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The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Call Me A Fool: Chapter 2
Okay, so... I'm feeling my way in here. It's just not a proper long-form Coco story without hearing from the other side, though...

by Ernesto de la Cruz
March, 2027
And this family that you wish to lionize? I knew them. I knew Imelda Rivera of old. She was a cold woman long before she was a crazy one. It should surprise no one that she crushed the dreams of generations of her family. It was she who jailed them. I, who you revile, saved them.

from Más Alla, April 2027
I’m sure all of us who were here remember the excitement when the living child, Miguel Rivera, crossed the Marigold Bridge ten years ago. In all of the years since, it has been presented as a charming story of family reconciliation, but newly arrived reporter Lola Martinez says that it hasn’t played out that way in the living world. “Miguel has made quite the career for himself,” she says, “but he’s barely been seen in Santa Cecilia since he left for the Conservatory three years ago, and extended his ‘semester’ in Europe indefinitely, producing a musical about Mexico, but not setting foot here.”

While it is notoriously difficult to get former Santa Cecilians to speak on the record, off the record, many here in our city have told us about the strange and cruel home founded by matriarch Imelda Rivera…

from Traqueteo de Huesos
Miguel Rivera, also known as “El Viviendo” for his famous early visit to our land, has plumbed the depths of Rivera family history, looking for a woman who allegedly saved the life of his great-great-grandmother, later named Imelda Rivera, written as the daughter of brutal hacendados in Guerrero. If la niñera wishes to be found, to tell us the truth about this thrilling tale, please, feel free to contact us…

Imelda waited on the plaza outside Marigold Grand Central, watching the sky for the flash of blue and green that would mean Pepita was back, that she’d accomplished whatever she thought he could accomplish in the land of the living, though Imelda had no clear idea what that might be. She hadn’t had any premonitions of anyone being ill, and Pepita hadn’t had the nervous, cautious air that she did when she was going to retrieve a soul from the hacienda.

Instead, the alebrije had been pacing furiously up and down the street outside the shop, growling and pawing at the cobblestones. There was no mystery about the source of her anger. Imelda was angry, too. But three days ago, Pepita had stopped her pacing, looked through a window at Imelda, and taken off into to the evening. She hadn’t been seen since.


Imelda turned slowly, looking over her shoulder. Coco was hurrying across the plaza. She had straightened up a little in the last few years, and was enjoying the clothes that the family had left her—today, she was wearing a sort of flared skirt with a scoop-necked sweater that looked like things she’d worn in the fifties—but she still moved gingerly, taking care of the arthritis that had plagued her for the last several decades of her life, even though there was nothing for to take root in here. She would get over it. People did.

It took her a minute to arrive, and Imelda made no move to join her. She stood, arms crossed.

“Mamá,” Coco rebuked her. “Mamá, we’ve talked about this.”

You’ve talked about it. You and your papá. And the twins. And Victoria. Julio and Dante have been kind enough to mind their business.”


“I will not be a prisoner in my own workshop, Coco.”

“No one is saying you should be. But don’t go out alone. You might not… well… the roads…”

Imelda snorted. “You think I wouldn’t enjoy a chance to go visit de la Cruz in Odiados and kick him in the head again?”

“Don’t joke, Mamá. I waited fifty years to see you. Papá waited even longer. No one wants you to get lost on the way home and end up making shoes for Cortés.”

Imelda tightened her jaw. There was no arguing the point. She’d almost gotten lost three times so far. “It’s absurd,” she said, starting back toward the gate, Coco following in her wake. “My family forgave me. What business is it of anyone else’s?”

“None,” Coco said. “Mamá, slow down.”

Imelda stopped at the edge of the plaza. The agent who usually checked for her photo on Día de Muertos was processing a newcomer at the moment, but she took a moment to look up and glare. Imelda glared back. She wouldn’t mind if Imelda disappeared. Imelda had seen the way she smiled at Héctor every year and batted her eyelashes.

Coco linked her arm through Imelda’s and led her through the gate. “Mamá, let it go. It’s not important.”

Imelda allowed herself to be steered back into the city, past the great doors of the Department of Family Reunions. Music boomed from the discoteca, whose doors were open in the mid-afternoon. It was some kind of modern, electronic thing, and she would normally stop and shake her head at it, but she could see the people out front turning to look at her. People were in line at the cinema already. The current show—a musical called ¡Bernardo!, which was about a Puerto Rican boy killed in a street fight and trying to make amends to his cousin—was a smash hit, and almost always sold out. Imelda wanted to see it, but she didn’t want the looks she’d get. So she’d asked Héctor to just teach her the songs. She wanted to see the dancing, and hold Héctor’s hand and clap when Bernardo and the boy he’d killed before dying turned together to fight the people who’d made them fight in the first place.

But it was out of the question now. People would get up and leave her row if they noticed her there. That wouldn’t be fun for anyone.

With a sigh, she followed Coco down the narrow street beside the theater, where they caught a tram to the craftsmen’s district (the driver meticulously ignored her), and alighted outside the workshop. Héctor was on a ladder, cleaning the sign. She could still see enough of the paint to know what someone had called her.

“Don’t bother,” she said dully. “It’ll be back tomorrow, anyway.”

“I’m bothering,” Héctor said. “They can’t talk to you that way.”

She managed a smile. “You always said that. It never stopped them from talking that way.” She sighed. “This isn’t new, Héctor. It’s been a while, but I’ve been called names before.”

“Not in a place where your reputation can kill you.”

She went inside with Coco. Héctor would keep scrubbing, and she knew there was nothing she could say to stop him from doing it.

She loved him for that. She always had.

“Mamá… you’re smiling.”

“Just a memory.”

“Tell it to me”

“I was thirteen. I was pretending to be a boy to learn to make guitars—the old man in the shop wouldn’t teach me as Imelda. I’d just gotten found out, and I was kicked out for lying. I forgot to put on my boy-face.” Imelda made an exaggerated grimace of the sort she’d worn then, thinking that boys must look angry all the time, though she didn’t remember where she’d gotten that idea. “Mostly because I was staring at the boy who came in to practice the guitar.”

“Papá,” Coco guessed.

“Papá. Anyway, some of the men outside jeered when I went out in my breeches, and Héctor decided he was going to tell them what was what. You have to understand—he was twelve and about a head shorter than I was, with a soprano voice, and he was so skinny he looked like a stick figure. He didn’t care. He asked me what my name was—I’d been calling myself Ignacio—and I told him it was Imelda, then he said, ‘You don’t talk to Imelda like that!’ It was the first day he knew my name, and already…” She laughed. “Do you know, I’d forgotten that until right this moment? I remembered the guitar. I remembered that we were friends right away. I forgot that he cursed at full-grown men on my behalf before he had the slightest idea who I was.”

There was a shuffling in the corner, and Dante came out. His colors had been fading lately—no one knew why—and he moved like Coco did. As soon as Imelda sat down, he came over to her and rested his chin on her knee, looking up with pale pink and green eyes as she scratched between his ears. He whined plaintively.

“Your friend isn’t back yet,” Imelda told him. “I’m sorry. I’ve made a mess for everyone.”

“Mamá, don’t. It feels worse than it is. This is… this is a handful of people.”

“A handful. So unimportant that all of you are worried they’ll send me to Odiados.”

“They’re a loud handful,” Victoria said, coming in from the kitchen. “No need to take risks. This will blow over. We’ll stand around you until it does.”

Dante whined again, and Imelda bent down to kiss his forehead and scratch behind his ears, which made him give his best grin, and close his eyes in sleepy happiness. This was another thing. Dante shouldn’t be sick. In all her years here, she had never seen an alebrije fade or sicken or even age, and by alebrije standards, Dante ought to still be a puppy. But back in March, he’d had a nightmare—or whatever animals had—and run to the door, scratching at it and trying desperately to get out. Imelda had opened the door for him and he’d taken to the sky, but whatever he was looking for wasn’t there and he’d returned with a lost and bewildered look on his face. Ever since, he’d been getting more and more listless and depressed. He would pad around after Héctor without much interest, and he liked to cuddle with Imelda, but he’d stopped flying, and his cheerful bark had been replaced by thee pathetic little whines.

She didn’t know what had started it. De la Cruz had put out his book in February, but she didn’t think that could have much of an impact on an alebrije. It hadn’t even really started to affect her until a few months ago, when new arrivals had started talking about Miguel’s musical, and they’d made the connection with de la Cruz’s comments about how awful she was. Imelda wasn’t sure what that connection was—all the news about the show that had trickled down here, sounded like it was a perfectly nice story, about the niñera deciding that a revolution was not a good enough reason to murder children, and what she might have been thinking as she made that decision. It sounded like the sort of thing that he might tell simply because he loved and missed them, and it had pleased her greatly when she’d first heard about it. It still did, on the pure level of family pride. She desperately wished she could see it.

But for one reason or another, it had made people start talking about her. About the workshop, about the music ban, about her temper. Anyone who’d crossed her in business seemed to be talking about how ruthless she was with money (apparently, saving it wisely and investing it in the buildings around her shop had become “exploiting her less savvy neighbors”). And in that atmosphere, they suddenly started talking about de la Cruz’s absurd thesis that, through his movies, he had healed Héctor’s family, after Imelda had destroyed it. Héctor’s own furious objections on this point hadn’t helped, because of course, people knew how many times she had turned him away after she had crossed the bridge. Clearly, she had him in some sort of thrall. (“It’s called being in love with you,” he’d muttered crossly when the subject had been raised. “I write songs about it.”)

Coco sat down beside her. “Mamá, it really isn’t as many people as it must feel like. People talk to me. They say, ‘This must be so hard on your mother.’ Most people think de la Cruz is playing games.”


“Yes.” She sighed. “Mamá, he was famous for a long time. Much longer than we’ve had to deal with. He knows all the old games, and there will be people in Odiados who know the new ones.”

Imelda ground her teeth. “Maybe I should wander in there. Just for a day or so until Pepita gets back to fly me out. I owe it to him to throw him off of something very high. Twice.”

“Abuelita,” Victoria said, her voice low and warning. “Don’t joke about that.”

The door opened and Héctor came in, the cleaning bucket dangling from his finger bones. “It’s done,” he said, and sat down across from her. “No sign of Pepita?”

“Not yet.”

“We need to—”

She shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about it, Héctor. Please. Tell me about something else. How is Frida? Have you gotten anything new on the hero twin play?”

Héctor sighed. “I… um…”

“This nonsense has been distracting you?” Imelda balled a fist and slammed it into the side of the chair. “I’m sorry, Héctor.”

He waved it away. “Frida’s fine. And says not to worry. These stupid tempests always blow over. She’s working on a painting about it. I’m not sure how that works. There are knives. She is the blade. And also the hand on the blade. And the person it’s aimed at.”

“Of course she is.”

Héctor took her hands and leaned over, pressing them to his forehead. “I’ll talk to Miguel on Día de Muertos about not airing family laundry.”

“You’ll do no such thing.”

“I won’t?”

“No. From Miguel, it’s love. Everything else is unintended. Don’t make him think he needs to be muzzled.” She pushed a stray hair out of Héctor’s eye. “Besides, this would have happened eventually, the second we ended up in the news. Having good things out there might end up helping.”

He nodded, but still looked frustrated.
“Héctor, don’t be angry. Certainly not at Miguel.”

“I’m not. I just wish the worlds wasn’t…”

“The world?”

He nodded.

Coco took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “I best get to the workshop. If you want proof that this isn’t the whole Land of the Dead turning against you, look at our list of orders. No change. And that means that I’ve got eight uppers to finish today if we’re not going to fall behind. And you’d best do the finishing on Señora Vargas’s boots. You know she’ll ask.”

Imelda nodded gratefully. Héctor, bless him, always wanted to talk things out. Victoria wanted to solve problems. The twins wanted to fume. Julio avoided the issues altogether. But Coco knew her. After so many years of being one another’s first companions, she had to. Coco knew that the only thing that would get her off the subject was getting back to work.

So they did.

All told, the evening in the workshop was pleasant. No one talked about the graffiti, or the glares in the plaza. Héctor played his guitar and tried out some of the new songs on them. Julio and the twins talked about sports. A handful of fútbol players had decided to get back into the game, and the various clubs were wooing them. Julio was holding out for Aluxes to get a player called Casarín, but the twins were Club Cucuy fans, so it was quite the argument, though Imelda, who thought fútbol dull (she preferred boxing, if she had to pick a sport), didn’t really care about the outcome. Victoria suggested that they needed new sports for the Land of the Dead—things that would showcase skeletal athletes better—and they spent the rest of the work shift coming up with ideas. Oscar decided that whatever it was, it really ought to require specialty shoes.

When everyone else had drifted upstairs, Héctor and Imelda sat across her work station from one another. Dante was curled up at Héctor’s feet.

Héctor put his guitar down. “Are you feeling better?”

“I’m all right, Héctor. A lot of people didn’t like me in the land of the living, either. I’m used to this.”

“I just wish I could fix it. I always wish I could fix things. I never can.”

She reached over and took his hand. “Don’t do this, querido. None of this is your fault.”

“No, but I’m your husband. I’m supposed to… I don’t know. Give you a happy world. I’ve never been able to do that.”

“Maybe not. But you make the world we’re stuck with so much better.” She smiled. “I was telling Coco earlier about the guitar shop. You going out and yelling at those men. Do you remember that?”

“I’m sure they were terribly intimidated.”

“I felt very protected, for what it’s worth.”

He smiled. “It’s worth something. Though you never really needed to be rescued, did you?”

“Everyone needs to be rescued sometimes. That’s what we’re all put here to do. To rescue each other when we need it.” She shrugged. “At least that’s what Coco told me once.”

“She did?”

“Yes. She was ten. I was going on and on about how she shouldn’t ever want anyone to rescue her, how she needed to learn to rescue herself. You know… because…”

“Because you couldn’t count on a man?”

Imelda winced. “Well…”

“It’s all right.”

“And she said, ‘Mamá, I don’t want to be so sad.’ And then she gave me the Socorro Rivera theory of rescues. I don’t think she ever wavered from it. And I came around to her way of thinking eventually.”


“Oh… about ten years ago.”

He ran a finger along her cheek, then sighed. “I want to rescue you now. Give me a dragon to fight about this. I’ll fight a dragon.”

“And it would be a battle for the ages. But there’s no dragon. Just words.”

“But I’m good with words. That should make it a much more even battle, shouldn’t it?”

“If words were weapons, yours would be Excalibur, mi amor. But it’s not a dragon. It’s a swarm of gnats. You can’t fight a swarm of gnats with Excalibur.” He looked miserable. She leaned over and kissed him. “Come to bed, Héctor. We can have a happy world here, at least.”

He nodded, and they started for their room. Dante raised his head and made the whining sound again.

They looked at each other.

Imelda sighed, and Héctor gave a rueful grin. “Come on, Dante,” he said. “We’ll all just cuddle.”

So they went to bed, and Dante jumped up between them, and they held each other through the Land’s strange and quiet night.
4 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 2nd, 2019 02:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh no! Poor Dante! That must be why Miguel had a 'just in time' feeling.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 5th, 2019 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
That, and Imelda being in danger of Odiados.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: May 2nd, 2019 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)

Ouf, the hazards of public opinion.

Oh no, Dante, what's the matter?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 5th, 2019 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
The public kind of sucks sometimes.
4 comments or Leave a comment