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Homecoming - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Homecoming
This doesn't really go anywhere, but I wanted to look at Coco's actual arrival in the LotD.

Homecoming


Somewhere, Papá’s guitar was playing.

It was Miguel playing it, and Coco knew it—thank God, she seemed to know everything she had once known now, or at least everything that mattered; all of it seemed to have seeped back into her mind at last—but it was Papá’s guitar, and it was playing for her, one last time. She didn’t know how long Miguel had been playing. She could hear the occasional fuzzed tone of a missed string, and she guessed that meant it was long enough that his fingers hurt. He had been singing at first, but it had dissolved into sobs. She wanted to have him come to her so she could hold him, even if it meant the end of the music, but she couldn’t find her breath to speak.

Gloria was beside her, holding her hand. There was a stack of pictures between their palms, and Coco knew it was so she could take them with her to wherever there was, and Miguel said there was somewhere, and it would be all right, and she wanted to believe. It seemed real when he talked about it, so maybe it was real, and maybe Julio would be there, and Victoria. And Mamá.

And Papá.

The tears came up. If there was something, then she had almost destroyed it by not believing. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to go because she’d spent so long denying it. Maybe…

“Mamá,” Elena whispered. “Oh, Mamá, it’s all right. We love you. We’ll always love you. It’s all right.”

But a hundred years seemed short now! Luisa’s baby wasn’t born yet. Miguel wasn’t grown up, and she might never know how he would balance the parts of his life. Rosa hadn’t reached her full beauty. Abel was still in the silly stage that all young men had before they grew up. She would never see him become a true man. Maybe Gloria would still marry and have children. Enrique and Berto still had so many things to do with their lives, and Elena… Elena was just tasting freedom from the prison she’d built for herself, finally letting herself be whole, and Coco wanted to see it all, she wanted to…

Her throat closed up, and she struggled for a breath. It came, but it felt like something tore with it. There was something wet and slick at the back of her mouth.

There was a fumble in the notes on the guitar and she heard Miguel sob.

“Mamá Coco,” Enrique said, and she felt his steady hand on her forehead. “We love you so much. We…”

There was a bright flash somewhere inside her head, and then there was silence. The guitar, her sobbing great-grandson, her whispering daughter, all of it was gone.

She was in the dark, and floating in front of her was a single marigold petal.

She hadn’t been able to hold or grasp much for the last year, but now, she reached forward and plucked it gently from the… sky? Sea?... and held it delicately between her fingers, which glowed white. A great storm raged through her, and then she was on a bridge, a thin walking bridge over a great chasm, made of swirling flower petals. She looked over her shoulder and saw the petals falling away behind her into nothingness. There was nowhere to go but forward.

As she moved ahead, she saw the lights of a great city looming up out of the darkness, and a pool of golden light just below her. The pictures were still in her hand, and she slipped them into the pocket of her nightgown. The sick-things that had been there—a handkerchief, pills, other bits of depressing proofs of her long illness, had disappeared somehow.

She lost track of where she was.

Then Julio was there, in the light.

He held his hand out solemnly, and she took it, and fell into his embrace.

“Mi vida,” he whispered. “Oh, Coco. I’ve missed you.”

She touched his face. “It’s real… it’s all real…”

“Mamá?”

She tore herself from Julio’s arms and flung herself onto Victoria, still as young and beautiful as she had been the day she puttered away from the hacienda, just to run some business errands in the capital. She’d never come back, but here she was now, and maybe she was bones, but she was Victoria, Coco’s brilliant and ambitious girl, with her wryly tilted smile and…

“Look who’s here with us at last!” The tíos pulled her out further, and covered her face with kisses, and then Rosita, her sister-of-the-heart, was there with a warm hug, and then, oh then…

“Papá!” she called. “Papá! Oh, Papá, it was real, I’m so sorry, I—“

Then his arms were around her, the embrace she’d longed for and dreamed of since she was four years old. “My Coco,” he whispered. “Oh, my beautiful girl! My Coco.”

He held her against his shoulder, and she wept. She didn’t know where the tears were coming from—surely, there was nothing left in her head to create them—but they came in a torrent while Papá stroked her hair and told her that he loved her more than anything.

Finally, they faded away, and she felt strong enough to stand up straight—how long had it been since she’d stood up straight?—and then there was Mamá, strong and brave and beautiful, and Coco didn’t let go of Papá, but she reached out and took Mamá’s hand.

“I’m sorry, Coco,” she said. “About… everything.”

Coco shook her head in violent negation, but couldn’t speak.

The family gathered around her and led her away. She looked over her shoulder. The tiny, thin bridge she’d come on was scattering away. Something was bounding along it, a tiny figure—the cat that had been on her windowsill, she thought—then, as it disappeared, it leapt high into the air, seemed to grow, and flew off into the evening.

She could see others appearing, like shooting stars, in the air around her, each bearing a soul to this place. She reached for Victoria’s hand, imagining her arriving here with the thousands upon thousands who’d died in the earthquake, wandering around, trying to find her people. It would have been a horrible way to arrive.

Victoria kissed her cheek and said, “Pepita came and guided me to Mamá Imelda and the tíos.”

“I should have gone with you that day. I was supposed to.”

“You would have stopped the earth from quaking, I’m sure.” She smiled. “But you were where you were needed.”

Everyone talked to her as they walked through an ornate gateway, pausing only when a skeleton in an official looking uniform took her picture and said, “Welcome to the land of the dead!” Papá’s arm was around her the whole time, and hers was around him, as it was always meant to be. She reached out to everyone else, finally holding Julio’s hand for the last leg of the trip, but it was Papá she couldn’t let go of, even though they said very little to each other.

They wove through plazas and alleyways, finally wending through a craftsmen’s marketplace (Coco saw beautiful jewelry and lovely woven blankets, among other things), then turning up a narrow, cobbled street. Atop a tall building was a very familiar wooden shoe.

“Welcome home,” Mamá said.

Other than the shoe, it didn’t seem at all like home, and the city didn’t feel like Santa Cecilia, and Miguel would not be inside playing the guitar, and Elena would not be cooking, and Berto wouldn’t be trying to improve on some shoe he’d seen in a magazine, and Enrique and Luisa wouldn’t be speaking softly to each other, and Rosa would not have a book ready to read aloud…

But Julio would be there. They would be able to dance, maybe now without even doing it in secret, trying to keep it even quieter than their other private moments. Mamá would be making her perfect, watertight shoes. Maybe the uncles would be inventing things, and Rosita would have all the best gossip, and Papá would be singing, as he always should have been singing in their real home.

He tightened his hand on her shoulder and said, “It’s all right, Coco.”

She nodded.

The door was too narrow to go in two abreast, so, for the first time since he’d embraced her at the foot of the bridge, Papá let go of her.

Mamá opened the door and led the way in.

The workshop was as it always had been, though the lighting was more artificial here. Mamá’s work station—at home, no one had taken it over, and it had become the public window—was full of tools and half-finished shoes. There was a long table where the twins obviously worked, and a little neat area that Coco was sure belonged to Julio. A high stool at a counter with ledgers and books along with sandals had be Victoria’s. And…

She smiled faintly. There was a large, comfortable chair with a sewing machine set in front of it, the sort she had once used to make decorative stitches in cloth shoes. The last pair she’d made had been for Gloria’s quinceañera. No one else had taken them over when it had become too much, though Luisa had been trying to learn.

“The machine wasn’t there when we left, and the chair was upstairs with Julio,” Mamá said beside her. “The world gives us what we need.”

But I need to go home, Coco wanted to say.

She knew it was crazy, so she didn’t say it. She just nodded and sank into the large, soft chair. Julio, whose parents had been upholsterers, had made it for her in the real world, and she had brought it to the ofrenda room the year after he died, and it must have come here, even though she’d brought it back to her little room off the new house. He sat down beside her on a low stool and took her hand.

“I missed you,” she said.

“I know. I heard you say it every year when we visited.”

“You were really there then? I’ll be there again? I’ll see them?”

“I was, and you will.”

She nodded, and clasped his hand in both of hers.

She let herself adjust for a few minutes, holding on to Julio to stay grounded, then looked up over his shoulder, toward the rest of the family, all of whom were looking at her with anxious happiness. Papá looked more like he understood what she was feeling, but even he mostly looked eager for a word or a smile. She closed her eyes, imagined her room at home, saw Elena and the women getting her ready for burial, heard Miguel crying as Enrique held him.

Then she gulped—again, she wasn’t sure how this worked—opened her eyes, and made herself smile at her family. “So,” she said. “Who’s going to start filling me in? Miguel told me what he knew, but… I still feel like I’m trying to pick up a telenovela in the middle of the action. Victoria… mija, what have you been doing?”

It was a ploy, and she supposed they knew it. She did want to know, of course, if Victoria had been able to make anything of her life, after it had been cut off so viciously. She wanted to know what opportunities there were here. She wanted to know if the tíos had found love, or if Rosita had, if it was even possible after death (if they hadn’t and it was, she fully intended to start matchmaking again). She wanted most of all to know if Mamá and Papá loved each other again at last, but no one seemed to answer that one.

But there was no chance that she would really absorb any of it. She just wanted to let them take over the conversation, so she could adjust.

Papá came over while Tío Oscar was talking about how to get around the city, and sat on the floor beside the chair. Coco took his hand gratefully. He didn’t seem to need to talk. He seemed to just be soaking in her presence.

After what seemed like a long time, Mamá emerged from another room, carrying a tray of food. It smelled good, better than anything she’d had for a long while… then again, all she’d had for a long while was the flavorless mush that Elena had been able to get her to swallow. Everyone else apologized for the quality—“The real stuff comes on Día de Muertos!” Julio promised—but she was grateful for the routine of the family, though it seemed strange not to go into the open air kitchen for it. A newspaper arrived (carried by a flying creature with bright pom-poms on its tail), and—in a ritual that Coco had nearly forgotten—the family read it together, highlighting everyone’s favorite stories… though today, they went straight for section on new arrivals. A small picture of Coco—the one the official took, she guessed—accompanied what seemed to be a long article, in comparison with others on the page.

Victoria read aloud. “Socorro Rivera Rivera de Hernandez, age 100, arrived early this morning, to be greeted by her family. She is the daughter of Imelda Rivera de Rivera and Héctor Rivera, involved heavily in the events of Día de Muertos three weeks ago, when Miguel Rivera, a living child, arrived and cast doubt on the legend of singer Ernesto de la Cruz…”

This was followed by a rather detailed account of the story Miguel had told, though it was strange to hear it from a more detached viewpoint.

Once this—the real reason the paper had any interest in Coco—was finished, it gave the same information about her that she supposed was in the other arrival notices, or, as they would have been known at home, obituaries. “Señora Hernandez is warmly welcomed by her parents, her husband Julio, her daughter Victoria, and others. In the living world, she is remembered by her daughter Elena Hernandez de Rivera, and various descendants, including, of course, Miguel Rivera.”

“So, it’s safe to say Miguel was noticed,” she said.

“I’ll get you a bobble-head,” Mamá said.

Coco shook her head. “I have pictures.” She reached into the pocket of her nightgown and pulled them out. She wasn’t even sure which ones Gloria had sent with her.

The first was her wedding picture. She stood beside Julio, impossibly young, her hair for once not in twin trenzas. It had been loose for the day, except for one of Mamá’s ribbons, tied neatly around her head, holding her veil in place. Julio had been handsome in his tuxedo. How she had wanted to dance with him at their wedding! They had danced later, in the dark of a room at the inn, and that had been as much a consummation of their marriage as what had come later, but she had wanted to dance at the wedding. Mamá had given her hand.

Papá took the picture and looked at it for a long time. “What a beautiful woman you became,” he said.

“Aren’t we full of ourselves?” Mamá teased him softly. “She always looked exactly like you, Héctor.”

“It works much better on a girl,” Papá said.

Mamá ruffled his hair, which was as much affection as Coco had seen between them here so far, but it went no further.

The next picture was of the girls, on the first day Elena went to school. Victoria was holding her hand, and they were both neat and clean in their little uniforms. Elena looked like she was about to start crying (in fact, she had, moments after Julio had snapped the picture; she did not want to leave the hacienda, and Mamá had needed to hold and cuddle her, which had made everyone late). Then there was a picture of Victoria dressed up for date in the ‘50s, and one of Elena and Franco in the workshop. Pictures were becoming cheaper by then, and this one was candid, as Elena playfully threw a handful of something in Franco’s direction. Then there were the babies—Berto, Enrique, Gloria. Another picture of Victoria, not long before she died, this one with one or another of her boyfriends. Then the great-grandbabies. Abel, pretending to lift a broom in the workshop like it was set of heavy barbells. Rosa, letting Coco braid her hair when she was a toddler. And Miguel. Miguel sitting on Coco’s lap, his hands on her cheeks. She had sung to him. And he had sung back, even before he was old enough for words.

She put her hand over her mouth, and the tears came before she could stop them.

“I want Miguel,” she said.

Mamá came over and hugged her. “You’ll see him, mija. I promise.”

“But he won’t see me.”

“He’ll know you’re there,” Julio said. “He can’t very well help knowing, after visiting us.”

“But I didn’t know you were there!”

There was a brief time of comforting sounds, then Coco pulled herself out of her grief. It hadn’t occurred to her that the dead would grieve the living, just as the living grieved the dead.

Mainly because she had assumed she would just wink out like a candle.

Surprise.

They spent the rest of the night being almost aggressively normal. Mamá had a shoe order to finish, as she always seemed to. The uncles were inventing things. Victoria was studying new designs. Julio made a fuss over Coco’s workspace, and she herself finally took a deep breath and asked if she could see the list of orders, and if there was anything she needed to know about making shoes that would just go over bones.

Papá hovered awkwardly at a station with a few clumsily cut bits of leather.

“Héctor,” Mamá said, “why don’t you play for us?”

He got a guitar that Coco had never seen from corner and sat down. “Do you want…?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Not yet. But something pretty, please.”

He smiled, and started playing a tune she’d never heard before, singing softly about roses and the sea, and about forgiveness.

She didn’t sleep that night, and she didn’t think anyone else did, either, though everyone retreated to more private areas. She had no idea how she was meant to enjoy her reunion with her husband (though, despite her unbelief, she had fantasized about it more than once). It turned out to be as instinctual as it ever had been, though… different. She was glad to be in his arms again, glad for his soft voice and gentle touch, even if she couldn’t quite convince herself that it was real.

He held her for the rest of the night, and they talked of many things.

“Why is everyone dressed like it’s 1890?” she asked at one point. “My clothes… it’s what I had when I came over. But I know that’s not what Victoria was wearing. I played that morning over and over in my head for years. She had on blue jeans and sneakers, and a top with a ruffle on it, and big shoulder pads. It was blue. And you were in…”

“The hospital gown,” he said. “There are lot of people wandering around in those. I had it for most of the year, until Día de Muertos. When you gave me my hat back, then suddenly, I seemed to be able to find clothes. Victoria still has those jeans somewhere, but it’s not the fashion here.”

“Fashion?”

“You thought you were done with passing fads?”

She laughed. “I suppose not.” She stretched out and looked at the bright neon lights beyond the window. It was like living in the middle of a casino. She supposed she’d get used to it. “I’ll have something new eventually, then?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“And I can’t… I don’t know, buy something?”

“Your mother will try to make you something, I’m sure, but if it’s like anything else, you’ll have to wait for the living to really imagine you here, for things to stay. I mean, they do, but they don’t. They’re still really thinking of you as being there with them, in the way they saw you. Just like you kept thinking of me in the hospital for a while.”

“All that time on chemo, and I lost you anyway.”

“And now you have me again.”

“Yes…”

He brushed a stray hair from her cheek. “Anyway, when you’re on the ofrenda and they leave you offerings… that’s when everything starts to get normal.”

“Will I be young again?”

“Not that I’ve noticed. I’m not.”

“I’d love to be beautiful for you.”

“You’re always beautiful to me.”

She settled into his embrace.

By the time something like natural light started to come through the windows, Julio was already up and bustling around. He had a delivery to make, and he wanted to finish it as quickly as possible, so he could come back to her. She suspected he really was giving her a chance to be with the others. It was his way.

It took her three tries to find the right staircase leading downstairs. It went to the kitchen. No one was here. She opened cupboards and found food that seemed queerly shapeless if she wasn’t looking directly at it. She wasn’t hungry—she wasn’t sure she could be hungry anymore—but she was considering making a big breakfast for the family, as she always had before she’d gotten sick.

“You’re up.”

She looked up.

Mamá was in the door that led to the workshop, smiling brightly. She was still dressed in the same purple gown she’d worn yesterday, though she’d taken off her shoemaking apron, and it seemed to have magically cleaned itself and wasn’t rumpled and…

Coco raised her eyebrows, or what should have been her eyebrows. “Mamá, I know that dress! How long have you been wearing that?”

“It’s what I end up in whenever I don’t make any special effort.”

“But you burned it!”

“Well… don’t remind the twins. They didn’t recognize it. I’m not even sure Héctor did.”

“How could I not recognize your wedding dress?” Papá asked, coming up behind her. “But I didn’t think you’d want me commenting on it.” He came around her and hugged Coco again, and it felt wonderful. She hugged him back, and wished he smelled like she remembered him smelling, but she supposed that smells came from parts of the body that weren’t there anymore. “Wait a minute,” he said, making a playful face. “She burned it?”

“I burned everything,” Mamá admitted. “I was foolish.”

“You were hurt,” Papá said gently. “And it was my fault. I’m glad you’ve got it back. You were always beautiful in it.”

“I used to sing in it,” Mamá told Coco. “Papá would play, and I would be up there singing and dancing in the spotlight. This one was my favorite.” She smiled. “Luckily, it also had the loosest waistline.”

“Imelda!” Papá said, horrified.

“Papá, I did the math a long time ago.” Coco gave him another hug, then started examining the food for breakfast. “And Mamá and I have even joked about it before.”

“Joked…”

“I was worried that she wouldn’t take me seriously when I told her to wait a bit longer. So I made a great fuss of trying to explain that I knew what I was talking about, only to find out that she did the math when she was twelve.” Mamá shook her head. “And she respected me anyway.”

“I had very strict orders on that subject,” Coco said, and smiled at Papá. “I never disobeyed that one.”

Mamá frowned. “What? You were… this is the thing you remembered? That you were supposed to take care of me?”

“Papá said that you were our blessing and we had to treat you wonderfully.”

“Is that why you indulged my craziness? Oh, Coco.”

Coco shrugged, then looked at Papá. “I… I should have stood up. I could have and I didn’t, and…”

He put a finger over her lips, as he would have when she was tiny. “No apologies. You saved me.”

Mamá came around the counter and kissed her cheek. “You saved the whole family.”

Coco wasn’t sure what to say, so she started pulling out food—fruits, mostly, and flour and lard for tortillas, and eggs. She wasn’t sure that any of them had been those things until she touched them. “I’ll make breakfast,” she said. “If we…eat breakfast?”

“We eat breakfast,” Mamá said. “I’ll…” She looked at Papá, then at Coco. “You know, I have some orders to work on. Héctor… why don’t help Coco?”

Papá smiled broadly.

Mamá disappeared into the other room.

He looked at her. “Coco… I… I don’t even know where to start.”

She took down several mixing bowls. “I used to have a game where I saved you,” she said. “I would go up in the hills sometimes and play at it when I was little. There was a dragon and I had a sword—really a stick, of course—and… and I saved you and brought you home, and Mamá was so happy and we all danced, and lived happily ever after. You were going to write a song about it.”

“You would have made a fine knight. And excellent ballad.”

“It was already too late, though. I never could have saved you then. You were already… I think I knew.”

“Losing your memory is a pretty big dragon to fight,” Papá said, reaching across and taking her hand. “And you slayed it well for me.”

“But I made the dragon!” She shook her head and pulled her hand away. “I could have stood up to Mamá. I should have. Or at least to Elena later. The children should have known you.”

I made the mistake, Coco. I left.”

“You were murdered, Papá. That makes it pretty definitely not your fault!”

“It wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed home.”

“No, you’d have just been left wondering what you could have become.” She held up a hand. “No, I don’t mean that. I don’t know what I mean. But Papá, there were years that I could have told the family the truth. Even if I’d waited until after Mamá… after Mamá was gone.” He didn’t say anything. “I just… I missed Mamá so much. I kept her alive by letting the house be her house. I didn’t want to let go. Elena didn’t want to let go, or to have her see anything she didn’t want to see when she visited. Elena believed. We didn’t want to be alone.” She stared down at the peppers that she’d somehow found and lined up on a cutting board without thinking about it. “And I didn’t think… I thought it couldn’t matter to you. I didn’t…”

“Coco, let it go.”

“But I remembered. I always remembered. I broke into the tomb every year to tune your guitar. Enrique took that over. And I guess Miguel will do it now. I never forgot, Papá. I should have spoken, but I never forgot. Not until the very end.” She took a deep breath—again, she had no idea how that worked—and smiled ruefully. “It was the last thing to go. Those last few months, before Miguel woke me up, I… it always seemed to be my fifth birthday. I kept asking everyone if you were coming home.”

“I should have. I wanted to come home for your birthday. I was supposed to. When Ernesto scheduled shows… we were way up in Zacatecas. If I’d known he meant to keep going, I’d have put my foot down then, but he said ‘Just a few more, Héctor. There’s a contract around the corner.’ I should have said, ‘So what? My little girl will only turn five once.’”

“Mamá got out her guitar and sang the song you sent for me.”

“Good. I’m glad she did. I was under the impression… I thought she’d dropped music when I left.”

“She burned everything when she gave up on you coming back. Though I suspect most of the family imagines it happening before you got around the corner and into the plaza. I did try to correct that, but once a story takes on a certain amount of life…”

“Oh, it’s a much better story that way. Getting up on her feet and making things work after a shiftless man left her in a lurch? More great ballads.”

“I like love stories. Even sad ones, like the true one where she waited a year and a half and never did admit that she knew you were dead, because she couldn’t stand to know it.”

“I never should have walked out that door.” Papá sat down. Somehow, his guitar was leaning against the cupboards—Coco was sure it hadn’t been before—and he picked it up, noodling the song he’d sent for her birthday, two months after he’d left. “I should have been at your fifth birthday party. I should have danced with you at your quinceañera. I should have been at your wedding. I would have written a song for it. I approve of Julio, by the way. Good man. We’ve had good talks.”

“Well, I’m glad, since it’s a bit late to change that now.”

He laughed faintly, then played a few notes of “Remember Me” before letting the guitar go quiet. “Coco, I can’t seem to sing your song. I want to. But…” He shook his head.

“It’s okay. Miguel gave it to me from you. He told me you wanted me to have it.”

“He did?” Papá shrugged. “I mean, I… well, I imagined I heard it, but I wasn’t sure if it was real.”

“It was. He sang it beautifully. That was when I needed it. Now? You’re right here. You’re right here and I don’t need to listen for sad guitars.” She leaned over the guitar and kissed his cheek. “He told us everything. Well, a lot, anyway, I don’t know if it was everything. Enough that I knew he’d really been here with you. He’s a good boy. Have you written anything about Miguel? I’d love to have a song to help remember Miguel.”

“I haven’t written anything.”

There was something odd in his voice, and Coco realized what she should have realized immediately—that he was still not sure about his life here. She wasn’t even sure he lived here. He was afraid to write music, because it all might go away again.

“Maybe I’ll write one,” she said. “I don’t know the music, but I did win poetry prizes.”

“You did?”

“Oh, yes. I got little medals in school. And I put them in my memory box with your letters. I always thought that was something you gave me.”

“I’d love to read what you’d write.”

“It’s been a while.” Coco smiled. “Once I got old enough that I was supposed to stop writing poetry that rhymed, I couldn’t pretend they weren’t songs anymore. But they can be songs now, can’t they? Mamá asked you for music yesterday, so…”

“Give it a shot. What would you write about our Miguel?”

Coco thought about it. “I’d write about how he was still playing your guitar when I left. How he kept the house full of music from the time he got back until… well, until…” She sighed. “Until I died. I’m dead. I don’t feel dead.” Papá didn’t say anything, and Coco supposed that was the way it would be. Everyone would wait for her to accept it. And she wasn’t denying it. It just seemed… very lively, for being dead. “Anyway, I might write about when he was little. I used to feed him from his bottle and hum to him, and he would suck in rhythm to the song. I always knew what he was. I always thought he had a lot of you in him.”

“I thought he had a lot of your mother in him.”

“Well, that, too.” She laughed. “I loved all of them. But Miguel was my special one. Rosa read to me when I asked her to, but Miguel used to hurry home from school just to tell me about his day.”

“Really?”

“Oh, every day. He’d do his homework by me, and tell me about his favorite luchadors, and his running, and really everything except the fact that he was practicing music, but I could tell. I saw his hands. The way the callouses were starting to build up. I remembered what that meant.” She shook her head. “I was so confused at the end, though. That day… he showed me the picture and kept asking about you. Well, I thought it was you. He kept saying de la Cruz’s name. But I couldn’t think of what he thought de la Cruz had to do with anything. I didn’t understand what he thought. Like I said… it was my fifth birthday again. Someone was asking about my papá, and… I don’t know. I couldn’t parse it out.”

“It’s okay. It worked out in the end.”

“I hate that I let him think it even for a second.”

Papá reached over and took her hand. “Will you stop worrying, Coco? It couldn’t be helped.”

“You weren’t angry that he thought it?”

“It never occurred to me to be angry about that. Honest mistake without the face.”

Coco’s eyes flickered up to his, and he didn’t quite meet her look. The face could have been there. She hadn’t put it back where it belonged.

“Well, it took a second, honestly,” Papá admitted. “I was confused as to why Ernesto’s great-great-grandson would have that picture. Then I realized…about the guitar. What he must have thought. I’d have gotten angry at Ernesto, but I really couldn’t get any angrier at him than I already was. I’d just found out he killed me. I think Miguel was more angry than I was when he figured it out.”

“I’m sorry, Papá.”

He kissed her forehead. “My Coco. Don’t worry about it. Please. I don’t want to… just don’t worry any more.”

She nodded, and went back to making breakfast. Papá chopped vegetables, and after a while, Victoria came downstairs and started making coffee. By the time it was ready, Julio was back, and the workshop was gearing up for the day.

Coco nodded.

“All right. You play. I’ll cook.”

And that was how she settled in, to the soft, beloved tones of Papá’s guitar, the smell of her kitchen, and the cheerful patter of her family at work in the next room.

Everything else came later.
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Comments
sonetka From: sonetka Date: January 5th, 2019 07:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Aww, this was really nice. The "grieving period" for the living certainly rang true (and as much as you might love them, you don't necessarily want them to join you all that soon.) I'm assuming Coco finally got out of her nightgown when she got clothes on her ofrenda during the next Dia de Muertos. And of course Imelda's wearing her wedding dress -- the Land of the Dead knows, even if she doesn't want to admit it! Though I don't blame Hector for not recognizing it initially, given that any dress will look pretty different once it's been altered to fit those wasp-waisted skeletons.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 7th, 2019 11:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hope she got out of her nightgown! Obviously, that was done to keep the audience in the loop and make sure no one wondered who the new skeleton was, but as an eternal outfit... not so much!

If there is something after, then it would make sense that you'd miss people from that side, too.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 19th, 2019 06:27 am (UTC) (Link)
It makes sense that a lot of coping isn't so much the dying itself but rather all the things that could have been done.

With all that happened, it's unsurprising that Coco also lost faith. I take it that the ofrenda was simply a case of cultural obligation; unless Julio was the one who brought the practice back.
Speaking of which, that was an adorable interaction betwen Coco and Julio.

And of course, there's the great self-loathing game. Though all things considered, Coco recovered faster than Imelda or Hector.

--- FFR
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