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The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Call Me A Fool: Chapter 1
Okay, so the other version of older Miguel was a dud. Here's another try. It's going to be multi-chapter, but probably not hugely multi-chapter.


TOP TEN REASONS YOU NEED TO LEARN SPANISH RIGHT NOW!
from lookatitrightnow.com, March 2027

1. MIGUEL RIVERA
What, you thought we were going to make a political argument? You don’t know us very well! If you don’t have your eye on this delectable churro, you’re not looking en la dirección correcta! A classical prodigy, famous in music circles in Mexico before he finished high school, he exploded onto the Mexican pop scene at eighteen, revealed as the composer for half of the hits from Las Lechuzas, with quirky performance videos all over Latin America (and even some en el norte!), suddenly, you couldn’t open a Mexican fan site without seeing him. Romantically linked to pop star Ximena Maravilla for nearly a year (during which he penned her song, “Si Solo,” which held the top spot on the Latin charts for six weeks in 2024) and more recently with socialite ballerina Anja Huttmacher, he started getting his own hits after his Netflix concert, “Oíga!,” went viral in 2025. But don’t let the pop star status fool you—he’s a serious musician, and instead of just falling into the party scene, he went to study classical music in Austria, and wrote a Latin-inspired musical, La Niñera, opening next month… and you better know Spanish if you mean to see it, because it’s years from being translated. Miguel may speak four languages, but he only composes in one of them, so if you want a good excuse to do some estuiando of your español, you can’t do better than this one…


**********



THINGS TO KEEP IN THE PLAZA
from modamala, May 2027
Oh, Miguelito, Miguelito. We can’t fault your shoes—who’s going to fault a decent pair of Rivera boots?—but everything north of them… Oh, chamaco, someone needs to have a heartfelt and serious talk with you and your stylist—unless you’ve already fired him—about gold trim anywhere outside of Mariachi Plaza. We are willing to be the ones to do it! We could get behind the purple. Nothing wrong with experimenting a little bit. Too many men are scared of color. With a few reservations, we could even stand with that shade, though it’s a little bright. But gold trim… honey, you’re at an opera opening in Vienna—
your opera, we feel we should point out—not playing for pesos in Santa Cecilia…!



**********



QUIZ: WHICH MIGUEL RIVERA SONG ARE YOU?
from GRRRL Power, September 2027
You know all the words (and we bet you’ve been translating them!), but are you more of an old-school “En La Sombra” girl, or the wishful “Si Solo” type? You could be the romantic, “Cecilia, Amor,” or the fun-loving “Sigue Loco”! Or just maybe you’re hardcore and dramatic, and you’re the new breakaway stage hit, “¿Para Qué Sirve?”! Take our quiz and find out!...


Miguel crossed into Santa Cecilia just before ten o’clock on a Thursday night. With the exception of an interminable airport stop in Paris, he’d been on the move for almost twenty-four hours, getting what sleep he’d managed during the transatlantic leg of the trip. He’d left Salzburg more or less on a whim (if wanting to leave for eight months could ever qualify as a whim; the decision to actually do it had been an overnight thing—he’d woken up, called the airline, and started packing). He hadn’t been able to get a flight directly into Oaxaca that day, but instead of postponing, he’d flown into the capital and rented a motorcycle. It was better. It was time to bring his mind back, to get the air of Mexico in his lungs, and get the airlines and the apartment and the opera house out of them before he saw his family. It had to be the motorcycle. He wanted to be in the world, to feel it passing around him, not sitting in a self-contained bubble trying to work through a musical problem while the self-driving car moved him through it.

It wasn’t that he had anything against Austria. He liked it. There was a kind of beauty in the fussy, ornate old buildings, and in the new, open ones. The musical history of the place seeped out of the sidewalks. He loved classical European music as much as he loved Mexican music. He’d liked and respected his teachers, and he’d had what Carlos referred to as “musical friends to play with,” if not real, lifelong sorts of friends. The thing with Anja had gone bad, but he couldn’t blame his discontent on that. Yes, she’d pestered him to make more and more ties to the European musical world, and yes, she’d laughed at his desire to return to “East Nowhere, Mexico” (“You can go anywhere, Knuddelbärchen,” she’d crooned at him in March. “Rome, London, Madrid… why would you want to go back to that place?”). But they’d broken up six months ago, and he’d kept taking meetings and planning shows and signing up for classes, and his heart kept saying, Go home. Go home now, before it’s too late.

He’d been calling home every day, asking if everything was all right, and everything seemed to be. Rosa was engaged. Abel and Serafina’s second baby—a boy named Julio—had been born in July. Everyone was healthy. Everyone still loved him. He still loved them. But still, Before it’s too late.

He’d been writing long, chatty letters to Mamá Coco every day, which he hadn’t expected. He’d thought eventually, the letters would become a chore, but these days, he thought they were more important to him than they would be to her. He’d done some of them as videos—he’d have to leave her a tablet on the ofrenda—just to keep the taste of Spanish in his mouth. The letters were very detailed about his life (if vague on things he didn’t think she’d want details about), with mundane stories from his classes and his rehearsals. He even ran through some of his re-writes with her first, adding a few notes to Mamá Imelda, since the libretto was her story about the night her niñera had rescued her, along with the twins, from the rampaging mob that had burned her house. He hadn’t quite dared to write about Mamá Imelda and Papá Héctor themselves, but he’d thought a great deal about their histories. He knew he wanted to write next about the woman who’d abandoned Papá Héctor as an infant—who he was increasingly convinced was a woman named Maribel Campana—and even had a few lyrics started.

All of it was good. His life was good. He hadn’t hit “rock bottom,” whatever that meant. He hadn’t forgotten anyone, including himself. He wasn’t frying his brain on a homemade pharmacy, the way some of his fellow students did. He wasn’t a libertine. In fact, to his annoyance, the crew that had done his Netflix concert sneered at his so-called “virtue” and called him “San Miguel” when they thought he couldn’t hear. And Giada Strozzi—the pretty Florentine soprano playing the lead in La Niñera, who had a face like a painting and a voice that danced over Miguel’s melodies like a marigold petal on a mountain stream—had referred to him as “Il Puritano” since he’d turned her down at the opening night cast party, when he’d still been with Anja. He wasn’t turning into some kind of show business monster like de la Cruz. There weren’t actually all that many of them, though the ones who were there tended to be memorable.

But something inside him was pulling him back. He’d tried to think of metaphors for it—a riptide, an anchor—but in the end, all he could come up with was that flashing golden light on Papá Héctor’s bones. Everything seemed all right, but… it was flashing anyway. There was a sense of having grasped the petal, of being caught between worlds, but he was deliberately staying away, and if he didn’t let it take him home soon, he’d be gone forever.

Which made no sense. He’d never made a secret of his intention to go home. He’d never wavered in it.

But still.

Before it’s too late.

The last day in Salzburg, he’d gone to dinner with a producer who wanted to find French translator for La Niñera, played the grand piano on one of the school stages, and taken a quiz to find out which one of his songs best captured his soul. (It was “Si Solo”—“You have a wistful, dreamy soul, and you’re in love with being in love! Like the whimsical ‘If Only,’ you want the world to be kind and generous, and can be hurt easily when it isn’t! You should be proud to be a dreamer!” He had sent this result to Ximena, now touring Australia, and she’d sent back an eye-roller cartoon.) Then he’d gone home, written the beginning of a song for a woman trying to decide to abandon her child, then fallen asleep and dreamed that he was in the cenote, that he was a skeleton, that Papá Héctor wasn’t there and Dante and Pepita never found him. He just cried out to the sky, over and over, his voice echoing on the stone walls, while the Maya gods looked on indifferently. One of them, now etched in stone in the old style, was still unmistakably Ernesto de la Cruz.

After he woke up, he lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking, It will pass if I don’t do anything about it. But the image in his mind’s eye stayed with him, seeming to stare at him from the inside, and instead of being a comfort, the idea that he really might fail to do anything, that the message of the dream might pass him by, overtook him, and he reached over for his phone to arrange a flight.

When he’d crossed the state line into Oaxaca, he’d had to pull over. He was shaking and elated, and he’d turned off onto a narrow dirt road across from the sign and crouched beside the bike, holding onto the handlebars for balance with one hand while the other fretted across the long grass. He considered pulling his guitar from his back and playing something right there, for the benefit of the lizards and field mice, but now he could feel Santa Cecilia pulling him forward, and finally, he’d started moving again.

And now, the town was spread out at his feet. He was coming in from the hills, stopped beside the deserted old manse that had once been the convent orphanage. He could see where the street lights picked up, at the old abandoned train depot near the foot of the hill. Beyond that, there was the shell of what used to be the livery, and was now a kind of open-air market. Then there were three houses and the bakery and…

He could see the lights on in the courtyard at the hacienda. The shape of the sign on the old house was just a shadow in the night, but he knew it. There were lights on in in the new house. He couldn’t see the low walls of the rooms his parents and siblings had, but he could imagine them. The kids were probably in bed, but he imagined Mamá and Papá and Tío Berto and Tía Carmen and Tía Gloria, sitting up in the courtyard, maybe having a beer and wondering if Miguel was going to call again and ask if everyone was all right. He could have called ahead. Maybe he should have. But it hadn’t seemed real until right now.

They were really there.

He was really here.

He got back onto the motorcycle and started to gun the engine, but decided not to. Instead, he balanced it and walked it silently back into town along the foot trails. No one noticed him as he made his way down the path, with its uneven stone steps, and the only people in the market were busy dickering with a tourist over a blanket. (The tourist, thankfully, was facing away.) A little girl in one of the houses looked out the window without a lot of interest, but gave him a friendly wave. He returned it.

Then he was passing the bakery, and the gate to the hacienda was in front of him. It was ajar. He edged the motorcycle inside and parked it beside Mamá’s minivan. He looked into its windows. It was a happy mess of Coco’s discarded drawings and staff paper, Teto’s alphabet practice, and Ángel’s old cookie wrappers. He spread his hand out on the glass, staring inside as he’d once stared into de la Cruz’s tomb, wondering if he was still a part of this.

He took a deep breath and tiptoed into the new courtyard, the one that was ringed with the places everyone slept. The new addition—now five years old—was dark, but there were windows on both sides of Mamá’s sewing room, and he could see through the old courtyard, between the workshop and the kitchen. There was no beer, but otherwise, it was what he’d imagined. Mamá was sitting beside Papá, their arms around each other companionably. Tío Berto was tinkering with a flamenco shoe. Abuelita—now usually Mamá Elena—and Papá Franco—Miguel was startled at how old his grandparents looked—had apparently been going over the books, as the laptop was out, but they’d shoved it aside. Papá Franco was leaning forward eagerly, talking to Abel’s wife, Serafina, about something. Abel was talking to a man Miguel didn’t know, but judging by the dreamy look on Rosa’s face, he was the mythical fiancé, Alejo. Tía Carmen and Tía Gloria were chopping vegetables. He couldn’t really hear what they were saying from here, but everyone seemed to be laughing softly, smiling, and enjoying each other.

“HEY!”

He jumped. Two teenage boys with baseball bats had run out from the shadows, looking furious.

Miguel jumped aside before either of them could hit him. “Manny! Benny! Calm down!”

Manny dropped his bat with a clamor, going slack jawed. Benny still looked confused. “Why are you…?” Then the penny dropped, and his bat with it, and he said. “Oh. Oh.”

”Miguel!”

Mamá ran out, and before he could even get a look at her up close, she had grabbed him, and was hugging and kissing him as furiously as Abuelita ever had. “Oh, mijo, querido, Miguel, why… how… what are you… why didn’t you…?”

He hugged her back. “Hola, Mamá.”

She put her hands on his face and her eyes moved over it, as if looking for some proof of his reality.

He grinned at her, the old one that always made her shake her head and roll her eyes.

She laughed and hugged him again. “Oh, mijo. Mijo. Why are you here? Never mind. I don’t care. I’ll get you something to eat. Do you want something? Anything!”

“Anything would be great. I’ve been… it’s been a long day.”

Papá managed to get an arm in and pulled him into another embrace. “You’ll tell us tomorrow why you’re here?” he asked. “How long…?”

“I’m back,” Miguel said. “I don’t know… it was time to leave. It was time to come home.”

“So, you’ll be staying!” Mamá Elena smiled and held out her arms.

Miguel hugged her more carefully than he’d hugged his parents. “If I can.”

“Eeeeeegh,” she said, waving her hand. “What kind of thing is that to say? If I can. This is your home, and it is always open to you.” She looked at Manny and Benny in frustration. “And the two of you, going after your cousin! You can’t have forgotten what he looks like, he’s on a billboard.”

“We didn’t…”

“We couldn’t see…”

“…just someone in the yard, looking in windows…”

“…and we…”

“And you came out barefoot and in pajamas.” Abel said. “If he’d really been an intruder, what were you planning to do? Frighten him with your smelly armpits?”

“We had bats,” Manny said.

“And an intruder could have had a gun. Who left the gate open?” Tío Berto looked apologetically at Miguel. “I know you don’t have a key. We’ll get you one. We had to change it.”

Miguel frowned. “What’s happening?”

“There’s time for that tomorrow,” Tío Berto said firmly. “Come, come. Tell us about your trip.”

Miguel allowed himself to be led to the table, where Mamá Elena plied him with juice and water and fruit while Mamá appeared to be cooking the entire kitchen’s worth of food. (Tía Gloria caught his glance and winked. “I’ll get her slowed down.”)

He wanted to know about all of them (especially Rosa’s fiancé, who had a shoemaker’s apron and a heavy accent from somewhere south of the border, but was otherwise a complete mystery), but they were full of questions about Europe, and the opera, and his classes, and what “the girl situation” might be. Mamá Elena spat on the ground when he told them that he’d split with Anja because she didn’t want him to come back. He didn’t tell them everything about the last twenty-four hours, or the way he’d been shaking when he crossed the state line, or how he’d dug his hands into the grass and almost cried with relief. He didn’t understand it, and he didn’t want to come off as over-dramatic.

Rosa had questions about Giada, who seemed to have spoken to an Italian tabloid that was picked up locally. “Something about things people didn’t know about you?”

“Things like me”—Miguel glanced at Manny and Benny—“like not taking her on a date to a party when I already had another girlfriend.”

“Ah, scandalous.”

“Well, you know me. Bad to the bone.”

She rolled her eyes so hard that Miguel half expected them to fall back out of their sockets and land in her mouth.

He pinched her nose. “So tell me about—”

“Miguel?”

He looked up. Coco was standing at the end of the table, rubbing her eyes sleepily. He smiled at her. “I was going to wake you up in the morning, Coquis. You need your sl—”

She ran around the table and tackled him before he could finish. “I knew you were coming back! Many and Benny said you were a grown-up and you were rich and you probably weren’t going to come home to stay, but you promised, and I knew you would!” She hugged him fiercely.

He hugged her back. Over her head, he could see the twins looking in every direction other than his.

The conversation went on. He kept trying to steer it back to them, but he was brushed off with comments like, “Oh, you know Santa Cecilia, nothing ever changes. What was it like to play for the prince of Monaco?” (More or less like playing for any other music lover) “Did you meet Princess Charlotte in England?” (The closest he’d gotten was a friend of Eugenie’s.) “Did the Pope really bless you?” (Yes, and he’d brought back a crucifix for Mamá Elena, and say, how were things with—) “Was your opera really in the same place Mozart had operas?” (They said so.) “Why were you dating that awful girl?” (The answer was that she was beautiful and adventurous and… but he opted not to go into that in front of the twins and Coco, so he just said, “She wasn’t always mean. And Rosa, how did you meet—”) “What does German sound like? Did you really talk German for a whole year and a half? Say German for me!” (Coco der komisches.)

It was almost midnight—marking roughly twenty hours that Miguel had been up, after a two hour nap on the plane—when he saw that Papá was looking at him sharply.

“I’m okay,” he said.

“You need sleep. So does your sister. So do all of us. Your room is a little dusty, but it’s still yours. We’ll all catch up in the morning, Miguel. I’ll show you the station we built for Serafina. She’s been making beautiful purses.”

Miguel smiled. It wasn’t much… but it was enough to know that Papá had been listening. “Can I kiss the boys?”

“Don’t wake them up.”

So Miguel said goodnight to everyone, carried Coco back to her room to tuck her in, and went across the breezeway to the room his little brothers shared. Teto was sleeping spread-eagled in a patch of moonlight from the window, and Ángel was curled up at the foot of his bed, stroking…

Miguel smiled. “Hey, Pepita,” he whispered.

Pepita looked up with a sleepy purr, then tucked her head neatly over her paws and nudged under Ángel’s pudgy hand. Miguel kissed both of them, then went over to Teto, meaning to just give him a little kiss on the head.

His eyes opened blearily, and he said, with no surprise, “Hola, Miguel.” Then he rolled onto his side and went back to sleep. Miguel smoothed his hair down and smiled.

Then he went to his old room, flung back his dusty blanket, and didn’t wake up until two o’clock the next afternoon, when an express mail truck arrived with his boxes from Salzburg.
9 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 28th, 2019 12:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn’t see yesterday’s post, but you’ve got me hooked now!

And I’m sorry I never responded to my request (Miguel and Teddy). It was really good, just took a while to mull over.

~Karen
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 29th, 2019 06:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
It was actually up for a few days. I figured people were just being... diplomatic... about it not being the bestest of all stories. ;p

Miguel and Teddy turned out to be a fun little conversation.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: April 30th, 2019 12:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I seem to have completely missed it, too. :/
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: April 29th, 2019 05:22 am (UTC) (Link)
This is lovely but the "Before it's too late" is making me extremely nervous.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 29th, 2019 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Me, too. I'm not entirely sure what's happening yet.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 29th, 2019 03:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

YES!!!!

Another multi-chapter story!!!!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 29th, 2019 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: YES!!!!

It's probably not going to be a huge epic, but yeah, it needed more space than a single chapter.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 24th, 2019 09:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love it! I have been following you for years, from Germany :-)
I am not sure what you meant to say by "Coco der komisches", but unfortunately it makes no sense in german. Does Miguel tell her she's a comedian? Then maybe "Coco, die Komikerin"? As she is a girl you would use "die" and -in as an ending. If you need more german input I d be honoured to help!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 25th, 2019 01:39 am (UTC) (Link)
And Google translate stymies me. I did "Coco the weird." Looking for anything with the alliteration, and it didn't work, apparently...
9 comments or Leave a comment