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The Wedding Guitar, pt 6 (Coco) - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
The Wedding Guitar, pt 6 (Coco)
Okay, I added quite a bit before the segue point, so it's all under the cut, with what was in the last section underlined as usual. I've started posting on AO3, so I picked up a little formatting to signify the chapter numbers and the years in question.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

"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.

They pushed quickly outside, ignoring the looks from the ticket girl, who would probably be full of tales about how Mamá Imelda's little girl left the theater with a shady-looking mariachi. Mamá led them through the narrow alley, past the baker's shop, past the carpenter, into the courtyard of the hacienda. Tío Oscar and Tío Felipe had left their tools around from the room they were building, and Mamá kicked them out of the way. She opened the back door and went into the parlor, sitting Coco down on the ancient lavender chair.

"Wait here," she said, and stormed upstairs.

It did not occur to Coco not to wait, though she could have left freely. There was time for her to make it halfway into town, maybe all the way -- Mamá was upstairs for what seemed a long time, slamming drawers and doors and occasionally making a furious kind of sound that wasn't quite a snort or a sob, but resembled both of them. Coco might have made it all the way to school and begged the sisters to intervene for her, as they had when they'd told Mamá that she was required to learn sacred music. Maybe she could have asked a saint or two to intervene as well. It couldn't have hurt.

But she could not have done any of those things, not really, because in reality, she was still flailing, trying to grasp what was happening, what she had seen on the screen, and worse, what Mamá had seen on the screen. What it had meant.

Mamá finally came downstairs. She had taken off Papá's suit, and was wearing her work dress now, though she hadn't put on her shoemaker's apron. Her hair was down and loose around her shoulders, which it almost never was. Coco could see the bends of the usual braids.

She was forcing herself to be calm.

She sat down in the chair across from Coco and said, "All right, Socorro. I've calmed down. It's time to talk. Are you ready


to see your Papá look very silly?"

Coco giggled and poked at the make-up Papá was wearing. It was almost like Day of the Dead, but he was painted up as a silly clown instead of a skeleton. Other people were painted as monsters, and some people were wearing animal masks.

"To scare away the evil spirits!" Papá had told her this morning, while he painted her monster face on.

"For a bit of fun before Lent," Mamá had said. She was dressed up to be part of a feather dance. She had already done that this morning, and Coco and Papá had clapped and danced themselves on the sidelines.

Mamá said that Coco had done this last year, but she was only three then, and she didn't remember. She was a big girl now, and she was very good at remembering. She could sing whole songs from memory -- not just the middle parts, but the verses, and she never forgot a dance step Mamá taught her, or where her fingers went on the toy guitar. She had even memorized a whole little book about a monkey and a crocodile.

Snap, snap, snap.

She laughed. Papá's hand was by her face, his fingers snapping playfully, and he was wiggling his head back and forth. "Where is Coco's mind? Are you ready to see Papá and Tío Nesto look very silly?"

"Very, very silly," Mamá said, coming back to their blanket in the square with a pitcher full of fresh water from the pump. "And do you really want to teach her to laugh when boys snap their fingers at her?"

"He's not a boy!" Coco said. "He's Papá!"

Papá stuck his tongue out playfully and snapped the fingers on both hands in front of Mamá's face, grinning until Mamá finally laughed and pushed his hands away, weaving her fingers through his to stop the snapping.

She kissed his knuckles and rolled her eyes. "Héctor… you're sure this show is all right for her?"

"I made sure of it. No wrong jokes. I told Tío Nesto that it was Papá Héctor he'd answer to if he tried to sneak one in."

"Good." Mamá kissed him and he squeezed her hands. "I haven't seen your show in months. I'm looking forward to it."

"To the Carpas?" Papá teased, looking around at the tents the showmen had set up for the Carnival show. "You hate the Carpas."

"Why?" Coco asked, interested in this question. Everyone loved the Carpas, the silly shows that played up and down the country. All of the other children were happy that Tío Nesto had gotten some of the famous families to come to town and do shows. Papá said that they were going to have a festival every year for all the Carpas to come to Santa Cecilia from now on. ("Oh, I don't know about from now on," Tío Nesto said . "We will have to go to other places if we mean for everyone to keep coming here.")

"I don't hate them," Mamá said. "But Tío Nesto gets to look very grown-up and important while Papá has to be a silly clown."

"I like clowns," Coco offered.

"You see?" Papá said. "My favorite audience likes clowns. I will be a funny clown for my Coco today."

Mamá laughed and kissed him again, then reached into her purse for the makeup kit. "I've smeared you," she said. "Tío Nesto will not be happy."

"Well, don't fix it yet. I'm holding out for more smearing." He leaned in and rubbed his big nose against hers, smearing his make-up over hers, then he picked up Coco and did the same to her. "Do you love your silly Papá? He loves his silly Coco!"

Coco nodded and laughed, then squirmed away and tried to stand on her head. It didn't work. She fell over.

"What are you doing?" Mamá asked, righting her.

"I'm a clown, too!"

"A grand ambition!" Papá said. "Shall you come up with us? What do you think, Mamá Imelda… they would love her! And you can come, too! Wouldn't everyone love to hear Mamá sing? All the best Carpas are run by families!"

Coco nodded enthusiastically, but a shadow fell over her.

Tío Nesto smiled. She couldn't see his eyes, because the bright sun made it dark under his hat, but she could see his teeth. "Héctor… it's a little late to change the line-up for today!"

"Oh, they would love it, Nesto!"

"I haven't rehearsed," Mamá said. "Go on. Get up there and be a clown."

"His make-up needs repairing," Tío Nesto said.

Papá sighed. "All right."

"Wait," Mamá said, and grabbed hold of Papá and gave him a huge, long kiss. Under the hat-shadow, Tío Nesto made a funny face. Mamá pulled away, grinning, then began to dab at the make-up around Papá's mouth, which was almost gone.

"You're pretty messy, too, mi amor," Papá said.

"I'm not going up front. Go on, now."

"As always, your wish is my command." Papá bowed, and marched off like he was going to a battle. He waved backward, and Coco could see Mamá's lipstick mark on his hand, right over where his wedding ring sparkled.

Tío Nesto looked at Mamá and said, "I'm surprised you came at all, Imelda."

Mamá's smile disappeared. "You'd best get up on stage, Ernesto. You wouldn't want to be late for your own show."

"Well, I'm glad you came." He smiled more broadly. "You'll see how much the audience loves him when you kindly allow him to perform."

He walked away, and Coco frowned. "Why is Tío Nesto angry?"

"Tío Nesto wants to take a long trip with Papá. I want Papá to be home with us. Don't you?"

Coco nodded hard. Papá sometimes went away for a whole week at a time, and she didn't like that at all. She liked it when he played his guitar to her to sing their lullaby and told her stories and held her and sang to her until she fell asleep. She liked his funny games, and she liked the way Mamá laughed when they were together, and the way he sometimes whispered in her ear and it made her giggle and blush. She liked the way Mamá would sometimes almost jump into Papá's arms, and he'd swing her around the same way he swung Coco, though the kisses he gave her afterward were different.

Mamá sighed and looked up at the stage, where Papá was talking to a band leader and Tío Nesto was waggling his eyes at a pretty lady. "What if we went with him?" she asked no one in particular, then looked at Coco. "Do you want to go away from home?"

Coco frowned. Go away from home? Where else would she be?

Mamá shook her head. "Ah, never mind. It is too late for me to be wandering around in a tent show, and that's no place for a little girl, anyway. Papá knows that when he's thinking straight. We can't be wild children anymore." She watched the stage fondly now, but looked a little sad, too, as Papá showed a marimba player a melody he'd written. "Papá still is wild when he plays his music."

"Wild?" Coco asked.

"Very free," Mamá said. "Like a wild animal."

"Like a rabbit? I like rabbits."

"Why not? A rabbit."

Coco imagined Papá as a rabbit, now that he was jumping around on the stage, setting things up. It was funny. She would make him rabbit ears later.

He had climbed up on a ladder to check something above the stage, and he did a back flip to get back down. He landed on his feet, but made a show of jumping around and pretending to trip over a Xolo dog who'd wandered up on stage. The dog barked merrily, and Papá offered it a hand, like he was asking it to dance. It gave back a paw, then stood up on its hind legs. Papá put its front paws on his shoulders, and danced a little tango.

"Perro está bailando," Coco sang. "Y mi papá está cantando…"

Mamá laughed. "Oh, you're going to be a songwriter too now, like Papá?"

Coco nodded.

"I will teach you to read music while we learn your regular letters," Mamá promised. "How will that be?"

"I will write Papá a song to sing!"

"Your papá will be so proud his head will blow up like a balloon and he will float around on the ceiling."

Coco laughed.

A few minutes later, Papá and Tío Nesto started their part of the show. Everyone else used all the same songs, but Papá had written new things for their act. Tío Nesto sang a pretty song called "The Mountains and the Marigolds," then they did a funny act where Tío Nesto was a barber and Papá couldn't decide how he wanted to have his hair cut (and kept stopping Tío Nesto before he could close the scissors). Then they sang "Poco Loco," which everyone in Santa Cecilia always liked. The new people with the other Carpas seemed to like it, too. Then they had another funny scene about something called a "census." There were jokes about someone called Obregón, who Mamá whispered was the president. Tío Nesto was going around and asking questions, like "What sort of person are you?" He meant, Are you Spanish or are you an Indian or are you mixed or a foreigner? But Papá pretended he didn't know what the question was, and kept saying he was things like a bird, or coyote, or a fish, and then acting like those animals. The Xolo dog wandered back on stage during all of this, and Papá worked it right in, announcing that he was a Xolo dog himself, and that was his sister. Tío Nesto looked annoyed at this, but maybe that was just his part.

Coco thought this was very funny, because Papá had said the same things in the kitchen at their house when he read a story about the census in the newspaper. ("How can I tell them what I don't know? I'm of the blanket-in-the-plaza people!") He and Mamá had tried to look at each other and guess what sort of parents they had. Mamá said she was a princesita, obviously, and her mother was the queen. ("Mi amor, you are an empress," Papá said.) Papá decided he was one of the Zapotec Cloud People. His father was a stormcloud and his mother was a jaguar. ("It must have been an exciting courtship," Mamá said. "But your mother should be something musical. A songbird. Maybe something with a very big beak." Papá had stuck his tongue out and they had laughed.)

The skit ended with Tío Nesto pretending to weep in frustration at not being able to get a straight answer out of Papá. Papá took his census paper and started asking him questions instead. They finished it all up by singing "The World Is My Family" together, and then they sang another of Papá's serious songs, "My Beautiful Town," which everyone from Santa Cecilia clapped for. Tío Nesto went up and bowed, and they threw flowers at him. Papá picked the flowers up, and after he disappeared backstage, he came out a few minutes later and poured all of them into Mamá's lap. Tío Nesto was still up front, talking to the crowd.

Mamá kissed Papá, but shook her head. "You write the songs, he takes the bows?"

"He can have the bows," Papá said, scooping Coco up, and then sitting down neatly with her in his lap. She cuddled up. "I have Coco and Mamá Imelda." He showered kisses over Coco's face until she laughed. "Did you like Papá's clowning?" he asked. "Did you laugh and laugh?"

She nodded. Papá was full of fun and energy now, almost dancing again, even though he was sitting down. She wasn't surprised when he stood back up, picked her up again, and swung her around to a tune that was playing in his head.

"Shall Mamá dance with us?" he asked. "Shall we bring her up here into the clouds with us?"

"The clouds, is it?" Mamá asked, reaching her hands up. Papá pulled on one and Coco pulled on the other, and she came up gracefully. She let go of Coco's hand, and twirled around, her hand spinning in Papá's. "Go on, Héctor. Sing whatever cloud song you're hearing. Share it with the rest of us."

"I've been thinking of it since we talked about Cloud People," Papá said. "I'll play, you dance." He passed Coco over to Mamá and picked up his guitar. The song was a pretty one, with light runs of notes and words about wisps of spun sugar around the mountaintops, and how they had all stepped down out of nothing and become humans together. Coco didn't have to ask to know this was a family song, not a Tío Nesto song. Mamá set Coco down, and they danced together, hand in hand, making up soft little steps like clouds climbing up the side of a mountain.

Papá had been singing for two whole verses when Tío Nesto came over with a little man who wore round, shiny glasses that flashed in the sun. Tío Nesto was waving his arms wildly, as if they wouldn't notice him otherwise.
13 comments or Leave a comment
sonetka From: sonetka Date: April 13th, 2018 05:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, nice. I really liked this (sorry to be vague, but that was my first reaction). I especially enjoyed all the bits about the census and the traveling entertainment -- and really, there must have been lots of people whose answer to that question must have had no firmer a foundation than Hector's. (I wonder how often it came to "Well, you look like X, so I'll put you down as that" or "People said my grandmother was X".)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 13th, 2018 06:08 am (UTC) (Link)
That's my frequent suspicion with most census questions. Like the one where they were supposed to put a checkmark if someone was "insane." Yup, we don't need a diagnosis to know that!

I guess the '21 census under Obregon was the first one to ask about ethnicity (possibly the only one?), and Oaxaca was almost four percent pure indigenous, at least according to self-report. I found some kind of report on educational history that seems to say it was about making sure that everyone learned Spanish in school, and getting a count of how many people didn't actually speak Spanish. (In Oaxaca, again, it was a pretty high number, but that doesn't seem to be the case with the Rivera family.) I'm not totally sure about it, since it was in Spanish, and it was an image, so I couldn't easily paste it into Google translate, meaning I had to count on my own knowledge.

Edited at 2018-04-13 06:13 am (UTC)
sonetka From: sonetka Date: April 14th, 2018 02:35 am (UTC) (Link)
By the look of the Riveras, they most likely have some indigenous blood, but as you said they seem to have been Spanish-speakers for a while. And yeah, census information is invaluable but you can't rely too much on every single category being gospel true. My favorite example of this in my own family history is the census forms giving the information about the children at the orphanage my grandmother and her siblings were living at in 1930. Apart from butchering their surname (which every census did) they were listed as being of Greek descent -- something which kept me from finding them for quite a while. They weren't Greek. They were Ukrainian/Ruthenian and their religion was Eastern Catholicism -- "Greek Catholic." Oops. That's what happens when someone makes a guess!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 14th, 2018 02:43 am (UTC) (Link)
My favorite census oops wasn't from my line (though the "insane" one was). I was helping a friend out here look at her old Spanish family, and it was EXTREMELY obvious that the census takers didn't speak any Spanish whatsoever (not just names, but towns, counties, and everything else misspelled... and misspelled differently in every census). At any rate, they were obviously not really asking people questions very well, because people were exactly the same age two censuses in a row.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: April 14th, 2018 05:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Now I'm getting strong memories of reading Tuck Everlasting.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 14th, 2018 05:22 am (UTC) (Link)
From: queen_bellatrix Date: April 14th, 2018 01:03 am (UTC) (Link)
No catches that I could find this time around. What a marvelous chapter. You continue to do domesticity so well--I see so many people thinking domesticity is a boring trope, and I'm just like not when there's so much _joy in it! And particularly when we know what will happen, we treasure the domesticity all the more--the characters can't bottle time, but we're deeply fortunate to do it in their place. And knowing there was so much sweetness between this little family doesn't erase the bitterness that came later, but it is a balm of sorts. And oh, I love how much Hector and Imelda complement each other. Being a father steadies Hector a little, gets him out of the Nesto bubble--for now--. And being with Hector: I love how it's making Imelda grow more and more into herself. We've always seen her self-reliance, but now she's willing to display her gentleness and sense of fun in a venue that's not a stage. Just publicly willing to revel in the joy of their little family!

I love how villainous Nesto is in this precisely because he's so human. Greedy, jealous of Hector's attention and knowing Hector is better than him, is his ticket out even as Hector thinks the opposite. Oh, I understand why Imelda decided they couldn't go with him but damn it! if she could've just given a little, they might have been able to avert disaster. Though perhaps that, too, is a foolish fantasy; someone like Nesto's greed is bottomless, and Imelda would have always seemed a threat to him because she gave Hector something else to live for than him.

It's interesting the way Nesto has to rationalize it to himself--that he can't bear to consider himself the villain, so it has to be the wicked queen Imelda. And he's the gracious king Ernesto rescuing Hector.

I also really appreciated how integrally music was woven into the fabric of Coco's life. A. because it just reinforces how cruel the ban was to the people around Imelda, but B. because I love the idea of Victoria's death having something to do with music as you've idly postulated. And of course a Coco, steeped in love of her father and music, wouldn't enforce that ban past her mother's death; which would then leave the road wide for Victoria, and for Elaina to decide Imelda was right after tragedy struck. It honors Coco's character while also explaining how Miguel came to understand the story the way he does. And yeah, I know you're not planning to go much into the future with this one, but it's really intriguing to see you lay seeds for any future work in this fandom.

Speaking of work, I continue to admire how lightly but thoroughly you're weaving in Mexican history. I can't imagine how much research has gone into this; any particularly excellent resources you'd rec?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 14th, 2018 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I started with the Wikipedia article on the Mexican Revolution and linked around from there to learn about Obregon and Huerta. But I wanted more specific stuff, so I googled "Oaxaca in 1921," which is where I found a book on Google books that mentioned the census and the ethnic make-up of the area. Of course, it was in Spanish, so I had to work out the meaning, but it seemed to boil down to the new government deciding that people who didn't speak the language and weren't taught to read the language of the country (Spanish) were open to being exploited and maltreated, so they wanted to get a count of everyone's background and spoken languages, as well as literacy levels. (Given that the language used was similar to the language used in the US and Canada to force indigenous people into white boarding schools, I imagine it looked different from the other side.)

Ernesto is a disturbing villain because he's very believable. He didn't try to take over the world with self-aware coffee makers and laser sharks; he murdered one guy to further his ambitions, and was later willing to murder one child for his reputation, but he didn't leave a trail of bodies everywhere he went. He was just a garden-variety sociopath, the sort you could meet anywhere, and which we all suspect, I think, live in the upper echelons of glamorous fields.

A traveling show is really not a great place to raise a little girl; Imelda kind of has a point. It's basically trying to raise her in a vaudeville troupe. No school, no regular friendships, nothing. A better compromise might well have been moving the whole family to somewhere like Mexico City, where Hector could get work as a songwriter and still go home at night.

I think Victoria probably predeceased Imelda, who died in 1971, I believe (by the Disney wikia, though their dates don't entirely make sense, which I attribute to oh-dear-maths). Victoria's dress in her photo (and the land of the dead) doesn't look that recent a vintage. I guess it depends on how old she was when she died. If it happened around the same time, that would probably mess with Coco quite a lot.

I think, until Miguel, no one called Imelda out on her ban, or made her think about it. Elena obviously agreed with her, and my guess is that the "iron apron" role passed directly from grandmother to granddaughter, with Coco in a quieter role. But the impression I had in the movie was that Imelda was actually surprised when Miguel suggested that she wasn't supporting her family. Everyone else let her think that, while her way was hard, it was clearly for the best. After Miguel calls her out, it only takes her a few hours to relent.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 14th, 2018 03:31 am (UTC) (Link)
On domesticity:

There's a great sub-theme in the last Percy Jackson and the Olympians book, called The Last Olympian. Percy is prophesied to make a decision that will either save or doom Olympus, and no one knows what it will be. Early in the book, he meets a goddess he hasn't spoken to before, though he's seen her: Hestia, and she says, "I am here because when all else fails, when all the other mighty gods have gone off to war, I'm all that's left. Home. Hearth. I am the last Olympian. You must remember me when you face your final decision."

During the course of the book, he's given Pandora's Box (which is really a jar), which holds hope, and if he just gives it up, the Titans will cease their attack. It follows him everywhere, so he can't forget about it, and he really want to just let it go. But he's a brave kid, and he fights through, and he's looking forward to his life as an adult. So after he realizes that he really does love the girl he's with, that he really does mean to fight for the world to continue on, he finds himself face to face with Hestia again, now at Mt. Olympus, with Pandora's Jar tempting him again.

I picked up Pandora's jar. The spirit of Hope fluttered inside, trying to warm the cold container.

"Hestia," I said, "I give this to you as an offering."

The goddess tilted her head. "I am the least of the gods. Why would you trust me with this?"

"You're the last Olympian," I said. "And the most important."

"And why is that, Percy Jackson?"

"Because Hope survives best at the hearth," I said. "Guard it for me, and I won't be tempted to give it up again."

And that? Is not a boring trope.

Edited at 2018-04-14 03:31 am (UTC)
From: queen_bellatrix Date: April 14th, 2018 09:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
That is one of the most beautiful passages I've read in a while, and I'm crazy glad you shared. Especially because damn what a fascinating trope execution, and what a clever one. So many of the most monumental decisions in world history--at least monumental ones in hindsight--are driven by such small human things. A moment of fear or courage, or just our human frailties: not being able to let a grudge go etc. etc. And to see that in fiction, with the hero really paying attention to the world around him, learning and growing and then making this really split-second decision precisely because he's grown so much is just so freaking refreshing! I'm such a huge proponent ofTolkien's argument in Fairy Stories that the act of fiction consumption fundamentally changes who we are, and we need fiction so very much in this day and age that prioritizes the things like kindness or empathy or domesticity that so many people view as small in the grand scheme of things.

Also: God all your familial headcanons about Coco make so much sense. That's an especially fascinating thought re Miguel not only being the catalyst by setting up such a difficult situation for Imelda, but by making her face head-on the thing so much of her family tried to protect her from in the best way they knew how. And isn't that just so true of human nature? When we love someone, we don't want them to be destroyed by the harsh truths of the world. And it's so easy for our white lies or ommitions of kindness to mushroom into these vast things with far-reaching consequences. (And yeah, the Victoria death dates just leave baffled. :)
shiiki From: shiiki Date: May 3rd, 2018 07:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Sorry to hijack the thread—I just had to chime in and say I adore that theme in the PJO series as well and the idea of how the characters really want at the core the normalcy and comfort of family.
shiiki From: shiiki Date: May 3rd, 2018 07:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I really liked seeing the tension between Imelda and Ernesto here! Because it goes way deeper than what she explained to Coco—it wasn’t just about him taking Hector away from them, it was also about Hector’s exploitation. And while Hector makes it so easy for Ernesto to milk him completely, Imelda sees things more clearly and has that shrewd business sense that she will tap on later to pull things together after things go bad, so Ernesto knows that she really is the one standing in his way of climbing Hector’s back to fame.

It’s amazing how you can convey all of that in the subtext!

I also particularly liked in this chapter how you wove in bits of history, like the census, and the culture and religious background (especially intriguing since music has always been very intrinsic to worship, when you think about it).
akilika From: akilika Date: June 27th, 2018 04:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Reading through this on account of finally seeing Coco on Netflix... The discussion of Ernesto's villainy in the comments here sparks another thought.

It's obvious Ernesto envies parts of the Other Path, the one he didn't take. His joy at thinking he has a great-great-grandson, that sort of thing. But... Well. The sheer speed with which he turns on Miguel, even still thinking he's a descendant. To, in fact, torch his only perceived chance at familial continuation in order to protect a false reputation...

There's a reason he never had it, and you describe it beautifully, in sidelong glances. He likely still envies it here, on some level, but without any capacity whatsoever to understand it or build it himself.

So he recasts it in his movie, he denigrates it by pulling Hector further and further away, he basically tries to convince himself because he's smarter and more popular and able to manipulate Hector in such a way, he's making the better choice. (...ok, I don't think he's smarter, but I guarantee he does.)

...But he's still desperately happy when he thinks he has living family.

He's not casting Imelda as a witch to convince the world. He's doing it to convince himself.

(And regarding taking Imelda and Coco on the road... I... Don't think it would have made things better to put Hector's family in murderable range whenever he decided this was no life for a family. I mean, get rid of the motivator AND leave the door open for more songwriting. Maybe try to arrange something less dramatic where Imelda leaves Hector brokenhearted, but... Yeah.)
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