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The Wedding Guitar, pt 11 (Coco) - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
The Wedding Guitar, pt 11 (Coco)
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10

Then, with a decisive move, she put the family portrait in there as well.

She slammed it shut and pushed it away.

Then she went to Coco's room to comfort her from whatever nightmare had woken her up.

Coco was shivering in her bed, looking out at the moonlit courtyard. She looked up with a start when Imelda came in. "Mamá…"

"It's alright, Coco."

"There was a monster, and he burned up Papá."

"Here, let me light your lamp," Imelda said, going over and igniting the wick. "There, you see. No monsters."

"He was going to eat up my head."

"There are no monsters, Coco." She sat down on Coco's bed and put a cool hand on her forehead. "You're safe."

"Could I have a song?"


"Please, Mamá."

Imelda tried to start Héctor's lullaby, but it wouldn't come out of her throat. Instead, she managed a verse of Arroro, mi niña, cuddling Coco tightly and brushing her hair with aching fingers. Her voice was weak and out of practice, but Coco responded to it, putting one small hand on Imelda's throat, as if to feel the sound. She tried to feel Héctor somewhere nearby, tried to convince herself that there was a miracle, but he wasn't there. She couldn't feel him anywhere.

When she finished, she kissed Coco's head and rocked her until she fell asleep again.

Oscar had come back into the house while she was singing, and he was looking at her with great concern. "What's happening, Imelda? I heard you singing."

"Just a lullaby."

"You haven't sung for a long time."

"No. I should not. It hurts." She looked out the window. There was a vague sound of the party in the square, and up the hill toward the church, she could see the candlelight from the cemetery, where people were still coming and going. "I just don't understand why


are you doing this?" Coco screamed. "Mamá! Stop!"

Imelda looked down. There was something red on Coco's blouse. Something… She shook her head. "Coco. You're bleeding."

Coco looked down at her hands, and now Imelda could see that she was crawling through broken glass. Her hands were cut. Her knees were bleeding. Some of the blood had dripped onto the blouse. She looked dazed, and confused at the sight of it. "Mamá, please stop," she said. "Please, Mamá. Don't do this. Not again."

Imelda looked down at the broken frame, at the photo Coco was clutching so desperately. "He left us," she said.

"Yes. Mamá, please. What did de la Cruz tell you? Why… why are you…?" She gestured helplessly at the wreckage. "You said it was lies. Why do you care what lies he told?"

"Lies," Imelda repeated. She wiped her hand over her eyes. The mariachi from the square seemed to float in front of her. Hey, I got a chorizo for you…

Why was that in her head? Why? Héctor had been many things, but he had not been like that, not even as a wild boy.

"Héctor was the liar," she said. "He was always the one telling lies. He laughed at them."

"He told jokes. He played roles."

"What roles? My husband? Your papá?" Imelda put her hands in her hair and tugged at it. Ernesto had said that. Roles. He tried to play the role you set for him.

"Mamá, let me take this. Let me keep it. You don't have to see it, but please don't take it away. Please don't. I need it. I need my letters."

For insane moment that seemed to last longer than it probably did, Imelda's hands itched to slap Coco's face -- Héctor's face, in so many ways -- and take the photo. Then she would march into Coco's room (with its northern light so the baby wouldn't disturbed by the sunshine), and she would rip it apart until she found the letters, and then she would burn all of them, the same way she'd burned her guitar, the same way the half-written poems had gone, the same way…

Don't do this. Not again.

The madness broke, went back to wherever it came from in the first place, and there was just her daughter, crouched on the living room floor, bleeding from half a dozen little cuts.

Imelda knelt down beside her and held her. "I'm sorry, Coco. I'm sorry. Of course. Keep them. Shut them away from me, but keep them. I'm so sorry, mijita. What have we done to you?"

Coco flung her arms around Imelda's neck and said, "It's all right, Mamá. Everything will be all right. I'll be all right."

Imelda pulled away and stroked Coco's cheek. She'd cut her own hand somewhere, and it left a bright red streak. "Let's get your cuts cleaned up," she said. "Then I'll… I'll take care of this." She gestured vaguely at the broken glass. "I'm sorry."

Coco sighed. "Mamá, what is it?"

"I just don't know what to believe," Imelda said. "I… I never knew what I could believe."

Coco seemed like she might argue, might start a defense of Héctor, but she didn't. Instead, she took Imelda's bloody hand in her own and said, "I love you, Mamá. Believe that."

"I love you, too, mija." She shook her head. "Let's get cleaned up. We… we have no one left to talk to about this."

"I know."

"And you really must never talk to de la Cruz. He will tell you terrible lies. He said he would."

"About Papá?"

"And me. And yourself."

Coco found a smile somewhere. She held up the curled picture of Héctor's face beside her own, so like it. "I don't think I have to worry about the worst one he'd try."

Imelda surprised herself with a laugh. "No. No, you really don't. But you don't need those lies in your head."

"All right. I don't want them there."

Imelda stood up, not letting go of Coco's hand, and guided her up as well. "Come. We'll get you cleaned up."

They went into the bathroom, and Coco sat on the toilet seat while Imelda wet a cloth and rummaged for bandages, ignoring the cut on her own hand. It looked almost as it had three months ago, when Coco had suddenly screamed, and Imelda had gone in and realized that it was time to teach her about how to take care of herself each month, when instead of bandages, she'd been rummaging for rags from the bin. When had she grown up so much?


Imelda shook her head, realizing that she had just stopped mid-rummage. "Sorry. Time just… goes on, doesn't it?"


"Be careful, Coco. Don't do anything foolish."

"Yes, Mamá. I will be the first to never do anything foolish."

Imelda laughed a little. Not much. "Don't do the same foolish things I did."

"Like having me?"

"Never that." She pinched Coco's nose, as she had when she was a small child. "But don't do it so young, all right?"

"All right, Mamá."

Imelda found the bandages and spent the next ten minutes cleaning and covering up Coco's cuts. The picture -- and the bit with Héctor's face on it -- sat mutely on top of a laundry hamper, neither of them paying any attention. When she was finished, Coco took them wordlessly and disappeared to her room. There was a little table there with a shallow drawer, and Imelda heard the drawer open and close twice. She had probably put the letters in there as well.

I will never open that drawer, Imelda decided, taking the last bandage and wrapping it around her own cut. That drawer does not exist to me.

It seemed like a good decision. She couldn't risk any more bouts of madness, certainly nowhere that Coco could see.

She had a business to run, and a daughter to raise, and bachelor brothers she really ought to see about finding wives for before they ran out of time. As to her vanished husband, her wild musician… there was nothing she could do about that. Héctor had made his choices. He had walked out into the gray, and he had disappeared into it.

Yes, but Imelda… why did de la Cruz tell you lies? Would it not have been amusing enough for him to watch you squander your money chasing Héctor down, just to find him laughing and clowning on some Yanqui stage? Why go on about Wittington and… and the thing he said about why Héctor had needed money from the guitar? If you found him, he could tell you that wasn't true, so de la Cruz knows you won't find him, and…

And what? Ernesto had told her lies to get her to waste all of her time and energy chasing after an echo. To make her angry so she would do things that were… ill-advised. He probably didn't think any further than imagining Héctor laughing in her face.

"Dammit, Héctor," she muttered. "And damn you, and your damnable ambition."

She'd shared his ambition once, of course. She'd sung with him, and she'd felt the warmth of the audience's applause. She'd even delighted in it when one of the traveling mariachis had offered them a place, though she couldn't take it. That was the first time Héctor had proposed to her, when he was fifteen and she was sixteen. "We could go on the road together if we were married," he'd said. "We wouldn't need a chaperone, and we could make good money…"

But the twins had only been twelve, then. She couldn't leave them alone, and while they could carry tunes well enough, no one would ever mistake them for professionals on the road. She had to stay. He'd gone with Ernesto that time, though that had been the first…

Well, she had wanted to make sure he had something to come home to.

That is a lie, a voice in her head said, and it wasn't hers this time. It was Héctor's. Even after all this time, she knew it. It had a lilt to it, a bit of a laugh at her foibles. It wasn't like her own stern admonitions at all. That is a lie, mi amor, and it always was the one you told yourself.

It was. There was no point arguing. She had taken Héctor's boyhood because she had wanted him. And because she had loved him in a way that had stopped being girlish long before. And then she had destroyed him, taken away his choices and his chances and…

"No," she said. "Stop it."

He'd come back after a month, full of stories and joy. And money. Oh, the things he was going to do with the tiny bit of money Ernesto had left him after paying for "expenses," whatever those might have been. (Héctor wasn't sure, but he'd shrugged it off, since Ernesto had taken care of everything financial anyway.) How he'd loved the audiences. "Oh, mi amor, you have to come next time! We'll find something for the boys to do. Everyone here has heard us, but out there… they'll love you so much! Not as much as I do, of course, but no one loves anyone that much…"

Where had they been when he'd said that? The theater? Probably, it was their most usual haunt when it was empty and they had finished their rehearsals. There was a pile of old costumes back there, and…

She shook her head sharply. What did it matter if he'd said it in the theater, or in Ceci's studio, or in the old, abandoned train depot, or any of their other special places? What did any of it matter? Why was she even thinking of it? It had been a mad, wild time in their lives. That was when he'd written the absurd "Poco Loco" about her, claiming that she made his head go up like fireworks, thinking in circles around him while he danced to keep up with her leaps of logic. As if she were the confusing one.

She might have gone with him on a second tour. He'd nearly talked her into it. Get married to keep it respectable, and then pack up the twins as stage hands and just take the show on the road. He was going to do it without Ernesto, too ("Though we may have to sneak out of town on a moonless night to avoid him"). There had even been talk about just staying on the road until they got tired of it. ("After we've seen everything in the world, and sung for everyone, of course.")

But then, there had been Coco.

For Imelda, that had been the end of any thought of touring. She'd felt a profound need to build a life for the baby, and a tour was no place for that. Héctor never questioned this.

Never. He'd been happy about the baby. She was sure of it, even now. But had he stayed happy? If he had stayed happy, then why had he left? If he wasn't happy, then why would he stay?

Your crazy wishes are my ardent commands.

Of course. Because she had commanded it.

But he'd never really wanted to give up the tour. Ernesto had talked him -- easily -- into week long engagements out of town. He pretended they were a burden, but Imelda saw him when he came back, that wild light in his eyes again. "Oh, Imelda, you should have seen the crowds! They loved it! How they danced and clapped!" And he would pick her up and swing her around, and then he would pick up Coco, and they would laugh, and Imelda would laugh, but she'd seen it. She'd always seen it. The crowds lit him up in a way she never could, no matter how hard she tried. He was drunk on them, and it would last for days after he came home. He would go to the plaza and play again, for free if no one felt like paying. He would tell crazy stories about things he'd seen. She even remembered the routine. "Ah, yes… when I said I sang for the King of England… that was a lie! But I did sing for the Alcalde of Acapulco!"

That was a lie… that was a lie…

But what was the truth, Héctor? Where, in all the wild stories, did you hide that?


She looked over her shoulder. She'd been standing at the bathroom sink, her bandaged hand gripping the edge hard enough to hurt. She didn't know how long. Long enough for Coco to have changed back into her everyday clothes and redone her hair into its usual twin trenzas. "I'm all right," she said.

"I know. I put everything away." She bit her lip. "Do you want me to make dinner?"

"No. It's my turn. Besides, Señora Mendoza asked for you especially to do her new shoes. She wants that design you made with the lovely little turn on the toe cap."

"Really? Someone asked for me especially?"

"Someone did. You know I don't make up stories about shoes."

Coco smiled widely. "I do know that, yes. I'll get started." She started to leave.

"Coco?" Imelda said, before she got far. "I'm sorry there were no answers."

"So am I."

"But I think I will not be looking at any more of his movie posters."

Coco said nothing, but the disgusted wrinkle in her nose expressed her views on the subject clearly enough. She nodded, and went down to the workshop.

Imelda splashed her face with cold water and went down to the kitchen. Oscar had left a mess yesterday -- the boys never cleaned up for themselves -- so she had to straighten things out before she started working. Cooking was never going to be one of her great talents, but it was familiar and comfortable, and it felt good to do it. She was about halfway through a passable green mole when she heard the twins pull up outside.

They came in, carrying a heavy roll of leather between them, and dropped it in the bin near the workshop door. They were sweating and dirty from the road, and more than a little bit ripe.

"Ugh," she said. "Go, clean up. I'll never find you wives at this rate."

"Is this a going concern now?" Felipe asked.

"She obviously needs more hands in the shop," Oscar said. "She expects us to provide them."

"Very amusing. Clean up. It's not the chilis that are making my nose sting right now."

They performed a complex choosing routine that she didn't follow, and which Felipe apparently won, since he went into the bathroom. Oscar sat down at the table and began eating the remains of a pepper, his eyes watering at the heat. He put his feet up on the table and crossed his ankles.

"What happened to your hand, Mamá Imelda?"

She glanced down at the bandage. "I dropped a photo frame."

"You're very dressed up. What were you up to today?"

"Nothing important. Just business. Get your feet off the table, Oscar. Really. You weren't raised in a barn."

"A barn would have been an improvement sometimes. They make barns for livestock. Much more valuable than orphans."

"Let me correct myself. Get your feet off the table, Oscar. Now. And clean up the dust."

He put his feet down and wiped half-heartedly at the little pile of dust they'd shaken off. "You've been crying. Your eyes are puffy."

"I got pepper juice in my eyes."


"Let it be, Oscar. Whatever I did today, it is done. And there is nothing further to be said."
10 comments or Leave a comment
sonetka From: sonetka Date: May 9th, 2018 10:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Imelda is fantastic and it kills me to see her beating herself up like that. I think she's so used to being the one in charge that it's hard for her to let up and realize that people don't have to do things just because she wanted them to. Hector married her because he wanted to, and came back because he wanted to. The fact that she's having to hunt through Ernesto's lies and torture herself trying to parse sentences that were spoken fifteen or twenty years ago to try and find the clues to his "real intentions" should tell her that there really isn't anything to find -- but of course, it's a rare person who could resist the temptation to try and figure it out. I wonder, if Hector hadn't taken the shot and had returned all right, whether he wouldn't have wanted to try touring again eventually when Coco was older -- one that his family could go on. That sort of thing is hard to shake completely if you enjoy it but he certainly seemed willing to put it aside for a good while, not to mention that it was unlikely he and Ernesto would be traveling together again after that.

I like your Oscar and Felipe -- I had wondered why neither of them got married (I mean, besides movie-suitable reasons like "we can't have 20+ family members in the land of the dead, it will be too confusing.) I wonder if the fact that they had always had built-in companions in each other, plus the awful fallout of Imelda's marriage, soured them on the idea a bit. Or perhaps just keeping the business up and going plus looking out for their niece and sister would have been a ton of work especially in the early years, and by the time they were older they may have not felt like uprooting their routine.

It's nice seeing Imelda letting Coco have the letters and the pictures -- they would have been impossible for Coco to really hide, and as strict as she has to be, Imelda does understand that there's a limit. I know in the movie she says "I tried to make Coco forget you" but that fact that she says she "tried" implies that she realized both that she had failed to achieve that and also that certain lines couldn't be crossed, certain parts of Coco's mental life she shouldn't try and control. Coco was so young when her father left -- if Imelda had been really brutal she probably could have done it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 10th, 2018 03:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I think she's haunted by the idea that she never had the right to be happy in the first place. Not that she'd ever say so explicitly.

In this particular version (which I have no canon support for, of course), the last thing she remembers of her childhood home is it being burned because someone else decided her family had no right to such things. Her parents were murdered for similar reasons. The twins' nanny had cruelly talked about how spoiled she was. The orphanage that originally took her in was closed and the children treated as if they had no inherent right to help or shelter. I'd probably be wondering if I had a right to a decent marriage, too.

I've heard people asking about all the other folk on the ofrenda that we didn't see in the land of the dead, but yeah... there were enough people on stage. The rest of them were probably the in-laws' people, and were off visiting other relatives as the story unfolded. But the twins didn't seem to have anyone else. I'd guess it's a combination of all those things.

I wonder how much of her own behavior Imelda re-wrote in her mind over the years, and what Coco would actually say happened.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: May 10th, 2018 04:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I think your version works just as well as any. It wouldn't just be that feeling that she had no right to anything good, but that anything good would inevitably be taken away from her. She must have worried so much about Coco, especially early on.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 10th, 2018 03:35 am (UTC) (Link)
While she's unable to dispell them, it is good of Imelda to be cogniscent to realize that the thoughts in her mind are toxic (and most likely false; though there will be that uncertainty). Also that she restrains herself from crossing a line and gives Coco ample warnings (about the letters/photo and Ernesto) to prevent another fiasco.
And perceptive of Coco to not push the issue (and her mother over the edge).

It is a major pity that the tall tales that Hector told in jest with Imelda now have gotten twisted in her mind as she tries to seperate fact from fiction. In that, I can see how simply shutting down those thoughts, blocking their triggers, and focusing on the job would be the most rational path for her. Unfortunate that the shutting down meant that context was lost to her granddaughter, which seems to have lead to the fanatical implementation of the rule.

Overall there are not enough bells that can fall on Ernesto. Hopefully that infamy in the land of the living will ensure that he'll never find release in the forseeable future.

-- FFR
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 10th, 2018 04:06 am (UTC) (Link)
It's easy to say to yourself, "This is toxic logic." It's so much harder to make the wheels stop turning once they start. So yeah... made sense to her.

I don't know what pushed Elena into being so fanatical. It doens't seem to just be Miguel's perception, as she actually smashes the guitar and tries to take it from him after he's been missing all night. My assumption is that, somewhere along the line, the idea was reinforced in a drastic way (more drastic than the novelization, which has both girls seeing Coco sprain her ankle while she's sneaking around and dancing). Was there some other catastrophe? Did the twins die in a theater fire or something? (That was off the top of my head, but hey, it would fit the sort of telenovela quality of the melodrama.)
sonetka From: sonetka Date: May 10th, 2018 04:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't think you would need a tragedy to reinforce it, just distance plus a certain kind of personality. Elena seems like a naturally somewhat rigid type of personality, and she adored Imelda when she was alive and seems to adore Coco just as much. But unlike them she doesn't remember Hector at all, and doesn't have any more positive feelings or ambiguous memories to balance out the fact that, as Enrique says "Whoever he was, he still abandoned his family!" From Elena's point of view, it may be like how someone's relationship can be obviously, dramatically unhealthy when viewed from the outside but if you say that the response is "But you don't know him like I do, he's really great at XYZ." All Elena knows is that this guy ran off and abandoned her grandmother and mother, and she has no context or memories to soften that knowledge. So she's much more hardline about the ban.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 11th, 2018 05:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Yep. That's what I'm thinking as well.
Imelda largely shut down when it came to that subject (beyond the bare minimum: "he left, never came back, and I was left to pick up the pieces"; all technically true without having to go into the kind of speculative detail that would likely send her spiralling), and Coco stayed quiet to keep the peace (judging by their demeanors, as did Julio and Rosita).
So Elena was left to fill in the blanks.

Judging by the attitude of the mariachi who was talking to Miguel, and assuming many others held a similar mentality, it also wouldn't be hard for her to leap to a conclusion that her grandfather cared more about music than his family.

Plus, she and Victoria would have seen firsthand the strain Hector's absence took on Imelda and Coco. Whereas it's much more abstract but an accepted rule for the next gen.

-- FFR
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 11th, 2018 06:13 am (UTC) (Link)
it also wouldn't be hard for her to leap to a conclusion that her grandfather cared more about music than his family.
That's my impression of the whole ban. Miguel had the impression that they hated music, but there's a subtle difference: They hated musicians. And one of the reasons I think of this as a movie about men and being a man is Enrique's comment during the scene where Miguel announces that de la Cruz is Coco's father -- "Whoever he was, he abandoned his family... this is not what I want for my son!"

Judging by how quickly Rosa picked up the violin (unless Miguel's not the only Rivera sneaking around), there's other talent in the family. Hector's talent came down. But it's almost like the treated it as an addiction. Not much would change in the attitude if it were changed to "Your great-great-grandfather was a drunk who abandoned his family! We don't drink because of that!"
From: queen_bellatrix Date: May 11th, 2018 12:50 am (UTC) (Link)

just some catches/squee

For insane moment that Just need an an before insane.

baby wouldn't disturbed by the Just need a be before disturbed.

this a going concern Should going be growing, or is this some bit of slang?

Gaaaah how well you're showcasing the love in this family is one of my joys of every update.

The twins especially utterly stole the end of this one; what marvelous banter over the merits of being raised in a barn! The comfortableness of this routine--even if they all would've preferred and expected a routine with Hector. They've deliberately made this old-shoe routine, deliberately forged themselves stability, and that's really admirable. I love how worried they are about Imelda and how worried she was for them around the tour earlier in the chapter. Yes, she may be hard and strict sometimes, but her mother-henning is so clearly appreciated and adored.

Oh! oh the interactions between Imelda and Coco; that acknowledgement that Coco is her own person, with the rite to keep the letters. Imelda letting her better angels rise to the surface. And Coco's "I love you. Believe that." God they're both just so magnificent. Also, I was cackling over Coco's remark about Ernesto's worst lie not being something she needed to worry about. And I love that there's some part of Imelda that knows there has to be some reason for this maze of lies, that the intricacy of it makes no sense unless he's hiding something else. But the lies themselves were so unspeakably cruel, and the fear of somehow finding something even more hurtful at the bottom of the maze would be so great, I completely understand why she tells herself it's just another ploy by Ernesto to make her the fool.

Damn, that is such a tricky line re Hector's feelings around her vs his feelings around touring. Because of course no one is entirely, blissfully happy in their lives. Of course there're sacrifices they need to make, things they set aside to have other things. And had he still been alive, had he come back, it would've I think become a compromise they negotiated more explicitly as Coco aged--that he enjoyed touring would've been discussed more and work-arounds could've been found. But damn she was so young; raising a kid that young is such an all-consuming thing in the first place, there's no room! to negotiate tricky things like that. Hell, in certain ways, they were negotiating it with the week-long engagements, though that was marred by Hector not being able to admit how much he enjoyed them. But it was one of those marital wrinkles that would've smoothed out in time, is what I'm trying to get at. But of course in hindsight, it becomes the elephant in the room, the thing she did wrong and that was destined to destroy them, because everything else was going so well.

Y'know, you were talking in the earlier comments about why the ban might've passed the way it did; what about Coco's husband? He clearly pre-deceased her. If he were involved in music--maybe involved in something like dance like a choreographer part-time, just something local, maybe for children or something? Maybe he was someone who Coco could quietly share her passion for music and dance with, but it was enough of a background passion for the two of them not to utterly rile Imelda. If he died in some dreadful accident, that could explain it. Or if it were he and Victoria.

Also, OMG I loved you showcasing that the shoemaking business was a source of familial joy with Coco's excitement about being asked for special. And of course Imelda never tells tall tales; the simple pass-time, something she loved, now seems poisonous and harmful.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 11th, 2018 02:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: just some catches/squee

I'll grab those. "Going concern" is a colloquialism (as in, it's ongoing, it's a thing that's happening now), but if it's a weird local one, I might need to rethink!

I do like writing banter. To this day, my favorite bit of dialogue I've written is still the were-frog conversation from Shifts. It has no greater meaning. It's just people enjoying communication with each other.

I agree that eventually, they would have figured out how to balance things. I think of those diaper commercials where they compare the first baby, with the nervous and terrified mother trying to control everything, to the second one, where she's carefree and has solved everything, right down to buying the easy diaper. I see Imelda as much closer to the first baby version, trying desperately to get it "right." (Maybe because she feels she's constantly being judged?) But with the more easygoing Hector around, she might have loosened up instead of ossifying.

I've been listening to the novelization. I kind of like the version they have of Coco and Julio. They did meet dancing in the square, but Julio, madly in love with her, agreed to the music ban because he would have done anything to be in her life. Then again, the timeline they give makes no sense whatsoever, so...
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