from NineraForever, November 2027
Oh, my God, I totally love this musical! I heard the soundtrack, and I found where someone recorded it (I would totally buy a legal version if there was one, I promise!). I only speak a little Spanish, so I had to run the lyrics through a translator program but it’s TOTALLY AMAZING, but I can’t get it to rhyme or anything in English and nothing fits when I try to sing it. Has anybody made a translation? Didn’t I read that MR can speak English? Has he done one? Everyone should love this show! Seriously, I want to sing “Para Qué Sirve” for my school solo competition, but I don’t think my teacher speaks Spanish, and I bet she’d totally grade me down if she can’t understand it. Besides, I might pronounce something wrong, and that would be completely embarrassing…
RE: ENGLISH TRANSLATION!!!?!?!?!?
from NineraForever, November 2027
No one will care if you mispronounce a few words! But I’m bilingual, and I worked on it a little if you really want to do it in English. You can’t get it exact because, like you said—different languages, different rhymes, different rhythms. But I think this gets the gist of it, at least the chorus. I translated it for practice. If you want the rest, message me, okay?
What’s it for? What’s it for?
What are we leaving for those who come after?
Hope and forgiveness, or anger and pain?
The heartbreaking sound of the cold, cruel laughter…
if that’s all we’re fighting for, what do we gain?
Miguel didn’t sleep much on Saturday night.
He’d run for Laurita Sanchez, Santa Cecilia’s only resident veterinarian, as soon as he’d realized how deep Dante’s cuts were, and by the time he’d come back, Mauricio had found Pepita hiding in the underbrush, one claw on her hind leg nearly ripped out and the toe dislocated. He’d taken her, and she’d struggled against him, trying to get back, but he wanted to make sure the foot would be all right first.
“It must have been an eagle,” Papá Isidro proposed. “It attacked Dante. And the cat must have tried to attack it.”
“A big eagle,” Sanchez said. “And bold, to attack something as big as a xolo dog.”
But she’d had no other theories, and the one that Miguel considered blindingly obvious was definitely not one he’d share. For some reason, Pepita had carried Dante across the barrier, and had turned back into a cat and lost hold of him while they were still airborne.
He and Papá Isidro had brought both alebrijes back to the hacienda once Sanchez bandaged them up. They’d been able to keep Pepita in her pillow-lined box for six hours before she’d made a break for it. Miguel hoped she was back in the Land of the Dead now, healing before tomorrow’s trip over.
Why she had brought Dante early, he still didn’t know.
He’d spent the night up with the dog, stroking his head and medicating the gashes. They hadn’t hit anything vital, but the skin would need protecting for a good long while. Maybe he’d heal better on the other side, but he seemed to have no interest in making an escape.
He used some of the odd hours to call Salzburg, to close up the lease on his apartment and get a few friends to pack up his remaining belongings and ship them over. Quite to his annoyance, when he called Tobias—a pianist who’d tutored him in German for the first two month at the Mozarteum—he was in the shower, and Anja picked up the phone on his nightstand and proceeded to berate him for five minutes before starting to cry.
“Hey,” he said. “Hey, it’s okay, I’m sorry.”
“I was worried! Everyone was worried. I know you hate me—”
“I don’t hate you.”
“Fine. I know you’re embarrassed by me. I know you regret… well, I know. I do know.”
“I’m not embarrassed,” Miguel said, but didn’t correct her on the regrets. “I shouldn’t have… we shouldn’t have… we weren’t right. We didn’t want the same things. But I am sorry I scared you.”
“You scared everyone, Schmusebacke. Everyone’s been talking about how weird you’d been.”
“Marcel told me you didn’t go on a single date after we broke up. Leonie said you completely spaced out with that Japanese producer. And Tobias says you hadn’t written a song for three months!”
Dante gave a sharp bark. Miguel reached over and scratched between his ears. Three months. He must have… he hadn’t gone two weeks without writing at least something for…
“That’s what Tobias says.”
“That can’t be right.”
“Check your notebook if you don’t believe him. Oh, wait. I have your notebook. Tobias grabbed it out of your apartment before anyone else could because you left your apartment unlocked. It’s actually been more like five months, unless you’ve got another notebook with you.”
He didn’t. Or if he did, he still hadn’t unpacked it. And he didn’t think he did. “I’ve just been scribbling stuff,” he lied. He was sure he’d at least being writing down ideas. But had he written an actual note of anything? He rifled through his memory, but it was a blue hole, a cenote in his mind.
“And that last day—I set up that meeting for you, with the French translator. She’s my friend. She said you barely talked to her at lunch.”
“No, that’s not true. It was a normal meeting. I don’t speak French and she didn’t speak Spanish or German, so we were trying to talk in English… it didn’t work very well. That’s all.”
“She had all sorts of ideas for La Niñera, and you didn’t even listen.”
Miguel rubbed his head, trying to remember the woman’s name, let alone what ideas she’d had for the musical. He remembered something about “the endless cycle of oppression,” which had seemed like a lot to hang on the poor show. And… was there something else? He felt like there was something else. He hadn’t thought about the meeting at all. He’d been too consumed with his dream of the cenote and the nasty sense that he had to get home before he lost everything.
“I’m sorry if I hurt your friend’s feelings,” he said.
“You just get your head on straight, and when you come back, you can talk to her again. I’m sure I can talk her into another meeting. She thinks you’re cute when you’re not being rude.”
“I’m not coming back, An. That’s why I’m getting my things.”
“You can’t be serious. Are you planning to stage your next show in someone’s barn?”
Miguel considered pointing out that he had contacts through the musical world of Mexico City, the biggest hub of Spanish-language music in the world (with the possible exception of Buenos Aires; Madrid barely registered). But it wasn’t worth it. For Anja, if it didn’t have a debut in Vienna or Paris or Rome, it was strictly amateur. Maybe New York, though these days, an American showing was considered quite a step down in Europe.
He sighed. “Anja, thank you for helping pack up my things. Tell everyone I’m sorry about… everything.”
She’d tried to keep him on the line, but Tobias had finally come out of the shower and got on to make more practical arrangements.
He hung up, not at all satisfied with the conversation. He finally fell asleep around four, his head on Dante’s pillows, listening to the thud-thud of his heartbeat.
He’d dreamed disjointedly of Papá Héctor and Mamá Imelda, wandering around the city, calling for each other. It was an upsetting dream, so he was glad when Dante nipped him awake at around seven.
Dante was obviously feeling a little bit better, and when Miguel changed his bandages, he saw that the cuts were healing faster than they would on a normal dog. “So what’s going on, amigo?” he asked, spreading ointment on them. “Why couldn’t you fly over yourself?”
Dante’s only answer was a sloppy kiss across Miguel’s nose.
“You think you can eat something?”
This got a fairly enthusiastic response, so Miguel dug under the sink for the stash of dogfood the family kept for these visits. The bag was dusty. Dante obviously hadn’t visited while he was away.
“This might be a little stale,” he said. “You want it anyway, or do you want to wait for me to buy new? Or do you just want some eggs? I could make eggs.”
Dante ran to the refrigerator and pawed at it.
Miguel was halfway through cooking some unseasoned scrambled eggs to share when Papá came in. He’d obviously already been up, and was in his work apron. Seven was not “an evil and unholy hour,” as one of Miguel’s musical friends in Austria had put it, in the hacienda.
“Healing faster than I plan to tell the vet about.”
“Did you get any sleep?”
“Abuelita made some chilaquiles if you want breakfast.”
“This is for Dante. The dog food looked kind of old.”
“He hasn’t around since you left for school.”
“He doesn’t come around at all? Pepita does.”
Papá shrugged. “Well, Pepita is Mamá Imelda’s guide. She looks after us for her. Dante’s your guide, isn’t he?”
Miguel frowned. “You think he’s here to guide me?”
“You said you were lost. Now your guide is here. Do the math.”
“Hmm.” Miguel finished the eggs and emptied them into Dante’s bowl. “I don’t know if there’s anything to guide me to.”
Dante didn’t offer a suggestion. In the Land of the Dead, Miguel had said that he needed to find his great-great-grandfather, and Dante had promptly led him straight to Papá Héctor (and tried to keep him from de la Cruz). But now, he wasn’t sure what he’d lost, or what he was looking for.
“Maybe you should just see where he leads you.”
“Well, he’s already leading me to the grocery store. These are the last eggs.”
“Take Coco with you. She has a whole list for Día de Muertos. Has Papá Héctor ever told you what his favorite food was?”
“He likes trying new things. I thought I’d cook him something Swiss. I think I packed my fondue pot.”
“You should open your boxes, if you’re home to stay.”
“After the holiday. When there’s time to figure out where to put it all.”
“There’s room in the old house… if you still want it.”
Miguel didn’t answer. He did want the old house, the way he always had. He wanted to be what he’d been, to want what he’d always wanted. And the idea of being here, and safe, with the comfortable sounds of his family around him…
Rosa needed a house. Miguel could afford to live anywhere.
The old house was a series of small rooms, none of them big enough to set up the machinery he’d need if he ever meant to make more guitars—Abel and Serafina lived in the rooms he’d used to make Coco’s six years ago.
His career would follow him here, and people would stick their arms under the wall to take pictures.
He was up at all hours practicing when he wasn’t here.
But it’s mine and I don’t want to lose it.
He thought of bells ringing.
“Someday, you’ll tell me what ‘nothing’ is an answer to inside your skull.”
“Eggs. Dog food. Coco’s list. What else do we need?”
“We’re all right on the other staples. Maybe pick up some meat for supper?”
Papá smiled. “Thank you. I’ll get your sister.”
Miguel sat on the floor and patted Dante’s head while he ate. He looked like he’d always looked—a kind of goofy, off-kilter grin on his face, good-natured eyes cocked at Miguel, the little patch of hair on his head sticking straight up. Miguel could imagine him in his other form—bright, neon colors, wings… and still the same expression on his face. It was hard to take him seriously. Just seeing him made Miguel want to laugh and dance and play ridiculous childhood games.
Dante had understood when no one else had. Dante had known who he was, who he needed, what had to be done.
“If I’m going to be me,” he said, “I need to… I don’t know. We’ve got to find me, Dante.”
Dante slurped up the last of his eggs and gave Miguel a quizzical look, like Amigo, you’re sitting right there watching me eat.
Miguel scratched behind his jaw, causing his back leg to thump in a contented rhythm.
Coco ran over from her room, her shopping list in one hand, grinning from ear to ear. “Papá says you’re taking me shopping!”
“That’s the plan.”
“Are you going to be in disguise again? Are you Humberto?”
“No. I’m going to try being Miguel for the day. Just for kicks. Can you handle it if I get recognized?”
“What do I do?”
“Be nice. Don’t offer information. I’ll try and keep them from asking you anything.”
“What kind of information?”
“The kind you’re not going to be talking about.”
“Like your girlfriends?”
“There are none of those at the moment to have information about. And, no, you may not tell anyone that I’m looking for one.”
“Then why would I say that?”
“I don’t know. Just… let me talk if it happens, okay?”
“Should I borrow a car, or do you want to walk with the wagon?”
“Walk. Can we take Dante?”
Miguel looked at the dog. “I don’t know. His cuts are better, but maybe… I’m worried about stuff getting under the bandages and…”
But Dante was already up and wagging his tail.
“We could put a shirt over his bandages,” Coco suggested. “Do you have a button shirt? We could tie the bottom.”
Miguel wasn’t sure if it would do any good, but since his real issue was making sure that people didn’t ask about the bandages—explaining how fast the cuts were healing would be problematic—he decided that it seemed like a reasonable idea and went back to his room to grab a shirt. The first one he found that had short sleeves was a Hawaiian shirt with a loud pattern on it. He grinned. He’d bought it a few years ago specifically because it reminded him of Dante in the other world.
Dante was surprisingly compliant with being dressed in a shirt (which Coco tied around his midsection to keep the tails from dragging), and he trotted along beside them happily as they made the rounds, dragging along an old wooden wagon that Miguel remembered fondly from his own childhood errands (and from the early days of shining shoes, before he could carry everything).
The bakery was the first stop—and it would be the last, to get the things they were supposed to get. The first stop was just to get some strawberry coconut pinwheels. A little energy to get them going. Coco grinned around hers as she ate it.
“I’m going to play in the plaza on Tuesday,” she said. “After the holiday. Gezana says I’m good enough now.”
“I think you’ve been good enough for about a year,” Miguel told her.
“Do you want to play with me?”
“No! You want that for yourself.”
“No, I don’t. I want to play with you.”
Miguel tousled her hair as he picked out some eggs at the market. “We’ll play at home. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to wander out into the plaza yet. That’s kind of a big hint that I’m staying.”
Coco looked up, her eyes wide over the onions she had in her hands, and Miguel realized that Rosa was right—Coco would never forgive him if this turned out not to be permanent, which was another thing to keep in mind. He hadn’t meant to bring the subject up at all, let alone to make it sound like he was leaving Mexico again (that was, as far as he was concerned, off the table; if he did leave, it would be for the capital).
“But you are staying,” Coco said. “You’re staying, right?”
“I… probably. I don’t…”
“You said you’d come back to stay. You promised.”
“I want to. That’s why I came back. But… I don’t know if I fit here anymore. Does that make sense?”
“I’m going to try. I mean, this is where I want to be. This is where I love. It’s where you are. But…”
“And I’m going to try, but… everything… I don’t know how…”
Dante, the traitor, went to stand by Coco, who noticed it and looked up defiantly. “See? Dante knows.”
“Coquis… I have some things I need to work out. I don’t know how… and is it good for the family for me to be here? I mean…”
As if on cue, a complete stranger—a girl with light brown hair and green eyes, wearing an “Oiga” tee shirt—came up behind Coco, eyes wide and hopeful. “You are Miguel Rivera?” she asked. “I’m name is Madison. I observe your production on Netflix!”
Coco frowned deeply. Miguel gave her a warning look to remind her of what she’d promised to do, and she fell silent.
He switched to English, since that was the most likely tourist language (and the one where the grammar at least made sense) and said, “I’m Miguel. Thank you for watching the show.”
“It was wonderful. I never really listened to Mexican music before—I mean, Tex-mex and everything, but not real—and it was… It really… I started listening and it made me wish everyone was better friends. We should be better neighbors.”
“I agree,” he said. “We can do better.”
She smiled as if he’d said something deeply profound, then said, rapidly, “Could I get a selfie with you?”
“I… I’m just out shopping with my sister. I’m really not set up for selfies.”
He scanned her eyes for any sign that she was about to get angry, but he only saw disappointment. He sighed. “Well… if you don’t mind that I’m carrying groceries.”
The disappointment disappeared instantly, and she grabbed her phone. Miguel carefully watched the way she treated Coco—any sign of disrespect, and she’d be minus one selfie, but she smiled kindly and asked if she could come around, rather than just pushing Coco out of the way. Coco even managed to smile back and offered, without prompting, to take the picture.
A few seconds later, it was over, and Madison was going off toward the Plaza, looking at her phone screen with delight.
Coco rolled her eyes. “What did you tell her?”
“We discussed geopolitics.”
“She liked my concert, she was nice and she didn’t treat you badly, so I didn’t see any reason not to be nice.” He sighed. “That’s what it’s like, Coquis. Do you get that? If I stay, this is what it’s going to be like.”
“I don’t mind.” Coco shrugged and went back to the onions, apparently not satisfied with the ones she’d picked from the bin. “She wasn’t bad. It only took a minute.”
“You promised, Miguel.”
“My life is weird. I don’t want to make Santa Cecilia weird.”
“There was a statue of a murderer up for seventy years. How much weirder could you be? And at least you only left for a couple of years.”
“I want to stay.”
“So stay, cerebrito.”
Dante gave an encouraging bark.
“Okay, okay. But I’ll be gone a lot if I do. I may have to have an apartment in the capital for meetings and things.”
“And… Coco, I think Rosa and Alejo and the kids need the old house more than I do.”
“You can stay in your room. Tía Gloria can paint murals in it for you. Or I can.”
She gave him a very suspicious look, but apparently decided not to press the issue. They finished shopping and loaded everything into the little wagon and were on their way back to the bakery for pan de muerto and several of the family’s favorites when Dante eagerly turned in the wrong direction, heading up the hill and away from the hacienda.
“Dante!” Coco called. “This way, silly!”
Dante stopped and barked eagerly.
“Something we need to see?” Miguel asked him.
Another bark. Then Dante, apparently feeling fine, chased his tail for a minute.
“Can it wait until after Día de Muertos?”
Dante looked back and forth, gave a little yip, then ran back to them and lead the way through the gate.
There was definitely not time for Dante’s quest for the rest of the day. Miguel’s appearance had apparently thrown off the preparations, and everyone rushed to put the ofrenda together, hang the banners, make the offerings, and get supper together. Miguel dug out his fondue pot and left some chocolate and fruit on the table. Coco had made drawings for everyone. If Miguel hadn’t seen them come out of her sketchbook, he’d have thought they were the work of a fourteen or fifteen year old. Serafina’s and Alejo’s people had expanded the ofrenda now, and it stretched around the little room in a u-shape. Miguel hadn’t met this family, of course (there were people in his bloodline he hadn’t met), but he’d left a hello note to Serafina’s people the year she and Abel got married, and he quickly set about writing one to Alejo’s, telling them that they were welcome at the hacienda, and that Dante (at least) and probably Pepita—if she didn’t stay behind to nurse her foot—would be happy to greet their descendants for them. (Dante, in particular, seemed to enjoy this task, and had spent the first year running around to each new in-law, then barking sharply while looking in another direction. Miguel assumed that the ancestors were asking him to point out their people.)
The twins and Alejo’s cousin Donato were called to furniture-moving duty, and the boys spent a good deal of time competing to see who was strongest, until Abuelita told them to cut it out. When Miguel did find a minute to take off Dante’s costume and check his bandages, he discovered that the cuts had entirely scarred over, and looked like they’d been healed for at least a year. Teto and Ángel helped Mamá spread the marigold petals (Teto explaining that they sent up something like laser beams to make a hole for the dead to come through), and Coco helped Tía Gloria and Tía Carmen in the kitchen. Miguel helped Papá and Abuelita clean up the workshop to please Mamá Imelda (Papá Franco had to finish two orders, since Mamá Imelda would not be pleased with tardiness), while Tío Berto and Rosa climbed up to clean off the sign (which someone had apparently egged during the year) and touch up the paint.
More than a few times during the day, Miguel saw Dante pawing at the gate, looking up the road and out of town. He wished—not for the first time—that he could share Dante’s vision. The day outside was mostly dedicated to children building shrines for other children who had passed (the Riveras, thankfully, did not have any, though Miguel had, for years, secretly lit a candle for the baby Mamá had lost when he was eight). Was he seeing the small wandering spirits? Miguel had seen some children in the Land of the Dead, waiting with families for Día de Muertos, but they had all been with parents; he supposed they had died together and remained together. Were the lonely children back today, roaming the streets and watching their friends and siblings growing up without them? And where had they been when he’d been on the far side of the bridge?
But there was no way to know. He supposed he could ask Papá Héctor. But he had a feeling that Papá Héctor would have more pressing business to talk about tonight.
They managed to finish the errands before sunset, and Tía Carmen set out a lovely supper. About halfway through it, Dante sat up straight, gave a joyous bark, and ran to an empty spot near the gate, sniffing the air and circling what looked like vacant areas on the ground. Once, twice… Miguel counted six circles.
There should be eight.
There were always eight.
He didn’t say anything, but his anxiety grew as the night went on. The family gathered. Coco and Miguel played together—Coco took Papá Héctor’s guitar, because Miguel had a strong desire, though he had no idea why, to play the one he’d made and offered to Mamá Imelda. It was good to sing with his sister again, and her voice had gotten much stronger. Teto didn’t know the words to the verses of “Proud Corazon,” but he joined in happily on the chorus, climbing up a stepladder and singing out “Oiga mi gente” to the people on the street.
Miguel felt safe and secure in the embrace of his living family, but he could see that Dante was agitated… and Pepita hadn’t returned.
After the songs, the children went to bed and the rest of the family gathered around the well, leaving plenty of room for unseen visitors (who was missing?), and chatted about the year. Abel introduced Julio to all and sundry, and Rosa introduced her new family, telling the exciting story of their trip north. (Alejo looked a little confused; it wasn’t exactly the normal way things were done outside the hacienda.) Tío Berto talked about the expansion of the business—“We need more apprentices!” he said. “It’s so busy we can barely keep up!”
“Well, we can always put Miguel back to work,” Rosa suggested. “As he reminded me, he did do his apprenticeship.”
“This is true,” Miguel said. “Of course, I could singlehandedly destroy the reputation of Rivera shoes if I started making them for customers.”
“You’re not that bad,” Abel said. “You make perfectly wearable chanclas.”
“I think Miguel should make more guitars instead. We could make custom guitar straps for them.”
“If I do that, I need more space for all sorts of things.”
“Well, you used to have the whole continent of Europe, and your girlfriend’s personal castle.”
“I had an apartment slightly bigger than my bedroom here.”
“I visited you in that apartment,” Mamá said. “We could fit Papá Isidro’s house in there. Twice.”
This turned into a bit of razzing about his abrupt and dramatic departure from Europe, and he played along, letting the jokes about his need for attention go without argument. Mostly he watched Dante, who was pacing in front of the main gate.
Suddenly, Dante came to attention, and a moment later, a pair of white paws appeared under the gate. Pepita wriggled through. Dante leapt happily and ran in several wide circles nipping here and there at empty spaces.
Miguel felt his heart lift.
They were all together again. His anxiety wasn’t entirely gone—why had two people been late?—but whatever it was, it was all right.
He stayed up until the family went to bed, then followed his own custom. He got out a blanket and pillow and went to the ofrenda room. Dante and Pepita were both there waiting for him.
“Hi,” Miguel said. “Dante… who’s here? Papá Héctor?”
Dante went the bench.
He turned his head and yipped.
Slowly, Miguel figured out where everyone was, and sat down on his blanket on the floor. “I’m sorry I missed last year. And I wasn’t exactly handy the year before. But I’m back. I think most of you heard everything already. Except for the part where I don’t know what’s… I don’t know why…” He sighed. “I’m going to try and get to sleep so we can really talk.” He turned down the light, curled up on the floor, and waited for sleep.
It was slow going, as his mind tried to race with questions and theories, as he worried about what he was about to be told, why two people had been so late.
But finally, the exertions of the day took their toll.
His eyes closed, and he finally slipped into the dream.
He didn’t go anywhere. He simply seemed to open his eyes. He was still in the ofrenda room, but it was lit now with guttering, purple-flamed candles. He could see shapes around him, moving delicately, but the only one that was really real was the young, black-haired skeleton sitting on the floor beside him.
Miguel took a deep breath and squinted around trying to see the others. He thought he saw Papá Julio and Mamá Coco near the ofrenda, a pair of tall, thin shadows that might have been the twins near the door. He guessed that meant that the two unformed shapes near the window were Tía Rosita and Tía Victoria.
And the hovering shadow, glowing darkly near Papá Héctor, would have to be Mamá Imelda.
He raised a hand to her in greeting, and he felt/saw the shadow do the same.
He’d never dreamed this literally.
“Miguel,” Papá Héctor said. “We need to talk.”