February 18, 2018
Dear Mamá Coco,
The baby is here! I wish you could have stayed long enough to see her. I know you wanted to. I gave her the little hat you knitted for me, but she has more than that from you. Mamá and Papá named her Socorro. We don't call her Coco yet, but I think we will. She has very big eyes, and she was born with lots of hair. Mamá can even put a little ribbon in it. I like having her here. I sometimes feed her bottles -- Mamá is a little sick again, but she says she knew she would be and I shouldn't worry -- and I sing to her and talk to her. I told her all about you, since she has your name. I think she likes me! She always reaches for me when I come home from school. Rosa says I'll get bored with a baby pretty soon, but I don't think so. Papá Héctor never got bored with you, so why should I get bored? I can't wait to see what she's like when she gets bigger and starts talking.
I started a song last month. I dreamed I was sitting with Papá Héctor and he kept telling me I could do it. If I finish it, it will be an offering for him. And if we can keep the guitar, I'll have that, and if he can take it as an offering, maybe he can finally have it back. The things we leave as offerings are still on the ofrenda in the morning, so maybe, if I give it to him, it can exist in both places. I'd like him to have it back. I want to think of something good to give Mamá Imelda, too, but the only thing I can think of that might make her happy is that I am learning to make shoes. Papá helped me, and between us, we made a good pair of botines. Next time, I'll try it on my own. I hope she's still singing, though. Mamá is fixing up your favorite dress -- the blue and yellow one with flowers on the top -- and she'll leave that for you. I don't know if you can change clothes or not, but if you can, we all thought you might like to not be in your nightgown anymore. And we'll leave you your dancing shoes, too. I found them, you know, up my attic spot -- I guess it was yours, too! And I'm fixing them myself. They'll be easier to dance in than bedroom slippers.
Rosa keeps getting better on the violin. I made a violin part in the song, so that she can play it with me. Abel isn't very good at his accordion, but I'll make something simple. I think he wants to be part of things. I started my lessons with Carlos from the Conservatorio. It's kind of scary, honestly. But I'm glad to be doing it.
Love from me AND my baby sister,
Miguel (and Socorro)
Enrique sat as quietly as he could in the back of the practice room, giving Socorro a bottle and keeping an eye on Miguel's lesson. Miguel said he didn't have to, but Enrique and Luisa had agreed that leaving their twelve-year-old alone with a grown man on the internet was not an option until they were one hundred percent sure of him.
Which did seem overcautious, now that he was watching. Carlos took Miguel through several chord progressions, and they were now deeply involved in a conversation about filing down the bridge of a guitar when there was some particular problem with the strings. Miguel had discovered the problem his own when he'd built his old guitar ("You… built one? On your own?"), but it turned into a science lesson on how the guitar actually worked. Miguel, looking abashed, admitted that he could describe what it did, but he didn't really understand it. All of it had been over Enrique's head more or less from the time they finished saying hello, but it seemed above-board enough.
Socorro made a sleepy, contented sound, and pushed the bottle away, snuggling up against him. He wrapped her little blanket more tightly around and leaned back, turning his chest into a makeshift bed for her. Miguel had always liked that, and Socorro seemed to as well. "It's your heart," Luisa had said. "They love to hear it beat, just like I do."
She was tired now, and still feeling a little under the weather. And she wasn't making enough milk, but they'd known that would happen, just as it had with Miguel. They were prepared. But she was getting stronger, and had asked Gloria to bring in her sewing basket, so she could keep working on Miguel's birthday present. She'd be fine.
And if you keep telling yourself that, maybe it won't be your fault that she's feeling sick in the first place.
Luisa didn't have a lot of patience for this line of thought, so he didn't voice it often, but still. It was hard to deny that she wouldn't be ill right now if she'd become a nun.
"Did you get a chance to go through that article I sent you about the history of the guitar in Central American music?" Carlos asked.
"Yes, but I didn't understand everything," Miguel said eagerly. "It talked about the way the native people picked up the Spanish guitar, but I don't know what was Spanish and what was native…"
"It's like us, muchacho," Carlos said. "It's hard to tell where one starts and the other stops. It's the mix that makes it what it is."
"So… what does plain Spanish music sound like?"
"Did you watch the dancers from Sevilla?"
"I've seen flamenco here, too."
"The world is small now, my friend. Everything is played together. But flamenco is native to Andalusia. And there, it's a mix of Spanish, and Moorish, and Romani, and everything else." He laughed. "I guess it's not just now. The world has always been small for musicians. We can't resist sharing with each other."
"The world is mi familia?" Miguel asked cautiously.
"Musically, yes. But like we talked about when your parents hired me, your musical family is a different thing than your real one. Your musical family is about to get very large. I'm starting you in Spain and Mexico, but before you know it, we'll be in India and Russia and Austria. And we'll time travel back to ancient Greece, and walk with medieval troubadours, and learn about ritual music and rhythms…"
"I like it, but why?"
"Because I feel like I had a chance to get to know you during our talk. And you said something important to me -- that you learned who you were by learning who was in your past. What's true of your blood family is true of your musical family."
"So, I think we'll spend half our time catching you up on theory and notation and the basics, until you're functional. You don't need a lot of technique instruction, just keep up your practice. We'll play a lot, and I'll give you feedback, but when it comes to performance skills, we're peers. I may ask you for feedback as well. But I'm going to get you grounded in your craft. I want you to feel as at ease with Mozart as you are with your Papá Héctor." He smiled. "In fact, I think you'll like Mozart quite a lot. There's a film I'd like you to see, but I'll want your parents to see it first, to make sure they're all right with it. It's got some strange stuff in it, but it also has a lot of important things to say about music and artistry."
Enrique considered announcing his presence and asking about the details of the film, but Miguel was already writing it down for him.
The lesson went on. Enrique continued to be lost, but Miguel was enthralled. Toward the end of the hour, Carlos had him play a piece he'd sent to practice sight reading on. Enrique couldn't hear any flaws, but Miguel stopped halfway through and apologized over and over for not getting it right. Carlos waved it off and said that for a beginner at reading music, he did quite a good job. "We'll have you sight reading perfectly in no time! Why were you getting stuck at the key change?"
"I kept losing track of the accidentals in the bridge." Miguel bit his lip. "Before you go, did you have a chance to look at those papers I sent you the pictures of, with Papá Héctor's lyrics?"
"I did. I don't suppose he left the music anywhere?"
"Not that we've found yet."
"Do you have any record of his performances?"
Miguel shook his head miserably.
"Something will come up," Carlos said. "But I want you to concentrate on your own music right now."
"I started a song. I only have some of the lyrics, but this is the guitar part…"
Miguel played the opening measures of the song he was working on, singing the solo part above it, somewhat shyly.
Enrique looked up over Socorro's head to see Carlos's face on the screen. He was listening avidly, obviously interested. (Enrique was glad that they were recording the session, in case Carlos suddenly came up with a similar tune.)
"I think," Carlos said when Miguel finished what he'd written, "that we will introduce you to composition more quickly than I'd anticipated. Send me the music so I can check your notation. And for God's sake, make sure your name is attached to it in many, many places before you send it even over a private connection."
"It's all right then?"
"You know it's all right. You know it's better than all right." He smiled, looking a little dazed. "Again, may I recommend Mozart? Try The Magic Flute."
"And your assignment for this week, I want you to find at least three different genres of guitar. You know classical. I'd like you to listen to blues, flamenco, and oh, have some fun. You pick the third and tell me about it. But I want you to go outside your comfort zone for it. And try to copy a song in each. It doesn't have to be perfect, but I want you to start getting other sounds in your repertoire."
At that, Socorro decided to contribute her own sound -- a healthy, full-throated wail as she reached for her bottle.
"My sister is saying hello," Miguel said. "And I should say goodbye. Our hour is up."
"Have a good week."
On screen, Carlos reached forward, then disappeared, the window going dark in his wake.
Miguel came over and scooped up Socorro, looking just as thrilled to practice his big brother skills as he was to practice his guitar skills. "Who's the best baby sister? Who's got the best grito? Is it Socorro? Is it my very own herma-nit-it-it-a?"
Enrique wrapped the sling around her back, tying it over Miguel's shoulders. "Here. Big brother duty."
Looking utterly delighted with the task, Miguel kept up his baby talk patter, transitioning into a nonsense song with no discernable seam.
Enrique ruffled his hair and put an arm over his shoulders and led him outside into the warm afternoon sunshine. Mamá Coco's room, at the end of her life -- now the children's practice room -- was actually detached from the rest of the main house, or at least not accessible from the interior. It had once been a kind of storage room. Mamá Coco and Papá Julio had lived in what had once been an entirely separate house, kitty corner from the shop. Mamá Imelda had bought all of the land and the odd collection of buildings on it, and Papá Julio had built connecting walls over the years, and to Enrique, it always seemed to fit together, though he was aware that it looked something like a clever, giant child had decided to build a hacienda out of mismatched Legos.
At any rate, when Berto had married Carmen, Papá Julio had been gone for two years, and Mamá Coco had decided to make a wedding present of what she still called "the new house," which had, to be fair, been a wedding present to her from her mother. It had already been joined to the cabins the twins had built (which were Enrique and Luisa's rooms), and to a little street-facing building that was now Miguel's room, which was just across a constructed breezeway from the cabins. Enrique had removed and plastered up the street side door before moving Miguel into it. Mamá Coco's room had started its life as a shed. It shared a roof and a wall with the rest of the house, but not a door. She liked the idea of having her own space, and Carmen had fixed it up for her beautifully. But it had always seemed strange that she was kept somehow separate from everyone else.
Beyond the "new house" was the gate that led in from the unlovely side street, where they parked the truck and the other family vehicles (Abel's motorcycle looked predatory among them), and a glorified lean-to where they kept tools and other supplies. Beyond that, there was the two-story rise of the "old house"-- the second building that Mamá Imelda had owned, where Mamá Coco had done most of her growing up. It was next door to the shop where they had originally lived with Papá Héctor, and Mamá Imelda had hired the wall and gate built to connect them. It was a this, the highest point, that the twins had hung the shop's sign, even though the store was technically next door. Mamá Imelda had lived her entire life in the old house, and it hadn't been occupied since her death. They mostly used it for storage and family knick-knacks, because it wasn't handy to the rest of the hacienda. It was in the attic here that the family's rebels had all left their marks -- Mamá Coco's pile of dancing shoes, Tía Victoria's aging fashion magazines, and of course, Miguel's music collection. Mamá had only found a fraction of it on Día de Muertos. The rest of the family had come up a few days later and helped him purge it of every trace of de la Cruz. No one had commented on this.
Miguel looked up at it. "When Socorro's big enough for her own room," he said, "she can have mine. I could live in the old house."
"Oh, could you?"
"Maybe. Maybe I could stay there and fix it up, and when it's time to… you know, have my own family, maybe we could live in it."
"You're thinking way too far ahead, mijito. And you're not spending your teenage years any place you can lock the door on me. There's no connection there."
"Well, you can walk along the roof." He pointed at the uneven tiled surfaces that went around the outer wall of the hacienda. He'd been on those paths more or less since he'd learned to walk, but it had never been Enrique's domain.
"You can walk along the roof. And not when your mamá is looking; you scared her half to death."
"I wouldn't lock you out."
"You say that at twelve. I'll believe it when you're sixteen."
He made a face, then shrugged and shifted Socorro. "Will she have her own room, or will she share with Rosa?"
"Tío Berto and I talked about it. There's the mud room. We can fix that up nice and cute."
"Can I help?"
"Will you still want to in, let's say, two years?"
He nodded, then picked Socorro up enough to look him in the eye. "I'll be the best big brother. You're going to love me. I'll make you the best room, and I'll write you your own lullaby. It won't be about remember me, though, because I'm not going anywhere."
"You'll be going to the Conservatory, Miguel. If you want to and make it in."
"I do. I… think I do."
Enrique sighed and walked Miguel to the little patio Papá had built back in the 80s. There was a blue bench in the shadows, and they sat down on it.
"Miguel," he said, "I know you don't want to abandon your family, and I don't want you to. But you have a talent that may lead you in directions other than living here at the hacienda and listening to shoemaking all day. It's not 1921 anymore. It won't mean that you won't have any contact with us. No matter where you need to go, your family will love you and be part of you."
He pulled Socorro closer. "I don't want to forget…"
"Me!" He looked up miserably. "When I was with de la Cruz, in the land of the dead" -- he looked anxiously at Enrique, as if expecting a sign of disbelief -- "he… when he thought I was his great-great-grandson, he thought it was possible. He had to have. He must have thought there was some family he'd actually forgotten about having."
"Or that he didn't know about, Miguel. That is also, unfortunately, possible for men. At least for careless ones."
Miguel looked out over Socorro's head, at the old house and the attic where he'd once kept his shrine, and for a minute, he looked so old that it was frightening. "I don't want to be like that. And I’m afraid I could be. I almost…I ran… I said…"
"I was there. I know what you did, and what you said. I also know how far you were pushed before that, and I know I let you down by allowing it. We all make mistakes. Don't expect perfection out of yourself." Enrique leaned over, putting his arms around Miguel, Socorro tucked between them. "I'm not afraid for you that way," he said. "If I ever would have been, I'm not anymore. I'm afraid of lot of things --"
"Like what?" Miguel pulled gently out of the embrace, but stayed in a kind of curved shadow that Enrique cast.
"Like… not being able to understand you anymore. Or someone taking advantage of your good nature. Or some crazy fan -- among the millions you'll have, of course -- taking it into her head to fire a gun at you."
"It's a crazy business. Look at Lennon. Or Selena. There are a lot of crazy people out there, and I have nightmares about them from time to time."
"So, I have fears. But none of them are about you forgetting who you are. You'll be a good man, Miguel. I have no doubts about that, and it makes me proud."
"I have a good teacher," he said, and smiled. "But I do want the old house. Socorro can have my room."
"You're very funny." They stood up and started back toward the ramshackle old cabins where Luisa would be waiting. "If you still want it when you finish at the conservatory… and no one else has a problem with it…"
"Can I fix it up in the meantime? Just make it someplace we can use?"
Enrique considered asking him why, but he didn't think he had to. Miguel would probably feel obliged to come up with a deep and emotional reason, but he most likely just wanted to make his own mark on the hacienda, like everyone else had. That was, in Enrique's opinion, a good development.
They reached the door and went inside, to the shadowy, ceramic tiled breezeway that connected all of the old buildings and the new ones. Luisa was up and about -- she and Rosa were in the mudroom measuring the windows for curtains. There was a pile of papers on the table, but Enrique assumed they were just Rosa's homework.
"…and she can have my old dolls," Rosa was saying. "I still have them in my trunk. Some of them were Tía Gloria's, and I think some were Abuelita's. I made them new clothes when I was learning to sew, though, so they'll only be a few years outdated."
Luisa, who habitually wore very old-fashioned clothes and thought that Rosa's fashion magazines were delightfully silly, rolled her eyes. "That's very nice of you."
"Well, I tried to give them to the twins, but… boys." She gave a long-suffering sigh.
Luisa looked up and noticed Enrique and Miguel at the door. "Speaking of boys, here are mine. Can I have the baby, Miguelito, or do you plan to keep her all day?"
"Maybe just until sunset," Miguel said, but didn't fight when Luisa undid the sling and took Socorro. "Fine." Miguel came into the room and glanced at Rosa's papers. "You should get the twins to play with your dolls. They could learn important skills about -- " He stopped talking, his eyes wide. "Rosa, is this…?"
Rosa smiled broadly. "I wondered how long it would take you to notice that, primo. You're getting faster on the uptake."
Miguel picked up a smeary looking photocopy and his eyes scanned it up and down several times. "This is it! Look, Papá! Someone wrote about the act!"
He handed the paper over. Rosa had circled a brief article from a paper in Oaxaca City, dated 1915. It was only a few sentences, but they changed a lot.
Ernesto de la Cruz, a native of nearby Santa Cecilia, delighted crowds in the plaza with his fine singing voice, in his duo act with fellow Santa Cecilian, Héctor Rivera. The duo performed amusing skits, danced, and sang original songs (penned by Rivera). They will perform in various venues this week only.
The newspaper went on with various society listings, and several obituaries. It would have been easily overlooked in a time before computers could scan for small mentions.
The duo… sang original songs (penned by Rivera).
"Penned by Rivera," Enrique read. "I wish it mentioned which songs."
Miguel threw open the shutters on the window and shouted to the street, "My prima Rosa is a genius!"
"I just know how to do a search," Rosa said. "It took a while to get it, though. The paper wasn't online. It's only been indexed so far. Someone up in the city had to find it on microfilm and copy it and send it to the school library. Sister Carolina was very excited. And…" She bit her lip. "There's something else. We have to find a record player."
"A record player?" Miguel repeated.
"Or someone who can make digital copies from really old vinyl."
Miguel was completely still. "You don't mean…"
"I completely do mean. But I don't get any credit. Sister Carolina was interested in what I was doing, and she said she remembered something that had been in another nun's personal effects. I don't know who the nun was, but for some reason, she had…" Rosa moved the papers aside. Under them was an ancient looking cardboard box. It was plain, with a handwritten legend: "Songs for Imelda." In another hand -- a very recognizable hand to anyone who'd gone through the books at the shoe shop -- was written, "(and Héctor, who forgot to write his name again)".
"Could they have really made a record?" Luisa asked. "That wasn't easy so long ago."
"Sister Carolina looked into it. There was someone demonstrating them. The company name is on it. They were trying to convince people to buy record players, and they had a contest. In Santa Cecilia because she was the patron saint of music. There's a record of it. Mamá Imelda and Papá Hector won and so they recorded them as a demonstration."
Miguel stared at the box. "Why did the nuns have it?"
"A miracle," Luisa said. "No other explanation. Where can we find a record player?"
"Probably in the dump," Miguel said. "That's where I found my video player."
"Abel might know someone who can digitize it," Rosa offered. "He's got lots of friends who can do computer things."
"Or maybe someone who knows how to handle really old things," Enrique suggested. "Maybe at the Conservatory?"
But no one seemed willing to let the miraculous thing out of their sights.
Later, the adults would talk about how this news would change the upcoming hearing about custody of de la Cruz's guitar. They would discuss how to start breaking the news gently, so de la Cruz's fans wouldn't reject it out of hand. They would talk about the possibility of money, which would feel seedy and grubby, but which had to be addressed. They would look for the best ways to make sure the ancient record wasn't damaged in the process of listening to it, and they would start to think, tentatively, about how the family would handle the media scrutiny that was bound to follow a revelation about a beloved movie star.
But at that moment, it was the children's reaction that set the tone. Enrique put his arm around Luisa, who was cuddling Socorro. Rosa was beaming with pride. And Miguel just held the record, the concrete proof of his tale -- and a chance to hear his beloved Papá Héctor's voice in the real world. He looked at it with wide, thankful eyes, tears brimming over the lower lids.
Then he set it down very carefully, went to Rosa, and hugged her with all his might.