Eduardo led her body through the streets on a wheeled bier pulled behind a nag of tired and sullen temperament. His own mood was not much better; four days of trudging south through jungle heat and humidity had taken its toll on both his body and mind. The woman who lay on the bier had been his first and only love, but every hour of travel brought with it an increasing pungency of decay that made it difficult for him to maintain his feelings. He knew that if he didn’t get her to a necromancer soon, not only would her chance of resurrection be low but his love for her might fade completely.
But now that Eduardo had arrived in the city, a small portion of his fears were beginning to abate. The Festival of the Laughing Corpse was still two days away but already the streets were filled with people and everywhere the living mingled with the dead. He knew the upcoming festivities were certain to place a premium on any necromancer’s services, but the sight of so many faces of morbid pallor filled him with a renewed hope.
Not too late, he thought, I can’t be too late, and pushed through the throng of tourists and early revellers, dragging the nag and bier behind him.
Ahead, a troupe of Comedia de la Muerte players performed La Historia de Cómica del Doctor Fausto to a rowdy crowd. Doctor Fausto, having cast off his clothes and dressed now in bright-coloured motley, chased El Diablo around the stage with a large and undoubtedly phallic slapstick. The audience roared their approval at the newly risen Doctor’s triumph over death and threw onions at the fleeing devil.
Eduardo watched for a moment—even felt the beginnings of a smile tug at the corner of his lips—but the sign he could see hanging at the far end of the street was more important to him than frivolous plays performed by once-dead clowns.
He moved on, the crowd parting slowly before him, and stopped outside the shop he had been searching for.
Above the shop’s oaken door, black and polished smooth by the touch of untold hands, swung a shingle of dark and aged wood. Painted upon the shingle’s surface was a faded Caput Mortuum—a white circle inscribed within its circumference with three dots arranged in an inverted triangle— the symbol known as the ‘dead head’, the sign of the necromancer.
Tentatively, Eduardo reached for the door and knocked.
* * *
Eduardo’s mother had died when he was nine, although he wasn’t to find this out until five years later.
His mother had always been a sickly woman, and Eduardo thought nothing unusual of the week long trip his father had taken her on. At the time he’d assumed they were on their way to visit yet more leechers, apothecaries and chirurgeons in search of a cure. But Eduardo’s father was not interested in retaining the services of mere physicks, for he had seen the coming of his wife’s final days and made due preparation with a necromancer in Ciudad del la Muerte.
It was to this appointment that his mother and father had travelled, and there that she had died of her illness not an hour’s journey from the city gates.
Outside those same city gates, at the beginning of their journey home three days later, his father and newly resurrected mother had vowed never to tell Eduardo of what had taken place within the city’s walls.
Eduardo’s mother finally broke her vow five years later and told him everything as her husband lay dead in a night-dampened field, crushed beneath of the wheel of a steam-tractor he’d hired to help prepare the year’s planting. She told him because she wanted Eduardo to know his parents would have done anything for each other, but that sometimes it just wasn’t possible to do anything at all. Sometimes a body was just too damaged for any hope of resurrection.
Young Eduardo stared at his mother’s pale face as she spoke. She wasn’t crying. He couldn’t remember a time in the previous five years when she had. He’d thought this was because she was happy to be cured of the disease that surely would have killed her, even though his father had become increasingly distant since their return. But what if his mother didn’t cry because she couldn’t? Maybe it just wasn’t possible for the dead to cry. Which made Eduardo think of his father lying beneath the tractor’s wheels, and he wondered whether the old man’s final tears had fled their reservoir, mingling with the blood that washed the newly ploughed furrows of the stony field.
* * *
Woodcut depictions in various tracts and handbills had led Eduardo to presume all necromancers to be exceedingly old, with beards of impressive length, and apparelled from neck to toe in robes of damask silk. Therefore, when a young and clean shaven man presented his face through the open crack of the necromancer’s door, Eduardo assumed he was a servant or assistant and instantly asked to see the master of the house.
The young man responded with a throaty and jovial laugh and swung the door wide, motioning Eduardo in with a sweep of his hand. He wore dark woollen breeches and a rough linen shirt stained here and there with patches of brown and yellow and the darkest of reds.
‘If you are looking for the best necromancer in all of Ciudad del la Muerte, then you have found him, amigo. Come in, come in, before the sound of that rabble drives me to a frenzy.’
Eduardo hesitated, his hand still holding the nag’s bridle to keep her steady.
‘You? You are the mago Don Diego Tezcatl?’
‘The very same.’
Eduardo shook his head, confused.
‘But, my father came here almost twenty years ago with my mother. You must have been a mere boy.’
Don Diego Tezcatl inclined his head to one side and pressed his lips together in what might have been a smile.
‘I was much the same age then as I am now, Señor. Who better to administer the rites of the dead than one who has already experienced them? Please, won’t you come inside so that we can discuss your business in comfort and peace?’
‘I can’t,’ Eduardo said and glanced back at the bier. ‘I can’t just leave her out here on her own. It might already be too late.’
Don Diego Tezcatl looked over Eduardo’s shoulder, seeming to notice the horse and bier and its shroud-covered cargo for the first time, and sighed. He stepped out onto the street and drew back the top of the winding-sheet. Eduardo couldn’t bring himself to look. He hadn’t dared look since the moment he had placed her on the bier.
‘Ah, I see,’ the necromancer said. ‘Yes, we had better bring her inside. You are right; it might indeed be too late, but I will do the best for her that I can.’
* * *
‘Her name is Catrina,’ Eduardo told the necromancer as they placed her body on an ancient wooden catafalque bedecked about with candles and lilies. The catafalque was set in the centre of the necromancer’s workroom. The floor and walls around it were painted with sigils and glyphs that Eduardo found unintelligible and somewhat unsettling.
‘She was only twelve years old when I first met her. So beautiful. So sweet and caring and sharp as a blade for her age. I loved her the moment I saw her. Watched her grow into such a beautiful woman. And, now…now that she’d finally come of age…’
‘Yes, I’m sure that’s all true, Señor Eduardo, but for the moment I will need your assistance to remove this winding sheet. Please hold her steady for me, will you?’
Eduardo reached forward, hesitant, and placed his shaking hands upon the waist of his beloved. She felt so cold and still.
Don Diego began to unwind the shroud, revealing Catrina’s raven hair coiled over her crown in an elegant chignon encrusted with dried blood. Loose curls fell around her ears; ears that were darkened at the edges, fever red and weeping fluid at the entrance of the canals. Her face was bruised purple and black, the skin thin and tight across her forehead and the sharp bones of her cheeks. Her lips were drawn back in a rictus grin, displaying gums as slick and dark as rotting oysters. The eyes were like giant fish eggs staring up at him from the hollows of their sockets.
Eduardo flinched and gagged. His hands pushed down as he tried to steady himself and a miasmic belch erupted from his dead love’s mouth.
He fell back, tripping over his own feet in an attempt to get away from the sight and smell of what his Catrina had become. A candelabra fell to the floor, spilling wax and extinguishing the flame.
‘Maybe you should leave, Señor Eduardo’, the necromancer said, a great deal of gentleness in his voice as he continued to remove the shroud.
But Eduardo couldn’t look away. He couldn’t move at all. He could only stare down at the thing that could not possibly be his Catrina and wonder where his love had gone.
It can’t be her, he thought. It can’t! But he knew it was.
As the necromancer unwrapped the last of the shroud, he saw that the corpse was still wearing Catrina’s wedding dress.
* * *
For three days Eduardo sat in a musty third-floor room in a boarding house near the docks. He rarely slept or ate, and even when he did, the portions of both were measly and unsatisfying. He smoked stale tobacco rolled inside sheets of maize husk. He drank a lot of cheap whiskey. And, when he wasn’t staring out the window at ships travelling to and from the Old World, he read through the pile of love letters he’d kept and cried tears onto a faded daguerreotype of Catrina standing young and radiant beneath a blossoming persimmon tree.
He didn’t remember booking the room and knew that Don Diego must have arranged it for him. He didn’t even know how he’d arrived there; only that he’d suddenly come to the realisation that he was there, in that dirty and threadbare room, and no longer in the shop of the necromancer.
A letter addressed to him lay folded upon the credenza. Beside it rested the now dry and brittle bouquet Catrina had held to her breast as she’d walked slowly down the church’s aisle. For the entire first day Eduardo had been unable to approach the small bundle of pale flowers or read the note. He was too afraid of what the bouquet represented and of what might be written on the single page of crisp white paper. Instead, he sat on the bed and stared at them from a distance.
Sometime late on that first night he’d finally fallen into an unsettled sleep, plagued by dreams of his mother and father standing in a ploughed field, shovels in hand and pointing down at the empty graves they’d dug for themselves.
He awoke with the morning’s first light, somewhat relieved by the fact that his parents had been alone in the field.
Not twelve months after his father’s fatal accident, Eduardo’s mother—still grieving and unable to cry for the loss of her husband—had ended her life-in-death by throwing herself down an old well at the rear of their estancia. The fall had been far and the bottom rocky. It was three days before Eduardo discovered her body, twisted and smashed in such a way that no necromancer could restore her life a second time.
It said something to Eduardo that Catrina had not been with his parents in the dream and, with that small solace in his heart, he took the letter from the credenza.
* * *
Estimado Señor Eduardo,
It would be remiss of me if I did not, from my very first words, apologise for taking the liberty of removing you from my premises to these lodgings. Being unaware of any arrangement you might have already contracted regarding your stay in our fair city, nor knowing the extent of your current pecuniary resources, I have taken it upon myself to place you in rooms both inexpensive and as far removed from the distracting noise of the upcoming festival as was possible—although, there is really nowhere in the city this time of year that is totally free of the frivolous and flamboyant jesting of the once-dead.
Upon your departure please do not pay any bills that might be presented to you. You can be assured that I have already dealt with such incidentals on your behalf. These small charges, including the stabling of your horse and bier, will be added to my own final fee, which will be presented to you upon the conclusion of the transaction for which you have contracted me.
Now, important matters of business being dispensed with, I do hope that you have recovered sufficiently from your little episode of catatonia. It is not unusual for the sight of a loved one in such an advanced condition of decay to induce a state of stupor within those of a precious disposition.
It is my task now, and the main purpose of my writing this letter, to set your mind at rest regarding such matters.
The resurrection of your beloved Catrina is in no way beyond the limit of my skills. Indeed, I have, many times in the past, restored the Life Force of those even less fortunate.
I am therefore pleased to write that you will be reunited with your bride after a period of three days from the dating of this letter.
I would ask that you ensure you are present in your rooms on the evening of the third day in order that we may complete our transaction, and so that you may resume that Most Holy contract of Matrimony to which you and your beloved Catrina had most recently entered into.
Your servant in matters eternal,
Don Diego Tezcatl—Necromancer
* * *
That night, Eduardo fell asleep with a bellyful of whiskey and dreamt of the wedding. It wasn’t a nightmare, but neither was it pleasant.
In the dream, he stood before an altar, the arched vault of the church’s ceiling rising high above like the ribs of some ancient behemoth. All of the town’s people and animals had gathered in the nave: farmers, weavers, bakers and a blacksmith, sheep and cattle and a brood of chickens. Through the aisles, children chased dogs and dogs chased cats. An organ played accompaniment so subtly and skilfully that, combined with all the talking and squawking and barking and mewing, it sounded a hymn to the very powers of Nature Herself.
Beside Eduardo stood his bride. Her face was covered with a veil but he knew that it was his Catrina, and he knew that she was beautiful.
A priest stood on the other side of the altar, robed in cloth of white and gold. He was offering up the concluding blessing, his strong voice cutting over the sound of people and animals and music. His face was that of Don Diego Tezcatl.
With all the twisted logic of the dream world, even this last fact did not seem unusual or wrong to Eduardo. But he also knew—a far away memory ringing alarm bells of dread in his mind—that something was about to go horribly wrong.
The Priest smiled down at them both from his rostrum, raised his arms to the congregation, and said:
‘You may now kiss the bride.’
Eduardo turned and took a step—intending to raise the veil and gaze upon the beauty of his Catrina, to feel the soft touch of her lips upon his own—and his foot caught in the long, spread out train of her dress. He pitched forward, threw out his hands to steady himself against her, and felt her stumble back under the weight of his fall.
To the congregation, it must have appeared that he had pushed her.
He felt the world around him slow. The air thickened. His every heartbeat became a tympanic dirge resounding within his chest. He tried to reach out and catch her, but he was too far away. He turned his head imploringly to the gasping crowd, to the still smiling priest, but nobody was close enough to do anything more than watch. Catrina’s arms were spread wide, pinwheeling like windmills in a breeze as she fell backwards. The bell of her farthingale skirt billowed, offering Eduardo an insanely tantalising glimpse of the light-blue garter she wore around her thigh. Her veil lifted up, over her face. He could see fear and surprise in her kohl-lined eyes and in the ‘O’ of her carmine lips. He tried to call out, to scream, to say he was sorry, but the air took an eternity to fill his lungs; even longer to work its way back up through his throat and out his mouth. And, before he could utter more than a high-pitched whine of dismay, the back of Catrina’s head cracked hard against the edge of a pew and Eduardo woke up screaming.
* * *
It wasn’t just the guilt that weighed heavily on Eduardo. It was also the blame placed upon him by Catrina’s parents and the villagers. There had been no animals in the church that day, and the priest was an old man who had run the parish for at least twenty years and not Don Diego Tezcatl, but the rest of the dream had been as it was. He knew that, ultimately, whether he meant to or not, he had pushed her and that bumbling action had been the cause of her death. His visit to the necromancer was an attempt to rectify that; a chance for her to regain the life he had taken. He also recognised a degree of selfishness in that too. He couldn’t see how he could live without her after so long waiting to be in her arms.
And so, he read and re-read the pile of letters that had accumulated during their long courtship, trying to ignore the sounds of merriment that drifted up to him from the street below. At one stage he opened the window to let in some air and looked down upon once-dead clowns and comedians, resurrected satirists and porcelain-pale burlesque dancers, all moving in a morbid procession of laughter and music. It made him remember what a good sense of humour his Catrina had possessed. Would she still laugh, even if she couldn’t cry? Would she still say the sort of things that had made him smile and laugh? Don Diego’s letter had given him hope that this would be so.
Eduardo’s biggest concern though was how she would look. He tried to put the image of Catrina lying on the catafalque in the necromancer’s workroom from his mind and concentrated on the daguerreotype taken near her parent’s hacienda by a travelling lensman. The image had taken an age to produce in the strange little man’s camera and the entire time Catrina had stood as still as…death was his first thought but he quickly brushed it away. As still as a marble sculpture. As still as lilies floating on a pond. As still as an autumn night. But none of these clichés did justice to her beauty as she’d posed beneath a flowering persimmon tree.
He lay the letters in his lap, closed his eyes and kept that image of her in his mind, thinking that maybe the words did not exist that could describe her in a way that she deserved.
* * *
Eduardo did not notice when the light began to dim. At some stage he had fallen into a whiskey induced daze and, by the time the knock at the door roused him, the room had fallen into darkness. Sounds of laughter and other revelries still drifted up from the street but the gaslights were too far below to cast even the weakest of glows into his third-floor room. He struggled from the tattered armchair he’d been sitting in, legs and mind as unsteady as calf’s foot jelly, and stumbled about searching for a lamp.
Another, more insistent knock sounded.
‘Señor Eduardo, are you in? I have someone here who would very much like to see you.’ The voice belonged to Don Diego.
Eduardo’s heart staggered a beat and his mouth went dry.
‘Just a moment,’ he croaked as his hand found the paraffin-lamp. He lit it with one of the Lucifers he kept in a box in his vest pocket, fumbled with the glass chimney and turned the wick until warm light pushed its way into the room. He looked around at the mess his three days of confinement had created—an unmade bed, two empty bottles of whiskey, a plate of uneaten food, a bowl of stale tobacco and ash—and decided a quick clean up was in order. He couldn’t let Catrina see how he’d been living.
‘You’ll have to give me a moment,’ he said to the door and realised he hadn’t changed his clothes in days.
‘I didn’t know you’d be quite so early.’
‘What do you mean, early? We’re late! It’s already three hours past sunset. I told you I’d be here by evening.’
‘I just have to…err, make things ready.’ Eduardo hustled the whiskey bottles and the bowl of ash and tobacco into the bottom of the wardrobe. He covered the plate of stale tortillas and sweaty cheese with a cloth and tried to smooth out the bed coverings.
‘Not getting cold feet are you, Señor Eduardo? A little late for that I think. Your lady is waiting to see you.’ Eduardo began unbuttoning his vest with one hand while he searched through his suitcase with the other. None of his clothes had been laundered or ironed. Everything was either dirty or wrinkled. He didn’t even have his boots on, just a pair of worn and tattered hose with holes in the toes.
‘Eduardo? It’s Catrina. I don’t care about the room. Or how you look. I just want to see you. To thank you.’
It was her! His love. Her sweet voice just as he’d remembered it—and casual, as if they’d only been apart hours instead of days. As if nothing had happened to her at all.
He stopped undressing and moved to the door. His hand was shaking as he undid the latch. Slowly, he turned the handle—thinking of how she would look, of what he would say to her—and opened the door.
* * *
Catrina stood in the hallway. She still wore her wedding dress, as pristine as it had been on the day of their marriage. Her face was veiled in white chiffon and ringlets of dark hair hung about it like a frame. Scents of lavender and rose washed into the room as she stepped towards Eduardo and wrapped her arms around him.
Eduardo gasped as she pulled him close and lay her head against his chest. His own hands found her back and the bare skin of her shoulders.
She felt cold, but he told himself that was just the night air. It was still Catrina and they were in each other’s arms again. In that instant, that was all that mattered to him.
‘Oh, mi amor, mi querido amor,’ she whispered. ‘This must have all been so terrible for you.’
He reached down under the veil and cupped her chin and tilted her covered face towards him. He could see the darkness of her eyes through the thin cloth and a hint of red that was the bow of her lips, but her features were indistinct and he was still somewhat scared of what might lie beneath. He took a step backwards, loosening her arms from around him, and held the bottom edges of the veil in his trembling fingers.
‘You may now kiss the bride,’ Don Diego said sardonically from the hallway and Eduardo flinched, torn from the moment of intimacy. Those words, coming from that man, spoken so soon after his dream, almost had him running from the room in a panic. But he held fast, took a deep breath and slowly raised the veil from Catrina’s face.
She was beautiful. As beautiful as she had ever been. Her face was porcelain perfect, without a hint of bruising, and her eyes glittered brightly in the flickering lamplight. Her lips were full and ripe and pursed with expectation as Eduardo leant down to settle his own mouth against them.
So cold, he thought, she feels so cold. But that was only a minor and fleeting concern as Catrina returned the kiss with an enthusiasm he had feared he’d never encounter again. She pulled him closer, pushing her bosom hard to his chest and he felt a warm stirring in his loins.
The necromancer coughed politely from the doorway.
‘If you wouldn’t mind, Señor Eduardo? Before you go much further with your reunion, I believe we have a transaction to finalise.’
Eduardo reluctantly pulled away from his bride. He gave her a look of sincerest apology and went to collect his purse from the nightstand beside the bed.
‘I’ll just be a moment, my love,’ he said and she smiled with understanding.
‘Please don’t be long. We’ve been apart for more time than is bearable. I’ll be waiting for you.’
She said this last with a mischievous wink that only served to further stiffen the lump in his hose as he stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind him.
‘Well, Señor Eduardo? I assume that you are satisfied with my work?’ The necromancer glanced at the bulge in Eduardo’s hosiery and smiled.
‘Umm, yes, err, most certainly, Don Diego. You have done an excellent job and I really don’t know how to thank you.’
‘Well, you could start by settling my bill,’ the necromancer answered and handed him a folded sheet of coarse yellow paper.
Eduardo read through the tally of services and fingered the coin purse in his hand. The total was much more than he had expected. It would cost him almost everything he had.
No, he thought, your actions have already cost you everything you had. This is just the price for getting her back.
Eduardo took a few small coins from the purse and handed the rest to the necromancer, grateful that he had kept their honeymoon savings safely hidden away in his travel trunk.
Don Diego Tezcatl weighed the purse in his hand and nodded.
‘Thank you, Señor Eduardo. It has certainly been a pleasure doing business with you. Please do not forget me if you are ever in need of similar services in your future.’ And with that, the necromancer turned and walked away, leaving Eduardo standing alone in the hall.
Not alone. I’m not alone any more, Eduardo thought as he opened the door to his room—the room where his beloved awaited—and stepped inside.
* * *
The room was dark, the lamp turned too low to do more than shed a soft glow across the table where it sat, and Eduardo almost tripped over the pile of clothing in the doorway. The light from the hallway revealed it as Catrina’s wedding dress, discarded in a heap on the floor. He could vaguely make out the shape of her body lying supine across the bed.
‘Come to bed, mi amor,’ she said, her voice a sweet whisper in the night. ‘We have some catching up to do. I would like to thank you for everything you have done.’
Eduardo felt his loins stirring to life once more. His heart began to race and his mouth went dry with anticipation. He stood silently, wanting to savour every second of their reunion, and watched the shadow of Catrina’s lithe form as it moved sinuously across the bed. This wasn’t something he was inclined to rush, no matter that every fibre of his body screamed otherwise. He’d waited too long for this moment; dreamt of it so many times. Most importantly, he wanted to take time to gaze upon her beauty, to drink in the sight of her, and so he reached across to the lamp and turned the wick up high.
Catrina lay on top of the bed sheets, dark hair spread around her head like a halo. Her eyes were half closed in sensual anticipation, lips a petulant pout of impatience. Eduardo’s eyes moved lower, watching her hands as the roamed across the bruised swell of her breasts and over nipples as dry and brown as rotten strawberries. He gazed at the distended mound of her stomach, splotched with yellow and feverish pink. And lower, lower still, to her parted thighs and the gaping, festering slit that rested between them, weeping dark fluids upon the sheets.
Make up! Eduardo’s mind cried out. Her face, it is all powder and rouge! An embalmer’s trick!
‘Come to me, my husband, my love,’ Catrina crooned and now Eduardo could hear a soft crackle in her throat that he couldn’t remember being there before; a rasping that his hope had hidden from him. ‘Tonight is our wedding night, and you’ve done so much to make sure we’ll be together.’
She sat up in the bed, her arms outstretched towards him, and Eduardo found he couldn’t move.
Catrina crawled across the bed on all fours, breasts sagging and dragging across the sheets. She stood and placed her cold hands against his cheeks. He could feel the bones of her fingers beneath the tight flesh. She pressed herself against him, rubbing sensuously, and he felt the betrayal of his own body as his prick began to stiffen once more. Her face came closer to his and, even though he knew it was only make up, she still looked beautiful in the soft light. Their lips touched.
Deep inside, a part of his mind was screaming. But he loved her, he knew he did, and the guilt of her death still weighed heavily on him. He returned the kiss, trying to shut out the rational part of him that rebelled.
He imagined her as he’d first seen her—a young and sprightly girl of twelve. He saw her standing beneath the persimmon tree. He remembered the woman dressed in white who had stood beside him in the church.
And then he felt her tongue enter his mouth—a dry and raspy worm that probed his teeth and gums and tasted of rot—and that was too much.
He pushed her hard, back onto the bed—a deliberate act that served as a cruel parody to the accident in the church—and ran from the room, a thin scream of terror trailing from his lips.
* * *
Eduardo wandered the moonlit streets in his tattered hose. He passed through the crowds of laughing revellers as if in a dream and eventually found himself standing in the very centre of the city square. All around him the living and the dead were enjoying the Festival of the Laughing Corpse. Undead jugglers juggled skulls. Once-dead performers swallowed swords, literally, removing them to great applause from gaping holes in their bellies. And pale clowns, who needed no whiteface to temper their complexions, played pranks upon passers-by.
At the far end of the square a makeshift stage had been erected. A Mariachi band played upon it, their guitars and violins constructed of bone and gut, drums stretched tight with human skin. In front of the stage, lily-faced couples danced, arms wrapped tight around each other, dead eyes staring into dead eyes with a love that Eduardo felt he would never know again.
That could have been me, he thought. That could have been Catrina. And, despite the memory of what had occurred in the room, he was already starting to feel his loss and think of how they might be together again.
He found an empty bench and sat, watching the crowds as they moved around him. There were people of all sizes and shapes, races and genders, living and dead, and everywhere he looked he saw more lovers. They walked arm in arm and hand in hand or sat entwined beside the fountain.
They laughed and smiled and whispered intimacies into each other’s ears.
But there was one thing he noticed about all these couples that intrigued him—a simple fact he’d missed until now—and that realisation planted an idea in his mind.
As the first glow of false dawn infused the square with soft morning light and the exhausted crowds and performers began to disperse to their beds, Eduardo stood, his mind made up, and started back towards his room at the boarding house.
* * *
The boarding house was quiet and seemed eerily deserted. Most of the guests would still be asleep and the landlady wouldn’t open the kitchen for another hour or so. Eduardo found quill, ink and paper in a credenza in the sitting room and sat down to write a note to Catrina.
He apologised for his behaviour the night before and begged her forgiveness. He revealed the location of the honeymoon money he had stashed in the bottom of his travel trunk and bid her to make use of it.
He told her where she would be able find him and hastened her to come as soon as she could. He told her he loved her. That he looked forward to being with her once again. And then, he sealed the letter with a kiss and crept up the stairs to his room.
He stood outside the door for what seemed an age and listened. He knew he wouldn’t hear her crying and he was grateful for that, though there was a fear that he would hear her laughing instead, enjoying some cruel joke orchestrated by Don Diego Tezcatl at Eduardo’s expense. But there was only silence. He imagined Catrina sitting in the over-stuffed chair, reading slowly through the pile of love letters he had kept and treasured.
When the morning light in the hallway grew as bright as he could allow, he pushed the letter carefully and silently under the door and left.
He took his horse and bier from the stables and led them out of the city, stopping only once to look back at the city walls as his mother and father must once have done.
* * *
Eduardo waited in the orchard behind Catrina’s parents’ hacienda. He wasn’t sure if he’d found exactly the right tree—it had been many years since the lensman had taken his daguerreotype—but it was close enough for Catrina to find him when she came.
If she came.
He hoped he knew her well enough to guess that she would not be far behind, leaving the city with all haste the moment she read his letter. If he was right they would be together again soon enough. If he was wrong…well, his error in judging her would not matter to him by then.
He stood on the bier, looking back across the huerto towards the road, hoping to catch sight of her. All he could see were persimmon trees ripe with black fruit ready for picking. No dust kicked up by the hooves of a horse in pursuit. No glint of light reflected from a carriage’s windows.
And yet, he trusted his decision; trusted that her love would not fail him nor the gesture he was making for her.
The realisation he had come to in the city square had been a simple one. A fact so obvious that it went unnoticed amongst all the laughter and revelry of the festival for the once dead. The realisation had been this: that his parents had been the exception, and not the rule.
Of all the lovers he had seen in the square and walking the streets, not once had he seen the living dancing with the dead. It had become obvious to him; the living could not love the dead in the same way they had before. Almost invariably, death changed both sides of the equation.
Even in his father’s altered demeanour and new found silence Eduardo had seen this, though not recognised it at the time. Death brought with it a gulf of difference that mere love could not cross. No, in order to bridge that gulf something more than love was required.
Eduardo took the bridle he had removed from his old nag and tied it to the highest branch of the old persimmon tree that he could reach.
He placed the loop of leather around his neck, took a final look back towards the road—searching for his love, knowing that she would come for him—and stepped off the bier.