Gabriel Vidal

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I struggle with all my strength to hold on to the old dusty desk, but falter and curse as the eighty-year-old piece of furniture busts into pieces. With a sense of foreboding, I look at my mom and before I speak she says, “Don’t worry about it. I was going to tell you to put it outside. It’s full of termites.”

Sighing with relief, I suddenly see an envelope in the middle of the wrecked mess. Inside are countless pictures of family members I have never seen in my life. My mom explains they are of my great-grandfather, Calixto Rodríguez, and his family. As she drones on, I drift off into a haze of my own imagination.


It’s a rainy day, and a grey fog envelops the atmosphere of Ajaccio, Corsica. Calixto Rodríguez barges into the café and sits down silently. A deep pain in his chest makes him uncomfortable. But it’s not his heart condition, a wretched prolapse in his mitral valve. No, it is the fact that the young doctor has been drafted into the military and rejected by the woman he loves in the same week. He grins sadly as he thinks that in this world, the hero doesn’t run to the airport at the end of the movie to conquer his love, kissing her as the scene fades to black.

He makes a motion with his hand and asks the bartender for whiskey. A young lady reading a novel on the table in front of him catches his eye. It is like he has been thrown into a bath of ice water after being punched in the stomach. Needless to say he is mesmerized by the woman’s kind face. Acting on an impulse, he writes a note on a napkin and tells the bartender to give it to her. The young lady is startled by the napkin, but then she reads it. It tells her that he has noticed her watching him and that he will accept her offer to buy him a drink. She laughs and he smiles at her, an instant connection. Her name is Francisca Estapé, and this random meeting will bind her to Calixto for the rest of her life.

Booming echoes awaken the platoon, as blazing fireworks light the sky and shine the way. “The Germans are close,” Calixto frowns and prepares his rifle. The sounds of running boots hitting the pavement seem to be coming nearer. Calixto stares at the photo of Paquita, the only link to his real life and what keeps him going. The image of her delicate face and soft hands holding a rose comfort him. They remind him of her touch, her smell, her smile… Tears flood his eyes and fall into the white veil and face of Paquita. He mumbles a prayer and faces the enemy, squeezing rounds into the night.


Years have passed, and Calixto sits proudly in the lawn of his house. The family German Shepherd, Lobo, lies loyally beside him. An aura of success surrounds the city doctor, who signals his family to stand in their appropriate places, so the photographer can take the picture. He stares back at the camera with the eyes of a well-traveled and experienced man. His adventures have taken him from the battlefronts of WWI, to the mysteries of the unknown frontiers of medicine, to Paris, and to Miami where he even took a picture with an alligator. Lastly, to the island of Puerto Rico, which he now calls home. He looks back confidently knowing he can take anything that life throws at him.

Calixto & Paquita

 Thousands of days have evaporated from the calendar of life, and with the remains of the ashes of time, Calixto limps through the streets as he holds his wife’s arms. He scans the plaza and finally finds the fountain that he was looking for.

Paquita tells him, “I had my first kiss with my husband here. He was so nice. I wonder where he is, why he left me?”

Calixto falters a bit but regains his composure and smiles. He has grown accustomed to Paquita’s Alzheimer’s disease. She can only remember moments of old and regards him as her caretaker; which indeed is not far from the truth. A young photographer appears and asks to take a photo of them and Calixto agrees, as many doves surround them creating a sense of peace. Calixto sighs and smiles slightly looking straight at the camera as strings of memory weave in his mind.

“Are you listening to anything that I am saying?”

My mom’s question startles me. I nod. “Uh, yeah, of course.” I tell her while in my mind I wonder if any of what I had imagined could be true. “Maybe,” I think as I carefully slide the photos back into the envelope.




  1. I loved this story. I enjoyed it from start to finish.

  2. Beautiful story. I found the mothers attitude very disheartening, it seemed to me like she cared very little about her families history; it could just be a difference in perspective.
    We look for truth in photographs, but like everything in life it is subjective. The thousand words you find in one picture will never be the same as another.

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