Gina Rodriguez


Abuelito’s house sits on Caupolicán, between the avenues Condell and Italia, in the commune of Ñuñoa in Santiago de Chile.

The neighborhood has antique dealers, their faces made familiar by the simple collecting of the years. They sell: jewelry, binoculars, knives, magnifying glasses, letter openers, dining tables, bifocals, chairs, silverware, lamps, shades, fans—all the furnishings of a home.

Across the street from the house a man sells books. His store looks like a storage closet. Its walls are lined with ceiling-high towers of yellowed books. No one can enter this store. Even if the book were important, even if it were essential, no one can set foot there. Instead, he has six long tables set up on the sidewalk. They are laid out with novels, pamphlets, magazines, textbooks, atlases, and encyclopedias. They are in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and German.

This street is named for a Mapuche warrior, executed by the Spanish before his wife’s eyes.

The property of the house is divided into three sections. There is the house itself. It is one storey high. It has a dining room, a living, a kitchen, a bathroom, and five bedrooms, although the fifth bedroom has not been used since the earthquake.

There is the grocery, the so-called negocio, reached via a pair of doors next to the kitchen. Here vegetables and fruits are weighed and sold. Elderly women from the neighborhood come to buy a single egg at a time. Sometimes film scouts looking for local color request permission to rent a kettle or a scale or a lamp that has been sitting in the window for decades. The mini fridge holds meals of mashed corn carefully wrapped in husks, waiting to be bought.

Out back is the yard of hard-packed dirt. In summer, the figs fall from the trees, overripe and black, and are trampled in the dust. The grapes grow thick, vines leafy and green, on a pergola that shields a stretch of the yard from the hot sun. Tiny ants crawl over bunches as tightly clustered as stars. The path shaded by the pergola leads to a door at the rear of the yard. This door opens to a home. A second home. Where a husband and his wife and his two children live. Where they now light their stove and run the shower. Where the little girl sits to write her homework. Where the son listens to his music. A home.

The man who owns the property is ninety-six years old. His son and his son’s family live in the second house. His daughter lives in the main house with her two children. This makes a total of eight people living on this property.

Other people come and go, to sit down to eat, to drop off packages, to kiss hello. More people will leave than will arrive.

The name of the owner of the property hangs outside the negocio. Don Lucho.


When Janus reverses his gaze, Time exchanges cruelty with mercy.

When the calendar is inverted, the years retreat, like waves ceding the limits of the shore.

First, the son and his family disappear. The son returns to his seaside house with his wife and children. The growth that has flowered in his mind folds into a bud, into a cell, into nothing. Then his little girl disappears. Next his little boy. This is all right, because in their place are the hope and the anticipation for the son and daughter that have yet to be.

The house in the yard also comes apart, piece by piece, and in its place, a shed resurfaces, where two other children play at making mud pies and chasing cats.

Soon, Don Lucho’s wife returns. She is eighty-six now, and so fragile, though she gets stronger by the day. The dust that has lain over his furniture and over his life slowly lifts away.

On the heels of his wife comes his daughter’s husband. With him comes the fear. But in years equal to the time he once used to hurt her, he takes back the blows and undoes their bonds. Their children vanish, and at last, he himself disappears and she forgets she has ever met him. Soon, Don Lucho’s daughter, whose life has only been her work in the negocio, returns to school, where she is studying to be a teacher.

With Don Lucho’s wife home, his children return one by one. They fly in from New York, Brussels, Lisbon, and Madrid. They have missed him so much that they have said goodbye to their children and left their spouses in foreign lands. Now they have come to fill the bedrooms and drink wine in the evenings, now tea. They are here to listen to his counsel and share his food.

They are also going to protests and skirting encounters with the police, because the undone years have put the dictator back in power. Yet even so, the stories of death and torture are only rumors. Each day, the military police free prisoners from their cells. They realign their shattered bones and knit their tattered bodies. They bring them home in the middle of the night, to wives and husbands who have missed them so, who have waited all this time. And soon enough, the dictator loses his hold on the country, and in a miraculous resurrection, the democratically elected president sweeps into power on a bright September morning.

Now the weeks are laid out neatly. Don Lucho sets out at five in the morning each day to La Vega, the central marketplace. He knows that with his negocio he can maintain his family for years to come because all the supermarket chains have faded from view. On Sundays, he enjoys his soccer games, as he has done and will do for decades, and the anguish over lost games recedes as winning teams, in a show of good sportsmanship, retrieve their goals from the nets, take back the penalty kicks and dirty plays.

Don Lucho’s life is full and healthy, yet as the years slip from him, he begins to feel ill at ease, and the passage of time only sharpens his grief. Nine children have returned home. Together, they are waiting for the tenth.

At last, his eighteen-year-old daughter steps back onto the curb, away from the bus that has not seen her. She finds her voice again. Smiling, shopping bag slung over her shoulder, she returns to the busy household, where she is planning her eleven-year-old sister’s first birthday party. It feels as if she has never left.

The home is whole, and still whole, as it begins to crumble.

When his youngest son disappears, and then his second youngest, they are not missed, not yet. In the negocio, Don Lucho is slowly packing things away. He takes down the Charlie Chaplin poster that has hung over the cash register. He repackages the brand new scale and returns the second-hand stools and lamps to his neighbors and friends. He has only seven children, now six, now five, and he does not need so many things in his life because soon, very soon, he will have no children at all. Very soon, he will have to give back the negocio, and the property will no longer be his.

The last person to say goodbye is his wife, who returns to her parents and takes back the words that cut her ties with them. She takes back the kisses she gave him, until he no longer knows what it is like to kiss her, until he no longer knows her name.

He leaves Santiago and heads to the countryside, to the mother he hasn’t seen in all this time. His uncle is also there, and he greets young Luis with violence. He punches and kicks him, but somehow, the beatings only heal his bruises. When they stop, he feels more youthful than ever. He returns to the fields, from where he can sometimes see great birds streaking across the sun. He returns to school, where he forgets how to read and then how to count. He stops going to class, and that is all right. His mother is waiting for him to come home.

Eventually, the house has gone, and the street named Caupolicán is no longer a street. Caupolicán is a man, and he, too, has escaped death. He, too, has returned to his wife and son. He has come back to his people, to a cause he believes in, to a fight that is just beginning, to the soil that has always been his home.


Born in New Jersey, Gina Rodriguez is the daughter of Chilean immigrants. A graduate of Amherst College, she is now attending New York University’s MFA program in fiction writing. She works part-time at a publisher in the city and in her spare time, she volunteers with a veterans organization and practices martial arts.

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