About Me

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New York, New York, United States
I am a portrait, landscape painter and a fiction writer. My paintings can be found in private, academic and corporate collections. Traveler's Insurance, Yale University, Aberchrombie and Fitch Inc. Drew University etc. I currently have two novels in print: 'Raining Sardines' (07)and '90 Miles to Havana' (10) published by Roaring Brook Press. Become Social: Facebook:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Abuela's Beam

"Look into my eyes!"
Graphite drawing
Enrique Flores-Galbis
      Raquel Galbis-Rigol, Abuela, was the formidable spirit heart of our house. Her room was at the very center of the very tall house that my father designed to fit on an impossibly steep hillside in Connecticut.  She would spend her days in that room with her door open to keep track of the comings and goings of the family and then fearlessly broadcast her opinions into the open space at the center of the house.
      Abuela was the conscience and omniscient narrator of the house, and a gifted ventriloquist. She  would comment on everything you did, or were even thinking of doing, then weave the outcome into her narrative. Sometimes I would sneak into the kitchen looking for a snack and the minute I reached for the cereal her monologue would start. I don’t know how she did it, but she could make her voice buzz out of the open cabinet loud enough to drown out the snap crackle pop of my Rice Krispies.           
            I’m not sure if Abuela studied ventriloquism in her former life in Havana, but I do know that she had been a capable and respected businesswoman, who had many friends and a beautiful city to enjoy. But in exile she became something of a recluse. 
              Granted the Connecticut winters and the steep hill were something of an impediment to her. Our spring fed driveway was a nightmare even for the young and sure footed. The sheets of ice could get so thick and slick that our cars would occasionally just slide out in the middle of the night. If we were lucky they would park themselves across the road halfway down the hill.  
            Unfortunately, Abuela’s reclusive life style meant that she could focus the full force of her Abuelean beam on the unlucky few whose behavior did not meet her high standards, and there was one in each of the three households of her sons and daughters. As a teenager I remember getting into an argument with the other two cousins on her beam because they had the nerve to claim that Abula hated them the most!
            In essence Abuela lived a double exile. Unable to reconcile the loss of her life in the sun, she never quite warmed up to the north, never integrated or made many friends outside our house. Exile was difficult for her, as it was for all the adults that had no choice but to go out into the cold to face the ice and the professional slide downward to the mop or the dishrag. But they never gave up. My parents never lost sight of the possibility of redemption, never stopped believing that their reality on that icy hill in Connecticut was a just a temporary disruption of the signal.            
           Eventually  Abuela declared a unilateral truce,but she never told me whether It was because I hadn’t turned out as badly as she had predicted, or she just didn’t have the energy to maintain her siege. It was around this time that she began to unfold the stories from her life, sometimes while I painted her room, or moved her crucifix from one wall to the other, and she rocked in her chair.
            One spring day while I was fixing her rocking chair on the back porch, she was describing a dating ritual from the age of nana. 
             “There was one skinny young poet who used to wait for hours at my gate to hand over his scented poems," she said as two amorous sparrows noisily frolicked in the aluminum gutter right above her head.                      
              "Of course Uva (her nanny) would intercept them and hide them in her blouse. That poor man's best work never saw the light of day. I was a great beauty then." she sighed.
               You still are Abuela.
            These stories and recollections have surfaced as I work on my book, Dreaming in Havana. Abuela plays a very prominent role in this book as well as the longhaired creature that I was as a teenager. She used to say that I looked as if the wolves had raised me. 
            In the book the teenager is forced by a recurring dream to withdraw dangerously close to his Abuela’s force field. To survive they learn to negotiate the differences between the dreams that fate has cast upon them, and those that they intentionally will into existence. They strike a deal to help each other end the dreams that haunt them and then run away to Havana to dig a talisman out of a wall that she buried forty years ago. If Abuela were around to read the finished book I think she would laugh. 
 "It's like they say here Abuela, Who woulda thunk it?"