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Disclaimer: Not LucasArts, don't own them, don't make any money off them.
Author's Note: This is a series of vignettes written for a friend, who asked me for “five things Lola always meant to do.” Also based off a number of my wacky personal theories. The first couple of these take place in the Land of the Living, to clear up any confusion.
The Only Things That Matter Are These
Rocco was always promising her they’d go to Paris. “Sure, baby, we’ll go,” he’d say, patting her arm gently. Then he’d take the cigarette from his mouth and stamp it in the ashtray beside her before he returned all his attention to his cards. He loved those cards; the deck was ragged and torn, but he still refused to let her throw them out. (“They’re my lucky set, doll. Don’t you like it when I win all the time?”)
“When, Rocco? When are we going?”
He sighed. To the dealer, tossing a small handful of chips down, “I’ll call.” Then, to her, “When we go, Lola. We need money, okay? Boat tickets ain’t cheap.”
She watched him in silence, patience fraying, lungs aching from the room’s smoky atmosphere. Rocco smoked too much--like a chimney--and so did all his friends. The smell of it always made her sick. “I could make a lot more money for my photographs in Paris,” she said quietly. “Maybe we could get a loan; my brother said--”
“I don’t work with borrowed money.” The round ended; he handed a small yellow I.O.U. slip to the man at his left. “We’ll go, baby,” he repeated, seeing the hurt look on her face. He patted her pale cheek gently and nodded towards the door, barely visible in the dim light. “Now go see if there’s any food in the fridge, huh? The guys are getting hungry.”
“Your booze’s the only thing left in the fridge,” she said, standing.
“So bring that. I gotta tell you to do everything, doll?”
“Shh, mi niña.” Her mother smoothed her hair and kissed the top of her head as if she were a small child again. Mostly, though, she just felt so very, very old. “Mi cielo...everything will be all right, you’ll see.”
The last nurse slipped out of the room, heels clicking on the tile floor. She left the door slightly ajar without glancing back.
“Mi niña,” her mother repeated, picking up a hairbrush from the bedside table and starting to brush her hair. It was tangled and matted; she hadn’t washed it all the time she’d been in the hospital. “Your brother is packing your things--then we’ll have you out of that apartment and far away from that huevón. Then you’ll be back with me and everything will be all right, querida.” The brush caught on a particularly nasty tangle and she stopped, working the knot apart with practiced fingers.
“You’ll see, mi hija.” Her mother set the brush back down and handed her her clothing. She took them limply and didn’t make any move to change out of the hospital gown. “I know it’s hard, how much you wanted...but maybe this wasn’t the right time for a bebé. I know one day you will make a wonderful mother, and all your children will be los angelitos.”
Her mother took a tissue and gently dried her face. “You’ll see, my Lola. Everything will be all right.”
The reaper who brought her to El Marrow had a sad, tired face--Lola remembered that most of all, long after his name had escaped her. He was tall, very thin-boned, and cut a less-than-imposing figure in the long black robes that nearly swallowed him whole.
He had offered her a set of clothes, a seat in his office, and a pack of cigarettes (this last she refused; the smell still turned the phantom of her stomach). With patience and a calm, even tone, he went over as much of the details of her file as office policy allowed, and took her hand when he came to his conclusion: Dolores Sanchez hadn’t lived a good enough life and wasn’t buried with nearly enough money. There was little he could do for her.
“The good news is,” he said as if attempting to cheer her, “you don’t owe any debts. You’re free to make your own way.”
He walked her out of his office and down to the street several stories below as he explained her options; that the way was treacherous, and if she could stand staying in town that long, maybe it would be better if she worked until she could afford a bus ticket to Rubacava. His face had been quiet and sad when he left her on the sidewalk with nothing but the clothes on her back and a tip about a diner that was hiring. She had tried to smile at him, but faltered at the last second and quickly hurried away down the street, disappearing into the crowd.
Souls in El Marrow tended to ignore the looming, overstated DOD building unless they worked there, and as time went by Lola forgot most everything about the reaper who’d brought her in--except the look that had seemed frozen on his face. It wasn’t until, years later, when the maître d’ at her night job had bustled by her, calling, “Limones, party of two” that she caught a glimpse, across the restaurant, of a too familiar expression.
It had been years, and he stood straighter, taller now. Dressed in a business suit and lacking his voluminous robes, he seemed to regain a certain charisma--you would never have guessed what he did for a living. His gaze still had a tired sadness to it, although she saw a spark there now, a hint of hope, that nearly made her smile.
She thought of saying hello, or at least catching his eye; “once my next paycheck comes in I’ll be out of here,” she wanted to say. He and the woman he was with slid into a reserved booth in a far distant corner and buried their heads so deeply in conversation there seemed to be no polite way of interrupting them.
She went and hid in the kitchen until one of the cooks threw her out, instead.
“Could you just--oh, here. Take him.” Carla shoved Manny, only semi-conscious, in Lola’s general direction. She only just managed to catch him before he fell over and hit pavement. “You’d think he’d know his limits by now,” she continued, shaking her head in a languid, half-drunk motion.
“Yeah,” Lola said, struggling to balance as much of Manny’s weight as she could on her shoulder. He certainly wasn’t making it any easier, having gone almost completely limp. She nudged him in the side to see if he was still conscious--he didn’t even twitch. “Thanks for...uh, bringing him by.”
Carla said something completely unintelligible in response and staggered off in the opposite direction, leaving Lola to haul Manny back to the recently christened Café Calavera by herself.
For nighttime in Rubacava, the streets were surprisingly empty, and the sound of Lola’s high-heeled shoes dragging along the cobblestone echoed out into the bay. By the time they’d passed the lighthouse she gave up and kicked them off, clutching them in one hand while she kept a firm grip on the back of Manny’s jacket with the other. “You know,” she said under her breath, “this might be a little easier if you’d help out.”
Manny mumbled something in response, although she couldn’t quite make out what it was.
“Oh, so you are awake.” The words came out with unintended bitterness, and she clapped a hand, shoes and all, over her mouth. She walked the rest of the way to the café in awkward silence, broken only by the occasional pleasantry exchanged with the souls that passed by.
How she managed to make it up the stairs to the café’s front door with all of Manny’s dead weight, Lola had no idea. She staggered into the warmly lit entry, back and arms aching, and was summarily ignored by both the customers standing in the lobby and Manny’s coat check girl. As she started up the stairs to his office, she supposed she should have found Glottis and gotten him to carry Manny, but--well, he’s probably busy with the customers, she thought, nearly tossing Manny onto the bed he kept in the corner of the room. He landed face-first in a pile of papers; bills, mostly.
“Mmf. Thanks, angel.”
If she’d had an eyebrow left, Lola would have arched it. After a moment, though, her face softened and she came and sat down beside him. “Well, hey, what are friends for, right?” She laughed weakly.
Manny patted the small of her back, although he seemed to have been aiming for her shoulder. “Yeah...you’re a real saint, belleza.” A pause, and he continued on a more sour note, “I should...I should’ve treated you good--better.”
“Aw, Manny...” With a touch of something more than sisterly concern, Lola straightened his crooked tie and smoothed out a few of the wrinkles in his suit jacket. “You treat me just fine. Like...like...” Your kid sister? she thought, and immediately swallowed it.
“Scared you off,” he mumbled. He started to pick himself up but stopped when he lost his balance and nearly fell off the bed. “Didn’t mean to. ‘S my fault you’ve...you’re probably...mutant beaver food, santa mía.”
Lola stared down at him in momentary confusion until it dawned on her that he wasn’t talking about her--or even to her. “Meche again,” she said in a quiet sigh she doubted he could hear. She quickly slid her shoes back on and stood up to go.
“Hey, belleza--” he went to grab her wrist but missed, latching onto her thigh instead-- “don’t go.”
Lola could have sworn she felt the skin on her cheeks coloring and, for an instant, as she pried his fingers away and held his hand in hers, she nearly slid off her shoes again and stayed. Then the moment passed and she let his hand drop, whispering, “Sorry. You know I can’t.”
He passed out again as she tiptoed out of the room and back out to the chill night air.
“Just my luck...I’d just have to die twice.”
Nick glanced at her over his shoulder, mouth twisting into a sneer. “Yeah, you’re that kind of person, aren’t you?” She heard his footsteps as he hurried down the lighthouse’s metal staircase; heard the heavy door slam shut; heard the bolt click into place. Unable to stand any longer, she fell against the metal guardrail and sank to the floor. Bright blue flowers blossomed across her abdomen.
“Lola, baby, I really think you ought to get out of town for a while. There’s a boat ticket to Puerto Zapato with your name on it. If money’s an issue, I can pay for it. You don’t even have to think about paying me back; the café’s turning a great profit.”
She stared at him across the bar for a long moment. Then, “Manny, have you been hitting the hard stuff again?”
“I mean it, Lola.” He finished wiping down the bar and tossed the dirty rag into the sink. “This hang-up you’ve got with Maximino...it’s getting out of hand.” She snorted and rolled her eyes, but he continued, “He’s bad news. I don’t want to see you getting mixed up with a guy like him.”
“Who’re you, my father? My brother?” Behind them, the piano hit a series of sour notes as Glottis got up and scurried out of the room. “You introduced us, that night at the club--remember?”
Manny sighed. “Yeah, I remember. But considering he had Olivia Ofrenda hanging off his arm, I didn’t think you’d go so loco over him.”
“I’m not crazy, Manny. Haven’t you ever been in love?”
“As a matter of fact...no.” He came around to her side of the bar and started putting up stools and chairs. “But hey, look at it this way--you’re going to want to move on eventually, right? You made it as far as Rubacava, why stop here?” A certain charismatic lilt crept into his voice that he usually reserved for his customers, not her.
She shrugged. “Rubacava’s not so bad.”
“Yeah, if you ignore the police corruption, the crime wave, the--”
“I’ve got friends here, and Max--what’s so great about the Land of Eternal Rest? Sounds boring. Besides, it sure seems like somebody doesn’t want me to make it to the end of the line.”
Manny turned back around to look at her, frowning. “Hey. Stop that.” He grabbed her by the shoulder, not ungently, but enough to focus her attention on him. “Don’t you go turning into Membrillo on me. You’ll make it, Lola. Probably a lot sooner than I will.”
She offered him a faint smile. “Even if I stay around here a little while longer?”
“Yeah,” he said, grinning. “What’s with me trying to chase you out of here so soon, huh? A few years don’t matter when you’re dead.” He turned his attention back to closing the bar, releasing her shoulder. “Now c’mon--I could use some help with these chairs.”
The wind that blew in off the Sea of Lament was sharp and cold and kept her more awake than she wanted to be. It was late in the season; the last of the boats would be leaving tonight, and then Rubacava would grow quiet for a few months. Without so many tourists tramping through the city, her business would be slow.
“I wouldn’t’ve made enough money for a boat ticket anyway,” she coughed out, trying to smile.
“Manny? What d’you suppose the end of the line looks like?”
“I hear there’s a lot of snow. Probably a big important temple or something. Not really sure.”
“Want me to send you a postcard when I get there?”
“Yeah, if you’re the one taking the picture. And if you see any of my old clients there, don’t tell them I say hi, okay?”
“Okay. It’s a deal.”
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