First, a quick introduction to this story. I originally wrote this story in 1998 during my time as a college student. It was a very different story than what you’re about to read. It was darker. It had a sadder ending. It certainly didn’t have the epilogue that it has now. The reasons for this were that it was a story I wrote by hand on a notebook late one night. I wrote the story at a time when I was very lonely. I didn’t have any prospects of a romantic relationship, and school was keeping me away from my friends. One night, when I couldn’t sleep, I put pen to paper and got to writing this story. It was only a few pages long, and then it grew from there. I revisited the story every couple of years after that, adding and deleting to it. I did most of the editing based on what was going on in my life. So you’ll see a little bit of that as you read it.
By the way, this latest draft was written in late 2006, months after I met the wonderful woman who would become my wife. I haven’t really felt the need to update it since. I hope you enjoy reading it a tenth of the amount I enjoyed in writing it.
Part 1. January 7, 2000. 5:16am
It was still dark outside, and the darkness matched perfectly with the cold desert air. The long winter night was far from over. And there was a very long day coming. The automatic doors to the Surgical Suite opened up to allow a nurse and an orderly to take Octavio into the holding area. It was there that they would do the final checks before taking him in for surgery. Octavio was unconscious. Cecilia, Octavio’s wife, followed her husband to the doors, where another nurse stopped her. Cecilia could not go any further because it was a “clean” room. The nurse directed her to the waiting area, a room down the hall where the low voice of a television anchorman could be heard. It was a cold, white room with a few chairs on the back wall and two sofas, back to back, in the middle of the room. The television was tuned into the local, early-morning news. The surgery would take several hours, Cecilia was told. For her, however, the last couple of hours had already been an eternity. Whatever the outcome, she wanted it all to be over soon… As soon as possible. The thoughts of the pain Octavio showed in his face as he clenched his chest and held his breath were enough to make Cecilia want to be in his place. I would take all that for him, she thought. And she would have.
Cecilia decided to sit on one of the chairs in the back of the room. She sat there, holding her over-sized purse across her lap. The purse seemed over-sized in comparison to Cecilia’s body. Her frame was small to begin with, and the years had made her shorter and frailer. She sat very still, looking straight ahead into space. A thousand thoughts raced through her head, but not one made any sense. She thought about it all, Octavio, their past together, their future, if any. The news of the city, of the world, the politics and the science of it all did not matter to her. All she could think about was the Octavio, her husband of so many years. How many years had they been together? What would happen to him? Will he survive? Would I see him alive again? Cecilia could not keep her mind from asking too many questions. The rough weather forecasted on the news also did not matter. It was all about her loving husband at that moment.
Cecilia’s dress she was very old, a faded color of brown. Her stockings were knee-highs that she put on in a hurry about an hour or so before. Cecilia always wore stockings, and sturdy shoes, so it was without thinking that she got the stockings out of a drawer and went looking for her good shoes as the paramedics prepared Octavio for the trip to the hospital. What are they going to do to him? She asked herself, probably for the hundredth time. She looked up at the clock on the white, sterile wall and noticed that her glasses were dirty. For an instant, she thought of going to the restroom and cleaning her bifocals with water and some tissue paper. But the thoughts of missing any news on Octavio from a nurse or a doctor kept her still in that uncomfortable chair. If they need to talk to me, she thought, they might think that I didn’t care and went home.
More seconds went by, and the loneliness began to set in. Cecilia’s thoughts turned to their son, Ricardo. He was Octavio and Cecilia’s only son. It was strange that, although they did not have any other children, Ricardo seemed to be more than enough. He was enough to prove that their love could produce fruit. And it was good fruit, in her opinion. Ricardo was everything they wanted in a child and in a son. They were very proud of him. Octavio would not stop talking about his only son and all of his son’s achievements. One of the nurses called him on the phone, and he would take the first flight to be with his parents. He might not make it in until after noon, or even later, a nurse told Cecilia. But she still hoped it would not be too late. And that thought of “too late” made her heart sink deeper into her chest. A void was growing in her heart. “Oh, God… Dear God… My God… Don’t take him just yet,” she whispered into the air.
Part 2. June 26, 1946. Late Afternoon.
Fifty-three years ago, times were great. The war was over and the World was at peace. The men sent to other countries were back. Economies were strong or bouncing back from the Great War. It was a Golden Era of sorts. Yet all of these global events had little bearing on the goings-on in the town of Camargo, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. It was a small town. So small, indeed, that the only place to go for relief from the summer heat was the town square. And the only way to get there was walking, or riding your horse, down the only paved road in town, the main street. It was also part of the road that led from Chihuahua to Mexico City. Like the road, the square was covered in trees, and local shops around it offered soda pop, ice cream and shaved ice treats, anything to cool off. Hundreds if not thousands of birds sang as they sat on the trees at the square. In a sense, they were having their own sorts of gatherings, maybe to talk about the events of the day life the humans did. People gathered on the square to enjoy good company and share chats of how their days went. This was especially true of the very young and the very old. Kids would run around, kicking soccer balls or cans pretending to be soccer balls. Teens would get together in their little groups, the boys with other boys and the girls with lots of other girls. Once in a while, they would make one big group and flirt amongst themselves. In that group of young people were Cecilia and her sisters, Marta and Olga. They would buy some ice cream and meet their friends. Of all the girls still going to the town square, Cecilia was the oldest at the young age of 19. Other girls her age were already married. Not Cecilia. She was too bright for that, and her Father noticed it. Being the oldest of his three daughters, he had been teaching Cecy, as he called her, to look after his business when she was older. Even with that responsibility, she still found time to be young.
It was late afternoon on that hot summer day that Octavio drove into Camargo. His old Chevrolet was covered in dust from the trip from Chihuahua City. People walking down the street glanced at him as his car’s engine made a loud rumble. The few vehicles that were owned in town were work trucks. Hardly anyone had a car for private use, so it made an interesting spectacle. Octavio was oblivious to the attention he was getting as looked left and right while driving down the main street. He was looking for an address written on a crumpled piece of paper that sat on the passenger seat. Because it was such a small town, Camargo had very few “streets,” let alone street signs. Everybody knew each other; so street signs for direction were not a priority in the town.
Octavio could not find his way. So he pulled over at the side of the road where he saw a group of young girls walking down the street. He decided to ask them for directions. “Excuse me,” he called out, leaning over the passenger’s seat, “would you happen to know how I get to Dr. Chavez’s office?” The girls immediately knew he was from out of town. Everyone in Camargo knew how to get to Dr. Chavez’s; not only was he the only doctor in town, but he also had lived in the town as long as anyone could remember, leaving only for medical school back at the beginning of the century. Octavio didn’t know any better. He didn’t really care because, all the time he was talking to the girls, Octavio did not stop looking over and focusing on Cecilia. She had a pair of green eyes that captured his attention. It was a miracle that he paid enough attention to remember how to get to the doctor’s office. Those green eyes were captivating, almost inebriating. Octavio felt very good. But he had to be on his way once he got the directions. He was warned about Dr. Chavez’s affection for punctuality, and he was already very late.
Cecilia’s sisters noticed the staring, and they would tease Cecilia about it as they kept walking toward the town square. “You know, Cecy,” Olga said to Cecilia, “that’s the kind of boy you should marry.” Cecilia responded by rolling her eyes.
“A city boy?” Cecilia answered. “No… I’m not made for the big city life, contrary to what Dad thinks.”
“That’s right,” Marta said, “Cecy likes boys like Carlos…” She paused an instant and then continued, “boys that treat her, and everyone else, like crap because their daddies can afford it.” Marta and Olga started giggling. Cecilia was quiet and getting mad.
“It was an accident what he did, okay?” Cecilia stated. She rolled down her sleeves to cover the bruise in the shape of a hand on her forearm. “I’m going home.”
“Cecy,” Olga said, apologetically, “I didn’t mean it to make you mad.”
“Then you shouldn’t have said it.” Cecilia walked home alone. The girls kept walking to the town square.
Part 3. January 7, 2000. 5:28am
Cecilia fumbled the sugar packet as she tried to open it. The coffee was a bit stale, so it required some sugar. She did not usually have sugar with her coffee. The arthritis in her hands was getting the best of her dexterity as she did this. There used to be a time when she could sew buttons onto Octavio’s suits in no time. He always managed to lose one at the most inopportune moments. Now, a packet of sugar was giving her a headache. Add on to that the weight of many hours, and she was feeling very frustrated and alone. It had only been twelve minutes since Octavio was taken to surgery. Cecilia was very tired. Every few instants a different nurse would walk by, glancing over to check on her, asking if she needed anything. Cecilia was all right, sitting on the uncomfortable chair, taking sips of coffee. It sure was not as sweet and satisfying as the coffee she always served to her father’s guests. That was her job when her father hosted someone important from the town. She would make the coffee because she was the best at making it. Her sisters and mother would take care of the food. With thoughts of this, the past flooded her thoughts again…
Part 4. June 28, 1946. Early Afternoon.
It was still early when Cecilia and her sisters got home from their daily walk to the town square. The weather looked like it would turn bad. There were thunderclouds on the horizon, so they cut short the visiting with friends and eating ice cream. As soon as they walked into the house, their mother asked them for help in preparing dinner. “It’s kind of early for dinner, isn’t it, Mom?” Olga asked.
“Yes. But your father is having guests over.”
“Who?” Cecilia asked.
“Doctor Chavez and his new apprentice from the state medical college. So I need you girls to be on your best behavior.” The two younger girls giggled.
“Is he good-looking?” Olga asked. Her mother smirked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him. But I do know that he is too old for you if he is a medical student,” their mother said. Then she looked at Cecilia. “Well, maybe not too old for Cecy,” she added. Cecilia rolled her eyes and blushed at the same time.
Later that evening, the guests arrived. Cecilia’s Father, Fernando, welcomed them at the door to the house. He walked them over to the living room. They all sat in the big, comfortable sofas there. They talked as the waited for dinner to be ready. “Tell me, Octavio, how long will you be in Camargo?” Fernando asked.
“One whole year, Don Fernando. It’s my required community service before I can graduate.”
“Well, I hope you enjoy Camargo. It’s a quiet little town, not many medical emergencies. Not much of anything, for that matter.”
“He’s already enjoying it, Fernando.” Dr. Chavez commented. “It’s a long way from the big city life in Chihuahua and Octavio needed a break.” Octavio nodded in agreement. At that moment, Cecilia walked in from the kitchen. Octavio and Dr. Chavez stood up in her presence.
“Cecy, I would like for you to meet Doctor Octavio Ortiz,” her father said.
“I’ve met him already, Dad. Yesterday,” Cecilia commented as she shook Octavio’s hand. That first touch, that first “taste” of Cecilia’s skin was enough to raise Octavio’s temperature a few degrees. And he felt it.
“Yes,” Octavio said enthusiastically, albeit a bit nervous. “She… And her sisters… Gave me directions to Doctor Chavez’s office.” He had a big smile as he held her hand gently. He held it a little longer than normal. Cecilia kept looking at his eyes.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Doctor.”
“Please, call me Octavio.” They both smiled at each other and kept staring.
“Dinner is ready,” Cecilia said. They all walked to the dining room.
The rest of the evening was about eating and talking about the upcoming town fair. Everyone in Camargo looked forward to the fair. People would wear their best clothes and gather about the town square to enjoy food, live music and theatrical productions. Octavio was told that it would be his best opportunity to really know the town. After they were done eating, the younger girls helped their mother put away the food and dishes in the kitchen. Cecilia stayed at the table, with the grown-ups, (she liked to think of herself as one) and they talked about things she did not yet understand very well. The conversations revolved mostly on Octavio’s bright future. And all the time, Octavio and Cecilia exchanged quick smiles and glances of each other. Everyone noticed, but no one said anything until later that night. “He looked at you so sweetly, like when Dad looks at his paintings,” Olga told Cecilia. So sweetly, Cecilia thought. “Sweetly” was all she heard.
Part 5. January 7, 2000. 6:31am
His sweet, brown eyes must be closed right now, Cecilia thought. She wondered if they would ever be opened again, and if they would ever exchange a stare with her eyes again. That void in her chest, that sinking feeling, came back.
A minute later, Cecilia convinced her self to go to the restroom and clean her bifocals. So she stood up, sighing a bit as her arthritis made it difficult to stand straight and start walking. It was not excruciating pain, but it was pain nonetheless. Cecilia never liked pain. Pain made life difficult. Pain stole nice dreams and beautiful sunsets. Without pain, her life would have been great. Cecilia walked to the restroom in a hurried pace. If there were news, she wanted to be in the waiting area.
The restroom was just as white and sterile as the rest of the hospital. It seemed as if no germ could stick to the walls and no virus could ever survive on them. Cecilia walked to the faucet and opened the cold water a bit. The water was too cold for her fragile hands, so she opened the hot water to warm it. She raised her hear and looked at her reflection on the mirror. Where there was once a young, vibrant girl there was now an old, tired woman. She picked up her gray hair and tied it in a ponytail with a rubber band. She then grabbed some soap and a paper towel and proceeded to clean her glasses. This served two purposes in her mind. First, she could see the world better. Second, she would be able to see Octavio better. And that was her main concern. She wanted to see him so bad. Instinctively, like for all those years, she fixed her self up a bit by washing her face and rinsing her mouth. Like for all those years, she wanted to look good for him.
Part 6. July 29, 1946. Late Morning.
It was always easy for Cecilia to get away from her family, particularly that summer. Everyone was off on some project. Her mother looked after the house. Her father after the cattle ranch he owned. Olga was with friends, and Marta had piano lessons. So, like every morning that summer, Cecilia was at Carlos’ family ranch.
He offered her companionship and wealth. She offered the inheritance to the second biggest cattle ranch in the state. Carlos’ family ranch was the biggest. This fact, and his good looks, made Carlos a very sought-after young man. He was known to date a lot, so Cecilia was not the only girl he tended to. Even with that well-known fact, she kept pursuing him. There was nothing better to do in the summer, in Camargo at the age of 19. There was no one else in Camargo worth her time.
Even after the fight they had a day before, and the other fights before, Cecilia and Carlos were on good terms that morning as they rode their horses. They were going out to the ranch reservoir. It was a long ride, and they could get away from everything. She would have him to herself, and he would have her to himself. Somewhere in their chat, Carlos guaranteed Cecilia that she was “very special” to him. Cecilia wanted to believe it.
As they had sex under a tree some time later, she wanted to believe she was very special to him even more. “Do you want to come over to the house?” Carlos asked as he lay beside her minutes later.
“Sure. There’s nothing else to do.”
“You can help my mother make lunch,” he said with a smile.
“Sure.” Cecilia wanted to believe that all of it, coming over, doing chores for him, having sex out of wedlock, him being interested enough in her to sleep with her… She wanted to believe it was special.
An hour later, they were outside Carlos’ house. “Go inside while I tie up the horses, Cecy.” Cecilia nodded and jumped off her horse to go into the house. She made her way through the living room and into the kitchen. She immediately noticed a white envelope atop the kitchen table. As she walked closer to the table, she could read the writing on the envelope. It was addressed to Carlos from Micaela, another girl he had been seeing lately. Unable to restrain her curiosity, Cecilia grabbed the letter and opened it. She would hide it if he came in. At least, that was her plan. She began reading the letter, and she could not believe her eyes. Words like “love” and “forever” were put together to form sentences like “Our love will last forever” and “I will love you forever.” Many of the other sentences in the letter were written in that same tone. Together, those sentences made up a love letter. Cecilia’s stomach turned. She felt sick, and her eyes began filling up with tears. Her rising anger and utter disbelief muffled the sounds of footsteps behind her as she began to sob.
“What’s going on, Cecy?” Carlos was standing right behind her, and it was too late to put the letter back on the table. Cecilia did not know what to do. She folded up the letter and quickly tucked it in her dress. “Are you crying?” he asked.
“I’m leaving, Carlos.” Her tone of voice was angered.
“What? Why? I thought you were going to stay for lunch?”
“I don’t think so.” Cecilia was now glaring at him with her emerald eyes. She was very, very mad.
“You WILL stay… And you WILL help Mother with making lunch!” He grabbed Cecilia’s arm and held it tight. A shot of pain ran up her arm. With her free hand, Cecilia grabbed the letter from her dress and tossed it at Carlos. His face showed surprise for a second, then anger the next. He knew he was caught, but he was determined to make it Cecilia’s fault. “That one girl or two or three should not make you mad this way! I have many girls, all after my money… Just like you!” Cecilia was in shock. “The only difference is, you’re much better looking… And better at other things.” She wanted to leave so badly now. His words were poisonous. It would have been one thing, she thought, if he said these things because he was hurt. He was just saying them to control her, make her feel less of a person. “And another thing… You should not read other people’s mail!” With that, he slapped her across the face, leaving an enormous red mark in sharp contrast with her light skin. She fell back to the table and held herself up against it. With what little self-respect she had left, in more of an instinctive move to get away from danger, Cecilia stood up and began to walk outside. Carlos followed her, making sure every one of his steps was loud and intimidating. Once outside, Cecilia walked to the stable as Carlos stared at her from the front door. She struggled a bit to open the stable door and mount her horse. She mounted her horse and glared at Carlos as she rode away. “You’re not a man,” she muttered under her breath.
Miles later, her face was still throbbing in pain. Tears filled her eyes, and it was hard to see ahead of her. It was hard to see the rattlesnake trying to cross the road. A man wouldn’t have done that, she thought. A man would love, not hurt. A man would guide, not punish. A man would be loyal, not betray. Suddenly, the horse jolted away from the snake, which was coiled up now, rattling, hissing at the horse. Cecilia could not hold on, and she went flying off the horse. She hit her head on the ground as her entire body came down. Her world was filled with darkness. The horse stood by her, and the snake slithered away.
Pain. It was with obvious pain that Cecilia staggered through Dr. Chavez’s office door a couple of hours later. The office was empty, and a crackling AM radio could be heard coming from the back. It was alternating the news with readings of telegrams for people living in the country, far from phones and telegraphs. Octavio was in the exam room, re-stocking supplies. Dr. Chavez had gone to the train station to pick up a delivery of drugs and other essentials for his practice. Octavio heard the door opening while someone walked with an uneasy step. He poked his head out of the exam room door and saw Cecilia. She was dirty, holding her side, and blood was on her face. It was dried blood. She looked up at him. He dropped a bag of cotton balls and ran to her. “Miss Cecilia?” He asked as he hurried to her.
“H… Help,” she whispered right before she passed out. Octavio was there in time to save her from hitting the ground again.
When Cecilia opened her eyes, she was on the exam table, cleaned up and bandaged. She felt a bit better, but her head and chest still hurt. The pain from the slap was no match for those other pains from the fall. The pain from the betrayal, however, was a whole other story. “Oh, I see you’re awake,” Octavio said from the door. Cecilia looked over and smiled.
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” Octavio walked towards her. “What happened, Miss Cecilia?”
“Please… Call me Cecy.” She smiled, and Octavio did the same.
“What happened, Cecy?”
“I fell off my horse.” Octavio turned around and closed the door half way.
“I hope you don’t mind, I examined you for any injuries, other than the obvious ones.” It was then that Cecilia noticed a tight bandage across her chest. She was half embarrassed. “You have some bruises, but no broken ribs… As far as I can tell.”
“A broken rib?”
“Well, it takes a lot to break them. They’re very strong and flexible, and well protected by the arms. They’re very important, you know?” Cecilia sat up on the exam table. She noticed he had also cleaned up a scrape on her forearm.
“I bet they’re important,” she said, “God made Eve from Adam’s rib.”
“And do you know why?” Octavio asked.
“No.” Cecilia’s headache was still there.
“Well, the ribs protect a man’s heart from being hurt. The ribs are neither atop the body nor below it. They’re beside it, under the arm. And it’s that arm that protects it.” Octavio moved slowly toward Cecilia. They looked into each other’s eyes. He spoke softer. “You see, a woman… The right woman… She protects a man’s heart from being hurt. That man, in turn, protects her under his arm. And he should neither be above her nor below her… They’re equals… Always beside one another.” He reached Cecilia’s side and took her hand. “Cecy, I’ve seen bruises like this,” he reached at her face and touched her chin, “and I haven’t seen it from anything else other than a slap across the face.” Cecilia’s eyes got red. She was ready to cry and tell the young doctor everything that happened. But, at least today, she did not want any more problems. She pulled back her hand from his, and she jumped off the exam table.
“I’m ready to go home.”
“I’ll go get you some aspirin and a glass of water for your headache.” Octavio walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.
How did he know I had a headache? Cecilia thought.
A few minutes later, Cecilia came out to the front of the office and found Octavio writing down some notes. He wrote of Cecilia’s visit and his course of treatment. “Thank you for everything that you have done for me, Doctor,” she said.
“Please, Cecy, call me Tavo,” he replied, “and you’re very welcome.”
“All my friends call me that,” he said as he smiled.
“Well, Tavo. Thank you again.”
“You’re welcome.” Cecilia started to walk toward the front door. “Cecy?” He called out. She turned around.
“Can I take you home? I mean… You’re not all that well yet, from a medical point of view.” Cecilia smiled and nodded.
They walked through the unpaved streets of Camargo toward Cecilia’s home. Cecilia pulled her horse behind them. The horse just walked along, looking forward, swatting away the flies and mosquitoes with its tail and its ears. Octavio and Cecilia talked and talked, but they never touched on what happened earlier that day. Octavio wanted to be respectful of her private life. But they talked like old friends, nonetheless. Cecilia talked about growing up in Camargo and wanting to take over her Father’s cattle ranch when she was older. She talked of how, to prepare her for this, her Father was sending her to Chihuahua City next year. She would stay with an aunt and study at the university. “At the university?” Octavio asked.
“Yes. My Father wants me to be good with money, and with handling the many transactions he makes with the meat processing plants and the leather companies and all of that.”
“You know, Cecy, not very many women do that.”
“Well, I will. I’m the oldest, and there are no men other than Dad in my family… Dad had all girls. The world is just going to have to deal with me, I guess.” Octavio was impressed. She sounded determined, focused. Octavio then talked of his career, his life in the state capital, and how much he was learning from Dr. Chavez. He talked of how he would like to study abroad, maybe in the United States, and learn a specialty. “A specialty?“ Cecilia asked.
“Yes. You know… Like surgery or pediatrics… That’s children.“
“I know what pediatrics is, Tavo. I got through high school just fine. There were three of us in my class… And we all learned a lot.“ Octavio was really impressed. Young, and pretty, AND smart? Where has she been all my life? Octavio asked himself. They were intrigued with each other’s worlds.
Ten minutes and twenty anecdotes about life in Camargo and life as a medical student later, they arrived at Cecilia’s home. “This is my place,” she said.
“I know. I’ve been here.”
“How can I forget? All Doctor Chavez did was talk about you, and all my father did was ask for your opinion on just about every other political and social matter,” Cecilia replied. Octavio smiled.
“Well, you know…”
“I know. You’re the new kid in town, and you’ve stuck it out with the good doctor more than any other student.”
“What do you mean?” Octavio asked, puzzled. There had been horror stories of some old doctor in the country who liked to torture his apprentices by teaching them one task per day, like when you learn to play the piano. It was then he realized: the good doctor was that old doctor. Octavio just liked being taught with discipline so much that he didn’t mind the one-lesson-per-day approach.
“All the others before you… They leave in a matter of weeks, even days.”
“Well, I guess this place has grown on me.”
“I guess,” Cecilia replied. Then there was that odd moment of silence when two people, who like each other, are about to part ways for the first time.
“Cecy, can I see you again?” Octavio was straightforward. If he was going to get to know her, he could not waste any time. There were things to do, and he liked plans… Discipline. Cecilia smiled and looked up at him. Her green-colored eyes locked in on his and lit his soul… It was warm and energizing, like sunshine.
“Of course you can, Tavo. Do you like ice cream?”
For the next few weeks, Cecilia and Octavio would meet when he got off from working, or learning, with Dr. Chavez. They would walk down the main street to the town square and eat ice cream. They would talk about everything and anything. They were the “best” of friends. But Carlos would not have his plans for Cecilia and her father’s ranch ruined by some city boy. Carlos would intervene. And the summer would end.
Part 7. January 7, 2000. 7:42am
Choices. What if the doctor comes out, and I have to make a choice? Cecilia liked to think that, if the time came to make a choice, she would make the right one. But doubt clouded her mind whenever she had to make tough choices. Even with all her years, and the wisdom that they brought, Cecilia still had a very hard time making choices. Cecilia walked back into the waiting room and sat down in a small, rigid chair. She thought of the choices that brought her to that moment and that place in her life. Did I choose right all those years, all those times?
Part 8. September 30, 1946. 5:32pm
With the summer being over, Octavio could feel the days getting shorter. He would arrive to Dr. Chavez’s shortly after the sun came out, and he would leave with only a couple of hours of sunshine left. But his most important sunshine was always there for him. Cecilia would be waiting to eat ice cream and chat with him. But there was something afoot, and Octavio could feel it.
The door opened, and a cool wind came in. Carlos stepped into the office and looked around. There was the desk, and the chairs for waiting. And there were the doors to the exam rooms. He grinned as he thought of all the work that Dr. Chavez and his apprentice did day after day. But the grin went away when he thought of all the people they helped. For Carlos, many of those people were worthless. He didn’t grin because he felt envy that they, the unworthy, were shown such compassion.
“May I help you?” Dr. Chavez asked from the doorway to his stock room.
“Uh, yes. Hi, Dr. Chavez. I was wondering if your apprentice, Octavio, was in?”
“I’ll go get him.” Dr. Chavez walked out behind his office. Carlos sat on a chair to wait. One minute later, Octavio walked in.
“May I help you?” Octavio asked. Carlos stood up. He sized up Octavio, who was slightly taller than him.
“Yes,” Octavio reached out his hand for a handshake. Carlos didn’t shake it.
“My name is Carlos Durazo, Cecilia’s boyfriend.” At the same time, Octavio swallowed hard.
“It’s good to meet you,” Octavio said. He did not mean it. For very long, he had known about the existence of Carlos. But he denied that existence because he wanted to enjoy being with Cecilia. If Carlos existed in that universe, the relationship with Cecilia would not prosper. Now, Carlos had come into existence.
“I don’t know a better way to tell you this, but I would like you to stay away from her.”
“So you can hit her again?” Octavio did not want to say that, but it came out automatically.
“Me? You must be mistaken, Doctorcito. I have never touched her… Has she told you otherwise?” Octavio shook his head. “Then nothing’s happened. All is well. And it’ll be better when you are out of our lives.”
“Well, I can be out of your life. In fact, I was never in it to begin with. But I’ll be out of her life when she chooses for me to leave.”
“Fine. I’ll make sure she does.” Carlos began to walk around Octavio. “You know, Doctorcito, she came to see me every day this summer, every morning, before she went to see you in the afternoon.” Octavio could feel his adrenaline rising. “We made love once or twice each morning. What did you do? Talk. Did you ever even touch her hand? Smell her hair? You’re just her friend. Her friend.” Octavio closed his fists. “I would be fine with that, but you’re filling her head with all this bullshit about her being better, and capable. She’s just a woman. Like all other women, she has her place… In the kitchen.”
“I think it’s time for you to leave.”
“But I thank you for taking her from me in the afternoons. It gave me plenty of time to see my other women… And to get some more.”
“Leave. Leave right now, Mr. Durazo,” Octavio ordered. He was angry. A thousand thoughts raced through his head. It wouldn’t be good for you to stay, Octavio thought.
“Okay, okay. I’ll leave. Just know that I disapprove of you and her being friends, and all that crap you fill her head with.” Carlos walked out, letting more cold air in. Octavio stood in his place, thinking. It’ll have to be her choice, Octavio thought. I hope she makes the right one.
Part 9. January 7, 2000. 7:59am
Times have changed so much, Cecilia thought. There were now nurses and doctors of all colors and backgrounds. I was not that way when she and Octavio moved to the United States. It was not that way in Mexico, either. People were denied their rights because of their social status or where they were born. When Octavio and Cecila moved to the United States, they had the hardest time finding Octavio work because he was Mexican. At the stores or restaurants, people would address her in English because of her fair skin and green eyes, but it was Octavio that spoke English very well. And now, here she was, sitting far from home, in a cold waiting room, listening to news in English about the United States and its troubles. But she was very glad to see Hispanic men and women working at the hospital, some taking care of her husband. And the Presidential Candidates kept giving some speeches in Spanish. Times have changed for the better, she thought. She remembered how Octavio treated everyone the same, regardless of their social or ethnic backgrounds and regardless of what decade they lived in. “It’s part of my job as a healer,” he once had told her. “The moment I treat someone with bias because of where they come from, because of factors they cannot control, I have failed as a doctor and as a human being.”
Part 10. October 11, 1946. Before Dawn.
“Doctor Chavez!” The screams from the man at the door almost made Octavio fall out of bed. It was very early in the morning. The sun was not out yet. Octavio still managed to put on his sandals and walk quickly to the door. “Doctor Chavez! We need your help!” The man kept screaming. Octavio got to the front door and opened it.
“What is it, man?” Octavio asked as he opened the door.
“Where is Doctor Chavez?” The man asked back.
“He is in Chihuahua, at a meeting in the medical school… What’s going on?”
“There’s been an accident. One of the men got his hand mauled by the cotton ‘gin.” The man waited as Octavio put on a pair of jeans and his boots.
Half an hour later, they were at the entrance to the Durazo ranch. Carlos was blocking it with his truck. Octavio and the man that went to fetch him got off the car. “Can I help you, Doctorcito?” Carlos asked.
“Martin here told me there’s been an accident. I’m here to help.”
“There’s been no accident here, Martin. What is the doctor talking about?” Carlos asked as he glared at Martin. Martin stayed quiet and lowered his head.
“Martin?” Octavio asked in confusion. Martin was quiet.
“I’m sorry he took your time, doctor. He will take you back to town. And I will have a nice long chat with him when he comes back.” Martin turned on the car and started backing up. Carlos got back into his truck.
Thirty minutes later, Martin and Octavio were back in town. “What the hell was all that about, Martin?”
“Nothing?! You wake me up and tell me there’s been an accident, that there’s someone hurt, and now you tell me it’s nothing?”
“I’m sorry, doctor. If Mister Carlos finds out I tell you anything, there’ll be hell to pay.” Octavio grabbed Martin’s shoulder.
“Whatever it is, we will deal with it… People’s lives are more important. What is going on?” Martin started telling Octavio all about how the Durazo ranch lost a lot of workers during the war. They either went off to work in the United States, or they went to war alongside the United States. To fill those jobs, Carlos had workers brought from Central America, illegally. And he kept them in what amounted to slavery at the ranch, away from communication. They worked long hours, and got little if any money in return. “Does Carlos’ Father know about all this? Is he involved?” Octavio asked. Martin explained how Carlos’ Father was too old to know about what was happening. Lately the old man had also been sick, Martin explained. So Carlos has been running the ranch.
“Some people came from up north last week. They also needed workers, and Carlos said he would deliver twenty to them. And they would be taken to the United States, also as servants.”
“So the man that got hurt today was one of them?”
“Yes. Carlos probably had the veterinarian look at him. They’re all in on it. Even the authority in this town… Doctor, this reaches very high. It’d be best if you keep quiet about it and pretend I never told you.” Octavio nodded in agreement. But he did not agree. He would have to do something. If I don’t do something, I will have failed as a human being. He was very idealistic. Not as idealistic as Doctor Chavez, though. I’ll consult with him, Octavio thought. Martin drove back to the ranch after dropping-off Octavio. Martin was never seen or heard from again.
About an hour later, Doctor Chavez knew the truth. “So that’s why I’ve been kept from leadership meetings. My ties to the people at the capital must make them nervous,” he told Octavio.
“Is there something we can do?”
“Not without proof. We need a way to get into that ranch and find some evidence.”
“How are we going to do that?”
“We need a spy.” Octavio knew what the doctor meant. And he did not like it.
That afternoon, Octavio sat beside Cecilia, eating his pistachio ice cream. Only this time, he was not enjoying it. “What’s wrong, Tavo?” Cecilia asked. But Octavio just stared into the distance. “Tavo?” She asked again. Octavio turned to look at her.
“Cecy, if Carlos did anything wrong, you would tell me, right?”
“I’ve already told you that he doesn’t hit me.”
“Not that… Other stuff.”
“Never mind. Just promise me you’ll tell me if he does anything, anything wrong at all.” Octavio reached out and grabbed her hand. Cecilia gripped it tight and smiled.
“I will. I promise. You’ll have to come save me, though,” she said jokingly.
That night, as he lay in bed, Octavio ran a thousand plans in his head to expose Carlos. Many of those planned involved complicated “missions”, like the tales that came from Europe and Asia with the soldiers. Suddenly, Doctor Chavez knocked at Octavio’s door. “Thinking too much again, Octavio?”
“Sleepless again, Doctor?”
“Perhaps it was best to leave Miss Cecilia out of this for the time being. Just listen to her very carefully, and maybe she can lead us in the right direction.”
“I’m still troubled by all this, no doubt. All the stories coming out of Germany and Poland with the Jews make me sick… And now it seems to be happening in our own country. But we’ll find a way to get them. Now, get some sleep, young man.” Doctor Chavez shuffled his way out of Octavio’s room. It was best not to get her involved, Octavio thought. I don’t want her hurt… I couldn’t live with myself.
Part 11. January 7, 2000. 8:05am
Cecilia was not comfortable. The chair was too rigid and small. Knowing that the sofa in the middle of the room would make her want to go to sleep, Cecilia decided to stand up and walk around the room. She was very tired. The television was tuned to the same channel, but the programming was now the national morning news. There was nothing all that new. It was an election year, and politics took center stage. The Governor wanted the candidacy, and so did the Vice-President. Their past meant more than the present, and the gathering threats from far away were being ignored. Once in a while, an announcement could be heard through the public address system in the hospital. A doctor would be paged, or a nurse had a phone call, or maintenance was needed somewhere in the building. Everyone was needed somewhere, and Cecilia needed to be with Octavio. Standing in that room was the best she could do at the moment. But every bone in her body begged to be by his side. She wanted to hold his hands and feel his fingers rubbing her hands lightly, like he always did. Or he would reach over, for no reason, and rub her neck or back. It was his minimal way of showing his fondness for her. But Cecilia always preferred the hugs. She preferred losing herself in his arms and feeling that warmth as she sank in his chest. His arms made her safe. She kept his heart safe, too. It was a good deal.
Suddenly, two children ran into the room, playing hide and seek with each other. Cecilia smiled at the sight of those two. One would hide behind the sofa, or a chair, and the other would go looking. Cecilia was reminded of that night she found Octavio out in the middle of nowhere…
Part 12. November 1, 1946. 5:46pm.
Octavio said he would not be able to make it that afternoon to see Cecilia. The days were getting shorter, and the cold nights brought with them more sick people. Knowing that he would not be there, Cecilia opted to get on her father’s truck and go see Carlos. After all, she thought, he is my boyfriend. You see, there was a certain kind of guilt that Cecilia felt about seeing Octavio that often and only seeing Carlos when it was convenient for both of them. And some sort of feeling was growing inside her about Octavio. That feeling brought more guilt. But it was hard not to like Octavio, with his goofy humor and all-knowing advice (which she took with a grain of salt). However, those feelings were muffled in the presence of Carlos, and this afternoon they would be muffled again.
Over at Carlos’ ranch, a man in a black car drove up to the main house. He was a tall, white man, with a short mustache and dark, squinted eyes. He wore a cowboy suit, with a big belt buckle and a big hat. His boots were alligator skin, polished and shiny. Rodney Hilliard was a Texan. Rodney Hilliard was also evil. He dealt in human beings, taking the poor, ignorant souls from Central and South America to the United States, promising prosperity. Some of them would not make it to the United States. They would die in “accidents” or from hunger and disease. They were never heard from or seen again. They just disappeared into history, into an unknown void where the unwanted and the innocent vanished to in their unknown death. Those that did make it to the United States could expect a life of indentured servitude. “Hard work leads to a good life,” Randy would tell them. This evening, he was at the Durazo Ranch to make a deal. Randy needed more workers for a client, and Carlos waited for him at the door.
Back at Doctor Chavez’s office, Octavio was finishing up examining a young man with a sore throat. While he did that, his mind also raced with thoughts of what he was going to do that night. He thought of which road to take, where to leave his car, and how to get to the ranch. Octavio did not know the layout of the ranch, so he was going to have to look around. I should wear my boots, Octavio thought. There are a lot of snakes out in that area. He thought of what happened to Cecilia and the horse.
Cecilia arrived at the ranch just as Carlos and Randy were having a chat outside the house. The sun was about to set, so they all moved into the house. “Cecy, why don’t you go help my mother get dinner ready?” Carlos asked Cecilia. She nodded, although she was not there to serve him. “Mr. Hilliard and I have some business to talk about.” Minutes later, Cecilia joined Carlos and Randy in the living room. Dinner would be ready in a few more minutes. She sat there listening to Carlos and Randy talking about “the shipment”, and it all sounded like heads of cattle to Cecilia. She was horrified to the point of panic when she heard Carlos say, “These people will work hard and keep quiet… All out of fear.” Cecilia stood up and walked back to the kitchen, not knowing what to think. She grabbed the keys to her father’s truck and walked out the kitchen door. Carlos’ mother didn’t know what to think.
The sun had set and the darkness was enough in Octavio’s judgment that he could sneak into the ranch and not be seen. After walking and jogging from Camargo to the ranch, he took a couple of sips of water from his canteen. Even though winter was coming, the weather was still warm. Octavio scanned the area for anyone else, but the only other beings around were cattle. In the distance, the main house and the worker barracks had the only lights that could be seen. Octavio made his way closer to the barracks. As he approached the buildings, he noticed a truck and several cars next to the main house. There must be a party, Octavio thought.
Cecilia sat in the truck, thinking about everything that was going on. She was trying to convince herself that she had heard wrong. But her mind kept repeating the words they were saying, not in sequential order, but in an order that made everything make sense. They were going to take 100 men and women in trailers to the border, payoff border officials to let the truck through without inspection, and then put them to work at various plantations and orchards. The fear of being deported, or not seeing their loved ones again would keep them from accusing their bosses of being slave traders. The fear of being lost like the others would keep them quiet. Tears started to roll down Cecilia’s cheeks. She had to drive home and tell her father. He will help me, she thought.
Octavio looked into one of the barracks through a window. There were about twenty people packed into the room. There were a few bunk beds, but not enough for everyone. There were men, women, and a few very young kids. All of them were sitting around, talking to each other. Many of them were sneezing and coughing, and one of the women tended to a sick-looking child. Octavio sneaked around to the front of the building. He stopped when he noticed a man with a rifle, sitting on a chair, guarding the entrance. As Octavio turned around, Cecilia turned on the truck and its headlights, lighting up Octavio. His shadow was cast on the side of the building, and the guard, curious as to whom was leaving, looked around the side. He saw Octavio. “Stop! Who are you?” The guard screamed as he raised his rifle. Octavio stumbled back and toward the truck’s headlights. They blinded the guard. Cecilia, recognizing Octavio, placed the truck in gear and moved it toward Octavio. The guard gave a few more shouts. Cecilia then shouted Octavio’s name and told him to get in the truck. They both drove away as the guard watched.
Hearing the commotion, Randy and Carlos ran out to the porch. The guard ran up to them and told them everything that happened. How he had heard Cecilia call Octavio’s name. “I hope this isn’t going to be a problem,” Randy told Carlos.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Hilliard. That doctor and my girlfriend won’t do anything.”
“How do you know?”
“Fear. It keeps people in line…”
“What the hell are you doing out here, Octavio?” Cecilia screamed as she drove the truck down the road at full speed.
“Listen, before you go getting mad at me…”
“Mad? I’m not mad. It’s just that you were out there in the dark, lurking around, and a guard was about to shoot you.”
“Why was he about to shoot me? What’s so important to hide in that ranch, Cecy? Surely not cattle!”
“You know what’s going on?” she asked, worried that he actually did know.
“Do you?” They were both quiet for a few seconds.
“Who do we tell?” Cecilia asked. A million scenarios played out in her head, all ending badly. Everyone she knew was in on the scheme.
“I don’t know. There are very few people we can trust around here.”
Part 13. January 7, 2000. 8:15am
Fear had got to be the worst feeling Cecilia ever had. She could handle anxiety, or impatience. Her anger was always in check, and her passions were few. Octavio always told her she had a calming effect on him. He’s always so hyper, Cecilia thought. In that same instant, she thought about him being asleep, having the operation that the surgeon said he so desperately needed to have a chance. In the next instant, the fear came back, the fear of him dying. She would do anything, anything, to keep him alive, to keep him safe.
Part 14. November 2, 1946. Mid-Morning.
Cecilia knew it was Carlos who came into her house. He always brought with him a cold air, and his boots made the most sinister clap as he struck the floor with his heels first while walking. He walked slowly, determined. He always knew where to go, and how to get there. Cecilia was in the kitchen as Olga led Carlos to her. She turned around to see his dark eyes glaring at her. “Who did you leave the ranch with last night, Cecy?” His question pierced her heart, allowing fear to flood into it.
“No one, why?” She responded. Carlos walked closer and reached out his arm, grabbing her by the throat. He turned to look at Olga, who was petrified, scared, and he motioned with his head for her to leave them alone.
“Let me ask you slowly, that you may understand the question. What that Doctor Octavio Ortiz in your daddy’s truck when you left the ranch?” Cecilia could not answer. He was choking her too hard. “I will tell you this, and I will say it once. Stay away from him and out of my business or he will die. It’s a big state, Chihuahua, and he can get lost out there and have some wild animal kill him.” He released Cecilia right then, and she fell to the ground, coughing. Carlos bent down to offer his hand, and she took it. “And one more thing…”
Octavio knew it was Carlos who came into the office. The clapping of the boots against the concrete floor was unmistakable. Octavio apologized with his patient and walked out to the office waiting room. “May I help you, Mr. Durazo?” Carlos then approached Octavio slowly, leaning in to whisper to him so the three people in the room would not hear.
“I know where you were last night, Doctorcito.” Octavio’s heart started pounding. “If you so much as look at me the wrong way, or I know you tell anyone about my business, Cecilia will find herself… Well, dead.” Carlos smiled and turned around to walk out.
“You better stay away from her!” Octavio warned him.
“No! You stay away from her. We are getting married,” Carlos replied.
“I gave her the ring not ten minutes ago, and she said yes… That poor little girl. I guess her feelings for you are not that strong. Or she was faking it.” Upon hearing this, Octavio clenched his fists. But his mind started racing, already formulating a plan, a response to what was happening. “She wanted to tell you herself, but I wouldn’t let her have the joy of being the one to see you like this, all worked up and defeated.” Right then, a tear rolled down Octavio’s eye. “You’re too weak to even do anything, you city boy.” Carlos turned around and walked out of the office. Octavio’s mind kept racing on, trying to control the fear.
Part 15. January 7, 2000. 8:23am
Cecilia felt cold. The weather outside was cold, but a special kind of cold was about inside the hospital. For the longest time, Octavio’s arms had protected her from the cold. Now, he was on the verge of dying, and her heart was on the verge of breaking. How will I live without him? She thought. He’s always been there for me. Cecilia looked at the clock. It was 8:24 in the morning. Knowing that the sun was out, she made her way to a hallway nearby. It had large windows on either side, letting in the sunlight. She felt a bit warmer as she held herself in the sunshine. “I already lost you once, and it almost killed me,” she whispered. “I can’t lose you again.”
Part 16. WINTER 1947 – 1948
It was a very cold winter in Camargo. It was colder than any of the old men at the town square could remember. This brought with it an especially busy time for Dr. Chavez and Octavio. There were all sorts of people sick with all sorts of respiratory problems. But it wasn’t as if Octavio did not have the time. He had all the time in the world. There was no social life anymore, no Cecilia. Because of Carlos’ threats, and the ensuing harassment from the town officials and the two town cops, Octavio and Doctor Chavez stuck to their work at the office. “They’re not doing any work at the ranch with this cold, Octavio,” Doctor Chavez had told him. “Come Spring, we will make a special trip to Chihuahua City and get more help… That way, we will catch Durazo with the evidence in his fields.” Octavio agreed. But he was just afraid that Carlos would transport more people into Texas during the winter. He also remembered how sick some of those people looked. And he remembered how bad conditions were at the ranch. It was as if his brother had died in vain fighting the Nazi’s. It was in all in vain if that kind of evil still existed.
The worst thing was that this particular brand of evil had also taken away his Cecilia, his sunshine. He missed talking to her, confessing his sins and worries. Telling her all about him and having her listen. That was the best thing about her. She always listened. She was always there…
Sometime that previous summer:
“You almost got married?” Cecilia said with disbelief and a bit of humor in her voice.
“Yes, it was horrible,” Octavio replied.
“What was? Getting engaged? Or breaking up?”
“In retrospect, both,” he answered shyly.
“Well,” Octavio was hesitant, “it was a bad relationship all together. Don’t get me wrong; it had a lot of good moments. But, generally, it went from a dream to a nightmare.”
“Oh. Sorry.” The humor was gone. Cecilia genuinely felt bad for him.
“No, don’t be. I learned a lot.”
“Like… Um… like not to give my entire life to someone who is not willing to give as much in return,” he answered.
“She controlled you?”
“That, and she was very jealous.”
“Jealousy is a bad thing,” she stated.
“It’s a bad thing if there is too much of it… And, trust me, it came out of every pore in her body.”
“Well, you made it through alive, Doc.” Cecilia reached over and grabbed his hand. He rubbed his fingers against her hand.
“And that’s all that counts, Cecy, being here… Getting second and third chances.”
“Chances at what?”
“At caring for someone…” Octavio smiled and looked at her. She just blushed.
The days grew shorter and shorter, and the fierce night winds brought howling frosts. The weather became colder and colder. People got sicker and sicker all over town. The days turned into twelve then fourteen-hour days for the doctors. Because of his old age, Dr. Chavez would only stay beyond eight hours at the office if the cases were too complicated. Other than that, Octavio and some town volunteers took care of the people. And these sick people came in from everywhere. The influenza season was here, and it was worse than anyone could remember. Only few remembered a worse season: the Spanish Flu back in 1918.
Then there were the house calls. Those times when the doctor and his apprentice got summoned to some very ill person’s house, in the middle of the night more often than not. And, more often than not, the stench of death filled that house. And the patient was doomed. But that did not keep Doctor Chavez and the very young Doctor Ortiz from trying to ease the suffering. Doctor Chavez would give out instructions, and Octavio would follow them. It was as if the two of them were up against an adversary, fighting to keep the person alive. Even with his many years of training, Doctor Chavez had very little to work with. Everyone with the flu got pneumonia. The very old, the very young, and the chronically sick died. There were very few exceptions.
Part 17. Christmas Eve, 1946. 7:00 pm
Because of her engagement to Carlos, Cecilia became the socialite she always wanted to be. In a way, it was not bad at all. She got a lot of attention, and Carlos was always so busy that she did not have to deal with him. They would not see each other for weeks. Tonight, however, she wanted to have fun. He had been particularly mean to her, and she needed some relief. Without being able to see Octavio, the Christmas party at the Najera’s was good enough.
Carlos arrived at the party, making his grand entrance by shoving some people around. He noticed Cecilia in the room and walked over to her, asking to talk to her. “Talk? You want to talk?” Cecilia sounded furious. But she came closer to him and whispered in his ear, “are you sure you don’t want to hit me?” Carlos looked back at Cecilia with a glare.
“I’m so sorry for that.” He came closer to her. “I truly, honestly did not mean to hurt you.”
“Well, you’re doing pretty well by me,” Cecilia remarked. Carlos then took her hand and played with the engagement ring on her finger.
“I really didn’t mean it, and I have hated myself for doing that to you.” They were both quiet. There they were, at a Christmas party where everyone who was anyone in the small town of Camargo was in attendance. And everyone was watching the developments between the two. “We’re meant to be together, Cecy.” Cecilia shrugged her shoulders.
“What you did has no name. You don’t do that to someone you love,” she said softly.
“I know. It’s unforgivable,” he replied, looking down at his feet.
“Can you at least agree to talk to me outside?” Cecilia nodded. She looked annoyed, but she was willing to give him a chance. She had always been that way, hopeful of the best in men, and her sisters and friends hated that in her. Carlos mistreated Cecilia, but Cecilia always gave him the benefit of the doubt. He had threatened to kill Octavio and her, and she did nothing but take the ring and pose at social functions as his fiancée. Carlos was the son of a wealthy cattle rancher, like her father. Thinking of all the money and the power they would have together made her not see things clearly sometimes. As they walked out into the cold, Francisco Najera, the host of the party, asked one of his men to make sure Carlos did not come back in. He did not like Carlos and what he was doing to the Durazo family’s name.
Thirty Minutes Later…
“I want to be with you,” he said with the beginning signs of sadness in his eyes. “It doesn’t matter what was said, or done… Or the threats.”
“I know you do,” Cecilia replied. “But… It’s difficult.”
“Then, why can’t you see it? We’re meant to be together. We’re so good with each other,” Octavio told her with a breaking voice.
“But he won’t leave us alone, ever. I know him. He’ll make my life and yours a living hell. He might even kill us. And I could never have anything happen to you if I can help it.” Octavio’s face showed disappointment at hearing Cecilia’s words. He clenched his fists, and Cecilia noticed. “I’ve known him for a very long time… And he is capable of doing what he said he’d do.”
“Tell me that’s the only reason you’re marrying him,” Octavio asked of her.
“It is,” she replied.
“You mean you called me out of the office, and sat here for the last ten minutes holding my hand, running your fingers through my hair only to tell me you won’t leave him?”
“I’m sorry,” Cecilia said as she lowered her head. Octavio stood up. His breathing became heavy, and his breath in the cold air was thick. “I wanted to make myself believe that I can get away from Carlos anytime, but I can’t. I can’t lie to myself. And I can’t have anything happen to you.”
“You don’t need to do that. I WILL PROTECT YOU,” Octavio told her with his tear-filled eyes.
“I can’t do that to you. You’re going to go on to bigger, better things. Perhaps this is the way of letting you do that.” Cecilia stood up. She had made up her mind of what she was going to say. It would hurt Octavio. “I’ll learn to love Carlos. And you’ll go on to be someone important. Maybe then you can come back and stop what he’s doing. But I’m not leaving him.”
“You’ve just made a big mistake, Cecy.”
“I probably did, Octavio. But you will live to tell me ‘I told you so’ someday.” Suddenly, the office front door opened, and Amalia, a lady volunteering with Dr. Chavez, came out to look for Octavio.
“Muchacho,” she said, “Doctor Chavez is looking for you.” Octavio looked at Amalia and then back at Cecilia.
“You have your job to do, Octavio. I won’t keep you any longer.” Cecilia started to turn around to walk away.
“Just like that, Cecy? You break my heart and walk away and expect me to function normally… to think clearly?” He was angry. Cecilia started walking. Octavio walked a couple of quick steps to catch up to her. He grabbed her upper arms from behind and came close to her. “Kiss me.”
“Kiss me now, or don’t. But if you don’t, you risk an eternity, yes, an entire eternity wondering if I was the one. If right here, right now, there could have been sparks and you could have been happy.”
“I… I can’t. It wouldn’t be fair,” Cecilia told him in a quiet voice. Octavio leaned in close to her ear.
“I could have loved you,” he whispered. “But now you’ve lost me…” He then stopped whispering. “But, hey, you get forever with the wealthy boy with all the expensive toys. Fair trade, eh?”
“You didn’t listen to a thing I said,” she muttered.
“I did. You said ‘never’, and never it is.” Then he let her go and walked back to the office’s entrance. Cecilia started walking away, then stopped and looked back at Octavio. She stood there for a few seconds, seeing him go through the door. He cleaned his tears and looked around the office. There was a baby with a very bad cough in the arms of a young woman. I think I can still do this, he thought. Octavio could think of a thousand things at once.
Part 18. January 7, 2000. 8:35am
Seeing all the old and young doctors walking around together in the hospital, Cecilia could not help but think of the relationship that developed between Octavio and Doctor Chavez. It was very surprising to almost everyone that Octavio actually completed his year of training with Doctor Ortiz. Most of the other apprentice medical students walked out on the old man. He was too overbearing and critical. They felt held back by him because he would always be there to guide them and give them a better way of doing things. Not Octavio, though. He stuck through everything the old man threw at him. And they became very close friends. At no time did Octavio feel like he, the apprentice, had overcome the knowledge and wisdom of Doctor Chavez, the master. As early as the day before, Octavio had quoted Doctor Chavez to Cecilia. And, as their son was growing up, she saw a lot of Doctor Chavez’s teaching methods become parenting methods.
Part 19. January 15, 1948. 2:00pm
Days went by and then three weeks. Octavio was very troubled by what Cecilia had said, but he would respect her wishes. He stayed away and focused on his work. He did not look at her if they happened to walk into each other in town. They did not speak. A certain kind of anger was in him, but understanding overshadowed it.
But Dr. Chavez could see his young apprentice was hurt and distracted. “Muchacho, what is troubling you?” Dr. Chavez asked as he sat next to Octavio to eat lunch.
“There hasn’t been a student that has managed to fool me, Octavio. I am far too old to be fooled.” Dr. Chavez smiled at Octavio, and he smiled back. “They say that the devil knows more because he is old than because he‘s the devil… It’s Miss Cecilia, isn’t it?” Octavio lowered his eyes at the question.
“What did she do?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“If you would rather not talk about it, then I suggest you forget about it. You are far too ahead in your studies to be distracted, young man. Besides, we have to unmask Carlos Durazo and stop his whole scheme… Greater things are at hand.”
“That’s the problem, Doctor. I have tried to forget her and focus on my studies, and helping those poor people, and…”
“And you can’t,” Dr. Chavez interrupted.
“No. I can’t.”
“She’s… She’s a lot of what I have looked for in a woman. She’s great. I feel like pure sunshine is raining down on me when I’m with her. All this cold mountain air doesn’t bother me when I’m with her. The long hours at work do not bother me when I get to see her at the end of the long day. She’s the antidote to this poisonous life… And I was looking forward to seeing her in Chihuahua when she went there to study.” Dr. Chavez nodded and listened. “She’s pretty, smart and determined. I just don’t know why she betrayed me like that.”
“We were together, so to speak. We held hands, we talked and went places around town together. Then, all of a sudden, three weeks ago, she just comes over to the office and tells me that it’s over… That she is staying with Carlos, and that she MUST be with him… Or try to be with him… Or something… Because, if she’s not, he will kill me.” Dr. Chavez kept nodding. “Worst thing is, she’s hurt me so much and I would still take her back in a second, without a doubt.”
“And you have told her this?”
“No. I haven’t seen her, nor talked to her. She doesn’t want me to. Neither do I.”
“I just don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe be patient and wait? An evil man like Carlos will show his true self in due time,” Dr. Chavez predicted.
“Maybe, Doctor,” Octavio replied. Dr. Chavez reached over and grabbed Octavio’s arm to show support.
“Eat now, Muchacho. We have a lot of work this afternoon.” Dr. Chavez understood his apprentice’s troubled heart. But he also understood that there was an influenza outbreak going on, and they would be very busy. “And clear your mind… I need you in top form the next few weeks. People are coming here from the villages up in the mountains. This influenza is hitting hard.”
“I will try, Doctor.”
“Don’t try, Muchacho. Fools try. Dispassionate people try. We get things done.”
Part 20. January 16, 1947. About 10pm
It was an extremely cold night that night. No one, not even the elders that gathered at the town square remembered such cold. It was also windy, and that made matters worse. Carlos summoned Dr. Chavez and Octavio to his father’s home. Carlos’ father became ill a couple of days before, and, tonight, he became very, very sick. “It’s as if he can’t breathe,” Carlos said. “And he has a very strong fever. Please come with me.” Octavio and Dr. Chavez put on their clothes, grabbed their bags and headed out. It felt a lot like a trap, but they had a job to do.
He was very hot. The fever was above 42 Centigrade. Dr. Chavez listened to the man’s chest. “Your chest is very congested, Mateo. I am afraid that you have pneumonia.” Mateo nodded. “My apprentice here is going to place a catheter into your vein, and we are going to give you penicillin.”
“An anti-biotic — Medicine to fight the germs that are causing your illness.” Dr. Chavez looked over at Octavio. “Give him thirty grams now, injectable, and come get me if he gets worse.” Octavio nodded. “I’m going to let his family know of the situation.” Dr. Chavez walked out of the room, and Octavio stayed behind to start the intravenous catheter. Suddenly, Mateo opened his eyes and grabbed Octavio’s arm.
“Are you Ricardo’s apprentice?” Octavio nodded in response. “You’re also the one that was snooping around my son’s end of the ranch, aren’t you?”
“Yes… Yes sir.” Octavio could feel his heart speed up.
“Don’t worry. I loathe what he’s doing as much as you do.” Mateo then reached into his nightstand’s drawer. He pulled out several documents. “Francisco Najera gave me these.” They were pictures of the men and women Carlos kept in indentured servitude, along with notes on who came and went, and several letters Francisco intercepted between ranchers and farmers in Texas and Carlos. “He risked his life to get these to me, and now I give them to you.”
“What do I do with them?”
“Go to Chihuahua.”
“I’m dying. Remember? This is your opportunity for Carlos and his henchmen to let you get there safe for my sake.” Octavio smiled. “Just mind the snowdrifts.” Mateo winked at Octavio.
“Snow drifts?” Octavio asked as he looked out the window. A few snowflakes were coming down.
Carlos, his Mother, Cecilia and the ranch veterinarian were sitting in the living room, drinking coffee. Carlos and the veterinarian stood up as Dr. Chavez came in the room. “How is he?”
“He is not well, Carlos. My apprentice is going to give him an antibiotic… He has an infection, germs, in his chest, made worse by the flu. The antibiotic might help.”
“Yes. Might. There’s no way of knowing. Your father has pneumonia and the influenza. It’s very serious. We will stay here and watch him through the night.” Cecilia stood up and held Carlos’ hand. He clenched hers.
“Lorenzo,” Carlos said to his foreman, “go and tell my Father’s relatives in town that he will not make it through the night.”
“I didn’t say that, Carlos,” Dr. Chavez interrupted.
“Well, Doctor. I don’t have much faith in you and your boy over there. And this influenza is very bad. There’s already been, what? Ten dead? Or twenty?”
“Carlos, give it time… Have faith,” Doctor Chavez said in a calm voice.
“I don’t have either,” Carlos said. Indeed, he did not. He looked at Lorenzo and motioned his head for him to get going. Lorenzo hesitated a moment. “Lorenzo, go!” Carlos yelled. Lorenzo walked out of the room to inform of Mateo’s impending death. Dr. Chavez sat down in a chair and shook his head. At that moment, Octavio walked into the room.
“What is it, Octavio?” Doctor Chavez asked.
“Doctor, I have an idea,” Octavio said with enthusiasm.
“Well, let’s hear it, Muchacho.”
“What if I go to the Capital and get some supplies? I can get oxygen tanks and more medicines from the medical school.”
“It’s too late, Muchacho. And the weather is turning bad.”
“But if we don’t give Don Mateo more oxygen, he is going to…” Octavio looked at the people in the room. He came closer to Dr. Chavez. “He is going to asphyxiate, and he needs a diuretic to draw all that fluid out of his lungs, and maybe a steroid to prevent more inflammation in his lungs” he whispered. Dr. Octavio lowered his head and shook it. What a fine job he had done with this one student! Octavio was well trained and able to foresee his patient’s problems. He had passed this test.
“Go then, Muchacho. I will look after Mateo myself. Bring back more medicines and supplies.”
“I will.” Octavio turned around to see Cecilia and Carlos holding hands. Octavio felt a bit ill. But his brain told him to go, to get out of there and not think of her. There was a long drive ahead. “I’ll be back before you know it.” Octavio stepped out of the house into the windy, cold night. Clouds obscured the moon, and the snowflakes began to fall with more frequency.
“It’s too bad,” Carlos said a few minutes later. Doctor Chavez was in Mateo’s room, and it was only Cecilia and Carlos in the living room.
“What is?” Cecilia asked.
“A young, intelligent doctor like Octavio… Dead just like that.”
“What are you talking about?” Cecilia could feel the blood leaving her face.
“I saw how he looked at you. I can’t have that. Well, that and he knows about my operation here. Randy brought some men with him, and, well, Octavio’s going to have a very bad accident… He shouldn’t have gone driving in this weather.” Cecilia never felt so helpless.
Part 21. January 7, 2000 8:59am
Cecilia never felt so helpless. Octavio had always gone out of his way, done the near impossible to help her and others. As a doctor, he had given up so much of his life to healing others and giving them second chances. Now, he was being operated on, and she could do nothing to help. “Nothing happens just because, Cecy,” he had once told her. “There’s a reason for everything.” She could not see the reasoning behind him being so sick now. He, who had done so much for humanity, now lay dying on a cold surgical table. Where’s the reasoning behind this? “God takes care of us and doesn’t let bad things happen that are not for our own good, or for His glory.”
Part 22. January 17, 1947. Between 3 and 4 am.
The snow was getting thick. It had been cold for so long that every flake was sticking to the ground and accumulating fast. Octavio’s old Chevrolet was big and heavy, so staying on the barely paved road was not a problem. Seeing the road itself was another matter. But this was neither the first nor the last time he had driven in bad weather. He remembered visiting family in the United States, up north, where the winters were harsh. It was not as bad as the famous “blizzards” they had up there. But most of the time, his mind was focused on where to go, in what order and how to go about getting all the supplies he needed. Why am I doing this? He asked himself. The answer was simple, and it had always been there. He smiled when he thought about it.
Suddenly, a pair of headlights appeared in the rearview mirror. Then another pair appeared. The vehicles were coming up behind Octavio at a very fast speed. He slowed down and moved closer to the shoulder of the road. It looked as if they were both going to pass him. But only one vehicle did, and it swerved in front of Octavio, making him drive off the road into a snow bank. He jumped out of his car, his heart racing. He didn’t know what was going on. Three men got out of the pickup truck behind his car, and Randy Hilliard stepped out of the car that ran Octavio off the road. “What do you want?” Octavio asked them. The snow was coming down a bit heavier, and the wind was howling. The men were quiet as they approached Octavio. They clenched their fists. There was going to be a fight.
Back at Carlo’s home, people began arriving to be with the family during Mateo’s illness. It was tradition to be there when the illness was worse and to be there should death come. It was tradition that men of the age and stature of Mateo did not die alone. The women brought pastries and other comfort foods. Then they, the women, went to one of the house’s rooms to pray. They prayed to the saints, to the virgin, to Christ and to God. The men sat around the living room, quiet, thinking of their own mortality and how a man as powerful and rich as Mateo could be brought down like the rest of them.
When they were done beating him, the men threw Octavio onto the snow bank and kicked him each one last time. He was covered in blood, and his arm was broken. One of the men got into Octavio’s car and backed it out of the embankment. He then went in reverse a few hundred meters, gathered speed, and floored the accelerator, hurdling the car towards Octavio. The car hit the snow embankment and landed on top of Octavio. Laughs could be heard as the man got off the car. “Alright, we’re done here, boys. Let’s go get us some warm soup or something,” Randy told them. The snow kept coming down.
Dr. Chavez was in Mateo’s room. He was in a chair, reading a book, but his well-trained ear listened to Mateo’s breathing. Dr. Chavez could tell Mateo was having problems moving air in and out of his lungs. The fluid in the lungs was becoming more in volume and thickness. Dr. Chavez looked at his watch. It was almost four in the morning. He said a small prayer for Octavio when he looked out the window at the falling snow. Something was not right.
As it hit his face, the cold snow brought with it some relief to Octavio. Cold was always the best treatment for pain. And his face hurt a lot. His arm was numb. “Pinched nerve,” Octavio muttered as he felt the broken bone in the arm but no pain. He got on his feet, looking down at the gap between the ground and the car that the snow made, keeping him from being crushed. Octavio smiled. It was those quirky, unexplainable things that convinced Octavio he was being watched over by a higher power. When he climbed into the car, it sank into the snow. He would have been crushed then. The big, heavy Chevy did not have a problem backing out of the snow bank and back on the road. He took a deep breath and started to drive, checking the rearview mirror for any threats.
The lights from Chihuahua City could be seen in the middle of the snow as Octavio drove through a pass and into the valley where the city was built two hundred years before. It was a beautiful city, flanked on every side by a mountain range. It was fairly high in elevation, but the kind of weather seen that night was very unusual. Octavio drove slowly through the streets as he made his way to the University’s campus. The streets were empty, and the tall buildings that delineated the blocks were a very sharp contrast to Camargo’s small houses made out of adobe and bricks. The tallest building in Camargo was the church by the town square. The tallest buildings in Chihuahua were the State Congress Building and the cathedral.
It was now past four in the morning, and Octavio arrived at the home of the Dean of Medicine. Doctor Ernesto Licón opened the door, wearing a flannel pajama under a cotton robe. “Octavio? What happened to you?”
“Doctor Licón. I need your help,” Octavio said with a little bit of breathlessness.
“Sure, boy. Come in… What happened?” He let Octavio in from the cold and into the warm living room. He then grabbed his medical kit and pulled out gauze to clean Octavio’s nose and mouth.
“Doctor, we have an influenza outbreak in Camargo. We’ve had about a dozen deaths. I need to get some supplies and more help.”
“Okay. But what happened to your face?”
“It’s a long story… I’ll tell you on our way to the university,” Octavio said. Doctor Licón nodded.
“Let me get some clothes on and make a few phone calls,” Dr. Licón said.
“Thank you,” Octavio answered. Doctor Licón left the room, and Octavio walked to the fireplace to get warmer. He touched his face and felt the dried blood scrape off. His arm was starting to hurt. When Dr. Licón returned to the room, Octavio asked him to make one more phone call. Octavio pulled out the documents given to him by Mateo Durazo. “These people are being treated like animals, Doctor. And we need help to stop it.” Dr. Licón nodded as he read through the papers and looked at the pictures.
“I have a friend at the Federal Attorney General’s Office that I can wake up.”
Part 23. January 17, 1947. 10:00 am.
It was not until ten in the morning when Octavio drove back into Camargo. The snow had stopped falling, but it had accumulated a good bit on the ground. Actually, it accumulated a whole lot to people who had not seen snow ever. The back seat of his old Chevrolet was full of boxes, the trunk with oxygen tanks. A truck followed close behind, and it was Dr. Licón with his son, Arturo. The truck bed was also filled with supplies. A third car, with Dr. Bermudez from the State Health Department followed them also. Finally, a series of cars and trucks with federal troops was coming from the city. But they needed to organize before getting to Camargo.
They unloaded most of the supplies at Dr. Chavez’s office, where there was already a group of people waiting to be seen. “You go ahead to your patient’s home, Octavio. Doctor Bermudez and I will start treating people here,” Dr. Licón told Octavio. He wasted no time to get into his old car and head down to Carlos’.
Once at Carlos’ house, Octavio walked in through the front door with a bag full of more antibiotics, fever-reducers and pain medication. He had in it also more intravenous tubing and syringes. He carried an oxygen tank on his shoulder. Everyone in the living room, those who had come to send off Mateo, did not understand who Octavio was and why he was there. After all, Octavio looked hardly like a doctor in their minds. He had on a pair of denim pants, old boots, and a beat up shirt stained with his own blood. Carlos walked up to Octavio but said nothing; he was obviously surprised to see Octavio alive. Octavio looked at the people in the living room. He knew exactly why they were there. Cecilia was sitting among them, looking very tired. Octavio looked back at Carlos. “Tell them to go home,” he said to Carlos, “Your Father is not dying today.” Then he started walking to Mateo’s room. Cecilia looked at Carlos’ reaction and smiled.
“Muchacho!” Doctor Chavez exclaimed as he rose to his feet. “What happened to you?”
“Long story, doctor, but I’ve brought everything we need to sustain Don Mateo through the illness.” Octavio put down the bag and started to take out what he needed.
“That’s good. That’s good. I’ll get back to the office.” Octavio agreed. He was ready to treat Mateo on his own. “Let me know if you need me.” Mateo then opened his eyes.
“Is it done?” He asked.
“It’s done. Your ranch is about to be raided,” Octavio answered.
“What are you talking about, Muchacho?” Doctor Chavez asked.
“The federal police now have proof of what’s been going on here.”
“Don Mateo gave me documents that show what his son’s been up to.” Doctor Chavez looked at Mateo. Mateo nodded.
“Will you be okay alone here, then?” Doctor Chavez asked.
Doctor Chavez patted Octavio on the arm, in a sign of support. “Doctor?”
“Thank you.” Doctor Chavez just smiled.
“There’s a method to my madness,” Dr. Chavez said gleefully. Octavio agreed. All those days of reviewing only one thing at a time, of only practicing one thing at a time… All those days were bearing fruit. Octavio was indeed ready.
After being informed of the efforts underway at the office, Doctor Chavez left to help. Meanwhile, Octavio changed the medication in Mateo’s intravenous drip. He also gave Mateo medication for the fever and the chest pains he was having. A few minutes later, Mateo’s wife, Esther, walked into the room. “Doctor, why don’t you go get some coffee and some breakfast. You must be tired and hungry. I’ll look after Mateo and come get you if I need you.” Octavio was hungry and somewhat tired. He was used to being up throughout the night and studying, broken arms and bruised ribs were not in his training curriculum. He needed that coffee, and some aspirin.
“Just make sure his breathing does not become labored. If it does, come get me immediately.” Esther smiled and nodded her head.
“I can’t thank you enough for what you’re doing for us.” Esther reached out and grabbed Octavio’s arm, smiling.
“You don’t need to, Doña Esther. It’s my job.” Octavio reached back and shook her hand. He also smiled.
The kitchen was decorated with all sorts of pottery and pots and pans. There were preserves and jams in a glass door cupboard. The icebox was big, and, Octavio would bet, full of good things to eat. The kitchen was also decorated with incredibly delicious smells of fresh-baked bread and fresh-brewed coffee. Octavio walked over to a basket filled with pastries and took one. He then walked to the wood stove and poured a cup of coffee on a big mug he found next to the stove. He grabbed his coffee and his pastry and placed them on the kitchen table. He sat down and sighed. He leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling. Why me? He asked himself. The answer popped in his head and made him smile.
A steady set of footsteps walked up to Octavio from behind. He lowered his head, knowing it was Cecilia. He did not feel like talking to her. She was taken. Talking to her would mean that the rush of feelings would come back and he would be lusting after a woman not meant to be his. Cecilia pulled out a chair next to Octavio’s and sat down. Instinctively, she hid her hands from his sight. The ring, she thought, would hurt him. She was right. “Why do you hide it?” Octavio asked. “Are you ashamed?”
“Absolutely not,” she replied in an almost snippy way. “I mean… No,” she said a bit more calmly.
“What do you want?”
“What happened to you? Did they hurt you?”
“I ran into some trouble, yes. Why?”
“Carlos said you were going to have a very bad accident.”
“Well, I did. But I got through it.”
“I’m leaving him. I can’t be with a monster.”
“Good for you.” His carefree way of answering to her news bothered her a bit. “But you’ll be back to him in due time.”
“No,” Cecilia said, as she pulled out a gun from her apron, “not this time.” Octavio jumped out of his chair at the sight of the gun.
“Cecilia! What are you doing?” Octavio asked with horror in his voice.
“It needs to end, Octavio. I need to be free from his grasp! He was the first boy I was intimate with, the one who’s been there with me, controlling me, since I was thirteen. He haunts my dreams, and he controls my actions. I can’t live like that.” She raised the gun toward herself.
“Cecy… Don’t.” Octavio’s voice cracked. It was the same crack in his voice he got in his dreams when they became nightmares and he tried to cry out. He could not move. Fear was getting the best of him.
“Put down that goddamned gun!” Carlos yelled from the kitchen doorway.
“No,” Cecilia replied, “I want you out of my life.” She then raised the gun and aimed it at Carlos. Her green eyes were oceans of tears. Almost instinctively, Octavio stepped in front of her, between the gun and Carlos. “What are you doing?” She asked.
“This isn’t going to solve anything, Cecy,” Octavio said.
“Oh, yes it is. That bastard will be out of our lives and those people out there will get to be free and go home,” she cried out.
“Those people?” Carlos intervened. “Those people don’t know what freedom is! They’ve been slaves in one way or another, to their town chiefs, to their police, to their poverty, to their alcoholism, to their god. I’m giving them honest work, away from a life of crime and poverty.” Hearing this, Octavio turned to Carlos.
“You have a strange sense of liberty, Carlos,” Octavio said to Carlos. Then Octavio turned to Cecilia. “And you put the gun down before you kill one of us, or both.” Octavio came closer to Cecilia and took the gun from her hands. He put it in his pocket then reached and hugged Cecilia. “Let’s get you out of here, love.”
“She’s not going anywhere.” Carlos blocked the door.
“We’re leaving, Durazo, so get out of the way,” Octavio ordered.
“No. She’s my woman. You are not leaving with my woman!” Carlos clenched his fists, ready to stop Octavio from saving Cecilia. Cecilia then took off her ring and threw it at Carlos. It fell to the ground. Carlos tackled Octavio, and they both wrestled on the ground. Cecilia stood back and watched. Carlos reached into Octavio’s pocket, trying to grab the gun. Octavio tried to protect his pocket and land a few punches on Carlos’ face. Suddenly, two shots rang out. Octavio turned to Cecilia and motioned at her to run. His hand was covered in blood. Panicking, Cecilia ran out of the kitchen and down the hall to the main entrance. The hired help and a maid were running toward the kitchen to see what happened. As Cecilia opened the front door to get out, not knowing where she was going, just knowing she needed out… Right at that moment, Federal Agents and soldiers rushed into the house. Once of the agents held a search warrant up in the air.
“The kitchen!” Cecilia screamed… “GO TO THE KITCHEN!!!”
Part 24. January 7, 2000. 9:45 am.
The surgery was over. The surgeon finished writing his notes and put on his lab coat. He walked out of the surgical suite and looked for the waiting room. He walked in to find Cecilia all alone, dozing off on the couch in the middle of the room. Sensing that he was in the room, Cecilia woke up and straightened herself up in the couch. She saw that the surgeon, a younger man with a growing beard and red hair, had a blank expression on his face. He walked to the couch and sat down next to Cecilia. “Mrs. Ortiz?” Cecilia nodded. “The surgery is over.” Cecilia sighed when she heard that. “We had to end it early because his heart is giving out. He is not as strong as he used to be, Mrs. Ortiz.” She knew. “Maybe, if he gets stronger…” But he would not. She knew that, too. He was very weak from an entire life of fighting. He fought disease. He fought hunger. He fought injustice. He had a long life. And it was in remembering this that Cecilia understood that maybe his time was here.
“I need to talk to my son before we make any decisions,” Cecilia said with tears in her eyes and rolling down her face. Both the surgeon and Cecilia knew Octavio’s time to rest was near. “I really need my son,” she said.
Part 25. January 15, 1954. 8:05 am.
It was a very cold winter morning when Ricardo Francisco Ortiz was born. He weighed a healthy 4 kilos and 350 grams. His father picked his name in honor of Doctor Ricardo Chavez, who died two months earlier. When Cecilia opened her eyes a few hours later, she saw Octavio sitting in a rocking chair, rocking back and forth, and holding their baby boy. It was the perfect fruit of a perfect love. “Good morning, Sunshine,” Octavio said at the sight of Cecilia’s wide-open eyes. Cecilia smiled back. “Look at him, Cecy. He’s a very handsome baby,” he said.
“He is… And he’s ours forever,” she noted. Octavio stood up and brought the baby to Cecilia’s side. He leaned over and kissed her eyebrow, right above her eye as she was taking the baby. “Cecy, thank you.”
“Do you love me more now?” Cecilia asked with a big, bright smile.
“More every instant than the instant before it, Cecy… And this baby just the same. The love just keeps on growing…” He stared at her and smiled, then reached and scratched the baby’s head.
“More every instant…” Cecilia whispered as she held her baby.
Part 26. January 7, 2000. 9:31 pm.
Octavio opened his eyes to the sight of Cecilia and Ricardo. He knew exactly what was happening. There was no life support apparatus. Only a few intravenous drips were delivering fluids and painkillers; No heavy drugs to keep his heart going, no feeding tubes. A lonely “beep” could be heard now and then as the telemetry unit monitored his heartbeat and respirations. But he did not feel the pain that came with dying. He reached out his hand and Cecilia took it. She squeezed it hard, and he did the same. “Hi, love,” he said with a weak voice, “How are you?” Cecilia smiled, but she was crying.
“I’ve been better,” she said with a breaking voice as she tried to not cry. “But how are you feeling?”
“I’m dying. It won’t be long,” Octavio answered.
“Don’t say that, love,” she said to him. She started crying.
“Don’t say that, Dad,” Ricardo repeated. “You’re going to be okay and back to finishing your book in no time.” Octavio looked at his son. Where there once was an anxious little boy afraid to go to school for the first time now stood a man who was out in the world, making that world better… Saving that world.
“It’s true, Ricardo. You are a doctor. You know my condition.” At hearing this, Ricardo lowered his head. A tear was finding its way down his face. “I am with you both,” Octavio said, “and I always will. I had a good life. It had more ups than downs… more dreams than nightmares. I’m very happy with the way it is ending and the new life beginning.”
“No, love… Please, don’t say that.” Cecilia was almost hysterical.
“Cecy,” Octavio replied, “do you remember our wedding vows?”
Part 27. April 3, 1953. 1 pm.
The wedding took place on a beautiful spring day. The sun was out and cotton-like clouds dotted the sky. Birds sung songs of praise, and a cool breeze relaxed everyone’s thoughts. The old church, the tallest building in Camargo, was filled with people that day. The little boys and little girls ran around in the church garden, like they always did. Behind the church was a large ballroom where the reception would be held immediately after the wedding. Later that evening, it would be set up for the party to celebrate the couple. The church was filled with people, and Octavio, his younger brother and his Father were at the altar, waiting for the bride. “Nervous?” David, Octavio’s brother, asked a rather pale-looking Octavio.
“Somewhat,” he replied.
“Relax, son. You look like you’re going to pass out,” Octavio’s Father advised.
“Oh, I’m relaxed… It’s just that I’m about to burst with happiness…” He turned to look at his brother and Father. “You know? Like when you win the lottery? Or end a war?”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never won the lottery or won a war,” his Father replied. Both Octavio and David stared at their Father. “Well… Uh… Until I had you guys… But I never did beat your mother at an argument.” Octavio and David started to laugh. “There, Octavio’s color is back,” David noted. Suddenly, a white carriage pulled by four beautiful, gray and black and white horses stopped in front of the church. The organ player started playing the wedding march.
About half an hour later, it was time to recite the wedding vows. Octavio looked into Cecilia’s eyes. Love, or the biochemical equivalent of it, flooded his mind and his heart. Octavio was a man of science; so thinking of love on a purely spiritual sense was difficult for him. Octavio could not believe he had found Cecilia. He started talking, and everyone was quiet enough to hear his words. “For many years, I’ve looked for happiness. I’ve searched for in books, in knowledge, and in serving God and mankind. Then I saw your eyes and I was finally happy. Then I gave my love to you and you gave yours in return, and happiness does not begin to describe what I felt then. So I asked of you to spend your life with me, and you said yes. You are my love. Not this year’s love, or last year’s. You’re the one love that makes me happy, the one love I’ll treasure and protect forever.” Cecilia was crying and Octavio’s voice broke up. “Forever!” he said in a loud voice as he turned to see the guests. He wanted to make sure everyone heard him. He wanted to be accountable to them as he was being accountable to God on that altar. Everyone smiled as he looked back at Cecilia. That rush of sunshine brightened his soul, like it always did. “Forever…” he whispered as he put the ring on her finger.
Part 28. January 7, 2000. 9:34am
“… I meant when I said forever, Love. I will live in your heart, and in our son, forever…” Octavio smiled. Slowly and gently a sort of numbness came over him starting in his feet, then his legs, then his hands and his arms.
“No! Not yet, Amor Mio!” Cecilia screamed. She was scared. She was angry. Octavio let go of her hand. “No! No! No! No!” she screamed. Ricardo came closer to them. A beautiful light began to fill Octavio’s world. Alarms went of from the telemetry units. Octavio had stopped breathing. Ricardo reached over and turned off the monitoring unit. “You said forever!” Cecilia screamed as Octavio’s heart stopped and his body immediately began to get colder to Cecilia’s touch. Ricardo reached over and closed his father’s eyelids. He then held his mother in his arms. “You said forever!” She screamed. But her voice began to be drowned out by her tears and sobbing. “Forever…” she whispered one last time before she sunk herself in Ricardo’s chest to cry the day away.
Octavio loved Cecilia forever.
Epilogue. June 8, 2001. 12:15pm
Carlos Durazo walked out of the federal prison in Mexico City. Still in his old age and frailty he wanted revenge. His first sight of the world outside of prison was a very lively Mexico City, which had grown to and around the federal prison in the last fifty years. Waiting by a brand new BMW, an old friend of Carlos’ walked up to him. Carlos recognized him right away. “You look so much like your father, Robbie.” Robert Hilliard, Robbie, as his friends called him, smiled at Carlos.
“That’s what I hear,” Robbie replied. Carlos smiled back. “We should get going, Mr. Durazo. It’s a long drive to El Paso. The old man is dead, but his family lives.”
“Then the time is ripe for my revenge,” Carlos replied. He then limped around the side of the car to get in it. His left leg was paralyzed from the knee down from the two gunshots to it. It was a permanent reminder of what Octavio Ortiz had done to him.
As they drove north out of the city, a thunderstorm could be seen in the distance ahead of them.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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