December 28, 2017.
Dear Mamá Coco,
I don't know if this will work or not, but I miss having you to talk to. I saw a lot of offerings when I was where you are now, so they must make it over somehow. Maybe a letter will make it all the way to you from the ofrenda next year, with all the words in it. I'll just keep writing to you, if it's okay, and I'll leave you all of them on the ofrenda. You don't have to read them all on Día de los Muertos -- at least I don't think you do -- just take them. You can read them after the holiday, so it's like getting to spend more time together, even if I won't know it.
It's been almost three weeks since you left. I played for you as long as I could. I don't know if you heard or not. I played while Mamá Elena and Tía Gloria and Tía Carmen and Mamá and even Rosa got you ready for your trip. I had my back turned until they put the cover over you, of course, but I kept playing until Papá made me stop because my fingers were bleeding. I couldn't sing, though. I kept crying. I knew you were all right -- I guess I know it better than anyone now -- and I hope that Papá Héctor was giving you a big hug and you were all dancing, but I knew I was going to miss you, and I really do. It turns out that I can talk to Papá, but it's not the same.
Christmas was quiet. Tío Berto got instruments for Rosa and Abel, and lessons too. Rosa wanted a violin. It turns out that when she was visiting her friend Mercedes, she was playing around on one. She's practicing now. I think she'll be good. Tell Papá Héctor that I'm not his only musician. Abel got an accordion, but he looks a little afraid of it. I don't know if he'll be good at it or not. We sang songs this year for Christmas. It was the first time for most of us! Mamá Elena has a pretty voice! But it's Papá who's really good. I hope I sound like him when my voice goes down.
It's strange, everyone knowing about me playing the guitar. I don't know if they believe me or not about what happened on Día de los Muertos. Rosa listened to me talking about it, and dared me to stand up in the plaza, give a grito, and just start singing "Poco Loco," if I really did it before. When I feel more like being happy, maybe I will. I'll sing it for Papá Héctor.
I hope you're feeling better now than you were when you left, and that you're having a good time being with Papá Julio again, and your parents, and the uncles, and Tía Victoria. I hope you sang Christmas songs, too, and Papá Héctor played for you.
Love to everyone,
The children were all finally asleep, even Abel, who usually seemed to think it was his personal duty to guide the first few hours of every day through their routines. Berto and Carmen were working in Mamá Coco's room, which, at her request, was being turned into a music practice room for the children. Mamá wasn't entirely sure about this, but she was a good daughter, and would never break a promise she'd made to her mother. She was getting used to the sounds of singing and playing now, and Enrique had even caught her humming to herself the day after Christmas. "You sing very well, Mamá," he told her, but all she'd said was, "Pffft."
Luisa was in her rocking chair by the bed, the red cloth she was working on falling gently over her raised belly. She was sewing by hand, partly because the sewing machine was too noisy to keep anything secret. Mostly, Enrique thought that she just believed that love could not be added to clothes if they went through too many gears and engines on the way.
"Miguel is asleep?" she asked.
Enrique nodded, sitting on the edge of the bed and taking off his shoes. "He was at the desk. He was so tired he didn't even wake up when moved him and tucked him in. He's got a letter to Mamá Coco there. In a sealed envelope -- I don't know what it's about."
"Oh, I told him to try it. He misses her. I thought he might like to be able to tell her about his day, just like he used to. That's all. He hasn't been himself since… well, really since Día de Muertos. I'm worried."
"So am I." He didn't elaborate. They'd been through it more than once. Miguel had always been a loving child, but since Día de Muertos, he seemed almost afraid to leave the house, leaving for school only after checking on everyone, and rushing home to the workshop, where he spent part of the afternoon making shoes, and part playing his guitar for the family while they worked. The latter had been Enrique's idea, largely because Miguel seemed bereft without a guitar in his hands, but bewildered if the family wasn't in his line of sight. It wasn't right for a twelve-year-old boy. Enrique hoped it was just his mourning period, but… He sighed. "It's a good idea. He could always talk to Mamá Coco. So could I."
"I told him maybe he could leave his letters on the ofrenda next year. From what he said, I think it should work."
"You believe him completely."
"So do you. He wasn't sleeping in the mausoleum. I checked it. You checked it. A dozen times. I saw the guitar on the floor. And the petals. You saw them, too."
"So, they were kicked apart to right in the middle. Then the kicking stopped. The petals were scattered in a single direction, so he didn't double back. It wouldn't be Miguel's style to set the scene like that."
"And he didn't come back saying that he'd proved de la Cruz was your bisabuelo. He came back hating someone he used to idolize."
"And…" she prodded, looking up over the pile of fabric.
Enrique sighed. "And the name checked out. There was no way to have pulled that name out of nowhere. And he said it before he even saw the letters to Mamá Imelda that were signed 'Héctor,' so he couldn't have found it and then added it to his story. And if he had seen them before, he wouldn't have been going on about de la Cruz the day before. I know. I do know. And he's not a liar or a storyteller. But it's a strange thing to think about."
"I guess I don't really think of it that way. Comes of being a gravedigger's daughter. Papá always talked about them like they were just around the corner somewhere, so we had to keep their places clean for them, and make them good paths."
"Not a bad way to think of it." He smiled. "I keep expecting your papá to ask how we kept getting into the mausoleum. That other one -- his partner…?"
"Mauricio. He swears he locked it, and he hasn't gotten in trouble, so…"
"Do you really think Papá doesn't know I made a copy of the key?" Luisa rolled her eyes. "For that matter, do you really think the lock that was usually on that mausoleum was flimsy enough for Mamá Coco to pick with a hairpin every year?"
"Wait… he knew about that?"
"He knew someone was tuning that guitar. Why do you think I snuck out there the morning I met you? I wanted to know who it was."
"But you didn't turn us in."
"You're lucky. You were far too handsome to turn in." She blew him a kiss and winked.
Enrique blushed. After thirteen years of marriage, he supposed that he shouldn't do so every time she flirted anymore, but she was still beautiful, and still scandalously young for him, and he loved every moment of being her husband. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
She patted her belly. "We're fine." She went back to her stitching. "I'm leaving a good bit of room," she said, raising the sleeve of the jacket. It would be a surprise for Miguel's thirteenth birthday in a few months. "I think I'll need to let it out pretty often. He's growing so fast."
She stitched a bit further down the seam. "I contacted that professor in Mexico City. The one Rosa's violin teacher told you about."
"Miguel doesn’t want to go to the capital." Enrique smiled. "They said he'd never be a great musician without a better teacher than he can find here. He said he'd rather be a good son than great musician."
"I know. You've told that story every day since the meeting."
"Well, I like having a good son. Who will be a good man. But who could also be a great musician. I feel guilty keeping him here."
"You're not keeping him. He's staying on his own." She reached the end of her seam, tied off her thread, and bit it off near the end. "But it is nearly two thousand eighteen, mi amor. It occurred to me that it doesn't need to be a choice."
"I don't understand."
"I explained to Professor Moreno what the teachers said -- about how he was already at their top level for students. I sent him that video that we made for Mamá Coco -- "
"The one Miguel didn't want Abel to put up?"
"I didn't make it public anywhere."
Enrique nodded an apology for thinking otherwise. Miguel had been horrified when Abel suggested putting up a private video -- made so Mamá Coco could listen to him all day, even when he had to be in school, so she wouldn't have to live one single moment more without music -- for the public to see. "Of course. I'm sorry. What did the professor say?"
"That Miguel has a gift and we should be careful that he doesn't throw it away. He didn't believe at first when I told him that we never got him a single lesson, that it was all from watching movies." She sighed, turned the red jacket around, and started on the other sleeve. "Anyway, the professor is looking for someone who might be willing to teach him remotely. On the internet. So… I was looking for a faster connection. We can afford it. We could find him a good teacher. Not just for playing. He can learn that on his own. But for theory and songwriting and history and different kinds of music and… and just for pushing him harder than anyone can push him around here. He says there are required recitals, but they could make arrangements for him to do them in the plaza. Maybe someone would even drive down to do an evaluation." She bit her lip. "What do you think?"
"That I'm a very smart man to have married such a smart woman."
Luisa rolled her eyes. "You may need to take him up to the capital for a few days. I think it's not a good idea for me to travel just now."
"I'm sure it can all wait until after the baby is born."
"The baby is due in a month. I want…" She sighed. "I want to do something special for Miguel before then. It's going to be hard afterward. I'm likely to be sick, like I was before, and the baby will take a lot of time. I just want Miguel to feel… he went through something. I don't want him to feel like we're so focused on the baby that we don't understand what's happening with him."
"He knows, Luisa. He knows the road we've traveled to get this far. He's been on it with us."
"Take him to the capital, Enrique. Make a fuss over him for his music. Talk to him about yourself. And your papa, and your grandfather, and all of his fathers. I think it will mean more to him now than it used to."
It was already decided, that much was clear, so Enrique nodded. "What do we need to take him for? When do we need to take him?"
"I didn't arrange the trip!" She shook her head. "You'll need to chat with Moreno… you know how to do that, don't you?"
"Yes, that much I know."
"He says that he wants to talk to Miguel about what he wants to study, and what's available to him. And he'll want to hear him play live, to see how he does. They have courses that he might be able to take, even though he's not old enough for real college work. And there are also ones that he wouldn't be able to take -- group improvisation is one he brought up -- because he wouldn't be there with the other students."
"I don't know how well I like the idea of him spending a great deal of time with adult musicians, anyway. At least not ones I haven't vetted personally."
"Which is the other reason I want you to go."
"All right. I'll talk to Moreno tomorrow, and see when Miguel and I can visit."
Luisa nodded and looked back down at her sewing, her sign that she intended to stay where she was and not come right to bed. Enrique rolled over, pulled the covers over himself, and was asleep long before her light went out.
The next morning, he found Miguel in the practice room. He had a new guitar, a kind of bland, commercially produced one that had been easily available the day after Mamá Coco's funeral. Papá Héctor's guitar was back in de la Cruz's crypt. This wasn't something they talked about. The historical society had allowed Miguel to keep it while Mamá Coco was alive, but it had been a fight Enrique had fought with them every day for a month. They'd wanted to arrest Miguel for theft until the alcalde herself had intervened and promised them a hearing on the subject.
Miguel was just noodling at the moment, not really practicing. It was a kind of soft, improvised ranchera tune. It was nice, but his heart wasn't in it. He stopped playing when he noticed Enrique. His eyes, which had dark circles under them, locked onto Enrique and followed him, the way they tended to whenever he was at home, as if the people he loved might disappear if he let go of some invisible line.
"Mijo," Enrique said, and couldn't follow it up. He just put a hand on Miguel's shoulder.
Miguel leaned over the guitar, into a kind of loose half-embrace. "I'm okay, Papá," he said.
"We'll get Papá Héctor's guitar back."
"How?" Miguel put the new guitar down. "They don't believe me."
"The hearing's at the end of March. We'll find proof."
"We have the letters. We have the picture."
"And that's why we have the hearing. Because our case has merit."
"But de la Cruz…"
"It's a long shot," Enrique admitted. "Even if we can prove he stole the guitar, rather than Héctor just giving it to him."
"Either way isn't what he said the story was."
"Oh, we can prove he's a complete liar, we have enough for that."
"What else do we need? He said he did it!"
"He said it during a visit to the land of the dead that you didn't exactly a videorecording of." Enrique held up a hand. "I believe. We all do, even Rosa, and she's the biggest skeptic in the family. But believing and proving are different things."
Miguel frowned and set down the guitar. "But we could start with what we know." He stood up and went to the window, the same place he'd been when he played for Mamá Coco. He seemed to gravitate to the spot when he was here, probably because it had always been his spot with her. Enrique didn't think he even noticed how often he inhabited this exact space. "There has to be something that proves it. If we could find Papá Héctor's song book…"
"I doubt de la Cruz would keep something that incriminating.'
"Pfft," Miguel snorted. "He kept the guitar and had it on all of his album covers. And he put the murder in a movie. I'll bet it's somewhere. Probably with a spotlight on it. Isn't there a museum at the studio?"
"In the capital! And that's where he…" Miguel cast his eyes down. "That's where it happened."
"Are you sure?"
"That's where the typewriter letters start. I bet someone good at it could tell the signature was forged after that."
"Worth looking into. I've been thinking about hiring a detective. Maybe they'd know about handwriting experts." Enrique shrugged. "And since we're on the subject -- obliquely, anyway -- Mamá and I have been talking about the capital…" He told Miguel about Luisa's idea.
"I could… really?" The corner of Miguel's mouth twitched and then, miraculously, there was a smile on his face. "That would be perfect!"
"I'll make the appointment, then. And we'll go up to the capital."
"And see the museum. And…" His eyes went wide. "Papá! We could go to the police! We could find out if they had anyone who died and they didn't know why back in 1921. Maybe they'd even know where Papá Héctor is. And we could bring him home to Mamá Coco and Mamá Imelda! And maybe they would know there was poison, only they didn't know who he was and --"
"Miguel, one thing at a time."
"And there may not be anything to find. There was… it was pretty violent for a while. One body could easily get lost."
"Meanwhile, there is a land of the living, believe it or not, and in that land, you might want to get a couple of songs ready to audition with. The National Conservatory doesn't take just anyone."
Miguel made an exaggerated face, nibbling theatrically on his fingernails. It warmed Enrique's heart to see him do something so playful. He reached across and ruffled his son's hair, then stood and kissed his head.
"Go on," he said. "Pick your favorites, and practice. I'll make arrangements."