Imelda had never hated music. When she receives a telegram from Ernesto about the death of Hector Rivera, she’d resolved to put his picture on the ofrenda. She was hurt, and frustrated, and struggling- but she had loved him once. Coco loved him still.
Then one day, Ernesto’s first record hits the shelves of Santa Cecilia. Imelda picks one up, idly wondering what he’d come up with (he’d always been a deft guitarist, a decent singer- but composition had never been his strength.)
Her heart stops when she reads the song titles listed on the back.
These were Hector’s songs. She knew them by heart. He’d sung Un Poco Loco at their recepcion; she’d kissed him, then.
Now she heard it from the mouth of every mariachi, and she feels cold.
Imelda doesn’t hate music. But in Santa Cecilia, the hits of De La Cruz are blasted from every corner, and her memories of her once loved husband sour. He left his family and died in a barrio miles from home, and shared private memories- precious memories- with his ambitious best friend, for the sake of fame and fortune while she goes to bed exhausted and alone.
(De La Cruz has always been a bit of a pendejo, but one she had grown up with. Hector’s shadow, Coco’s Tio Ernesto.
The possibility of foul play never enters her mind.)
She first bans De La Cruz’s music from the house for Coco’s sake. If Un Poco Loco now makes her feel ill, Remember Me leaves her furious. Her daughter’s lullaby has become a bastardized love ballad, and Imelda refuses to let her hear it.
The record does well. Incredibly well. The town is so, so proud of its hometown hero. Imelda can’t get away from them- except behind the privacy of her walls. Words like forgiveness and amends in relation to Hector become anathema, as bitter proof of her husband’s betrayal and abandonment are sung from every corner and become woven into the national identity.
Ernesto visits Santa Cecilia for the first of two times, a month after the release of his first album and before he's achieved international recognition. Imelda hears that he's planning on giving a performance in the square, and resolves to stay at home. She busy in the workshop, Pepita dozing by her side, when Felipe and Oscar poke their heads through the door.
She doesn't look up from her project. "Go away."
Her brothers don't go away, and tell her that there's someone at the door. When she asks why they don't get it themselves, they hem and haw and tell her that they wanted her permission first, whatever that meant. She marches to the entrance and swings it open with a vengeance; Ernesto is on the other side, one hand in mid-knock, the other holding an expensive looking bottle of wine. He has a wrapped gift- presumably for Coco- tucked underneath his arm, and a guitar case slung on his back. Imelda hesitates for just a second, and welcomes him inside. She tells him to leave the guitar by the door.
He gives her the wine first. "It's from Europe," he says excitedly. "I'm going on tour there next year." They pour two glasses of it and eat Imelda's empanadas, fresh from the oven. "And this," he gestures toward the other present, "is an ocarina for mi ahijada-"
"Take it away," Imelda snaps.
She slaps a hand on the table. "Don't you dare question me on this!"
Ugly silence reigns for a minute.
Ernesto speaks after a moment, confused and hesitant. "I-"
He must have seen something on her face, because he stops and looks away, unable to meet her eye. His face was ashen. "I'm sorry." His voice is low, barely a whisper. It sounds like a confession.
Imelda closes her eyes and lets the anger ebb away.
"Hector made his own decisions," she eventually replies, willing the words to sound dismissive. Ernesto may have persuaded him to leave Santa Cecilia, but it wasn't as if he'd killed him.
Ernesto's lips pursed. He pulls out a small, battered, familiar book from the inside of his coat. The sight of it makes Imelda's blood freeze. "He-he gave them to me!" Ernesto insisted. Her heart broke open a little more as he kept babbling, looking frazzled as she'd never seen him before. Hector had wanted him to use them, Ernesto said. Had given the book as a dying wish.
-but I want you to have it," he finished. "They're my songs now-"
'no they're not,' she thought,
"-but they were his first. Yours first." He gingerly placed the book in her hands. She looks at it, for just a moment, still as stone. Then she savagely grabs a candle from its place on the side and jams it underneath the covers, watching the flames lick at the pages, consuming the edges-
"Imelda!" Ernesto cried out. He attempts to snatch it from her hands, and they grapple for it before he wrests it away from her hands, beating away the cinders.
"Keep it." The words come out in a vicious snarl. "Keep his songs, keep his music-"
"-his guitar is outside," the words tumble out of him in a squeaky rush. "I wanted to give it back-"
"Keep that too, or I'll break it in half!"
The silence is pressing as Imelda's chest heaves. "No more talk of Hector," she commanded. "Tell me of your career."
They speak of his career, which she hasn't followed and which he's all too happy to discuss, attempting to shoo the heaviness from the air. Imelda feeds her grudge against her late husband with Ernesto's words. Ernesto wasn't to blame, after all. He couldn't help being a flake; he was just doing what he'd wanted to do, what Hector wanted to do and would have done, drinking and whoring and putting on a show for masses of strangers every night instead of being a provider.
Pepita comes in, hissing at Ernesto and twining herself around her legs. "You kept her," he stated flatly. "Imelda, that cat is el loco-"
"She may not like you, but she loves me," Imelda said idly, scritching Pepita's ears. Pepita had hated Ernesto ever since he'd 'accidentally' kicked her into a well. Imelda knew that she wasn't supposed to feed strays, but she hadn't been able to help herself. Unlike Hector and Ernesto, Pepita had never left her side.
Conversation turned lighter as talk turned to Coco. Ernesto had never wanted children, but regarded them with a distant fondness. He'd always been willing to spoil his little goddaughter, and Imelda loved her more than anything and anyone.
Ernesto was getting ready to leave when Coco returned from school. "Tio!" She lauched herself at him and hugged his waist tightly. Ernesto gave her an awkward pat on the back. Coco's attention zeroed in on the small wrapped box, still on the tabletop. "For me?"
Ernesto caught Imelda's glare and snatched it, holding it away from Coco's grasp. "Ah, ah! This is going...somewhere else," he teased, as she jumped for gift. "I'll be sending you something from America, how about that?"
He does send her something from America, an ornate monstrosity of a rocking horse that has Coco squealing in joy. For the rest of her life, Coco only remembers acclaimed musician Ernesto De La Cruz as her bombastic Tio Ernesto, who'd sent her presents from abroad and who'd died in '42. She remembers him for little else.
(Imelda's back in the workshop, leaving Ernesto and Coco to their goodbyes as he tugs on a braid and gives her a kiss on the cheek. She never sees him take the slightly burned book of Hector's songs out of his coat and press it into her small hands.
"Keep it hidden from your mother," he warns gently. Keep it from the world, he means. She swears to do just that and doesn't hear the underlying words.)
Imelda doesn’t hate music. She loved it before Hector, and she loved it after Hector. But as Ernesto De La Cruz becomes a household name in every house but hers, as thinking of his name and his fame mean thinking of Hector, who is and was music, even after his death, and the music lived on-
She can’t think of music anymore. She won’t. She won’t let Coco think of it either.
Ernesto visits Hector's grave twice and thinks of him often. But Ernesto dies prematurely, keeps the name of his best friend away from interviews, and never visits on November-
the month that really matters.
When Dia del Muertos comes that year, Hector’s grave is cold, decorated by long dead cempasuchil left by his murderer months before. His belongings are sold and thrown away. His face is ripped from the family picture, carefully stored away by his little girl, hidden in the pages of a slightly scorched songbook given by her absent but doting tio. Hector's face is far from the ofrenda, and he stands on the other side of the bridge for the first of many cold and long decades.
The Rivera house is quiet. This year, Imelda makes shoes in between moments of fond remembrance for everyone but her husband. She’ll give the day its proper attention later, but if she works hard enough now, she can drown out the sound of the mariachi outside.
The house stays quiet for years to come.