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Coco-verse challenges #2 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Coco-verse challenges #2
Well, these turned out long...
Something from Rosa's perspective, please--maybe something with Rosa finding out about Mama Imelda's family for Eleanor W

Rosa had never been outside Oaxaca, and crossing the border into Guerrero was a disappointing experience. Other than a little federal inspection point, a dusty turnoff, and a billboard saying “Welcome to Guerrero” (sponsored by Telcel and featuring a cheerful looking woman on her phone), there was no real difference in the narrow road as it went northwest between fields. Finally, there was a green sign saying “Entering Guerrero, Leaving Oaxaca”—angled just over the entrance to a farm road—followed by… well, Guerrero. Which wasn’t all that different from Oaxaca.

“Well,” said Tía Gloria, “looks like we’re here. Exciting, isn’t it?”

“You’ve been.”

“Yes. Sorry, I tried to tell you that you wouldn’t see much.” She shook her head. “Honestly, even the national borders, you only know because there are people saying, ‘Anything to declare?’ The land doesn’t know where we put lines on it.”

“It’s still further than I’ve been,” Rosa said. “We could just keep driving, and eventually, the land would start looking different. It turns into a desert.”

“True. But you won’t really notice until you’re so deep into the desert that it actually looks different. Real borders like that are much fuzzier. They don’t even get a sign in the road saying ‘Now entering the desert.’”

“What about the people?”

“Well, obviously, Guerrerenses are weird. Everyone knows that.”

“What about on the big border?”

“We’re not going that far. You don’t have a passport, and I don’t have time.”

Rosa didn’t push it. Tía Gloria was already being pretty generous, driving her up here just to look at old land records. But it was interesting, the way the border didn’t make any difference, and thinking about fuzzy borders, and how you don’t even really know when you cross them. She guessed that if she got air-dropped into Sonora or something, everything would seem very different, but just driving up, would she even notice, or would the land just keep getting a little scrubbier every mile until it was just the big empty?

She checked her map. They’d be driving through the little city of Cuajinicuilapa, then on a little further before taking a turn onto a narrow side road that led northeast. It would come, eventually, to a village called Rancho La Bella, the remains of what had once been a huge land holding. In the confusing series of rebellions before the real revolution, its main house had burned and its owners had vanished. Rosa hadn’t been able to find anything online about who the owners might have been. The story that Mamá Imelda had told Abuelita was that, when the twins were babies, she’d awoken in the night to find their nursery full of smoke, and the twins’ niñera coming after her with a gun. Her own niñera had rescued them and eventually brought them to Santa Cecilia’s orphan home. There hadn’t been any details of how far away it had been, or what the old rancho had grown, or what the parents had done.

“I want to find the niñera’s name,” Rosa said. “I mean, if it’s this one. There’s another one in Morelos, and it could have been even further away. There were attacks in Michoacán, too. We don’t know how far they came to hide the children.”

Tía Gloria shifted down as they entered Cuajinicuilapa, “Well, let’s take them one at a time. Maybe there are baptism records here.”

“There weren’t in the one in Chiapas. That matched, too. I called the church, and they said that the old records got wrecked in a storm. And the one right in Oaxaca—that might have been an accidental fire… anyway, the church there got closed down, and no one knew where the records were.”

“You’ve been busy. How are you keeping up with school?”

Rosa laughed. “Are you kidding? I have the best history grades in my whole class.”

“All I’m saying is, you and your cousin are a little bit crazy on this.”

Rosa shrugged, looking out the window at the perfectly town they were going through, which seemed poorer than Santa Cecilia, with lots of closed building and beggars on the streets. “Miguel got the big adventure. But I’m going to prove something.”

“Oh, so it’s a competition.”

“No.” Rosa continued to watch the town go by. “It’s just not fair. I always tried to be good and respectful and he’s the one who has everyone talking about how he’s the most devoted son and everything. And I’m not mad. I’m glad he’s doing it, and it’s fun to be friends with him finally, but… I don’t know. I want to do something, too. I feel like I should. And I wish I could know something for sure like he does.”

Tía Gloria didn’t say anything. The town rolled away, past a bar and a white building with a blank sign, which Rosa thought was an abandoned hotel. Then there was a gas station, and then they were in the country again.

They almost missed the turn to Rancho La Bella, because it wasn’t much more than a gravel path through a hibiscus field. It wound through the hills and finally came out at the tiniest village Rosa had ever seen. It consisted of a little adobe church that apparently also served as the town hall, with about five houses scattered around, all surrounded by the flowers. There were farm trucks here, and Rosa guessed that the only reason for the village’s existence was to have a convenient shipping address for agricultural orders. When she got out of the car, she expected to be almost knocked over by a floral smell, but there wasn’t really much of it. She supposed she should have spent more time on the hibiscus farms near home, but it had never occurred to her.

The door of the little adobe building opened, and a man came out. He was black and wore little wire-rimmed glasses. He smiled at them. “Ah! The Riveras! I’m glad to meet you. I’ve been watching your story on the news.”

Rosa smiled back. “Hi. I’m Rosa Rivera. This is my Tía Gloria.”

“Tomas Peña. I’m the town clerk. Come in. I have things that might interest you. I’ve been looking since you called. You’ve caught everyone’s interest.”

Rosa and Tía Gloria followed him into the shadowy little building. The church’s sanctuary seemed to have room for about six parishioners and a priest, if they really squeezed. Beyond it, there was a tiny office, and Peña led them into it, slithering around the edge of the desk and pointing at two old wooden chairs that almost fit into the side of the room near the door. Rosa could sit relatively comfortably in hers. Tía Gloria’s knees were pressed into the desk.

Peña picked up what looked like an old map, and unrolled it onto the desk. “You see here,” he said, “that all of this land was once owned by the Sandoval family, as much as it can be said to have been owned by anyone. We can track a lot land transfers, but in all likelihood, these remained attached either by blood or social ties to the Sandovals. The ties are not always clear. A lot of trading around. Deals and counter-deals… the hacendados had very interesting ways of interacting with each other, and if you start following them…” He smiled. “Have you ever heard of a Mobius strip, niña?”

Rosa nodded. “You start tracing it on one edge, but by the time you finish, you’re on the other edge, except without ever lifting your finger.”

“Exactly. So don’t hope for a great deal of clarity beyond what I can tell you, which is that the owner of much of this land in 1899, a man named Manuel Alvarez Cruz, and his wife, Leonora Amado Santos, were listed as the parents of a baby girl who was called Imelda, and four years later as the parents of twin boys, though their baptism records were lost. It sounds like it fits what you were asking, though.”

“Leonora. Manuel.” Rosa looked at Tía Gloria, who wasn’t giving much of a hint of her feelings at hearing these possible names. “What happened?”

“Please understand that it was a confusing time in history and not everything was recorded. This was a small rancho, as far as things go, long taken away from the big land holdings…”

“What did they do?” Tía Gloria asked quietly.


“You’re being evasive. If it’s possible they were targeted by rebels, then what did they do? Did they… kill people? Steal from them? Oppress them? What did they do?”

He sighed. “We don’t have a lot of information. We know Alvarez was an officer under Diaz. We know his men tended to be a bit trigger happy, but not if his orders had anything to do with that.”

“And the wife?” Tía Gloria asked.

“Not much at all. Some things were recovered from the fire.” He reached back for a box. “Anything of real value was sent to museums, but you can see here—a fan. A silver hand mirror. Ivory combs for her hair.” He set out one of the combs, which was blackened in a few places and cracked.

Rosa picked it up, imagined it tucking up some fabulous old hair style. “So they had… a lot of things.”

“Yes. And some may not have been acquired by entirely fair means. Are you all right with that?”

“I’ve read history.” Rosa se the comb down. “Is there any way to know who their niñera was? If this was their family, she saved us all.”

Peña looked at her sadly. “Unfortunately, that sort of thing is lost to us forever. The records would have been in the house. The house burned. If she didn’t leave her name with someone—which would have been foolish if she faced off against armed rebels—then there isn’t a way to recover it. I’m sorry.”

Rosa looked down.

Tía Gloria reached over and took her hand. “According to the story, she had her own children. Probably grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They will remember her.”

“But not what she did for us,” Rosa said.

“We remember that. We just don’t know her name. They’ll remember her name, we’ll remember her deed.”

Peña waited for a minute, then said. “Well, that was not the best answer for you, I suppose. But I do believe this is the right family for you. Everything seems to fit. Would you like a tour…?”

something delving more into Enrique and Luisa's relationship? for queen_bellatrix

The night before Día de Muertos, Luisa Saavedra stayed up, drinking strong (if increasingly cold) coffee in her bed behind the curtain. The lights were off, but Papá had a tendency to slip out of his room (the only other room in their house) and check on her. He might even hear her drinking the coffee, but it was her only chance. She didn’t dare use her alarm clock, since Papá had forbidden her to go to the cemetery before dawn.

“Really, Luisa, some things are better left as a mystery,” he had said last night, as they’d walked home together.

“But Papá, guitars don’t magically stay in tune.”


“And I saw you switching locks on the de la Cruz crypt.”

“These things need to be done.”

“Oh, come on… who is it? Who goes in there and tunes the guitar?”

“No one you will guess. No one who wants to be known for it.”


But he hadn’t answered. She had always been a little curious about the de la Cruz guitar, which was taken out every year on Día de Muertos, strummed in Mariachi Plaza to prove it was still “miraculously” in tune, then returned to the tomb. But she had been willing to accept magic as the answer until yesterday afternoon, when she’d seen Papá take the big iron lock off the door and replace it with the lock he usually used on the church lawnmower, which was thirty years old and of no value to anyone. He also left the inner lock unlatched.

And he wouldn’t explain! She’d gone to mass with him that night, and seen everyone in town, wondering who it was. There were dozens of mariachis who came to the plaza, of course. It could be any of them, except that they all seemed as reverential as anyone else during the strumming every year. Maybe it was the padre, who sometimes sang de la Cruz song under his breath, and had once done a homily about music as a salve to the soul. (Señora Rivera, the shoemaker whose family was known to detest music and consider it a sin or something, had led the family out of church, except for her old mother, who let them all walk around her but did not budge.) There was the music teacher at school, and the choirmaster. Gezana, who ran things at the plaza… she would think of it as a way to get people in the mood for a show.

But Papá wouldn’t even give a hint.

So Luisa would have to find out for herself.

Sitting in bed, drinking cold coffee, was a boring thing to do, and seemed to take much longer than the entire previous day had. Finally, she heard Papá start to snore. She picked up her bag, which had her sewing and detective book in it, and slid carefully from her bed, pushing the curtain aside as quietly as she could and closing it behind her, hiding her nook off from the kitchen and living room. Her bed was right beside the stove, so it could keep her warm during cold nights, and Papá had especially painted her corner and built her a pretty bed, and put up a rod for her clothes at its foot. The rod was laden down with clothes she’d been making, but only a few were hers. She had been taking in sewing for other people this year, and a lot of what was taking up her space was for other people. She wanted to use some of what she was saving to build onto the house, but Papá told her that she should save it for herself. Someday, he said, she would want to make a wedding dress.

That was ridiculous. Luisa planned to be a nun. She just wanted to make sure Papá was all right when she grew up, since Mamá wasn’t there to take care of him anymore.

She tiptoed quietly through the kitchen and pushed the door open. It squeaked a little bit and she froze, but then Papá snored again, and she guessed it was all right.

She slipped out into the moonlit night, hopped over the low wall, and went into the cemetery.

Some of the graves were already decorated for tomorrow night; others still looked naked. Their families would be in tomorrow. For those whose families didn’t come, Luisa and Papá would put out what flowers they could gather. She walked the narrow paths between the graves, enjoying the place, as she always did. There were probably ghosts, but she wasn’t afraid of them. She passed Mamá’s grave (Papá always kept flowers on it) and tossed kiss, and she passed stones for the Chavez family and the Torres family and dozens of others. There were a million Riveras in town, because so many orphans had been given the name, and most of the families weren’t related to each other. She passed a fairly nice stone for Imelda Rivera Reyes. Around it were markers for what seemed to be her brothers, and a couple of Hernandez stones—Julio and Rosa. They must have married in.

Beyond that were the small de la Cruz graves… the parents. These were decorated by the town for the tourists, but there wasn’t much to be done. Ernesto de la Cruz had said that his parents valued their privacy, and so he had bought them only small stones in an out-of-the-way plot. She passed the monument to the revolutionaries from Santa Cecilia whose bodies had not been returned, and the row of graves of the sisters (these, she genuflected to). At the end of this row was a bench behind a hedgerow that grew beside the huge mausoleum dedicated to Ernesto de la Cruz. Tomorrow, someone would set up a sound system here, to entertain the tourists who came to the grave. It was a conveniently hidden spot, and Luisa chose it for her own hiding space. The closest grave was for a nun called Teresa la Perdida. It was a strange name, and Luisa wondered how she’d gotten it.

She meant to stay awake for the rest of the night.


But she drifted off, staring at the stone, and fell into a light dream about nuns, all of whom seemed to be laughing at her fondly when she tried to join them. She was getting quite cross when one of them said, “Enrique, be still, mijo. It’s fine.”

Luisa blinked herself awake, and was almost surprised to find herself here. The hedges still hid her, but now she could clearly hear the voices on the other side. The sky was the deep blue of the hour before sunrise.

“I can get it, Mamá Coco,” a soft, male voice said. “You don’t need to fuss.”

There was a pause, then the first voice came again—an old woman’s voice. “All right. You try. I was used to the old lock.”

“I think this one is supposed to be easier,” the man said. “The one last year was bigger. And still not the one that’s usually here.”

Luisa smiled, wondering which lock Papá had been putting on in earlier years. Maybe the one from the shed, which had gotten damaged when the shed burned down.

She slipped down from the bench and crept as quietly as she could to the end of the hedge. She was almost on top of the mausoleum now, and there was enough moonlight to see both of the newcomers clearly.

They were the last people she would expect at the de la Cruz tomb. The woman was Señora Rivera’s mother. The boy—man, she guessed; he seemed to be much older than she was—was one of the grandsons. She didn’t know his name, but he was tall and thin, with wonderful thick black hair, and a fine face, like something in a painting or maybe from a movie. He wouldn’t be playing an action hero or driving a fast car in the movie. He would maybe be the handsome new teacher at an old school who inspired the students to do better. Or the artist who was trying to sculpt a masterpiece, or the gentle doctor who would save the heroine’s life.

Luisa had never thought a man to be beautiful before, not in the real world, but this man was, and more, she loved the way he carefully guided his grandmother to a bench and kissed her head while he took her hairpin and started fiddling with the lock.

She heard the lock give way and the chain rattle through its hooks, and a moment later, the tomb door opened, and the two of them went inside.

Luisa hopped up onto the stairs and peeked. The man took the guitar from its pegs and handed it reverently to his grandmother, who held it on her knee, almost hugging it.

“Mamá Coco,” he said, “someday, you’ll tell me why.”

“I’ve told you, Quique. Because this guitar should never be fully silent.”

“But why do you care?”

The woman, Mamá Coco, didn’t answer. She just strummed the guitar which was as out of tune as any other guitar that had lain dormant for a year.

“My tuning fork?” she asked, and Quique produced it from his pocket. Mamá Coco rang it against the stone and listened, then began the slow process of tuning the old guitar. She did it with great love and gentleness, and when she was done, it was perfect again.

“There,” Quique said, putting the guitar back on the wall. “Another year. Another miracle.”

“Right. Miracles.” Mamá Coco cradled the guitar again, then handed it back to her grandson. “We make our own miracles, mijo. Every year. Don’t tell your mother I said that.”

“Where would I even start to tell her that? I’d have to tell her that—“

He stopped talking, and that was when Luisa realized that they had been moving out of the crypt, and she, fascinated by her eavesdropping, was standing fully in the open.

She stared at him. He was definitely older than she was, but she didn’t know how much. His eyes were deep and kind and his hands still raised from opening the door, were fine and a bit worn from the work he must do in the shoe workshop. He was growing a mustache, but it had the strange effect of making him look like he was a younger man who was trying to look like an older man and—

“Who are you?” he asked.

She tried to answer, but nothing came out.

“She’s the sexton’s daughter,” Mamá Coco said. “It’s all right. At least I think it is. He knows, doesn’t he?”

Luisa nodded. “I wanted to see…” She looked over and saw the row of nuns’ graves beyond the hedge, and heard them laughing in her dream. “My name is Luisa,” she blurted, and ran.

She got as far as the older de la Cruz graves, then looked back. Quique had followed her partway out, and was looking at her, bewildered. Mamá Coco was still at the top of the steps, smiling.

Luisa ran for home.
4 comments or Leave a comment
sonetka From: sonetka Date: October 4th, 2018 06:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Man, Enrique was doing a hell of an acting job with the whole "We don't know anything about this man!" bit :). (Of course, in front of Elena, what else can he say that won't make things even worse?) And I really liked Gloria and Rosa's journey; just as important in its quiet way even if Miguel was the one who had The Adventure. It's unfortunate that they couldn't find the name of the nanny but realistically, yeah, there's really no way when she would have been doing her best to avoid identification. But as Gloria says, there's a good chance someone else does remember her.

(You sometimes do wonder about those people -- you've never met them and will never know their names, but they ended up being crucial to your own existence. If I can ramble a little, the person I occasionally wonder about is a random German soldier who was putting landlines in a road during the retreat in spring of 1945. My grandfather was one of the American engineers who had to get the mines out so everyone else could advance. One day he made a mistake and stepped on an S-mine which jumped up and -- didn't explode. Later on he very carefully took it apart and discovered that it had been incorrectly armed; whoever planted it had put a pin in backwards or something. I exist because someone was tired, lazy, or possibly deliberately sabotaging mines.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 4th, 2018 07:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, to be fair, Enrique really didn't know anything about the man in the picture. He might have been de la Cruz. Or not. Coco never actually said why the guitar was so important, or made any statement about her father. (Though I'm sure Enrique had entertained suspicions over the years.)

That's a great story--good reminder of the thin threads everything can hang on! In my case, it's my great-grandfather's first wife (he was a divorced out of work actor when he started dating Grandma Great; her farm parents must have been thrilled). If Margaret hadn't cheated on him (with an unnamed actor from their company), he'd have never quit the business and gone back to Buffalo.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 4th, 2018 03:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Sad but expected

Clever Rosa. I like the way her mind works. Very much a young teenage girl, but a very smart and dedicated teenage girl.

Well, we knew that Mama Imelda's parents probably weren't the most righteous of people. While it's sad they couldn't learn the name of the nanny, in a way, maybe it's better that the records are mostly lost. I imagine it would have been difficult for Rosa to discover that her great-great-great grandparents were, like, the most notorious of hacendados or something.

Thank you, Fern!
--Eleanor W.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 5th, 2018 05:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Sad but expected

They may have had good qualities (I'd guess Imelda's musical talent came from somewhere as much as Hector's did, and who knows what they might have been known for if they hadn't lived in the age of revolutionary movements--I'd guess a lot of nobles known for poetry and art collecting were probably pretty horrible to the people who worked their land), but there will never be a way to find it out. It was definitely safer for the nanny that no one knew who she was afterward. And safer for Imelda and the twins that they weren't traced.
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