Title: How It Worked
Author: Girl Who Writes
Fic VariationsPrompt/Claim: Work / Mimi Marquez.
Words: 2 767
Summary: Roger swings Mimi onto his back, her arms around his neck and giggling wildly as he jogs around the room.
Author's Notes: Written from the 'making it work' perspective. I hope you enjoy it! I may expand five and six in the future.
She knows he likes to be left alone sometimes. It was his solitary state that drew her to him, after all. Well, not all that drew her to him, but there was something about how she always saw him alone, on the roof.
Even now, three months after the Christmas Mimi just wants to forget, they're still working at this relationship thing. She's huddled in one of his old sweatshirts, one of Maureen's glossy fashion magazines in her lap as Roger sits at the other end of the couch, plucking strings on his guitar and scribbling things down in a ratty old notebook.
Mimi watches him for a few minutes, a frown on his face from concentration, before going back to her magazine. The frustration becomes too much for Roger, and he gets up to prowl around the loft, a physical distance from whatever is annoying him. Maybe in the past Mimi would have gotten up and tried to work out what was pissing him off so much, with words that crackled and made things worse.
Now, she sits on the couch, absorbed in her reading, letting companionable silence do the talking.
Roger knows Mimi hates talking about the past – no day but today. Yesterday is the past, to be forgotten and left there, unless it puts a smile on her face. She tells him about brothers and a sister some nights, when she's mostly asleep, and while he likes hearing her past, the stories and people blur in together, and her parents aren't mentioned at all.
There was a brother she loved, who kept her safe from whatever demons lurked in the Marquez home, who made her feel safe from everything – an older brother who clung to a place at college on the opposite side of the country. A brother who used to call, used to write, and last she heard he was getting married. Mimi doesn't recall what he was studying or planning to do when he finished college. Maybe a long buried hurt has hidden that from her mind.
There was an aunt who braided her hair and taught her how to sew and cook cakes who died when Mimi was a little child of cancer, a beloved aunt who wasted away to dust before she let go. The aunt, Mimi explained with a sleepy slur, couldn't have babies and wanted Mimi for her own.
"She looked like an old lady before she went to sleep and didn't wake up. So much older than my mother – looked as old as my grandmother, she was so sick. She was only twenty eight when she went."
He offers her stories of ordinary suburbia in return – stories of soccer games and family picnics and his own father yelling about how he wanted to be rock star, how it was a waste, and how his own mother paid for the guitar lessons and protected him from a few of his father's beatings, how his own older brothers ran the household.
Mimi likes this stories that are as foreign to her as her childhood is to him.
They both keep secrets in shoeboxes.
Roger's secrets are Polaroid photographs of April in paint splattered clothes, her face dreamy with concentration, the only person he has ever seen looking like that. They are notes she used to leave for him before she disappeared for a day or two. Cheap tubes of lipstick, tiny cases of eye shadow. Crumpled songs he wrote for her. Christmas cards and long winded letters from his own mother. A family photograph taken the last year he was home – fuck, eight years ago, almost – and photographs from those following years without him. April's last note.
Mimi's secrets are hair ribbons and beads, a Service Booklet from a long ago funeral with her Aunt's photograph on the front page – the same age Mimi is now. A broken gold chain with a pink and gold enamel heart on the end with 'M.A.M' printed on it in script. Photographs of herself as an infant and child that she kept for when she had her own babies, to show them – she keeps those buried, because there's not going to be any babies to show. There's letters from California, a wedding invitation. Magazine clippings from a Mexican magazine, her own mother done up like some kind of show girl with her other little girl who is fifteen years Mimi's junior. Her Aunt's rosary, the green and white beads clacking together, a sound that lulled her to sleep as a baby.
She gives him the courage to go home again.
She goes with Mark and Roger back to Scarsdale that summer, her hair pinned back and joking with Mark about stories they can tell his mother, things they can blackmail him with – the red hair dye, the nipple piercing that went very wrong; something Mimi did not witness, but has heard many accounts of, and can tell it like she was there the whole time. Roger likes the way Mimi catches the threads of shared history that he and Mark, Maureen and Collins, Benny all share, and joins in. Joanne too, is quick on the uptake and can drag out stories that even Mark had forgotten.
Roger wishes he had heard all of Mimi's stories before they lost Angel. He wishes he could take Angel out for lunch, and just let her talk all about Mimi, about the silly things, the crazy things she would've done. Those stories are lost now, because Mimi misses Angel so much it physically pains her, some days, and he doesn't want to drag up history that makes her cry, happy or sad tears.
Roger and Mark's homes are foreign to Mimi, like movie sets or museums. They got to the Cohen's first, where Judith Cohen hugs them all, talking the whole time. Judith drags them inside for sandwiches and cake and drags out the old photo albums with Mark and Roger as kids, in grubby school uniforms, and Maureen with braces and all three of them dressed up as tigers for one Halloween.
Mimi teases them both, laughing and dragging a stack of Polaroids from the bottom of her bag. Not Halloween, but some party where they all got dressed up, both Roger and Mark in full drag with lacy red and green dresses and full-scale make up. Judith laughs so hard she has to sit down, and Mimi doesn't tell her that both the boys were so drunk they couldn't stand and so high they couldn't have told her their names.
They got to the Davis home next, half a block away, a cheerful group. The lawns are immaculate, the flowerbeds look ordered out of a catalogue and the homes like dollhouses, according to Mimi, and she reminds both Mark and Roger who offer her incredulous looks, that she grew up in the city.
This means, when they get to the Davis house, and Dennis Davis yells obscenities at Roger, calls Mimi every name under the sun, she doesn't blink an eye. Roger's family, older and wiser than when he left, watch in tense silence as Mimi rebuffs every insult, every crude suggestion with someone who is no longer shocked by human nature.
Annie Davis clings to her prodigal son, weeping that she thought he'd never come home again. The siblings look awkward and disperse as soon as their father storms out of the room, because of the 'foul mouthed tramp' Roger and Mark brought with them.
It's Mimi who sits beside him when he tells his whole family he's sick, and that goes to bat for him when his brothers and sister and father yell at him for ruining his own life and demand to know why he came back at all, as he reassured his mother he'd had a good life and he wasn't dying today.
And two days later, in the Loft with Collins, Maureen and Joanne, they retell the scene of Mimi, standing up and yelling at Dennis Davis until Roger's father shut up. She smiles to herself, and Roger wonders how many of those sorts of battles Mimi lost before now, how she knows that she can out scream, out argue, a two hundred pound, six foot tall man and come out victorious.
He gives her the strength to seek out her family again.
He holds her hand tight as they cross into Spanish Harlem, to the wreck of a house she grew up in. He wipes her eyes and holds her tight when they find out from the neighbors that the house has been empty for more than a year, at least – fire damage that Miguel Marquez could not afford to repair, a building that was condemned.
"Think he went out to Brooklyn with That Woman," the neighbor adds at the end, disappearing back into her own structurally unsound home.
"My stepmother," Mimi explains at Mark and Roger's curious looks. "Brooklyn."
Two days, a phone book, and Joanne's cell phone later, Mimi has tracked down her remaining family, in a tiny apartment in a neighborhood that none of them wanted to walk through.
Before the door even opened, they could hear the squeals of young children. The man who answered the door had to be at least fifty, grey hair threaded through his curly black hair, a dark look across his face. "What?" he snapped. Mimi bit her lip.
"Papá. Miguel," she says, her hand still in Roger's, her voice steady but her hands shaking. The man stares blankly at her.
"Daddy, Stefan hit me!" A little girl comes running down the hallway, grabbing his hand, a red mark on her face. "Daddy, Daddy, Stefan hit me!"
Mimi knows it's all too much for her father, as he looks back and forwards between his two daughters, before smacking the child so hard across the face that she tumbles backwards and cracks her head on the plaster wall. He sneers in Mimi's direction, almost daring her to say something. Silence.
"You fucking bastard!" The words catch the man before he shuts the door on her face, and for a second, he is stunned. Then the door is slammed so hard it rattles and they can hear the sobs of the child.
Roger holds her tight for a second, she's shaking, her eyes wide and distant. He takes her home and they sit around, eating pizza and not talking about what happened. Mimi looks sad, but dry-eyed as Mark and Roger talk, keeping one eye on her, as if they expect her to cry and confess secrets from her childhood. Roger pictures, for a moment, Mimi as a child, running up to her father at a bad moment, and getting smacked across the face.
The next day they stay in – Mark and Roger play cards for the few dollars they have left, and Mimi is curled up on the couch with a pad of writing paper and a pencil, writing madly, crossing out and crumpling pieces up. Letters to the people who let her down the most.
Replies take a long time to find their way back. Three letters – one postmarked from Tijuana, one from San Francisco, and one from Brooklyn.
The one from Brooklyn is crumpled and stained, and in dark, heavy lettering 'Return to Sender' – her father's handwriting. It hasn't been opened and Mimi turns it over before throwing it in the trash. "I didn't expect him to read it," she says, almost to herself.
She unfolds the one from San Francisco, as Roger rescues the one from the trash, burning with curiosity to know what it says. She looks at him as he holds it out and shrugs, and he rips into it. Five folded pages, Mimi's spidery script twisting over the page. He leans against the counter to read about everything – growing up with him as her father, running away, getting sick and how she was living her life.
'…Roger and Mark, Collins, Maureen and Joanne are my family. Sometimes I lie awake in bed and wonder if someone down the line fucked up and these amazing people love me because my blood family was such a mess.
You're going to outlive me, Miguel, and I wanted a chance to leave you on my terms, not as an act of survival and desperation. I wanted you to see that, despite you being an A grade asshole, I'm a good person. I wanted you to meet Roger and Mark, because I know you'd like them; you always liked people with principles and strong moral beliefs, that they are the 'good men' you always wanted the boys to be.
I won't come back to see you again; you probably won't read this when you see who it's from. I'm telling you that I'm going to die in the next few years, only because you were my father a long time ago and I thought maybe I owed you this…'
Roger looked up from Mimi's letter, setting it down on the table as Mimi stared blankly at the letter from San Francisco.
"Eli's in San Francisco," she said, staring at the scribble on the pages. "He's got a wife, two little girls, a dog and he's a doctor. He still hears from the others. Isabelle's living with him, studying to be a nurse, Marcos is in prison, Adrian's a teacher."
He pulls himself to sit up on the table next to her, as she stared at a photo stuck to the bottom, of a family at Christmas – the same awful, wonderful Christmas she'd almost died. Roger could pick Mimi's siblings; they had the same eyes, arms around each other, smiling.
"They were all older – Eli went to college a week before my fifth birthday," Mimi explained slowly, tracing the phone number at the bottom of the letter.
"You should call them," Mark says from where he's editing film across the room, to give them some semblance of privacy.
"I should," Mimi says, looking back down at the photo.
The third letter remains unopened for two days, and Mimi treats it like a bomb – something that needs to be carefully handled and possibly diffused or possibly destroyed. Finally, she rips it open, and stares blankly at the single page of notepaper, three one hundred dollar bills paper clipped to the page.
"What the hell?" Roger takes the money.
Mimi reads aloud from her mother's letter, a restrained, vague note, with bland wishes for good health, despite the disease that plagues her, a line and a half dedicated to her new husband and child, and another line explaining her acting career too precarious to bring Mimi into the fold. She signs 'Gloria' rather than 'Mama', and Mimi shakes her head, tossing the letter onto the counter.
Three hundred dollars is film for Mark, new clothes for Mimi, a new set of guitar strings for Roger, groceries and new blankets. Mimi puts the letters away in her secret shoebox but Roger goes out on the street on a sunny Thursday afternoon, to find Mimi feeding coins into the public phone as she calls San Francisco and holds her tight when, later, she admits Eli cried when she explained she was HIV positive, and how guilty she felt feeling pleased he was crying for her, that when she was gone, that her brother would think of her.
There's tears and fighting and tantrums and no money; no privacy, no food, long hours at work and just an old industrial loft and an AZT routine. There are arguments no one wants to take sides in, and silent treatment that drives Mark around the bend, and out into the cold streets with his camera. A hospital scare or two, and they hold onto each other tighter.
Christmas '91 is celebrated in the loft with real food and Stoli and Roger playing his guitar, Collins smoking and Mark filming, demanding commentary from his subjects. Mimi stands behind Roger, her arms around his neck, face next to his and smile at Mark, wishing him a Merry Christmas and a drunken New Year.
A Christmas in the future, four people will gather in front of the projector, pizza and beer, and watch the tears and yelling and smiling and laughing, watching their two friends who struggled and fought for what they wanted.
Roger swings Mimi onto his back, her arms around his neck and giggling wildly as he jogs around the room. And the film goes black.