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Call Me A Fool: Chapter 6 - The Phantom Librarian — LiveJournal
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Call Me A Fool: Chapter 6
And here's where I have to start leaning on OCs... hope people like them...


FROM NO APOLOGIES: AN AUTOMORTOGRAPHY
by Ernesto de la Cruz
March, 2027
I was a young man once, prone to the foolishness that all young men are prone to. Those of you who have been young men, you will remember it with a fond, if embarrassed, smile. Those of you who were young women when we were young men might remember it less fondly, but assure you, we loved each and every one of you when we said we did. You were all beautiful, all desirable, all the shape of our dearest dreams.


**********

LOS OLVIDADOS: DELMAR ESSARÁ
from Más Alla, December, 1970
Delmar Essará Montez passed into the shadows last night, in the company of his old friend, Ernesto de la Cruz, at the latter's estate. Essará was de la Cruz's manager, and was, in fact, responsible for the accident that took his life, though as de la Cruz said, "That is far in the past, and beyond rectifying. I shall remember Del only with love." He has asked for privacy to mourn the man he called his greatest friend. As a farewell, he dropped Essará's remaining belongings into the cenote on his property...


**********

DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS: REMINDERS
from Más Alla, October 2027
Día de los Muertos commences in four days. We all look forward to seeing our living families, but remember to follow all precautions. Return before sunrise. Do not attempt to cross if no ofrenda marker has been found--the rules are in place for your protection, not our convenience. If your marker is not photographic, please make your crossing at Xibalba Station rather than one of the photo-ready posts. Remember to have your offerings ready for inspection. If you cannot easily reach a regular checkpoint, you may still cross. Inquire with neighborhood authorities to find your bridge...


The alley let out into a small, dingy square. Ancient posters were peeling off of crumbling brick walls. Some of them featured de la Cruz Spectaculars from twenty years ago, adhered to the wall after so long. He grinned inanely at Imelda from several angles.

How she had always hated that insipid grin! She had never understood why people were ever charmed by it. It seemed to say, “Yes, peon, I recognize that you exist. Now go about your insignificant business.” Or, when directed at her, more frequently, “Oh, please. Héctor has more important things to worry about than you right now. Get us something to eat and then leave men’s business to men.”

She looked around. Still alone.

She removed her boot from her foot and swung it at the nearest poster, thudding it repeatedly into the wall, tearing it to shreds with the heel.

Once it was obliterated, she didn’t feel any better, and there were still at least three of them staring at her.

She could tear them down. Just claw at them until they went away. It was tempting. It was also ridiculous and juvenile.

No one would see her.

She frowned.

While there were some places in the vast and sprawling city that were sometimes empty, none of them were so far from people that you could make a racket like she just had and not get any response. Someone should have flung open a window to yell at her, or come around a corner to see what the madwoman was doing.

“Hello?” she called.

There was no answer, and the sound fell flat, not reverberating on the stones at all. She tried whistling for Pepita, and the same thing happened. It was as if the walls were made of soft velvet and stuffed with cotton batting.

The first thread of panic started winding through her bones. She supposed it probably should have come before rage at the poster, but she had lived with herself long enough not to be surprised by that. It hadn’t occurred to her that she wouldn’t be able to simply call for Pepita from anywhere. The alebrije was her automatic escape hatch.

“Héctor!” she called, without much hope. That sound didn’t travel either. She screamed, “Héctor!

Nothing. Not even an echo. From the wall, de la Cruz smirked at her.

She started toward the center of the alley, realized that she no longer remembered which direction she came from, and forced herself to sit down on a crumbling stone bench that surrounded a non-functional fountain.

Think, she told herself. You have made it through worse than a wrong turn. If you can sit still… Día de Muertos is in four days. Everyone can cross if a photo is up. Meet the family at the hacienda and they can take you back. Let Héctor and Coco scold you all they like for your foolishness. If you can figure out how to cross and it really is allowed you don’t do anything stupid.

She was halfway across the little square before she realized she’d stood up.

That might have been the magic of the place, but she thought it more likely that it was her own restless feet. She wasn’t good at sitting still. It had been the hardest part of learning to make shoes—concentrating hard enough to remain at the workbench. That had taken discipline… and a difficult craft that required her full attention.

She would not be able to sit at this fountain for four days.

She closed her eyes and put her hands on her hips, calming herself down. When she opened them again, she started to make notes to herself. The circular fountain was in the center of the square. She was seeing buildings from the back. Were they apartments, with a shared courtyard? Maybe.

There was one long building directly across from her now. That was where the poster she’d destroyed was. There were two narrow buildings beside it, with back staircases leading to…

Backstage doors? She’d seen a few them in her time, and that’s what they struck her as. What kind of theaters they’d be, she couldn’t tell. There were three more of the narrow buildings on that side, and two wider ones (though not as big as biggest one) across from them. She turned. Behind her was the back of a stone building with a high steeple she could see from here.

A church. Well, she supposed some of them would have made their way down here as they were demolished by man and nature.

Either way, she’d have to get out of this back alley. But which way to go?

The theater would certainly take her to other people. And she had a guitar. Maybe she could play and someone would be moved to help her. The church was the obvious sanctuary, which made her distrust it. Anything that seemed obvious was probably the wrong move. If she went between the apartment houses (if that’s what they were), who would she find on the other side? Who was living in them? As for the two slightly larger buildings on her right, she had no theories.

The theater. She should go to the theater. If she belonged anywhere, it would be there.

But that was where the warning face of Ernesto de la Cruz was plastered up.

It was an old poster.

That’s all.

And a theater would have good acoustics. She could try calling Pepita again. Maybe she could even get to the roof.

She struck out toward the backstage doors.

“Imelda!”

The flat voice came from a direction she couldn’t identify, even though it wasn’t bouncing off of anything, and shouldn’t be confusing.

She stopped. “Who is it?”

“Imelda, don’t take another step. Just turn around.”

“Who is it?” she asked again.

“Please. Turn around first. Look at me.”

Reluctantly, Imelda turned away from the theater.

The woman coming toward her was dressed in a nun’s habit, with a huge crucifix around her neck. Most of her dark hair was hidden under a wimple, but a shock of bangs fell over her forehead—black, with a few threads of white. Her eyes were as large as they’d been life, light brown, a shade lighter than her skin had been, back when she’d had skin. They’d been her most striking feature as a young woman, in the days when she’d been Imelda’s friend… and in the years they’d been enemies.

“Teresa,” Imelda said without much enthusiasm.

“Yes.” She held out a hand. “Come with me, Imelda. You don’t want to go that direction.”

“And I want to go in yours?”

“Probably not, but it’s safer.”

Imelda stayed still. “Is this where you try to save my soul again?”

“Only in the most literal of senses.” Teresa sighed.

“Maybe it’s about ‘moving forward,’ like you told me to do after Héctor disappeared. Do you want my clothes, this time, Teresa? For the poor?”

“I failed you as a friend before. I won’t do it again.”

Imelda felt an urge to apologize—she had, if anything, failed Teresa in a more fundamental way—but it wasn’t an urge that came naturally to her, and it was fighting with the old anger. Teresa had come a year after Héctor vanished, asking for his things and telling Imelda to move on. It had started her final rage, the one that ended with her guitar burning in the night, and seeing Teresa here, holding out her hand as she had that day, it was rising again, battling with her desire to brush the woman away with a quick Perdoname. And there was mistrust. A lot of it.

It wasn’t that she thought Teresa meant to lead her astray. Teresa almost always meant well, when she wasn’t being spiteful. It was in execution that her plans tended to go wrong.

“How long have you been here?”

“You know when I came.”

“I mean here, here. In Odiados. And why? I didn’t hate you enough to send you here.”

Teresa smiled faintly. “You’re not there. Not yet. This is a different place. Or close to a different place. This exact spot is… hard to explain. It’s not anywhere. It’s everywhere. You can go a lot of places from here.”

“I want to get home to my family.”

She sighed. “I don’t know the way. But I could get you somewhere safe, Imelda.”

“Don’t tell me. The church.”

“I was thinking about my apartment.” She pointed up at one of the narrow buildings, and now Imelda could see a fire escape ladder scaling it. “Please, Imelda.”

Imelda ground her teeth. “Could you help me get to Santa Cecilia for Día de Muertos, if I haven’t gotten back by then?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“I’ve never seen you there.”

She smiled. “You’ve never looked for me, hermana.”

There was no arguing with that. Imelda had been more than satisfied for Teresa la Perdita to remain lost.

“Go ahead of me,” she said. “So I can keep track of you.”

No other alternatives presented themselves, so Imelda made her way across the square to the ladder Teresa was pointing to, and pulled herself up onto it.

“It’s the top,” Teresa said.

“Of course it is.”

Imelda started climbing. A moment later, she heard Teresa climb on behind her. Their shoes on the metal made little muffled thudding sounds. At the top landing, she pulled herself onto the ledge of the open window, ignoring Teresa’s order to “just go on in” (though she lowered her guitar in before it could get damaged). From here, she could see the whole of the strange little square, but there was no sign of the park she’d come from, where Héctor had been playing with Dante. Then again, it was a city. One neighborhood faded into another neighborhood, and if it wasn’t your own, how was anyone supposed to recognize it?

She let her eyes roam down to a little shrine Teresa had built. She had a picture of the Magdalena, and a picture of a thin man Imelda didn’t recognize (he was riding a horse and playing a guitar), and—

Imelda stood up, but it was too late to turn around. Teresa was already coming up, blocking the ladder.

“Why have you brought me here?” Imelda demanded. “What…?” She gestured at the shrine, where de la Cruz grinned insipidly up at her.

“It’s not what you think,” Teresa said. “It really isn’t.”

“Really? Because it always was before. It was always de la Cruz you sold me out to.”

“Imelda, I’m sorry about… oh, all of it. I shouldn’t have shared… confidences… with Ernesto. I shouldn’t have told him about you and Héctor. I was just angry about… it was a spiteful thing to do and there is no excuse, and I ask forgiveness.” She reached down to the shrine and pulled forward another picture, this one clipped from the Santa Cecilia newspaper. It was from an article about the shoe workshop, and it showed Imelda looking out sternly.

“I would prefer not to be on the same table as that man,” Imelda said.

“It’s people I need forgiveness from.”

“He ruined you, and you’re asking for his forgiveness?” Imelda made a harsh, hissing noise through her teeth. “Teresa, you are without question the most foolish—”

“Imelda, really? I pull you back from Odiados after we haven’t spoken for what, eighty years? And you decide to lecture me instead of dealing with your own problem?”

“I know how to solve my problem. With your generous help in having a place to stay for a few days. I have it under control.”

“Imelda, please go inside.” Teresa nodded toward the window, which was somehow all the way across the fire escape now. Imelda was halfway to the ladder.

She ground her teeth. Unable to think of anything else to do, Imelda went back across, swung her legs over the sill, and landed in Teresa’s apartment. Like her spot in the orphanage, it was painted wildly, with giant flowers on the wall. She had collected enough knickknacks to fill a small shop (including a Miguel bobblehead), and the only truly clear space was one-person kneeler in front of a statue of Mary.

“It’s small,” Teresa said, coming through the window and closing it behind her, “but I have room for you. Just like you always made room for me when we were children together.” She waved her arm, and Imelda realized that there were two uncomfortable cots in the room. Maybe there had been before, but probably not.

She sat down on one of them. “Can I get word to my family? I don’t want them worrying. Is it possible to get word out of here?”

“It’s possible to get word out of anywhere, in case you didn’t notice by Ernesto’s little publicity stunt.”

“How?”

“People come and go here—”

“Then I can get home!”

“People who aren’t being drawn anywhere else.”

“You can go?”

Teresa thought about it, sitting on her own cot. “I’m not sure. I could for a while. But lately, something’s been pulling at me again. I don’t know why. But I haven’t really tried for years. I belong here in this place. With the people who are trying to make things right.”

“I would think devoting your adult life to”—Imelda waved her hand at the habit—“would be enough of an atonement for making money the way you did.”

“It’s not for that.” She sighed. “I know a woman who comes and goes freely.”

“Who? My niñera? She seems to be everywhere else lately.”

“She does, doesn’t she? I’d really like to see that opera. But no. If she’s here, I’ve never met her.” She went to another window—a larger one that looked out the front of the building toward a bigger (but no less somber) square. A tiny alebrije flew through it. If it had started its life as a living animal, Imelda supposed it had been a dwarf jay, but now its blue body was covered with bright pink spots, and it had the head of an iguana. It landed on Teresa’s kneeler. “This is Checo,” she told Imelda, then stroked the alebrije’s head. “Go find Maribel, all right? She knows where the shop is.”

Checo flew off.

“Maribel? That woman who goes to all of Héctor’s shows?”

“She has her reasons, which are not mine to share, but which you don’t need to worry about.” Teresa looked down at her feet, which were clad in a pair of the sturdy black shoes the convent had ordered from Imelda once a year. “You know Ernesto is doing this to you, don’t you?”

“I assumed as much. Snake.” Imelda looked up. “Did he tell you so?”

“No. Of course not. I doubt he remembers that I exist. He barely remembered me when…” She shrugged. “Well, it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t be talking to him anyway.”

“I thought you wanted his forgiveness.”

“I need it. But he would never give it to me, so it will remain an unfulfilled need, like most things anyone would need Ernesto for.”

“And the other one?”

“It’s too late. He was forgotten years ago. So I just pray for him.”

“Well, get me back home and you can toss my picture over the rail.”

They sat in awkward silence for a few minutes, Teresa’s eyes moving over her walls. Suddenly, she laughed. “Do you remember when I stole paint from the carpenter to make pictures?”

“Yes.”

“You marched me down there and made me agree to do all his mending to pay for it.” She laughed again, though she had certainly not laughed at the time, as Imelda recalled. “You can’t be more than a year older than I am—”

“I could be younger, for all we know.”

“—but there you were, scolding me, trying to keep me from going down all the wrong paths that I went down anyway. And now look at us.”

“Are you enjoying your turn?”

“Yes.” She grinned and Imelda’s look of surprise. “What? I can confess the sin later. For now, I’m thoroughly enjoying committing it.”

“I’m glad to see such a healthy change in your outlook. That philosophy has certainly never gotten you in trouble before.”

There was a knock at the door, and Teresa answered it. Checo flew in ahead of the a woman with two long braids and a woven shawl over a red and black skirt. While it was hard to tell on this side of the bridge, Imelda had the idea that she’d been young when she crossed. She wore the colors of the Magonistas—the anarchists who’d come before the Revolution—and Imelda supposed it was possible that she’d died in one of the overblown riots that had come to be called battles. For all she knew, Maribel had burned her parents’ house.

Imelda had seen her many times—she’d appeared in the audience at Héctor’s shows almost as soon as he’d started performing again, and she’d been at every day of de la Cruz’s trial. Why the Magonistas would care was a mystery. Imelda had tried to talk to her several times, only to be met with a bowed head and a whispered, “I can’t talk to you.” Héctor hadn’t even gotten that much; she’d scurried away any time he approached.

This time, she looked up. She had small, dark eyes under her unruly fringe of bangs, and her skull suggested that she’d had a long, narrow face like Héctor’s. Her nose bone jutted out quite far before the point where it would have given way to cartilage.

Imelda frowned. The eyes weren’t right. The eyes were entirely wrong, in fact. But…

She has her reasons.

“Maribel,” Teresa said, “Imelda needs your help. Will you help Héctor’s wife?”

“You know I will,” Maribel said coolly, not shifting her eyes from Imelda. She spoke Spanish with an accent Imelda recognized, but couldn’t place. “What do you need?”

“I just need to let Héctor know I’m safe. That I’ll see him on Día de Muertos, and he can get me home. So he doesn’t do anything foolish. Would you be willing to…”

“Of course.” She smiled, a weirdly fanatic grin. “Or I could go to Odiados. I can remember a few things we might do to de la Cruz.”

Teresa cleared her throat.

“I’m sorry, Sister,” Maribel said. “I’ll go.”

“Why don’t you take Checo?” Teresa suggested. “Just in case you need help.”

Maribel looked doubtfully at the alebrije, but nodded. “I can get there in fifteen minutes. I don’t know how long it will take to get back.”

They left. Teresa went to the window and watched them go. “She has a temper. It’s going to get her into trouble eventually. Well, again. I guess dying at sixteen counts as trouble.”

“And abandoning an infant in mariachi plaza?”

Teresa didn’t say anything. Nor did she look puzzled or ask, “What do you mean by that?” She just continued watching out the window, not acknowledging the question at all.

At least not directly. Instead, she said, “You’ve always been quick to judge, hermana. And that always gets you in trouble eventually.”

Imelda didn’t answer.

Teresa turned away from the window. “I’ll get supper,” she said. “Will you play your guitar for me?”

“I don’t really play well.”

“I remember you playing well enough.”

“It’s been a while. Héctor’s been trying to teach me again. And the neck is really too wide for my hand, it’s really Miguel’s guitar, and…”

“Well, if you’re afraid…”

Imelda picked up the guitar. “I’ve only made it to three chords,” she said.

“That will qualify you to play rock and roll. I like Chuck Berry.” She looked over her shoulder. “And don’t pretend you don’t know who that is. I know your windows were always open.”

“I know who it is, but I’m not in the mood for it.”

“What are you in the mood for?”

“Bopping you over the head with it.”

Teresa laughed. “You’d break it. Just noodle, like Héctor used to.”

Imelda took a deep breath and put her hand at a C major position. She’d never felt comfortable with no tune in mind, no place to go. She had never been a musical wanderer. She plucked the D string. Then the high E.

Her fingers started to roam over the strings, plucking a simple arpeggio, tapping a beat at the end of it with her thumb. No. It would be better to syncopate, to…

She thought of Héctor in the workshop. Or better, in the orphanage, sitting on a table and playing the old beater he’d been given, the one she had repaired for him over and over. He would sit there in a shaft of sunlight from the broken roof, and he would pluck notes from the air, and she would hum along and the little ones would start requesting the old tunes, like De Colores, and then she found the notes, and for a minute, she was that Imelda again. She hummed along, and she heard Teresa pick it up as she fretted around the tiny stove. It was time travel. Imelda’s eyes were closed now, and she was sure that if she opened them, she would be on the porch at the orphanage, looking out over Santa Cecilia, Héctor beside her and the twins playing catch in the vegetable garden at sunset, all of them washed in a warm, marigold glow.

She didn’t even notice when she began to cry.
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Comments
matril From: matril Date: May 15th, 2019 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Somehow you've made de la Cruz even more loathsome, capable of enacting so much damage from the afterlife. Poor Imelda.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 15th, 2019 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
One thing about de la Cruz--he would understand how to play the fame card, and unlike Miguel, would have very few problems playing it unethically. So from there... just a question of figuring out how to manipulate the living.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 15th, 2019 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
So Teresa is kinda in a weird Limbo-esque spot? Not quite the Land of the Forgotten... but not Odiados or the main LotD.

Ah Imelda... she hasn't run out of chips on her shoulder, has she.
Is she unaware that Teresa rescuing the records was key to establishing Hector's place, or does she think Teresa would lord that over her? ... Wouldn't surprise me of the latter.
At least she's partially aware of the irrationality of that anger.

Maribel! So many blasts from the past.
And it is very Imelda to be able to put things together.

It speaks volumes of Ernesto's sociopathy that he doesn't show any outward anger at Del... but you can just tell him bringing Del to his estate in those final moments is an ultimate case of "I. Win." Not to mentioning erasing any trace afterwards.

How does processing someone without a photo work? Is artwork used as a substitute?

---FFR
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 15th, 2019 06:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I kind of think that, Catholic-dogma-wise, the whole LotD is probably some kind of limbo. If Olvidados is where the forgotten go and Odiados is where the hated go, I think Teresa is in a sort of chosen and self-imposed place where penitents go.

I think Imelda is not in a good mindspace. She knows about the record, and that it had to be Teresa who saved it, but that... just goes right by the wayside when her temper is up.

Del knows a few too many of Ernesto's secrets to risk publicly picking a fight. But yes. The words "I. Win." may have actually been spoken.

I'm not sure how the processing works without a photo. The population has to be much smaller (between the population explosion of the last century or so and the longer time it's been for people to be forgotten), but I think in pre-photo days, people would leave items rather than photos. At least I assume so. Things the person loved, clothing, other mementos. But how the processing on those would work? I haven't got a theory. I'd guess Maribel has objects in San Pedro, like the little songs her sister kept and passed down.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: May 16th, 2019 05:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm really happy to see Teresa again (though not that Imelda isn't able to find her way off). I agree with Matril that your de la Cruz is by far the most frightening I've read -- just completely icy, and he never. ever. stops. At least the American woman who sponsored their original tour (I'm sorry, I'm blanking on her name) is presumably in some other after-life where he can't get at her. Since the LOTD has been exploring connecting with other afterworlds, I have to say I'd be interested to see *her* take on things if anyone can get in touch with her. Also interesting to see the penny drop with regard to Maribel. Any chance Hector will figure it out himself? Because really, Hector and Imelda should be long past having secrets from each other and while it would probably be hard for her to tell him, it would be even harder for her *not* to.

Imelda's situation is infuriating and frightening -- also a ghost of a parallel there with how she treated Hector's memory when she was alive; the hatred and dismissal without understanding the story behind him.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 16th, 2019 05:27 am (UTC) (Link)
It's a good point that Imelda is getting a taste of what she did to Hector all those years. I may work with that idea a little bit.

Annie may not be remembered in whatever afterlife she's in. She was an opium addict with money but no real contacts. (It occurs to me that Imelda might have made some better choices if she'd made friends with some of the women around her instead of going on constant alert with them.)
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