Hector took the dusty bottle from the man under the tented-up tarp and thanked him before walking away and removing the cork. He took a swing and sighed, knowing the edge would soon fade away slowly. The poor man wasn't doing well and even if it wasn't five o'clock yet, he didn't care. He needed a drink. He walked through the crowded streets and took another swing, his mind clouded, though technically he didn't have a brain anymore.
He can remember how excited and amazed he was to in such a wonderful place when he first died and came to the Land of the Dead, but that excitement was gone, leaving plenty of room for grief and regret. His family was still alive, and he did not leave them in the best conditions. His wife hated him now, no doubt, and his daughter didn't know what happened to him. No one did.
Heartbroken by his choices and cursed to dwell over it forever, he hoped that it would work out in the end. Maybe once she is older and her mama has lost control over her, Hector's daughter would put up his photo on the Rivera ofrenda so he could visit her on Dias de los Muertos, but that day would not come for a while, so in the middle of Junio Hector waited for the hottest month to pass and for the end of Octubre to come.
She was beautiful. She looked a lot like her mama, but already held her father's love for music, but Hector knew Imelda would be resentful to allow her daughter to be anything like the runaway musician. He agreed with his wife full-heartedly.
Hector hoped she wouldn't grow up to be a greedy musician like he once was, like his best friend was most likely now, like every other musician in the Land of the Dead. He took another swing and could practically see his little girl sitting on her bed, looking up at him.
Hector's eyes widened in his skull and he looked up from the road and stopped to listen. He peered ahead, shaking the image out of his head to see clearly, and waited for a few people to pass. Ahead, he caught a glimpse of a pair of jet-black braids and could definitely hear a little girl's voice that sounded too familiar.
The bottle slipped through his bony fingers and shattered on the brick street, but he was deaf to it.
"Coco!" Hector called and pushed and shoved through the crowd. "Coco! It's Papa!"
"Papa?" The little voice called, but it couldn't hear the father's reply. "Papa!"
"It's okay, niña!" Hector called, his mind moving fast while he pushed and shoved his way through the street. "Excuse me, disculpe señora. Lo siento. Coco! Sorry, just let me… Coco!"
Hector was frantic; what had happened? Did Coco die? He hated to think of such a fate for his little girl, but if it meant seeing her again and speaking to her… saying sorry...
Hector finally caught up to the little girl as she ran around and frantically looked for her papa. The man touched her shoulder and she turned to look at him. What remained of his heart shattered as he saw that the girl was not his daughter.
She had blue-green eyes and her skeleton looked new. Though she looked about the age Coco would be then and they had matching hairstyles, Hector could now see that this was a stranger. Well, at least his daughter was still alive.
"Have you seen my papa?"
Hector blinked and removed his hand from her shoulder. "Ah… no. Sorry, niña."
The girl shook her head impatiently, turned and ran, calling for her papa. Hector blinked and realised what he had let happened.
"Wait! Niña! Wait, wait, wait!" Hector tried to follow the little girl, but a line of nuns blocked his way, their hands held as in prayer and they walked slowly. "Sorry, Dios bendiga. Dios bendiga. Dios bendiga, señora."
The line finally ended and Hector could see the little girl near a fountain, searching for her father. He ran as fast as he could to catch up to her.
"Hey! Niña! Do you speak Espanol or not?" Hector called out as he ran and the girl turned to look at him again.
"Si." The girl answered.
"Good, then answer this," Hector bent his knees and rested his wrists on them. "What's wrong?"
The girl blinked and looked around the townsquare she had wandered into. "I am lost, señior. I can't find my papa."
Well, that much was obvious. "What's your name?"
"Perdita." The girl stated plainly.
"I'm Hector." He answered and held out a hand for her to shake.
She looked at it and looked back at Hector, as if not sure what to do. The man waited a minute, but seeing the girl wouldn't return the gesture, he withdrew his skeletal hand and asked,
"So… do you know where you last saw your papa?"
The girl thought for a moment and said slowly. "Si. He went into a store to get a drink."
"Okay." Hector said and stood up; he could already relate to the man. "Come on, Perdita. I'll help you find him."
Hector led the way and Perdita walked next to him. He looked down at the little girl and studied her. She wore a dirty and faded dress, but no shoes. Her little pink dress was torn and Hector wondered what her skin looked like before she died.
"Okay, kid," Hector said. "Do any of these stores look familiar?"
Perdita looked around and said slowly, "No."
Hector thought for a moment and guessed that Perdita had wandered far from her papa. "Well, let me know if any of th..."
"Ay." Hector winced and turned around to find an angry red-headed skeleton marching towards him. "Holla, Cici." He greeted nervously, wiggling the fingers on his raised hand in greeting.
"PLEASE tell me you obeyed my wishes and did NOT touch that painting!" She demanded, pointing a finger to where Hector's nose should be.
"Te voy a pegar una hostia que te van a salir los dientes de la boca como palomitas! I can't believe it! I didn't want to believe it!" Cici screeched, her red locks coming undone, making her look like an angry parrot as she swore. "Tenías un trabajo, tú hijo de las mil putas!"
Hector tried to talk over her and calm her down, but his efforts were fruitless and he was left to let the woman nag.
Perdita giggled a little at watching the man coward over his friend's yelling and looked out at the street around her. It was all new and she was blown away by how beautiful this world was to her. She watched adults and parents and children walk about in all different shapes and sizes and styles of clothing.
The argument only escalated when Hector tried to promise he'd get Cici a new one, but she only squaked that he'd find a way out of that promise, too, and stole Hector's right arm and used it to slap him across his bony cheek and walked off, throwing the arm over her shoulder.
"Women." Hector muttered under his breath as he reattached his arm.
Hector heard the girl giggle and turned to look at Perdita. He smiled, being reminded of his little girl for just a moment. He gestured forward and spoke.
"Come on, niña, let's find your papa."
They walked on for a while, Perdita looking around and Hector watched her for any sign of familiarity, but it was all new to her. Hector wondered why she was so confused and lost. Had she just been running around aimlessly for her father? Or…
"Perdita," Hector said and stopped walking.
She copied him and looked up at her new friend.
"Were you… alive when you lost your papa?"
Perdita blinked and looked down at her bony hands. She open and closed her palms like blooms and sighed.
"Si, señior, I think so. I'm… I'm confused. I was waiting outside for Papa and then the next thing I knew, I was here."
Hector got down on one knee and put a kind hand on the child's shoulder. "Don't worry; it's always a little confusing at first. If you want, I'll help you find your family. Until then, you can stay with me."
Perdita nodded in agreement and said, "Gracias, señior."
Hector smiled and rubbed the top of her head. The girl giggled and the man thought of where to go. The Department of Family Reunions was their best shot, so he grabbed Perdita's hand and they walked down the street together.
Perdita was asleep. Even if it was unnecessary, given the day she had had, Hector highly recommended it, and so she slept soundly in his hammock. Hector leaned against a wooden post that held up his little hut on the docks and watched her rib cage go up and down from her silent snores.
Hector removed his straw hat and ran a bony hand through his greasy hair as he closed his dark eyes. He knew that sometimes this happened, certainly more than it should. He knew not all parents loved their children, but as a father who was literally fighting teeth and bone to get to his child, he found it hard to believe any man could hate their own child so much.
He had a lot of flaws, but he was not an abuser.
He was a runaway. He was an irresponsible man. He was a liar, a thief, and a poor excuse for a husband and a father.
But he never struck a woman or child. That much could be said.
Hector took a deep breath through the bridge that was his nose in life. He looked out onto the harbor where he and his primos lived. A few empty metal bins and trash cans still held flickering fires. A few torches and strings of lights were lit, but the moon was the brightest thing in the entire dark pit they called home. It's reflection danced in the water and the sound the tiny waves made were the best lullaby the retired musician could think of.
Disgusted when he first arrived, now he found that, really, it wasn't so bad. Everyone here knew what it was like to be either abused, thrown out, discarded, misunderstood, forgotten, or simply unloved, and so they treated one another with respect and a kind of understanding a skeleton couldn't find anywhere. Hector hoped Perdita would find all of that here, and knew she would.
The Department of Family Reunions was nearly always busy, but Dias de los Muertos was their busiest day. However, with no ofrendas or familias to visit, the Department was used mostly for helping newly-deads find their deceased familias or help understand why they were dead to begin with. Hector had not gone there when he had died, knowing exactly what had happened, and he knew he had no familia here, so when he took Perdita there, it was a new experience for both of them.
The Department was running smoothly. Desks with mountains of files hosted lost souls and read outloud facts and information the clients should know. Here and there, a couple of people were reunited, hugging and kissing and crying into each other's arms. One young-looking woman held an old man tightly and they shared a long-awaited kiss. Hector smiled at first, excited to do that with Imelda, but remembered how much she hated him and his smile died.
Hector sat with Perdita in a line of wooden chairs and they waited on an open table; it wasn't like Hector had anything better to do. A short man sat next to Perdita and kept blinking hard and looking all around, from his own fingers to the glass windows. The little girl watched the man and when he caught her looking at him, the man smiled and said joyfully,
"I have not seen a thing in all of my life! I know I should not be glad to be dead, but..." He looked down at his fingers again and wiggled them excitedly and laughed at the amusing show he had before his eyes.
Perdita giggled and the once-blind man was called to a desk. A few minutes later and Perdita was called. Hector followed and stood behind the little wooden chair the girl sat in. A kind policewoman flicked her fingers through the stack of files and spoke kindly to Perdita, asking how she was doing and if she found her way alright.
After the gentle greeting, the policewoman asked Perdita if she knew how she died and other questions, merely to see what she knew. Once Perdita answered her questions, the woman read a file and she was frozen. Hector was pretty good about reading people - if you asked his opinion on the matter, anyways - and he could tell that the woman was trying to hide her shock, and was doing a pretty good job at it.
She eventually lied the file down closed so no one else could read it, and told the child not to worry and that she would be fine. Though she was dead, the rest of her family would follow before she knew it, and if she wanted, she could visit the living on Dias de los Muertos. Perdita thanked her and she was excused, but before Hector could follow her, the policewoman stopped him and invited him to sit. Hector obeyed and took off his hat as a sign of respect.
She looked at him seriously and asked, "Are you her familia, señor?"
Hector gave a tiny smile and explained, "No, señora, I just met her today, but I intend to keep an eye on her."
The policewoman nodded. "Good. She'll need a real friend. You see, Perdita Constanzo's mother ran from an abusive relationship, but left her daughter behind. Perdita has been on the road with her father ever since she was born, for her father is a dangerous criminal. It is most likely, given what she remembers and these records, she had died from a train accident in Sonora. In fact, these records are hinting that she may have been pushed onto the railroad."
Even now, as Hector watched the water from his hut, he found his anger at a boiling point at the thought of Perdita's fate. He now understood some of her nervous mannerisms, but he couldn't help but think about how she was looking for her father when she first died. Why would she want to find him? Why was she even looking for him? She was better off without him. But perhaps she was just hanging onto all she had left. Perhaps she thought that's how fathers worked. Or perhaps she was afraid of getting into trouble for having somehow wandered far away from the train station.
Hector's mind decided to be cruel and make him imagine little Perdita waiting outside of an old train station, watching cars and birds and tumbleweeds, all the things the desert had to offer. She might have taken a couple of risky steps away from the bench her father told her to wait on, determined to look at the shiny tracks. How easy would it be to say that she fell and that her death was an accident. Too easy.
If Hector still had blood, it would have boiled. He clenched his shaking hand into a fost and rested the other one on his knee, positioning himself to turn and look back at the hammock. Perdita was still asleep. He deerly wished she had pleasant dreams, something to make her escape from the harsh reality. Hector knew that she knew very little of why she had died, and he was grateful for that. She was only seven-years-old; she had been through enough without knowing that her father murdered her.
Perdita's mother had cut ties with her family and Perdita's father was an orphan. Perdita had no one, no family to go home to.
"Oh, yes she does." Hector thought to himself and he put his hat back on. His face was hard and his eyes were set on the little girls' sleeping silhouette. "She has me."
When you are dead, a few things matter more than when you were alive, like love and family, while others seem less important, like food, sleep, money, and age.
Some people are lucky enough to live a long life, while others are struck down by tragedy. This means that maturity, when dead, really is a matter of character, and not age. Does it really matter at what age you died, or at what year you were born? True, children will follow their parents, but it is not uncommon for children to be independent and fully capable of operating on their own.
Perdita fell somewhere in that category after a while in the Land of the Dead. She was a quiet girl, and though her bloodline promised a stable career in crime, she was obedient and mostly spent her time exploring or hanging out with Hector and the other family-less skeletons.
Hector quickly became her closest friend. They told each other stories and made jokes and Perdita could not imagine a better afterlife. Despite being so young and her story being so tragic, she was surprisingly wise beyond her years. She often shocked her primos and Hector when she said something that could only come from someone beyond their years, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
Perdita had finally found what she had missed in the Land of the Living: una familia.
Hector, however, was trying to regain just that. And was failing miserably.
He was always careful to hide his troubles and woes from Perdita when they were together, but she could tell that he was hurting.
Year after year after year, Hector checked at the scanners if his familia had put up his photo on the Rivera ofrenda, but they never did. Fine, he could wait another year. One day, when she is older…
But what if she didn't have a photo of him? What if there wasn't a trace of him left on
Earth, except for his family's memories of him? He just wanted to see her again! Was that too much to ask for?!
Okay, okay, okay, okay. Fine, he'll get to see her again in the Land of the Dead, anyhow, right? Yeah, here, where there are no more boundaries and no more miles to separate them. He just had to be patient. He had time.
Two decades passed since Perdita's death and Hector watched her closely over that time. Her skull was still beautiful and young and round, but the pearly white color was turning yellow and old, like parchment. Her once dirty dress was now missing a sleeve and the rim of her dress was in shreds.
One time, when chasing some kids around under Hector's protective eye, she had tripped over her own feet. She was fine and got up no trouble, but she noticed why she had fallen; she had a limp in her step now. Her hips on longer functioning like they used to, now awkwardly bouncing around together. Perdita, not wanting to be left behind from the excitement of the game, resumed and simply ran with a limp, but Hector noticed this and was startled.
One day, Hector was entering the docks just through the broken brick wall and he passed some older ladies sitting around a barrel-table. They looked really upset; even the one with her white hair up in a bun - who was usually a chatterbox - was wiping away tears from her cheeks. This wasn't like them at all. Hector went up to them and noticed that not a lot of people were home right now; it was the middle of the afternoon, after all.
"Hey, hey." Hector said softly and reached into his jacket-pocket for a good napkin and gave it to the crying sister. "Come on, dry your skull."
"It's Perdita." One sister croaked while the crying woman wiped her cheeks dry, only to have them wet again by new tears. "She's not well at all."
Hector gasped and turned to where she usually stayed. It was a tiny hut with only one room and it had a smaller rickety ladder going up to it, but he knew it had a nice view from the many time he had visited the child.
"She said she wants to be alone." The second sister added, reading Hector's mind.
The crying woman nodded her head and held out the cloth for Hector to take, despite the fact that she was still crying.
"I am going to see her." He said firmly with a grave voice and he left for the tiny hut without his friend's good napkin, knowing the third sister needed it more than he did.
He walked swiftly across the old wood that separated him from the water and climbed up the ladder carefully until he reached the doorway. He crawled through it and into the only room, in which the roof only covered half of it and the hammock was out in the sunshine. Perdita was laying as comfortably as she could, her hands folded over her chest and her head turned to watch the sun as it started to set behind the tall buildings that decorated the Land of the Dead. The sunshine sparkled and made the world orange and yellow, like marigolds.
"Buenas tardes, amiga." Hector greeted quietly.
Perdita did not look at him, but continued to watch the world she was soon leaving behind. Hector sat with his feet crossed and his knees up to his chin next to the hammock. He rested his wrists on his knees and tried to think of what to say.
Hector looked up at his friend. "What?"
"My mother. She's dying. And she's the last person who remembers me." Perdita said clearly, but still did not look at Hector.
He turned his head away so he was sitting straight again. "I'm sorry, Perdita."
"I'm not." Perdita said and Hector nearly flinched from the coldness in her voice. "I'm glad I won't have to see her. She was a coward."
"Perdita," Hector said gently. "She's still your mama…"
"She left me behind, Hector." Perdita argued, finally looking at him; her blue-green eyes held tears. "She left me with the man who murdered me and didn't even tell anyone about me. She's no mama."
Hector looked at Perdita and blinked. That's all he could do at the moment.
"And yeah, I know my father killed me." Perdita added bitterly, choking on her tears.
She looked away from Hector and shuttered as she sparkled golden for a moment and her skeleton shook even more loosely. She was barely holding on now. Hector jumped up to his knees and turned to her, trying to think of what to do. Perdita took in a deep breath to try to cease her pain and looked up at her only true friend.
"Perdita," Hector said, but found he had no words to go with it. So many things to say to her, and yet so little time. Why hadn't he told her how much she meant to her every day? Just goes to show that he didn't learn his lesson the first time.
Perdita grabbed one of his bony hands and gave it a small squeeze. "It's okay, amigo, it's okay." She wheezed. "My afterlife was better than my actual life, and it was all because of you. Gracias."
Hector gave a weak smile and covered her hand with his free one. "I should have done more…"
"Than what? Being my friend?" Perdita asked and gave a childish giggle. "You did more than what anyone else did for me."
Hector's smile grew slightly, and he chuckled, thinking of the day he met her. "You know, when I first saw you, I thought you were my daughter. I wish you two could have met. You would have been great friends."
He truly meant it. Coco, even as a young child, had been patient and a good listener, the kind of person Perdita had longed for.
"I hope you get to see her again soon." Perdita said weekly.
Hector smiled, but then his smile dropped once he processed what Perdit had said. She must have as well, for she was embarrassed and said,
"You know what I mean."
Hector smiled again and nodded.
Perdita took in a couple more breaths and could feel her time ticking away. She looked out at the beautiful sun one last time and then looked her friend dead in the eye. His eyes were so big, Perdita could almost see her reflection in them. She was sorry to see him so sad, but had no strength to do anything about it.
"Adios, Padre." She whispered.
She closed her eyes and she started to glow red until she was consumed by it, like fire. Hector watched in horror as red turned to gold and Perdita's skeleton faded away into dust that flew towards the sun and disappeared. His hands were empty now, and so was his heart.
"Adios, mi pequeña niña."
Hector allowed a tear to fall from his eye-socket and he laid his head in the hammock. There he cried for his friend. He had not allowed himself to cry in decades, only once in his life (when he finally got to hold little Coco after she was born), but this was different. This wasn't overwhelming joy or pain from a wound, this pain went much deeper than that.
His eyes stung. His sobs were rusty from the lack of use. His mind wanted to cry, but his body wouldn't let him. His breaths were uneven and it made his face hot in the blankets, but he didn't care. His whole face was soon wet and he hid it in his arms as he continued to cry.
So that was The Final Death. He had heard about it and knew friend who knew friends that had been forgotten, but he had not yet experienced it like this before. As a matter of fact, he had never actually been to someone's death bed until today. He prayed he would never have to do this again. Hector had never felt so alone in that moment as he wept. A part of him wanted someone to come and comfort him, to rub his back and tell him that it was okay. The other part of him, the stronger part, begged to be alone and untouched.
Hector lost track of how long he had cried into the hammock. It felt like an eternity, but he was sure it had only been a few minutes. He looked up at the sunlight that leaked past the buildings; the sun was behind them now. The sky was pink and was water below was getting darker and darker as night crept on like a ghost.
He wiped his face dry with his arm and blinked several time to clear his brown eyes. He looked out at the world and sighed. Perdita had a right to love this view so much. Hector crawled under the hammock and sat on the edge of the floor with one leg dangling off the side and the other leg bent so he could rest an arm on his knee.
Hector's eyes were sore now and he closed them, leaning his head against a wooden plank. His heart ached and… now that he thought about it, his whole body was tired. With the last of the sun warming him and the water playing for him, he knew he could probably go to sleep right then and there.
And then it hit him.
That was why it was so important to leave behind a family that loves you, because if you don't have a family, you have nothing. You are nothing. He understood why people took Dias de los Muertos so seriously. Everything depended on whether you were loved enough to be remembered in life or not. Perdita didn't have that, but she had people here that would always remember her and love her. Hector wished it was enough, but then thought, with a smile, that it would have been enough for her.
But Hector knew he had dug his own grave.
He knew Imelda had torn him out of their family photo, and the chance that Coco possessed another photo of him was slim, seeing that he was never on the ofrenda. Keeping that in mind, it was likely that Imelda was trying to erase Hector completely from their lives. She had already banned music, who's to say she banned his name?
He deserved it, he really did. It was all his fault. But that didn't lessen the pain he felt. He missed his family so much it ached. He still loved his wife so much, and his daughter…
Hector blinked and a tear escaped and rolled down his cheekbone.
He loved Coco so much. He always had, and he would never stop, not even after his Final Death. And even though he knew he probably didn't deserve it, he desperately wanted to see her again. He had to find a way!
… he needed a photo...
After watching Coco, which is by the way THE BEST PIXAR MOVIE EVAR, I noticed that Hector seemed like had seen friends fade before the events of the movie (I don't remember his name, please don't judge me) and I wondered who was the first of many people he had seen fade, considering all of his friends were nearly forgotten, and so I made this masterpiece! I'm honestly very proud of this one, having done a lot of research on it and had spent a lot of time on it, so please, please, please tell me what you think of it!
Anyways, I may have put in too many dead-puns and yes, I did reference the poor guy's good napkins. I honestly would LOVE to know what Hector did with all of his stuff! XD
Hope you liked it!