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Coco-verse challenges #1 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Coco-verse challenges #1
Something about Hector's mother's afterlife :) for sonetka

Maribel didn’t talk about what she’d done.

She didn’t go looking for the one she’d done it to, either. She had no right to his forgiveness.

But she thought of it every day.

Like most people in this part of the city, she kept to herself. They rarely met each other’s eyes here, and never danced or sang. They weren’t unkind to each other, the way they were in Odiados, and they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon, like the poor Olvidados. They simply existed, living in something like a bland hotel—somehow both severe and comfortable. It was just a quiet corner of eternity, a place to think about what they’d done.

And think.

And think.

She didn’t pretend to think it was all right when she’d done it. Wrapping her own child in a blanket and leaving him, exposed to the night, in the center of a plaza... she’d known it could go wrong. There could have been animals. Or kidnappers. Or anything, really. She’d hoped he’d be found by someone who would take care of him, but she hadn’t known.

And she had never intended to go back.

She wanted to tell herself that she had some noble reason for this—that the baby would do better if she didn’t interrupt some idyllic life she’d envisioned—but she had never been good at lying to herself. She’d heard a few too many lies over the last years of her life to have much use for them. She had left the baby because she was a terrible mother, and she wanted to be back on the trail, fighting. She had left him because she was too young to raise a baby, barely sixteen when he came to her. And she had left him because it hurt her heart every time she saw him, those big brown eyes like…

The Boy was fading from her memory now. Only she had really spoken of him or held onto his memory after the Rurales shot him—his home had been burned when he was a child, and he had been wandering ever since—so he had been gone when she’d arrived. She still remembered his sweet voice, the way he’d sung by the fire when he’d come through her village, the way he’d sung by dozens of campfires on the trail, as their little band had burned and robbed their way toward an upcoming paradise on earth, where the meek wouldn’t wait for any inheritance, but would rise up and take back what was theirs.

She had written his songs, though her Spanish had never been very good (it seemed not to matter here; she could talk to everyone). He had translated from her Zapoteco verses when they were out of the cloudy mountains, and sung their rebellious little ballads in villages too small for the maps, in the alleyways of big cities, in the fields beside the workers they hoped to recruit.

She hadn’t even known about the baby when he was shot. He hadn’t been singing or recruiting at the time. They had been sneaking into a henhouse to steal eggs for breakfast. Maribel had gone inside and was gathering eggs while he guarded the place, and suddenly, he had hissed, “Rurales. Hide.”

She rolled under a table and covered herself in hay, and looked out through a niche in the wall of the coop. The moon was full. He’d never had a chance to run, but he stuck his hands under his coat, as if he were the one leaving the chicken coop with his hands full of eggs.

They didn’t shout for him to halt in the name of the law, or ask what he was doing. They just shot.

And laughed.

Maribel saw them through the niche as she tried not to scream. Most were Rurales with sombreros and uniforms. The head man was in white and riding a horse. He dismounted, toed the body, and turned it over. “Well, look who it is,” he said. “The Bardo Bandido. Too bad he didn’t bring his guitar. We could have hung it up with him.”

They laughed again, then tied up his body and dragged it behind the horse. She had never seen him again.

And the only reason she remembered his name after all of these years was that she had given it to their son: Héctor. It was the only permanent gift she had given her child. She hadn’t left him a paterno or a materno. That seemed ridiculous now, but at the time, she remembered thinking that a new world was going to be born, and she didn’t want him to carry that old colonial baggage with him.

If he survived a night out in the elements without her there to feed and hold him.

She had still been leaking milk at inconvenient times when she died.

She’d gone back to the camp. She was saving the world—or would be—after all. And they’d been pretty clear that it wasn’t going to become a nursery. Two weeks after she’d left the baby, they’d decided to make a run on a hacienda—recruit some workers, steal some food, and remind the owners that their time was over.

She had no idea who actually shot her. It had come from behind. It had felt like a shove, and she’d fallen forward into marigold petals and there was no one she knew and she was alone. She’d looked for the Boy, but all she’d been able to learn was that a boy with a golden voice had appeared briefly and disappeared again, forgotten by the living.

But my family remembers me, she thought, looking at the cover of Mas Alla, where Héctor’s living face—as painted by Frida Kahlo—stared out at her, looking as much like his father as she had known he would when she’d looked down at him in her arms, still shocked at the idea that she had a son. Her family must remember her and speak her name, because she was still here, all of these long years later. Still thinking about it all.

About what she had done. Her son had started his life being abandoned by the one person who should have loved him above all others. Then, according to the article, he’d been ejected from the home of the woman who had taken him in. Then he had been betrayed and murdered by his best friend, who destroyed his memory so his descendants also abandoned him.

And yet, he somehow still smiled when people spoke to him. He laughed when she saw him on stage in the plaza (which she did every time he appeared).

Someone passed by outside her door (which she rarely locked; almost no one here did), and she looked up at the motion. It was Ramon, a boy who had taken some kind of drug in the nineteen-sixties, to the point that it killed him, who believed he’d done it deliberately. He smiled at her. “Still here, Maribel?”

“Still here.”

“Me, too. I’m waiting for my sister.”

“Is she coming?”

“Maybe soon. Maybe not. But I want to tell her I’m sorry.”

“Do you think she’ll care?”

“I don’t know. She puts up my picture. I go see her. She never knows I’m there.”

Maribel nodded.

Ramon waited a minute, then said, “Are you going to the trial again tomorrow?”


“Are you going to talk to him?”


He frowned. “You should. He might forgive you. You could get out of here.”

“I belong here.”

“For how long?”

“I don’t know. My family has a long memory.”

“What are you going to do?”

“What makes you think I’ll do anything?”

He pointed wordlessly at a small table, where her bandoleras had appeared, fully loaded, when the trial of Ernesto de la Cruz had begun. She’d thought she’d lost them years ago, when she’d shed them at the end of the marigold bridge.

She shrugged.

“I hear his wife doesn’t want to win the trial.”


“She wants de la Cruz in Odiados, but she’ll get into trouble if she sends him there.”

“And he’d lose his wife.” Maribel nodded. “Well, I guess I know what I’m doing next, then. If it comes to it. If anyone else comes to my room after I’m in a cell, tell them they can have my things.”

would love to see how Hector recovers from his brush with Final Death after Miguel is sent home and what prompts Imelda to take him back. for willowbough (Well, some of that is covered in the main story, so I’ll be more specific and just do the brush with Final Death)

Héctor registered Miguel’s disappearance as a blurry flash of orange light. Beyond it, he could see almost nothing. He felt some vital part of himself go as well, fly out into the night. He felt cold stone beneath him and saw sunlight on the guitar… He ran…

But that part wasn’t enough. That part was with Miguel. Most of him was here, and he couldn’t keep himself together much longer.

On his other side, he could see Imelda, a shadow against the light rising from the stage, and maybe the light of the sunrise. She was still holding his hand, the marigold petal clasped in his fingers.

“Señora Rivera!” someone shouted—someone far away, a world away. “Señora, is it true? Is Ernesto de la Cruz guilty of murder?”

“Not now,” Imelda said heavily, squeezing Héctor’s hand. “Not now.”

There was a commotion, and then what little Héctor could see of the rest of the family was blocked by the bright blue form of Pepita, who had spread her wings and was growling. Dante, who had come to sit by Héctor’s head, was crouched on his haunches, snarling at something in the shadows.

“Señor Rivera! Is it true that--?”

But the rest of the reporter’s question faded into nothing. Pepita was a blur. Dante’s snarls were just an undertow in the current carrying Héctor away.

Imelda’s hand remained real, but soon, his hand would separate from his body. His feet already seemed to be gone. He couldn’t see them or feel them, but he felt like his ankles had given way, like the least important parts of him were already being given up. The far off part saw the streets passing around him, saw the walls of workshop rise up, heard someone yell, “Miguel!”

“Don’t you let go,” Imelda whispered. “Don’t think of it, Héctor, not when we haven’t talked this out. Don’t you dare leave me again, do you hear me? Don’t you dare.”

He tried to smile. “I’m not sure I have a choice.”

“You said that before. We need the money, Imelda, I have to go. But now you say you meant to come home, so don’t you dare leave. I’m not kidding, Héctor.”

Absurdly, a laugh came up from somewhere in his chest. It was weak and breathy, but real. “I don’t think it works that way, mi amor.”

“It does if I say it does.” She touched his face, then reached down and took his other hand. “You are going to hold out until Miguel gets Coco to remember. And he will do it. He’s stubborn, willful boy, and that’s a useful thing to be.”

“…wonder where that comes from…”

“If it comes from me, then I am going to give it to you. Do you understand me, Héctor? Every bit of stubborn willfulness I have is yours. These are the things we promised when we married each other. What is mine is yours, and right now, I am giving you my anger, my will, and everything you need to keep going. I know it’s enough, because it got me through losing you, so don’t even try to tell me it won’t. You are going to hold on, and soon, everything will be all right.”

“If you say so.”

“I say so. I sing so, if you want. No—you sing so. You sing to me, Héctor.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“We’ve already been over that. You can. No argument. Poco Loco.”


“Tell me I’m not making you loco right now.”

“I love you.”

“What color is the sky? Ay, mi amor, ay, mi amor,” she sang. “You tell me that it’s red, ay, mi amor, ay, mi amor…” Behind her, the sky was red, and it lit her up like she was on fire.

“Where should I put my shoes?” Héctor managed, not quite on key, not quite singing. “Ay, mi amor, ay… Ay…” Something stopped him. Some force, blocking the way. He heard Miguel begging to be let through, but it was so far away.

Mi amor!” Imelda nearly shrieked. She took a deep and shaky breath, and her face came close enough that he could see her terror. “Ay, mi amor.

“Ay, mi amor… you say, put them on your head, ay mi amor, ay… mi…”

“Amor. Amor.” She leaned forward. “Héctor. Please, oh, please, just hold on. Miguel has promised. He’ll want to see you again, too, in a very long time.”

“You… make… me… un poco… loco…”

He didn’t know how he made it through the next minutes, except for Imelda’s voice, hectoring him through “Poco Loco,” even the later verses, the ones that Ernesto had never sung. Imelda remembered all the words. Every one of them.

He looked down, and he wasn’t here. He was with his small self, with Miguel in the land of the living. Miguel was weeping and being held, and someone was yelling at him to apologize to his Mamá Coco, and he turned and…

The guitar.

The guitar was on the floor, gleaming in the sun.

Héctor made a grab for it, but he was nothing here. He looked up, and there was an old woman in wheelchair, an old woman in trenzas, and then she was Coco, his Coco, and he remembered her voice.

With an effort he didn’t understand, he managed to push Miguel, just a little bit. Just enough for his foot to bump the guitar.

And to understand.

Then he was back again, back at the stadium, and he couldn’t feel that other part anymore, if it was still there, if it had been anything but his imagination in the first place. Imelda had his hands, but his finger bones were coming loose, and she was holding his whole forearm, forcibly holding him together and saying, from some insurmountable distance, “Héctor, mi amor, mi alma, hold on, damn you, this is not over. Do you hear me, Héctor? Do you hear me? Do you…”

But it wasn’t Imelda’s voice he heard.

Somewhere, someplace he didn’t understand, he heard Coco begin to sing.

Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again…
Remember me.


Imelda’s voice came into the space, and Héctor opened his eyes.

The world was clear. Pepita was still beside him. Dante was crouched by his head. He could feel his hands, his feet. He could feel Imelda’s hands around his.

He squeezed her fingers.

She gasped. “Héctor…”

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay. I’m okay, I think I’m…”

Papá was a musician, Coco said somewhere.

Strength came back into Héctor’s hands and arms, and into the empty space beneath his ribs where he still seemed to feel his essential self was located. Shaking, he sat up, Imelda bracing him.

“She remembered,” Imelda said.

Héctor nodded.

“I told you, didn’t I? I told you that you could hold on. You need to listen me more from now on.”

He smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind. In the future.”
6 comments or Leave a comment
willowbough From: willowbough Date: September 30th, 2018 01:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Whew. Powerful. You never disappoint. I always wondered if the connection between Hector and Miguel held long enough for Hector to be aware of Miguel reaching Coco through his song.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 1st, 2018 08:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I wan't psyched at first since I'd sort of addressed it in the fic, but as I got writing, I realized that was a scene that I did want to write more explicitly, and that Imelda, like Miguel, would have been going all out to try and save him.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: October 1st, 2018 05:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you so much! I hadn't expected something so long and was thrilled to see it. Easy to see now where his talent came from, and I'm curious about the place Maribel is living. Not Olvidados, not Odiados, but someplace for people who have unfinished business, so to speak? (EDIT: OK, I'm not brilliant, I totally missed out on the title. Los Penitentes is perfect.) Does she ever cross the Marigold Bridge anymore? Because she could turn up at a family reunion one of these years as well, if she were so inclined. That might be one way of telling without actually doing so :). And the second one -- of course Imelda will want to sing Poco Loco; a less mournful song probably doesn't exist, and she's going to beat back the Final Death however she can.

Edited at 2018-10-01 06:07 am (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 1st, 2018 08:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't think she goes over the bridge. She's pretty consumed with guilt. More likely that Imelda or Hector would get curious as to why she busted Ernesto out of jail.

And yes, trying to make him crazy enough to fight by reminding him of the silliest song ever... that seemed like Imelda. :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 2nd, 2018 07:12 am (UTC) (Link)
The spot Maribel's in reminds me a lot of Dante's interpretation of Limbo. Is it considered it's own zone, or do the inhabitants deliberately sequester themselves there?
It'd kinda be funny in a dark way if her band had attacked Imelda's hacienda.

And yeah, if Imelda could start a tradition out of spite, then dammit she could get Hector to keep it together in time.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 3rd, 2018 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I think it's a place that you can only get to if it's where you feel you should be.

It may well be her band or one just like it, though of course, she's dead before that happens.

Hector needs Imelda haranguing him, I think. :D
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