The Gálvez Clan Hides a Matriarch
When Ernesto Gálvez declared, with an air of erudition and a sense of pride, that “in Guatemala, we should’ve done what the Argentines did with the Indians,” he didn’t know he was calling for his own death, and that in an unrelated chain of events, his bloodline would soon come to an end due to an astonishing, far-reaching combination of natural disasters, drinking, and erectile dysfunction.
He didn’t know it because over countless generations, the Gálvez family of the upper middle class, over their seafood dinners with braised asparagus sides and spotless glasses of white wine, had mentioned their Spanish-born great grandfather, Adolfo, 5,200,144 times, without a single thought to his wife. It was as if he had reproduced on his own, which honestly, they might have preferred. In the end, it would be the graveyards, silently listening the entire time as they comforted countless forgotten dead, who would present that exact number in their official reports, and no one would dare disagree, for fear of incurring death’s wrath.
Time and time again, the Gálvez family recited the proof of the old man’s European descent to one another: he cussed at the grandkids to show affection, and he ate moldy cheese. That was their pedigree’s seal of authenticity; all they needed to secure it against the threat of indigenous blood the way a shipbuilder tightens his hull. And as the ages passed and the facts lost their sheen, the Gálvez family painted over them with stories so grand, so white, so bearded, they would extinguish all doubt of the family’s Iberian descent.
But beneath every layer of colonial frill was a forgotten but inevitable woman: bronze, small, and glorious as the sweaty twilight. Grandmother Gregoria and her flowered huipiles, her ceremonies of smoke and leaves, her songs, which could make you cry like you had the day you were born. Grandmother Gregoria revealed in their hairless arms; in the width of their noses; in the way the sun painted their skin. Grandmother Gregoria seeping through the afternoon silence in the courtyard, mumbling in the hillside rain, gently parting the lies, straining against the ages, heaving, tenderly pushing, panting, and pushing again, toiling to birth her memory back into the family that had emerged from her own womb centuries ago.
But her struggle was for naught. No one ever stopped to listen when she whispered her name in their ears. No one wondered who she was when she sang to them as they slept. And when she saw traces of herself in their reflection and planted them in their hearts, they dismissed them not with disbelief, but with disdain.
And so they never learned they bore her gift. One of every five Gálvez children had inherited, from her, the knack of seeing natural disasters in their dreams exactly 490 days before they occurred. They would wake up terrified and silent as, over their morning coffee, they replayed scenes of carnage or death by drowning without even wondering as to their meaning. But in spite of decades of nocturnal visions, they would never decipher the pattern of their prophecies. So in the rubble of every earthquake, in the aftermath of every flood, in the ash heap of every volcano eruption, always lay the battered corpse of a Gálvez, gifted with supernatural dreams, but unable to understand them. Generations of men and women too soon made cadavers in spite of their ability to see the future, because they couldn’t see the past.
Almost inevitably, Grandmother Gregoria would be forgotten, like a childhood nanny, but worse. Because nannies are forgotten by accident. As decades of dirty dishes, old toys, and summers at the farm pile high, memories of the loyal old caretakers grow dim. Before too long, their timid faces and hushed tones are lost forever. Gregoria, instead, would be forgotten intentionally. Each genetic line, each historical document, each day of her life reimagined without her, each descendant recreated not in her image, a race of men that no longer believed in the goddess that had created them. She, along with countless generations of her kin, would be erased; replaced by silence; a bleaching of the family name; an ethnic cleansing of the memory.
Ages after Grandmother Gregoria’s disappearance, two and a half years after Ernesto’s demise beneath a colossal mudslide, as the world turned upside down, Mariana, the very last Gálvez, would wonder why the family tree was motherless. She would be the first to long to nurse at the ancient mother’s brown breasts. The first to feel robbed of her love and inheritance. As was the custom of her day, she would blame the beards, the pale skin, and the body hair for her loss. She would look to the winding paths of her origin and see generations of blind, violent men. And she would be right. They hadn’t forgotten their mother, much rather strangled the memory of her as she slept. There was, undoubtedly, blood on their hands.
What Mariana would never understand was why. And, though she didn’t know it, she shared that in common with her forebears. Because even as the last trace of their remembrance of Grandmother Gregoria took its dying breath, the ones who had put an end to her memory hadn’t known why they did it. They had acted on instinct. And so it was that in the days of reckoning, the graves—respected for their neutrality, for they housed both murderers and victims, both believers and liars, both the conquerors and the conquered—were asked to suggest a motive for the murder of the great matriarch’s memory. Testifying before the grand court of all times, they offered but a single phrase: “In the days of the loggers, every tree was desperate to look like an ax.”