She watched as the parade passed her by, the heat of the day seemingly having no effect on the people in the heavy costumes. There were people in brightly coloured costumes, people in black and white costumes and people like her just observing the spectacle. There were stalls with food and drink, flowers and keepsakes. Everywhere people walked together, remembered together. She sat on the bench alone, black case held tightly in one hand. Calaveras sweets and faces could be seen at every turn. Dia de Muertos, she had wanted to witness this for so long and now that she was here, in the middle of it, it was the furthest thing from her mind. Toying idly with a horn necklace she kept her eyes on the man that did not belong, the man in the expensive dark suit who was watching her from across the street. They would make contact, she had been told, they would come to her and she was to give them the case. So she sat and kept her eyes on the man almost missing the note the urchin left beside her. It was written in english, much to her relief as her spanish was limited at best. The building opposite, where the man in the dark suit had just disappeared, that is where the exchange would take place. Winding her way through the costumes and the stalls she made for the doorway wishing they had never decided to come here.
The flight had been a long one and they were both tired and irritable by the time they landed. The weather was almost unbearable, it was like walking into a wall of heat, so Cooper said anyway. He was useless in hot weather. He had finally stopped complaining at the hotel where the air conditioning had been ‘an absolute godsend’, he spent ten minutes with his shirt over the AC. They had spent the first days seeing the sights, the cathedrals in particular were spectacular. Cooper had spent hours with his camera happily clicking away. The markets were an assault on the senses, the colours and smells filling the air. The sea of people went about their daily business with a smattering of tourists like themselves. She had bought a dress and a pair of sunglasses, her old ones being forgotten somewhere in the airport. Today though was a pool day she had told him in no uncertain terms and she was surprised when he had agreed. Cooper usually had to be doing something, off walking and sightseeing, but the pool sounded great, so long as they could go out for dinner in the evening. So they had spent the day by the pool, content to simply enjoy each other’s company. Cooper under a parasol with a book refusing to sun himself and Esmeralda working on her tan. The evening came around much too quickly for Esmeraldas liking and she made a half effort at an argument to stay by the pool. As the daylight faded the air lost its intense heat but was still warm and close. They changed and hailed a taxi.
“I don’t care Es, you’re not having one,” Coop glared at her.
“I can if I bloody well want one,” she snapped and glared right back at him. How dare he tell her what she could and could not have. They may be married but she was still her own person.
“Really, do you think we can afford something like that, when you want to go to New York too.”
“I don’t care I want one, for once I’d wish you would just support me instead of butting heads with me.” The cab rolled to a stop at the lights and they sat in angry silence.
“Look-” That’s all she heard him say before everything went black.
The world span back into a blurred view. Glass covered everything and she could hear a voice screaming her name. Cooper was screaming her name. Trying to move sent pain shooting through her bringing waves of nausea. The cab was on its roof. She looked for him, asked for him, but all she could hear was her name being called out getting further and further away.
She entered the dark doorway into a cool and sparse room. Bare concrete walls and floor it appeared to be under renovation. The man in the suit sat behind a small table. He had slicked back hair and small spectacles. He motioned for her to sit, she hesitated for just a moment before sinking into the wooden chair, hand still clutching the black case.
“You have the money, this is smart of you Mrs…” as if he didn’t know her name.
“Ms Highdale, Esmeralda, I kept my own name,” she said with forced politeness.
“Well Esmeralda, you hand over the money and we hand over your husband. It’s a simple business transaction,” he sat looking rather bored, as if he had somewhere he would rather be.
“Is he here?” she asked anxiously.
“No, he will be released at a safe location after the money has changed hands.”
“So I only have your word to go on. The word of people who abducted my husband. You see that just doesn’t sit right with me, you know,” the man in the suit shifted slightly.
“It is that or we can cut bits from him and send them to you a piece at a time,” his tone changed from bored to menacing. Esmeralda let go of the case, letting it rest by the side of her chair. She toyed with the horn necklace and absently traced a pattern on table with her finger.
The man’s arms snapped to the table, he jerked away violently but he remained locked in place. Fear crept onto his face, wiping away the smug expression of superiority. Esmeralda pulled a slender knife from the inside of her jacket.
“So you like to cut pieces from people. You and I are going to have a little chat,” Esmeralda smiled.
They fell into the car laughing, Esmeralda trying hard to gather the flowing dress to keep from trapping it in the door and ruining it. There had been doubts, cold feet. There had been arguments and fights. There had been what felt like one issue after another with flowers, food and seating but it was almost the end of the day and they were married. They had made it. The car would take them to their hotel and then in the morning they would be away on their honeymoon. He smiled at her stupidly, he was drunk. She wouldn’t hold it against him, not today.
“What?” she asked as he continued to stare.
“You’re m’wife,” he slurred, and for reasons known only to the inebriated he found this to be incredibly funny and fell about laughing.
“Cooper, darling, what’s so funny?” she asked sweetly, too sweetly. He stopped laughing but struggled to hold back the giggles.
“Ya look very pretty,” he managed, nodding his head and looking for all the world like it was the most earnest thing he had ever said.
“Really smooth,” Esmeralda rolled her eyes. All in all it had gone rather well. The crises and meltdowns that seemed so life threatening that they would overwhelm the day seemed so small and petty. Brenda, her chief bridesmaid had made a little show of herself but that was to be expected, Aunt Lois had got into a heated disagreement with his Aunt Victoria about tulips and the best man had botched his speech. This though, him and her, this is what mattered.
“Your family is kinda funny,” Cooper chimed. Her hands tightened on her dress. She was hoping he hadn’t picked up on that. She had told herself that she would have the talk with him before the wedding but each day slipped by and each time she found an excuse to delay. Her immediate family was one thing, she had been able to explain she had not discussed the family legacy with him, but the extended family were another matter entirely. “They gave ya a horn necklace thing, s’odd innit,” he said looking at the necklace her mother and father had gifted her. It looked like small piece of spiraled antler.
“Were an old family Coop, you know that, we have our traditions for days like this,” she hoped he wouldn’t take it further, she was not ready to have this conversation, not now.
“One of your old uncles asked me what it was like to be marryin’ a witch,” he said looking out the window, “the one with the daft hair.”
“Uncle Royce,” she answered. He looked at her then, concern on his face. She held her breath.
“I told him if he called you a witch again I’d slap his bald head silly, family or no family and I don’t care how old he is.” The held breath came out in a laugh and with it the rest of the tension of the day. He smiled at her with the simpleness of the drunk. She watched the streetlights pass by for a while, just enjoying the silence between them.
“Hey Coop, what do you want to do in the hotel room for the first time as man and wife,” she turned and smiled mischievously. He was asleep, head against the window, mouth lolling open. “Shite.”