesto wanted to go on. They would make up always. Mamá only fought because she loved him, and Papá only fought because he wanted to take care of them. So they fought, and then Mamá would say she loved him, and then Coco would fall asleep happy, because they were happy together again. And in the morning, they would all go around the house, and Papá would play a song, and Mamá would sing, and all was right. They played a game, where each of them would find a "blessing" -- a pretty flower, or the line of the hills in the distance, or the sound of a perfect note on the guitar. Then Papá would say that Mamá's beauty was the blessing of the house, and Mamá would say that Papá's music was a blessing and a gift, and then they would both pick her up between them and she would laugh, and they would say together, "And our biggest blessing is our little angelita preciosa, our little Coco!"
She never told Mamá how much she remembered about it. She worked hard to remember sometimes, writing things down and drawing pictures, and of course singing her song. She had once, in a fit of temper about not being able to dance anymore, asked why Mamá was so cruel. Tío Felipe had taken her aside later and said that Mamá had a broken heart.
"Have you ever cut your finger?" he'd asked.
Coco had allowed that she had.
"So you know, if you put your finger in lemon juice, it hurts more, right? That is music to your mamá. Lemon juice on her poor cut-up heart."
Until that moment, Coco had believed that Mamá really had forgotten Papá, that she had stopped feeling anything at all, for anything other than her beloved shoes. After that, she'd looked at Mamá with new eyes. And as she'd gotten bigger, she understood Mamá more than Mamá herself would like, if she knew. She saw how tenderly she folded Papá's old jacket, and how she kept the letters until Coco was old enough to take responsibility for them herself, even the hurtful ones that came after Mexico City. I am saving them so Coco can understand someday, Coco was sure she told herself, but Coco knew better. She saved them because they were his. Because his hands had touched them, and there weren't enough things left that she could say that about.
And then there's me, she thought. Mamá loves me for me, yes, but she loves me also because I'm Papá. Because I am the happiness they used to have. Because the very biggest blessing of all was their little Coco.
It was a big thought, a complicated thought. She had begun to have it when she was much too small for it, and oh, there had been fights. It had seemed unfair that Coco should have suffer her mother's broken heart instead of Mamá suffering it herself. The fights weren't just about the music, but about everything for a few years. What subjects she should do well in for school. What she could listen to when she was outside the hacienda. What kind of clothes she could wear, and who her friends could be. What she would be when she grew up.
The fights stopped the year she was twelve. In a furious temper about something she barely remembered now, two years later, Coco had screamed, "I will go after Papá! No wonder he hated you! I hate you, too!"
Mamá had grabbed at her throat as though she'd been struck there, and she had turned on her heel and gone to the workshop. Coco heard the machinery begin to whir and thought, Of course, she goes back to work…
And then she had heard something crash.
She'd run to the workshop, and she'd found Mamá -- Mamá who was strong and cruel and full of pride -- slumped on the floor beside the workbench. Her hands were curled deep in her hair, and she looked like she was screaming.
Coco's own heart had broken that day. It had simply burst open, and she had knelt beside Mamá and wept, and they had held one another, and that was when Coco had realized that Mamá knew, too. That she knew in her heart that Papá was gone, that he couldn't come back, that something terrible had happened. But she would never admit it. Anger gave her strength to fight against a society that did not make it easy for a woman alone. Grief made her crazy and not able to do what she needed to do. And acceptance would mean moving on, which she would never do.
So Coco kept her secrets. She was a daughter to Mamá as well as to Papá, and a daughter's responsibility was to not make her mother weep.
Also, it had frightened her, this idea that Mamá had her limits, that she was barely holding it together sometimes. It was easier to think of Mamá as a force of nature, implacable and invincible.
It wasn't always easy to keep secrets. If the sisters reported to Mamá that Coco wasn't in school, there would be explanations to come, and the idea that she was here, watching Tío Nesto's movie, of all things… She would have to think of something else she might have been doing. Flirting with some boy, maybe, or planning a bank robbery (two things which might get her in roughly equal amounts of trouble, but would be more acceptable than what she was actually doing).
On screen, Tío Nesto started singing "The World Is My Family." That was all right. It was what Papá had called a Tío Nesto song, one written just for their act. Tío Nesto could sing those as much as Papá could, though it was strange that he would be the one singing it, since he had a family here in Santa Cecilia. His mother sometimes had her shoes fixed in the shop and acted like they were old friends, though Mamá would always steam about it for an hour after she left.
So, the Tío Nesto songs were all right. Coco even liked them sometimes, though she would never tell Mamá this, even if she were ever forced to admit having seen the movie. They were light and fun and Papá's voice just as much as the special songs were. He had loved to have fun, and Coco had seen his act with Tío Nesto, and she remembered the way he'd laughed and been full of joy after being on stage, no matter what Mamá said about performing monkeys. If she were allowed to, she would have brought back the Victrola and played the records, and they would have made her smile, she knew.
But the movie itself… that was different. The movie, El Camino a Casa, was a slow, painful stab to her heart.
Tío Nesto played a foundling who had great musical talent, but wanted to escape his boring home town when he grew up. He had a shrew of a wife who wouldn't let him go, and best friend who helped him escape the little dungeon of a house over and over. Most of the plot was a slapstick comedy about how the wife was trying to hunt him down at his various shows, and how his friend Don Hidalgo kept running interference. In the end, it turned out that Don Hidalgo was really skimming all of his money, and didn't want him to take a better job down in Buenos Aires, because he couldn't cut himself in. So he tried to poison Tío Nesto, but he got caught. The movie would end with Tío Nesto in Argentina, and he'd be singing "Remember Me" again (in the story, it was the same performance, and the whole movie had been a flashback). His shrew-wife (played by a fat woman with hair on her chin) would track him down one more time, but he would be able to send her on "the road home" with all the money she could ever want, and she would never bother him again. She would wander off down the road counting her money, and not even hear him when he asked she wanted to stay for supper.
Of a little girl, or great blessings, or the wife's own beautiful voice, there were no signs. Of a woman weeping in a shoe workshop while her daughter held her and promised never to leave, there was no hint.
Most of the audience laughed in all the right places, but in every showing she'd been at, Coco had noticed more than one person shifting uncomfortably. Santa Cecilia was a small town with a perfectly functional memory. Down near the front, there was a mariachi in a hat that looked like Papá's old hat, and he looked like he had his head halfway buried in his lap from embarrassment.
The last number finally came. Tío Nesto finished with a flourish, letting his voice go up to a high falsetto on the last note as they showed the shrew-wife walking away and counting her money, dancing along to the tune. Half the audience was singing along as well, as they gathered their things to go out to whatever waited in the rest of the day.
Coco stayed in her seat, as she had at the other showings. She was thinking, as she also had. Is this what her family had looked like to Tío Nesto? Like jailors trying to cash in on Papá's talent? She was certain it wasn't how Papá had seen them, but the rest of the world? He had married Mamá so young, and there had been Coco right away. (She had done the math, though she had not shared this fact with Mamá.) Would they look at this talented boy and think, What a shame to have thrown it all away because some girl threw herself at him! Poor thing, to have to take on responsibility for a baby before he even could make his dreams come true!
Coco wasn't sure -- Papá wouldn't have been the only young father in Santa Cecilia -- but she had a feeling that such things might have been whispered. Mamá was respected (mostly), but she was not liked. Papá had been someone who brought them joy. Oh, not great joy. He was not Tío Nesto, and mostly stayed in the shadows, but she remembered the way they had laughed at his antics when he did come into the light. Tía Ceci, before she went away, had sometimes grumbled at Mamá, and looked at Coco like she was an interference of some kind. She'd once even said, "That girl doesn't even look like Hector," which had caused Mamá to chase her out of the shop, waving a chancla at her as if she were a disobedient little girl. At the time, Coco hadn't really understood why, but Mamá had sat her down last year to explain a few things, and that's when she'd realized why it was such a terrible insult.
By the time the lights came up fully, she was alone in the theater except for the mariachi in front. He was still slumped forward, fists pressed to his eyes, and…
Coco's eyes widened.
It wasn't just a hat like Papá's. It was the same hat. The same jacket, with the fine embroidery on the back. The same gleaming white sleeves.
And that could only be…
She looked at the back door of the theater, part of her wanting to simply flee back to the hacienda and pretend she hadn't seen. It would be kinder, in a way, if she did. If she could let Mamá go on believing that she hadn't seen anything.
She was still frozen, partway sitting, and partway standing, trying to decide what to do, when Mamá decided for her.
She stood up and turned around, and for a moment, she was as frozen as Coco. They looked at each other guiltily.
Then Mamá drew herself up and stormed up the aisle, taking Coco by the elbow when she reached the last row.
"I don't want to hear it, Socorro." Mamá led the way out of the theater, not exactly pulling Coco, because Coco had no strength to resist. She was shaking from head to toe, not sure what she wanted, or what she meant to say. She was simply swept along in Mamá's wake, as helpless as a leaf caught in a whirlwind.