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The Wedding Guitar, pt 12 (Coco) - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
The Wedding Guitar, pt 12 (Coco)
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11

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."

Oscar looked like he might argue, but Felipe came out of the bathroom and ordered him in instead. The evening's life began, as it did every other evening. The twins promised Imelda to go looking for wives soon. Coco came out, looking a bit wan, but joining in the conversation enthusiastically when she learned the subject. She made lists of all of her requirements for their wives, and began naming their children (who had to be born in pairs, of course). Imelda let it all roll on around her.

The family would be all right.

In the end, nothing else mattered.

It was almost midnight when the twins went back out to their cabins, and Coco


didn't know what had started the rampage. It was in full gear when she came back on the afternoon before the new year began.

Mamá was mostly all right now. The crying had stopped, as long as Coco didn't sing. She didn't sing in church on Christmas, but she smiled a bit when she heard the music. She never said Papá's name, just "my husband" or "your papá," and either was only if she had to, but she wasn't angry all the time.

There was less music, of course, without Papá, but she didn't stop Coco humming all the time, and twice, Coco had even seen her take out her own guitar. It wasn't like Papá's fancy guitar. It was light brown and had roses painted on it. The first time, on Coco's fifth birthday, she had even played it and sung the song Papá had sent. The second time was just before Christmas. She'd had it out and on her knee, and Coco saw her hand hovering over the strings, but then she'd looked up and seen Coco, and had blushed and put it away like she'd been caught wandering around in her underthings.

But things had stayed where they belonged, other than the things in Mamá's trunk. Papá's old notebooks were still on his desk, with the scribbled out lyrics of songs that he'd finished in his real book. There was a shelf of instruments that he only played a little bit and hadn't taken with him -- a trumpet, a violin, some panpipes, and a set of hand drums. There was an old Victrola and a stack of records for it. These were dusty and never played anymore, but they were there. Coco remembered one especially that Papá had played for her. He and Mamá had been recorded singing together in the very old days, before there even was a Coco. "But we were singing to you anyway," he said. "We always sing to you!" Mamá's old dresses, which she used to wear for singing, hung in her closet. She said one of them -- a pretty purple one with flounces of lace -- had become her wedding dress when it was time to get married. (Coco wasn't sure how you knew it was such a time. She pictured a special clock ticking down, like a cuckoo clock, where a bride and groom popped out when the time came.)

Mamá also had instruments that she used to play when she sang, like tambourines and maracas and castanets. They were in their places on the shelves on the morning of New Year's Eve. Mamá no longer played them, and Coco could count on one hand the number of times she'd sung since Papá left, but they were there.

Then she had gone out with Tío Oscar to deliver charity shoes to the church. One out of every ten pairs they made was for the orphans, and Coco was excited to go and help hand them out. She had even made little designs for some of them, and she chatted with the little girls who got them. They were happy to have brand new shoes instead of hand-me downs. She was talking to a girl named Leticia when a new nun went up to Tío Oscar and said, "There is still no word?" The nun was young, about the same age as Mamá. She had big pretty brown eyes just a shade lighter than her skin, and a big bosom under her habit.

Tío Oscar said, "Let it go, Teresa. I am telling you, do not ask anymore."

Coco had never heard Tío Oscar not call the sisters "Sister" anything. It seemed strange to hear a nun talked to with a regular name. But she didn't ask about it. It would have been rude to stop talking to Leticia and admit she was eavesdropping on grown-ups. By the time Leticia had finished trying on her shoes and spinning wildly around, Sister Teresa was gone, and Tío Oscar was taking to the padre. Coco moved on and helped a little boy named Francisco, who didn't know how to tie his shoes yet. As she taught him, she thought about Papá teaching her, going slowly over the way the ties needed to cross and loop. It was a good memory, and she drifted off into her favorite fantasy, that she was helping people in a village that had been attacked by a dragon. Soon, she would start finding buttons that were from Papá's jacket, and they would lead her up to the mountain where the dragon had a pile of gold. Papá would be tied to a pole, and Coco would pick up a sword and fight the dragon, and then cut Papá free. He would hug her and tell her, "I will write a song about how brave you are!" And she would give him kisses and say, "I will write a song about how much I missed you!" And then they would find Mamá, and all three of them would dance like they used to. Then --


She looked up from a little girl whose feet she was measuring, and found Tío Oscar smiling down at her. "We're on the last pair, niña. It will fit who it fits."

They'd said their goodbyes and got back into the wagon, which was much lighter now. The horse, Rocinante, pulled it back to the shop a lot more quickly than they'd come. Coco was telling Tío Oscar a joke she'd heard at school when they pulled into the yard, and that was when they'd seen the rampage that had started somehow while they were gone.

Sister Teresa was out in front of the shop, looking frightened, and a pile of clothes was strewn on the dusty ground in front of her.

Papá's clothes.

Coco's voice fell away, and she slipped down from the wagon as Mamá came out of the shop door again, carrying another bundle of clothes. "Here!" she shouted, throwing it into the pile. "You want them! Take them all!"


"Go on and tell the padre and all the other gossipy old women that the besotted idiot has gone away for good, just like you always said he would!" She put a hand on her forehead in an exaggerated way, like she was a clown making a joke of it. "Oh, no, wait, I forgot. Now he's not a besotted idiot, he's a santo who'd just want to help out."

"I was only asking -- "

"Do you want my clothes, too? You can have my wedding dress. I'm sure there's some other girl with foolish choices who needs one with a loose waist. Just leave me the black ones, that's what I'm allowed to wear now, isn't that what you think?"

"Is it what you think, Imelda?"

Mamá didn't answer. Instead, she stormed back into the house. Sister Teresa looked at the pile of clothes, then made the sign of the cross and followed Mamá inside.

Coco took a few steps toward the house. Tío Felipe came around the side and held up his hands. "Coco, maybe you should come and visit with Tío Oscar and me. You can help with the new cabins. And…"

But Coco slipped around him and followed the sister. They had gone to Mamá's room, where the trunk from under the bed had been pulled out. Papá's charro suit was tossed onto the bed, and there were a few bits of his other clothes still in there, but now Mamá was at her own closet, tossing her pretty dresses out onto the floor. "Take them, Sister," she spat. "Take them all, and leave. The poor need them, don't they? I seem to recall you needing lots of pretty dresses when you were poor. The more of your bosoms they showed, the better."

"I forgive that."

"How generous of you."

"Imelda, you need to calm down before you do something you regret."

"Take them!" Mamá threw her dresses out into the workshop, then stormed back around and went into the living room. Coco didn't register what she was doing at first. She swept her arm over the shelf where the instruments were, sending them down in a jangling tangle. "Take these, too. Didn't you say I needed a clean start? A new life? Well, here is my clean start. Take it all. It doesn't exist to me!" Her eyes fell on the Victrola, and she tossed it onto the pile as well. "Go on. Take it."

Sister Teresa inched over and took the pile of records. "I will take these," she said. "Especially this one. Before you do something stupid." She pointed at the one that was Mamá and Papá singing together.

"Take it all," Mamá said again, almost hissing. "Take it all and brag about how right you were."

"I'm not bragging, Imelda."

"Go." Mamá turned her back.

Sister Teresa took a few steps backward, and nearly stumbled over Coco. "Niña," she said. "I'm sorry…"

Mamá turned and saw Coco now. "You see, Teresa? You are as careless as ever."

Sister Teresa finally fled from the room. Coco saw her through the door, picking up Papá's clothes in the street. The uncles helped her bundle them up.

Mamá looked at Coco, and there was something frightening in her face, a kind of strange, empty look.


She blinked. "I… Coco… I…"

The uncles came rushing in. "Imelda," Tío Felipe said, panting. "Why don't you…"

Mamá turned on him in a fury. "Don't you dare try to handle me, hermanito!"

Tío Felipe put his hands up in a calming gesture, and Tío Oscar took Coco's hand. "Come, niña," he said. "We'll go to my house while Mamá… cleans up."

Coco didn't move, but she was very small -- at least she felt very small, not like someone who could fight a dragon -- and when Tío Oscar picked her up, she couldn't very well fight. He carried her to his little cabin, which still had canvas walls, and brought out his silly shoes for her to play with. He even, very quietly, made them dance, and sang a whispered song.

Beyond the canvas wall, Coco saw the bonfire go up in the courtyard. It cast Mamá and Tío Felipe's shadows as they stalked back and forth to the house. Mamá came out with armfuls of her dresses, and Tío Felipe kept following her, pleading. "This is madness, Imelda! You really must stop!"

She ran out of dresses as the sun went down, and what she came out with next…

Coco put her hand over her mouth and ran outside.

The trumpet went into the fire first. It barely made a noise, sinking into the ashes of Mamá's pretty dresses. The hand drums flared up with a boom. The violin made shrieking noises as the strings burned, or maybe that was just in Coco's head. Then Mamá took her own guitar, the one with the roses, and she smashed it into the flames. For a moment, she brought it back up, a flaming torch against the darkening sky, and then she flung it at last into the flames.

"There," she said. "Are you happy?" she shouted at the sky. "It's all yours! Take it. This is my clean start. No more foolishness."

And she stomped into the house, smoke swirling behind her.

"Let me try," Tío Oscar said behind Coco, and then Tío Felipe picked her up and took her out of the courtyard, into the alley behind the house. It still smelled like the baker's bread. It didn't seem right that it should still smell the same.

"What's wrong with Mamá?" Coco asked.

"Mamá is… she's sad, Coco."

"Why did she want to give her dresses away? Why keep the black ones?"

"Black is for… it's what widows wear. To show that they are sad."

"What's a widow?"

"A woman whose husband is dead."

Coco bit her lip. "Is my papá dead?"

"We don't know, Coco. We only know he left."

"He said he would come home. He promised."

"That's why Mamá Imelda is angry." Tío Felipe sighed. "She'll be all right, Coco."

"If black is for sad, what color is for angry?"

"I don't think they've made one of those."

"They should. Then Sister Teresa would have known better than to ask for Papá's things."

"A good point," Tío Felipe said, without much conviction. "You should be in charge of these things."

They walked around the square without saying much more. There were some mariachis playing, but Coco had never been less interested in them.

Finally, Tío Felipe guided her home.

Mamá was in the kitchen, with a glass of something that smelled funny and made Coco dizzy when she climbed up on her lap. Mamá had said she was sorry, so very sorry, and she would make a good New Year now. She set out supper and smiled as well as she could.

It was the first year Coco stayed up to greet the new year, but 1923 felt no different to her than 1922. There was no special change in the air, and Mamá and uncles almost forgot to mark the moment. They were telling each other stories of times gone by, and the uncles were keeping Mamá's glass full. She was calm now, and she held Coco and cuddled her, kissing her head and promising to be a good Mamá from now on.

Coco clung to her tightly, frightened of seeing that awful, empty look come back. Just after midnight passed, Mamá carried her to her room and set her gently down in her bed. "I love you, Coco," she said. "You know that, don't you? I love you more than anything on this earth."

Coco nodded.

"I didn't mean to frighten you today."

"Yes, Mamá."

"But it's time. It's time for the new world to start. We have our shop and our house. We have the silly uncles, don't we?"


"And most important of all, we have each other, don't we?"

Coco nodded.

Mamá leaned over and kissed her head, then tucked her tightly into her covers. "Everything will be all right, Coco," she said firmly. "I promise you that, and I will keep that promise. We will be all right, you and I. We will always have each other. And we will be all right."

And they were.

But the music was gone. It would never come back.
7 comments or Leave a comment
sonetka From: sonetka Date: May 15th, 2018 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh no, this was so painful. She's just so hurt and humiliated -- I just wish she'd had a chance to direct her fury at the right object. I know you mentioned Teresa before -- was she one of the girls who got in trouble? I know she had a spat with Imelda. I was relieved when she took the records --- is there any chance that that one particular record is still collecting dust in a corner of the convent library? And Coco just accepting everything at the end ... she has a loving family and a good life (I love seeing Oscar and Felipe taking charge of her when Imelda just can't handle it any more) but it could have been so much more.

(I don't know if you're planning to write this but I REALLY want to see your Imelda confronting Ernesto in the afterlife. I mean, confronting him after the movie's events when she's really had time to process everything.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 16th, 2018 12:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Teresa's the one back in the first flashback that Imelda mentions Ernesto "ruined," but avoids a confrontation with Hector by saying Teresa makes her own stupid choices. Later, when Imelda gets pregnant, Teresa takes the opportunity to rub it in, accusing her of rank hypocrisy and saying that her besotted paramour will eventually leave her, just like any other man. Of course, the reason they had this back and forth is that they grew up together on the wrong side of the tracks, and Teresa, as a nun, thinks that she might be just the right person to "get through to" Imelda. She doesn't count on Imelda's ability to hold grudges forever.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: May 16th, 2018 12:55 am (UTC) (Link)
That was it -- I knew I'd seen the name but was making my comment with about a minute to spare and didn't have time to reread the whole story. I didn't get the impression Teresa was asking maliciously this time, but of course with their background Imelda's certainly going to take it that way.

(She's still one up on Teresa, so to speak, in that she and Hector actually did get married -- though right now that's probably looking like a pretty hollow victory.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 16th, 2018 01:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
It was disturbing seeing Imelda almost go over the edge through her own eye; it's downright terrifying when seen through Coco's. It was especially striking that Imelda's first reaction to Teresa bumping into Coco wasn't to check on her daughter but rather to send a barb flying towards her percieved enemy.
I take it that Coco saw that same emptiness flit through Imelda's eyes after the meeting with Ernesto, and thus knew how to navigate things as a result?

A meltdown was probably a case of "when" not "if". So it's fortunate that despire being the source of ignition, Teresa was the one present as she had a level enough head to salvage what she could (and what we know was objectively the most important set of items) and not for selfish purposes.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 17th, 2018 05:21 am (UTC) (Link)
I take it that Coco saw that same emptiness flit through Imelda's eyes after the meeting with Ernesto, and thus knew how to navigate things as a result?
Yeah, that scene was originally in Coco's POV, and it was almost the same language. Followed by "It was like she didn't remember the last time she threw Papa away."

Teresa did mean well, and Imelda's impending meltdown had most likely been a subject of concern among the handful of people who were worried about her, including the twins, all of whom knew she was holding on by barely a thread. They thought encouraging her to "move on" might be good, though the twins knew this would be a bad move. The non-family thought, "Oh, they're too close, they just don't see as well as we do." And the meltdown was born.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: May 18th, 2018 06:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
taking to the padre. Just need taking to be talking.

God that was. beautifully rendered and so very bleak. I'm so glad there's one more chapter left--at least I think it's only one more by the AO3 count?--. As sad as I'll be to see the story end, there needs to be a little hope added at the end of the brew; it would be unbearable to see it end here.

Imelda is such a sharp contrast to someone like your Remus; she was so focused on building the family with Hector and Coco that she didn't even really have a nominal support network the way Remus did with folks like Parvati's Mum or Ted and Andromeda. The threads connecting her to the world were very frayed, as your Ted would say, and it really highlights how miraculous it was that she came back from this. Almost like a phoenix, at this profoundly low point, burning everything, but then rising from it to build something else. Though naturally a something that was deeply broken, built in a lotta ways on a foundation of sand. With all the love in the world, but still so shaky that one person defying the ban about blew the whole thing ver.

This's such an excellent example of showing and not telling. If this is what the reminders of music drive her too--this woman who needs to be calmed by whisky--I understand why she instituted the ban. Had this gone on much longer, I'm not sure Imelda would've survived it. Harsh, unbearably harsh, on Coco and the rest of the family, but in many ways, so would becoming an orphan raised by uncles because Imelda was consumed by her own grief. There're no good scenarios here.

And Theresa, OMG I feel bad for Theresa. She was just trying to help, though she perhaps should've realized that since Imelda had never really involved herself in the community, listening to the folks closest to her might be a good idea. But her intentions were still kind. And I don't know if I'd've had quite enough spine to last under the force of Imelda's rage as long as she did. Am also very. very glad she rescued the records. Like Sonetka, I hope they're sitting in a corner of the library and Miguel can find them in present-day.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 21st, 2018 04:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I think I've got the hope at the end of the brew.

Interesting, contrasting Imelda and Remus. Huh. Remus does nurture what ties he has to the world. Imelda just cuts them off and burns the ends. (She's kind of like a less annoying Petunia that way.)

I think the Riveras, even though they don't know they were victims of a violent crime, are a pretty good example of the multi-generational damage that kind of crime can do.

I feel for Teresa, too. She really was trying, if ham-handedly, to do the right thing. The records were definitely something I planted, in case I do decide to move on to the next story, which will involve Miguel in the present.
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