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Magazín Bilingüe de Sátira Política, Humor,  Anécdotas, Cuentos, MASCOTAS y Algo de Literatura Puertorriqueña

Bilingual Magazine of political satire, Humor, Anecdotes, Short Stories, Pets and Mascots and some puertrorrican literature

San Juan--Puerto Rico



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Espartaco Gaetán

Espartaco Gaetán’s story, like his name: improbable, anachronic  and unlikely, needs to be told. You seethere are certain things in life, that because of their implausible nature are commonly held as part of local folklore; myths if you like, but  everybody knows them, thought with minor or mayor variations and alterations, as they pass from mouth to mouth, and are loved by everyone, anyway.


My version is my grandmother’s; and she got it from a sister who—well supposedly—lived very close to them. There were no reasons—at least for a ten years old boy like myself—not to believe what she told me; and if there had been any, I wouldn’t have care. I love those stories and I still do, so I sat that night under the Kerosene lamp fighting the myriad of bugs, night flies and moths, frolicking around it typical of the tropics, spellbound  and listening to her.  


It was during the time of a great hurricane that hit the island, so big and evil, that the little town where it happened got devastated. The Spanish government ruled then, and no real provisions, where ever taken for these calamities; everybody had to fend for himself, or themselves as the case might be.  A lot of people just plain disappeared or where found dead, old and young, women and men andanimals too.  Those who were lucky or destiny had them in mind for further trials, If they were injured, would be of two kinds: those with resources, which were taken to one of the very few physician in the neighborhood, to be treated for a long uncertain convalescence; and these many others, which without resources, depended in God’s providence; surviving some, though in so many cases, maimed and handicapped.


When San Ciriaco—this is the name of the Hurricane—stroke, Epartaco had just lost his wife of 50 years, and the house where he had his office as well   Two disasters in the same year, is plain too much for any one; today or eighty years ago. He was “gone”, to say the least, and his family: his two sons, daughter, older sister, and the bundle of good friends he had won over the years of medicine practice, where extremely concerned with him. He would not eat, speak, and sat at his older son’s home for hours in a sorrowful silence, swinging back and forth in a Kennedy Style rocking chair. As a matter of facts, things had reached a point where everybody feared he had gone insane.


Rafin R. Mena


It was the idea of his best friend to convince him to leave town for a while, to get away from it all, leaving old bad and good sorrowful memories behind, and give himself a chance to refocus and recuperate. He had this old plantation inherited from his parents out in the countryside, where he occasionally went to do some hunting.  It had all kinds of conveniences and an old trustful couple took able care of the facilities, and managed what little agriculture was done there. Oddly enough, and almost a miracle, I would say, Espartaco accepted, and was immediately taken one early morning for the eight ours horse ride to the farm.  They were already waiting for him, that late evening,  been notified in advance of his coming, a hot bath and a succulent dinner, had prepared which he tried but ate very little of, and after a short while, saying that he was very tired, went to bed.


--“I must go back Spartacus”—said his friend the next day, reassuring him that he was in good hands, not to worry about anything, and that whatever he needed, to ask Felipe or Milagros—the plantation’s keepers-- and not to think about anything. He got on his horse and disappeared.  


Let me tell, you before I forget, a little bit about Dr. Espartaco Gaetán. He was originally from the Capital city before he decided to move to this little inland town, right after returning from Spain.   He got his medical degree from the University of Salamanca’s Medical faculty in Spain, and had spent two more years at the Sorbonne in Paris where he passed what today would be considered a “Board”, specializing in Tropical diseases.  But his passion and what he practiced for almost 40 years, was Family medicine. That was before Dolores his wife, died of Hepatic Schistosomiasis; a tropical decease that affects the liver. Since then, and prior to the hurricane, he was seldom going to his office and was staying home for days. This was his disposition until the hurricane destroyed his office.  Espartaco, although well bred, and coming from a prominent family, was a simple, honest church going, God fearing man; what you might consider: a “square man”.  For years, he was the only Physician and consolation for the sick in the area, really caring for his patients; reason why he was so well liked.  Nowhe was “dead”, or rather wanted to be dead.  I must say or add that even when everybody was used to see his “slim” figure, now he really looked scrawny and emaciated.


He met Dolores two years after opening his medical office in town, they fell in love and in a year’s time, got married and started a good solid happy marriage and family. Dolores was everything to Espartaco.  She ran a tight efficient home and was one of those loving and tender mothers but with a firm discipline hand with her children. She was in love with her husband in a way that lasted until she died. That’s  why he was so desolate when she passed away.  


As to Felipe and Milagros, they were of the kind, so prevalent in the island, that makes other people’s problems their own, so with Espartaco’s they felt as if they had lived together his tragedy. They were so identified with it, that for a few days, the mood in the house was similar to his. Milagros didn’t know what else to do to keep our good physician happy and well provided, and Felipe, likewise, was near him the moment he felt something was a-miss.  

The days weeks, and months passed and like everything else in life--“nothing last forever”-- the general atmosphere in the plantation started to change for the better. There were even days of frank joviality and incipient semblance of happiness.  Naturally, there were others where the old heavy distraught mood pervaded throughout the house; but it was improving.  In one of those days, of positive atmosphere and now, close to a year, his family came to see him, and were amazed to find him so well.  That afternoon after dinner, while they were all sitting in the veranda of the house relaxing and “taking the late fresh air” as they say around here, his eldest son, a dentist back in their town. Jokingly said:



But Espartaco, did recuperate; it took some doing, and effort in the part of Milagros and Felipe and a huge dose of fresh healthy country air to do the trick. After almost two years, Dr. Espartaco Gaetán, was back on his feet. His usually suave and nice demeanor came back, he gained some weight, and his Spanish noble semblance got its natural shine again. He was in fact a handsome fellow. He even got interested in agriculture and with Felipe, learned a lot about it. After a while he got a lot of crops planted and the old plantation started to rebound and look like prosperous farm again.


One June, it started to rain. It rain and it rained and after it stopped, it rained some more. It actually continued to rain for a straight week. The rivers spilled their banks and the whole country side, got under water. It was a veritable disaster because in that part of the country, the water table was very low and the stagnant waters after the rain subsided, stayed for quite some time spoiling crops and sending the local economy, basically agricultural, in a deep spiral. One night, almost at the end of the rains, a horse came waddling through the muddied road that leads to the house. The man dismounted and called Felipe.  They talked for a while and then got back on his horse and left. That same night, Espartaco wanted to know, who the man was and what he wanted.

--“who was that man Felipe? ---He asked.

--“Santiago Cullar”; he is the town’s constable.

--‘But what does he wants?—insisted Espartaco.

--“Oh is nothing, don’t worry about it—answered Felipe.

--“It is nothing and he comes in the middle of the night, through impassable roads to talk to you’?  Look here my man, if you are in some kind of trouble, let me know; maybe I can help you”.

--“ Ho nonone of that!; it’s about Mercedes, Lorenzo Dueños’ daughter”

--“Ok what’s wrong with her”?

--“Sir---responded Felipe, master Julio told me very clearly not to bother you with any medical matters, if I tell you, I would be disobeying, and that is not right”

--“Wellwhat if I tell you that I forcing you to tell me; would that be disobeying?


The thing is that Felipe found a way out to tell Espartaco that the young girl had gotten very ill; running a very high fever and falling in and out of spells of hallucinations, and that there were no medical facilities or physicians In hundreds of miles around.  Our good doctor listened very carefully and when Felipe finished, looking very grave asked him to saddle the horses immediately and get ready to go to where the young girl was in bed.

--Dad now all you have to do, is to find yourself a good country girl, marry her and start afresh.  Espartaco would not answer, he just turned his face, looked at him in an indescribable way.  The simple idea of betraying his departed wife was so intense, that it threw him in one of his “silence mood” and for the next hours, and until they departed the following day, he would not open his mouth; not even during the farewell dinner so generously prepared for them by Milagros, did he say anything.


It was about midnight when they set off, and it wasn’t until Sunrise after waddling in deep mud trails and saving countless streams, when they were close to the girl’s place. The mood in the house was very somber and all the windows and half doors were shut, so the air inside was rather stagnant.  It was the first thing he ordered to do: “ please open the windows an let fresh air in”. The young girl was in a bed placed in a room without windows which in those days were used to store rice, coffee and other perishables. As a matter of facts, all these things were still there including some chesses, and a leg of ham, hanging and curing up there and dripping body fluids to the floor.   The smell wasn’t bad but it was kind of rancid and pungent.


--Take her out of here and put her in a room with windows.—asked Espartacos rather upset. She was under about two sheets of linen and a heavy cloth blanket. This is the way sick people were handled down here in those early days. Her face was a bit swollen and her eyes were closed, she was breathing with considerable difficulty and was sweating copiously.  “Its pneumonia”— said Espartaco.  And immediately sent Felipe to get fenugreeks and sesame seeds and some garlic heads. The man  returned about midday and luckily, was able to find the fenugreeks’ seeds that some women in those whereabouts, prepared in teas to “increase their bosoms”.


The teas were prepared and Espartaco himself gave it to the girl. She drank it first with her eyes closed and a disgust gesture in her face. He asked for a hammock to be hung near were the girl was bedded and for the next five days he slept there checking her constantly and giving her the teas four times a day.


By the fourth day, she opened her eyes—the most beautiful green eyes you ever saw—and looking at him with strangeness, said: --”Who are you?”.  – Her mother that was there responded: --“dear he is Doctor Gaetan who is taking care of you”. The girl said nothing and went back to sleep. But, she was now breathing much better and having her chicken soups which Espartaco had been paying for, with a lot more gusto. She continued to improve and in five more days, was able to talk and incorporate in bed. The fever had subsided significantly and the Sulfa tablets Espartaco was able to have them shipped down by his son, had been doing a miracles with her general condition.  The girl had been cured and was now convalescing and improving.

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