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The Wedding Guitar, pt 7 (Coco) - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
The Wedding Guitar, pt 7 (Coco)
Back to the story, and 1931, where Coco, before being interrupted by a flashback, was being led back through Santa Cecilia by her mother, who went upstairs, stormed around a little bit, and came back, claiming to have calmed down, and asking if Coco is ready to talk.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

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.

"Héctor!" he called. "I have good news! This is


Papá's song," Coco finished, willing her voice not to shake. "I heard Papá's song. I wanted to hear it more."

"So you saw the guitar, and you heard the song, and you skipped school for four days to go to the pictures." Coco didn't answer. She'd been over her entire transgression. It was up to Mamá now. Mamá stood up from her chair and went to the window, absently winding her hair up into its usual bun, though with no pins, it fell back down when she let go and put her hands on her hips. "And what, exactly, were you planning to tell me?"

"I don't know." Coco bit her lip. "What were you going to tell me?"

Mamá glared at her, then turned to the window again, resting her clasped hands wearily on the back of her neck. "I won't pretend this isn't your business."

"Thank you, Mamá."

"Don't imagine that you'll get away with skipping school. We will come back to that." Mamá looked out at the garden for a long time, then said, in a quieter and gentler voice than Coco had expected, "What do you want to do, mija?"


"About all of this." Mamá rubbed her head. "De la Cruz is singing your father's songs, and I didn't see Héctor's name. Did you see it?"

"No." Coco bit her lip and looked down at her feet. "And I was looking. I'm sorry, Mamá."

"Sorry for what? Of course you were looking. This is the first sign I've seen of him since that last letter. I was looking, too."

"You're not angry?"

"About that? Of course not. It's natural. He left a lot of questions behind."

"You're not angry that I… that I care about the questions?"

This didn't get an immediate answer. Instead, Mamá picked at the sleeves of her dress for a minute, and wound her hair up again, holding it still at the base of her neck with her laced fingers. She took a few breaths like that, then let it go. It fell in a clump this time, staying in a loose knot. "I can't be both mother and father to you, Coco, no matter how much I try."


She held up her hand. "Of course you want answers. I want answers."

No, you don't, Coco almost said. You don't want answers, because you know the answer, as much as I do, and you don't want to know it. You don't want to know it because… because…

But that answer had always eluded Coco. Oh, she understood about the fear and the grief, but there was something else at play, something in Mamá, something about the truth that was outside what Coco could see.

"The point is," Mamá said, "that you have decisions to make, haven't you?"

"Just me?"

"I am his wife. I could become not his wife. The priest has suggested annulment. Moving on."

"Marrying someone else?"

"I'm sure that's the padre's thought. Have lots of children. I'm still young." She shook her head. "I don't want to marry again. That's why I've never bothered."

It crossed Coco's mind that, in this mood, Mamá might not argue that she didn't want to stop being Papá's wife, either. But she didn't quite dare bring this up.

"But you," Mamá went on, "can't stop being his daughter, no matter who decrees what. So he will belong to you, Coco. You choose. I will abide by your choice. What do you want to do about this, mija?"

"I don't know," Coco said.

Mamá looked like she'd expected this. She nodded, still looking out the window. "I can think of three things we might do. We might ignore it."


"Don't sound scandalized, Coco. We knew Papá left. This isn't news. So we've seen his guitar. So his old partner sings his songs. Does it make anything different? For what it's worth, even I won't pretend to believe that your papá would have ever written that awful movie. That is purely Ernesto. But does Papá leaving behind his guitar and his music make it worse that he left us behind? Or is it only… proof that he…" She stopped short of saying what Coco was certain they both knew. "Proof that he shed his past completely, which we already knew, as we are the snakeskin he shed and left behind in the first place. For all we know, he's behind the scenes, letting Ernesto do all of this. For all we know, he is laughing at me… at all of it."

"Don't, Mamá. Please."

"The second thing," she continued, "is to press the studio for money. I think I could prove those were Héctor's songs, if I had to. We have the lyrics, dated before he… left. There are still some people in town who remember hearing him. Not as many as there once were, of course. But they exist. If Papá isn't there with Ernesto, then he's using the songs without permission, and we never saw a peso of money for them. We could ask for money."

"I don't want money," Coco said. Blood money, she did not elaborate.

"But money may attract de la Cruz's attention," Mamá said. "Which is the third idea. That man was with Papá at least as far as Tijuana. He may know where Papá was headed, and why he decided not to tell us. Or send for us."

"Maybe he meant to send for us…"

"Did his letters sound that way to you? The last ones?"

They didn't. Coco couldn't argue otherwise. She'd read them hundreds of times, trying to find clues. They were easier to read, on the typewriter, but it was like the machine had been a curtain, and it hid all the little things. She wished Papá had just written them in pen. Maybe she could have seen a tremor in his hand, or looked at little doodles along the side. Sometimes in the old letters, there would be a weird up and down kind of scrawl that Coco had later realized was his shorthand for a melody that was in his head. But he'd been enamored of the technology, and that was true enough. Coco remembered when the shoemaking tools had first come out, before Papá left, when Mamá was just trying to make Coco a new pair of shoes. Papá had played everything like a drum or a castanet, and flipped leather around to make funny noises. He would have played a typewriter like it was the piano he always said he wanted to learn.

But it had hidden him. The letters after Mexico City were all about his career, and how Tío Nesto was trying to help him. He never made little jokes to Mamá in them, and while he dutifully wrote "I love you" to Coco, he didn't call her his precious angel or make little kissing symbols on the note. He just talked about shows and auditions. The easy answer was that he'd been jealous of Tío Nesto's success and was determined to succeed for himself now. He didn't even add his poems anymore, let alone the little shorthand music scrawls.

But the ones just before those had been so full of a desire to come home! He'd talked about Christmas, and said he was writing a new song for Coco, and he'd tried to guess how much she had grown. He thought the movie auditions were funny, not serious. He wanted to show Coco the silly picture he'd had taken, not to deliver it around to movie people. There was no hint of anything else. He'd had a few stomach aches ("Poor Tío Nesto had to take a meeting all by himself, which he hates, because Papá had a sad stomach again! He says I owe him one next time he has too much fun at night"), which seemed to be the extent of drama in his life, other than missing Coco and Mamá. He even said that he thought the two things were related -- "I miss you both so much it seems to be making my stomach hurt!"

She didn't say anything. Mamá had read the letters at least as often as she had, and she'd known Papá longer. Maybe she saw something in them that made sense of the change.

What she said was, "I want to talk to Tío Nesto."

Mamá nodded, as if she'd expected nothing else. "Then that's what we'll do. Though it may not be easy."

It wasn't. The next three weeks were very difficult, and Mamá was on edge. Coco was nervous and frightened, but she decided to approach it like a girl detective. She studied the letters to find clues about where Papá and Tío Nesto had gone together, and she read the poems carefully for any references to what he had in mind. She went through newspaper articles about the movie to try and find out how to reach Tío Nesto, but found nothing. She asked the sisters at school how to get Ernesto de la Cruz's address, and they treated her like a little girl with a crush. Finally, Sister Elena took pity and found her fan address. She wrote a letter, and got back a signed photograph two weeks later… with no answers. Mamá threw it out and grimaced. She spent the rest of the day muttering at the work bench while she made a pair of cowboy boots. Coco finished a plain, but perfectly well-made, pair of sandals.

"Tomorrow," Mamá said as they headed back inside, after the uncles had retired. "You will stay home from school. We will pay a visit to Señora de la Cruz."

On the one hand, she looked about as enthusiastic about this idea as she would about driving an awl through her fingertip. On the other, Coco could also feel her loosening up around the edges. She had committed herself to solving the problem of Papá at last. She was preparing herself for the truth. Coco wasn't sure how she knew this. It wasn't any one thing. But there were a lot of little things. She had taken the picture out of the trunk, for one thing. She had to fold the guitar over to put it in a pretty frame, but they were all there together, and now it was sitting on the mantel above the fireplace. A few times, Coco had awakened in the night and actually heard Mamá singing. It was quiet and sad, and once, Coco had tiptoed out to the living room, where Mamá had the picture in her hands. She was tracing Papá's face with one finger. Coco had left her alone and not asked about the song, which she hadn't recognized.

No one other than the two of them -- not even the uncles -- knew anything was happening. Mamá continued to run the shop with an iron hand, and Coco continued to be a good student at school. If Coco spent more of her evenings in the workshop, they seemed to accept that it was because Mamá was teaching her to make better shoes… which was true, she wasn't allowed to let her mind wander on that subject, but of course, the real subject of their late night conversations was Papá. Technically, it was de la Cruz, but they both knew what they were talking about now.

Coco played sick for the uncles in the morning, and after they finished doting on her and left for the day's errands, Mamá presented her with a very nice dress. Not the sort of nice dress one went dancing in, but the sort that Mamá wore when she went to the bank to ask about a loan for new shoe leather. Coco dressed in it, and considered putting her hair up like Mamá's for the day, instead of her usual trenzas. In the end, she compromised, making one single, tight braid down her back, which pulled her hair back severely from her face, other than her bangs. She thought this made her look a good deal like Papá, even, rather unfortunately, in the nose. She thought she might never be as pretty as Mamá in the end, but for today, she thought her looks were perfect.

"All right," Mamá said when she came into the kitchen. "This is a business visit. There will be no tears, there will be no pleading."

"Of course!"

Mamá smiled faintly, and Coco could almost hear her say, I am reminding myself, silly child. Coco smiled back.

Together, they left the workshop, heads held high and shoulders straight. Coco felt proud to be at Mamá's side.

They reached the de la Cruz house just before lunch, and a young girl in a maid's uniform -- a black dress with a frilly apron -- opened the door. Mamá gave her an incredulous look. "Is the family at home?" she asked.

"Who is calling?"

"Héctor Rivera's wife and daughter," Mamá said firmly.


"The man who wrote all of the songs in Ernesto's new movie."

"No, ma'am," the maid said. "I'm quite sure Señor de la Cruz wrote his songs."

Coco was about to say something, but Mamá reached back and grabbed her wrist, giving it a quick but firm squeeze.

"Nevertheless, tell Señora de la Cruz who I am, and what I said."

The maid disappeared.

A moment later, Tío Nesto's mother came down from an upstairs room. She was smiling, and she held her arms out to Mamá. "Oh, Imelda," she said. "How good of you to come! I keep inviting you."

"We need to see Ernesto," Mamá said.

"About my Papá's songs," Coco added, keeping her voice as cool and level as Mamá's.

"Oh, dear, that," Señora de la Cruz said. "I'm sorry. Please come in. Have a seat." She led the way into the parlor, which was full of new furniture. She rang a little silver bell, and the maid stepped forward. "Constanza, fetch us tea and a snack, will you?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Coco thought she caught a bit of a glare on the girl's face, but Señora de la Cruz didn't notice. "Now, Constanza told me you sounded upset. I can't say I blame you. When I visited Ernesto in the capital last month, I told him, Imelda will know those songs. You really must give Héctor credit."

"What did he say?"

"Oh, legal things," Señora de la Cruz said dismissively. "The studio wants to promote him as a great star. They own the songs now, I think, and they can treat them as they like."

"I'd like to speak to Ernesto about how the studio came by those rights," Imelda said.

"Can you reach him?" Coco asked.

"Of course I can! I am his Mamá, after all! But I don't need to right now. He is here." She leaned forward with a conspiratorial smile. "Don't tell anyone. He does not wish to advertise his presence. He's trying to talk his Papá into moving us all to the city. He says he will buy us a fine house." She shook her head. "I don't know why he started thinking of that now."

Coco sat up straighter. "May we see him, Señora?"

"Coco," Mamá said, and nodded stiffly. Be patient, the nod said. Let this ridiculous woman prattle.

"Oh, he is in the back with Jorge. They are having a conversation. Men's business, I suppose. Though I suppose you might understand," she added generously, nodding at Mamá. "I always said you were halfway to being a man."

She clearly meant this to sound like a compliment, but Coco didn't think really was one, and judging by the look on Mamá's face -- like she'd just found a dead mouse in a pile of leather -- neither did she.

"I'm sure they will be in soon." Señora de la Cruz rang the bell again. "Constanza, please tell the gentlemen that we have company."

Constanza looked a bit happier at this directive. She straightened her apron and puffed up her hair, then went out a back door.

"Do you plan to go to the capital?" Coco asked politely, forcing herself to be calm by sipping her tea.

"Oh, I don't know about all of that. Nesto gets wild ideas sometimes. I'm sure you remember, Imelda."

"Very well, yes."

"So full of dreams, my boy. He was always such a talented thing. How people loved him."

"And my Papá?" Coco asked.

"Yes. What a pair they were! Ah, yes, here they come!"

Indeed, there was a thunderous pounding of feet as the men came inside, stomping dirt from their shoes. Señor de la Cruz seemed to be in the middle of a serious scolding. "There will be hell to pay, Ernesto. You were always willful, and disobedient -- "

"Papá, this is why I never come back. You don't understand me!"

"I understand you all too well, devil-boy, and that is why you never come back!"

Señora de la Cruz looked pained. "I wish they wouldn't fight."

The parlor door swung open from the back, and Señor de la Cruz stormed in, tripping over a new footstool.

Tío Nesto caught him. "Be careful, Papá. I wouldn't want you to have an accident."
6 comments or Leave a comment
sonetka From: sonetka Date: April 17th, 2018 05:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh wow. I did not expect to see Ernesto in Santa Cecilia again (at least, not while he was alive) and am very curious and somewhat worried to see how this is going to go down. Then again, someone who's got the stones to write fake letters on his murder victim's behalf will probably be ready to brazen out a confrontation even with Imelda. (And honestly, just flat-out denial that you know anything at all is hard to crack, especially when you're a complete sociopath like he seems to be.)

"Halfway to being a man," ouch. Hey, you're practically a man and a woman both, you don't need help from anyone! I'm curious about the priest suggesting an annulment -- what would the grounds be? I can think of a few that could potentially be on his mind, I'm just curious as to what the priest is thinking.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 17th, 2018 05:34 am (UTC) (Link)
I think he's going with abandonment. I'd guess the priest, like everyone else, suspects that Hector is dead but can't confirm it, and wants to release Imelda to go on with her life. She is not interested. He was willing to go out of his way probably to go with Error about the Quality of a person (https://archatl.com/offices/metropolitan-tribunal/grounds-of-marriage-nullity/), on the grounds that Imelda would have specifically married Hector under the belief that he was a reliable and good partner and parent.

Error About a Quality of a Person (Canon 1097 §2)

To enter a valid marriage, one must know the essential qualities of the person he or she is marrying. If, at the time of marriage, one spouse was mistaken about a quality directly and principally intended in the other spouse (almost as a condition for marriage) then this ground could be considered. This ground might apply if you or your former spouse intended to marry someone who possessed a certain quality (perhaps of a moral, social, physical, religious, psychological, or legal nature) and the primary reason for entering this marriage was the belief that the intended spouse possessed that quality. The intended quality must be of such a magnitude that without it, the person would not have married the other.

Was there a certain quality or trait that either you or your former spouse were looking for in a prospective husband or wife (for example, a certain social status, marital status, education, a certain profession, religious conviction, freedom from addiction or disease, freedom from an arrest record)? Did you or your former spouse consider that trait so important in a prospective spouse that you would marry only someone who possessed that trait? Would this marriage have been called off if the other person did not possess that quality? When it was learned that you or your former spouse did not possess that quality, did the other spouse react with shock or surprise? Did you separate immediately afterward, or did your marital relationship change immediately afterward?

ETA: I was going to have Ernesto contacted by telephone and call the Riveras (to implicitly threaten them with lawsuits), but when I read about telephone service in Mexico, I found out that it was extremely late in coming, because the mountainous territory made it hard to run lines. A small town in Oaxaca in the 1930s probably would not be exactly blessed in that regard, so... personal visit.

Edited at 2018-04-17 05:53 am (UTC)
sonetka From: sonetka Date: April 17th, 2018 06:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting, I've been reading about telephone service in Mexico as well (an AU thing) and it definitely doesn't seem to have been something you could count on having; maybe Santa Cecilia could have managed a line at the local courthouse or something but certainly nothing with any reasonable degree of privacy since private lines cost about double what party lines did and party lines were probably the only realistic option in more rural areas anyway. Even if Ernesto could get ahold of Imelda by phone, he'd be implicitly inviting random listeners from about five other towns into the conversation.

I'm assuming that the defect of quality would be something like Hector's not intending to stay at all, since the conditions for an annulment have to apply when the marriage is contracted, and if he married thinking he'd take off at some point, it wouldn't be valid (although the baby would still be considered legitimate.) If Ernesto continues to be unforthcoming about his whereabouts, there's also the possibility of having Hector declared dead in absentia since even if he had legitimately left Ernesto for parts unknown he could have died in the Cristero war since then, but it sounds like this priest is sensible enough to realize that Imelda absolutely cannot handle facing that possibility directly.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: April 22nd, 2018 06:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Couple Of Catches and Squee

Oh wow, I hadn't realized either 7 or 8 had posted somehow! *side-eyes LJ and its occasionally dreadful notifications system* Ok, starting with 7, since it doesn't seem like you've posted to AO3 yet!

found her fan address. Just need an a before fan.

Coco didn't think really was one Just need an it between think and really.

Well fuck, that last line was ominous!! Also, I like Ernesto's dad; his Mom is a bit of a feather-brain, but I like anyone who calls that man a devil-boy.

So I hadn't actually picked up on the fact that the letters on the type-writer were Ernesto writing as Hector until now. I know some folks had theorized it, but something about that last one, about his place and the world, made me think it was him writing just before getting the train ticket for some reason. You've done such a marvelous job contrasting the typed letters with Hector's original style. How his essence seemingly slowly evaporated from his beloveds perspective is deeply painful. The metaphor about the typewriter being a curtain and Coco wishing he'd written them in pen so there could be possible tremors was especially beautiful and striking. And the idea of Hector playing everything like musical instruments, even shoe-making tools, is oddly adorable.

Oh Imelda! That tentative softening, like a spring thaw, that tentative readiness to at least accept and forge a stronger bond with her daughter. I don't know how you're gonna ruin it Ernesto, but it will make me utterly furious. I'm just imagining Hector, seeing that picture up on the mantelpiece and hoping! it would be up on the altar that year. I'm now wondering, at least in terms of this story, if Imelda's anger in the land of the dead yeah is centered around the abandonment, but mostly like: you left us to go on freaking tour with a wastrel and could never! come home because he wouldn't let you and just how could you be stupid enough to be conned by that fool? Even if she accepts the reality of his death, that it happened as a result of Nesto, of his blind loyalty to Nesto, would be infuriating in its own rite.

But yeah, watching those two be united in solidarity, watching Imelda teach Coco a bit of her ways and Coco take pride in how similar she is looks-wise to Hector, was just the loveliest thing. Not the unmitigated Hector-era domesticity, but a healing and bridging their relationship desperately needed. And Imelda, at least for a bit, sang again!

Also: that Hector was having stomach-aches before the infamous poisoning is just terrifying ok. That Nesto was like. giving him small doses every time he showed the slightest sign of bolting *shudders* Devil boy indeed

ETA: Just went and read the new transition bit, cause I knew you'd be adding that at the end of 7 on AO3. No catches, just arghhhhhhhh!!!!!!. Nesto is ruining everything. I'm hoping Imelda is just sending Coco away so as to get him to talk but I'm profoundly doubtful of that. He's playing on that fierce mother-bear instinct of hers to protect Coco and I wanna reach through the computer and throttle him. Also: it's been a long road to success; you unspeakably smarmy bastard.

Edited at 2018-04-22 11:58 pm (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 23rd, 2018 01:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Couple Of Catches and Squee

Thanks for the catches!

Ernesto's father has his number, all right. I figure someone around every sociopath probably knows what he is.

That last letter was Ernesto doing the same thing he did with Miguel... trying to sound deeply sincere and caring. Blech. Ernesto knew Hector well enough to put in the stylistic touches, but as a sociopath, he couldn't really infuse them with love.

I can just see Hector if he had come back, trying to work with Imelda's shoe business (which she probably would have started anyway, given that they needed a steady income and Hector would have more or less given up his one real money-making skill)... just slicing up the shoe leather because he likes the sound it makes, playing a rhythm on that buffer machine that Abel uses...

Ernesto is going to have to do something very permanent. I'm still trying decide which direction he's going to go. (The "rumor" in the land of the dead about how Hector died "chocking on the chorizo" is a pretty strong indicator about what insecurities he might play on, but I'm not sure I want to go that way.)

Imelda would certainly blame him for going off on a tour when she knew better, and for not listening to worries, and for getting his ridiculous self killed... because it's easier to be angry at him than to just deal with the loss.

giving him small doses every time he showed the slightest sign of bolting *shudders* Devil boy indeed
Yeah. Or every time he wanted to take a meeting alone so he could tell potential backers that of course "they" were all about selling "their" songs to the studios.
shiiki From: shiiki Date: May 3rd, 2018 08:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I wouldn't want you to have an accident.

What words to give me a shiver! He really is a little sociopath isn’t he?

This was a fascinating chapter. It looks like we’re headed towards a question that bothered me during the movie—when did Imelda find out Hector died (because she must have realised it at some point) and if it was within her lifetime, how did that affect the family?

Again, enjoying the richness of the backdrop to this story with all your vivid descriptions!
6 comments or Leave a comment