“What do you mean you can’t find him?” Ari demanded four days later, nearly crushing the phone in her grip.
“Miss Calderon, please understand that this sort of thing-”
“How could you lose my father? He was six foot four. He couldn’t exactly run away and hide!”
“We’ll conduct the mass with a sealed box at the altar,” Mr. Hill jumped in quickly. “No one will know. When we locate him, we will arrange a private burial. This situation has uh, unfortunately happened before and we’ve always corrected it to our customers’ satisfaction. I’m so very sorry, Miss Calderon.”
If they found out, they were going to think Ari had done it on purpose. She promised Mayda that she would take care of everything, that she’d follow – to the letter – her father’s arrangements. With Uncle Danny and Great Uncle Gustavo yapping to the press Mayda stressed that they’d do something to ruin the funeral. Just as she was about to pull it off, the funeral home had lost her dad … literally.
“When you find him, how will I know it’s really him?”
He cleared his throat. “Everyone is carefully registered and monitored. We’ll be able to track him-”
“Then track him down now.”
“There’s just not enough time…”
His voice droned on as a surge of panic left her dizzy.
“Fine, whatever, just stop,” Ari said and he went quiet. “As long as no one knows, just do what you have to do.”
“Of course, Miss Calderon. I’ll do whatever you need me to-”
“And I want a discount.”
“Well, I’ve never-”
Later that same morning, when she made eye contact with Mr. Hill, she narrowed her eyes from her seat in the front row pew of St. Joachim’s. His gaze dropped to the floor. She’d all but beaten that discount out of him. If Mayda knew, she’d be proud.
Ari took in a deep breath, grazing Mayda’s shoulder. Her aunt had been quiet all morning, no doubt thinking of how she’d sat in this very same pew at Tío Esteban’s funeral nine months earlier. Her Great Tía Belen, who had flown in from Guadalajara yesterday, comforted Mayda with cariños and tequila. But you had to know Mayda like they did to know that grief hollowed her out. She still appeared crisp and polished, not a hair out of place and no loose threads poking out of the seams of her St. John’s suit. Ari wanted to reach over and take Mayda’s hand but Belen held them both in hers.
Her mother, Pilar sat to Ari’s left. Escorted by Uncle Danny and Great Uncle Gustavo, she had made her entrance wearing a black veil that drifted behind her like Death itself. She dabbed a white handkerchief under the giant bug-like Dior sunglasses.
Behind them, Javi sat with her uncles and cousins who made up Mariachi Calderon. Mourners packed the church. The royalty of Mexican music – the regal Vicente Fernandez with his son, Alejandro, Eugenia Leon, Vicky Carr, Nati Cano, Laura Sobrino and members of Mariachi Vargas de Techlitan – sat among the unknown, hard-working street mariachis who emulated and worshipped their hero, Candelario Calderon. As they drove to the church in the black limo, Belen gasped at the thousands of fans who lined the streets leading Orange Avenue that had been shut down by the police.
When Ari had walked down the aisle earlier alongside Mayda, the whispers among her father’s friends and contemporaries drifted up into her ears.
Is that her? Let me see!
She’s the daughter.
The one in that red dress?
Will she take over Mariachi Calderon?
Even though she kept her gaze fixed firmly straight ahead, she’d caught the disdain and the curiosity out of the corner of her eye. Sweat tickled her spine and jammed up in her Wonder Woman chones. She hadn’t had the time to do laundry, so sue her, she had thought this morning when she’d gotten dressed. But those star-spangled bottoms gave her courage to walk by the stares and whispering with her head held high.
But this time she wore a black dress; another vintage sleeveless find with a Peter Pan collar and a rhinestone starburst pin at the neck. With her hair pulled into a severe twist at the nape of her neck, her forehead felt stretched tight.
The Most Rev. Tod D. Brown, Bishop of Orange County was appropriately emotional and yet spiked his eulogy with funny stories about her father. When it was time to take communion, Ari slipped her foot out of her heels, just enough to ease the pinch. She’d gotten used to Keds, jeans and t-shirts in the past few months of taking care of her dad full-time.
“Wait, Pilar, please-” Danny whispered.
Her mother staggered across the marble floor between the front pew and the altar to the small black box that should’ve held her dad’s ashes.
Forgetting her shoes, Ari jumped to her feet but Mayda clutched her hand.
“Let Danny get her.”
“Mi vida, mi corazon,” Pilar sobbed, her voice echoing in the giant church even though the cameras were outside. But a select group of reporters had been allowed to attend the funeral.
It’s sealed, Ari told herself as Pilar wrapped her arms round the box. Dread spiked cold and jagged. No one will know.
Pilar then paused and straightened her spine. She shook the box and Ari caught herself from sliding off the pew.
Copyright 2010 Mary Castillo