"Those other stories, they are just family lore….”
This story is comprised of Chapter 3 Chapin!© (working title). To read the previous excerpts, click on "1-Trust," “2-Comandante,” and “3-Maria,” in the Menu. Previously, Doctor William, with Abuelo’s assistance, has joined the guerrillas. “As a doctor,” he said. “That is how I am willing to fight.” The backstory of William’s life was revealed by Maria, the indigenous stepmother who raised him. We saw his father Gustav Hoffman, in an armed confrontation with William’s grandfather Fernando and uncle Fabio in 1942, by refusing to surrender the baby Wilhelm to his in-laws. In this scene (1974), Fabio and Fernando discuss William’s recent return in Guatemala.
"Those other stories, they are just family lore….”
Mid April, 1974
Fabio tucked his napkin into his collar as the soup course arrived. As always, he could not deny his edacity and his waistline showed it. They sat at a right angle at one end of a long dark wood table from Hamburg, over 300 years old now. A single candelabra with six candles illuminated their plates. Light sconces on the walls offered more softness. The two men waited for the servant to finish filling the soup bowls, each with a half glass of scotch.
"To what do I owe the honor of this visit Fabio," said Fernando.
"So I need a reason to visit my father?"
"You’ve had difficulty finding one for the past...how many months?" Then Fernando smiled and touched Fabio's arm. It had been a long time and he did not want this to go badly. Still, Fabio’s presence meant something was up and it made him anxious.
"Work, kids, wife," he said, "you know how that goes, Fernando."
"I do," he took a sip, swallowed, and took a breath, "I do indeed. I could have done better."
"Don't be hard on yourself. I'm not. It's life. It's the same for all of us." He reached for a fresh roll. "But, I do have news."
His father looked at him, I thought so, but he said nothing.
"Wilhelm is back."
"Is he? How do you know?"
"My doctor is on the committee that rubber stamps medical licenses. I was in his office and he asked me if Hoffman Zelaya was family. Wilhelm calls himself 'William' nowadays." He took a spoonful followed by half the roll. "I told him 'no.’ "
"That's an odd thing to say, he's your nephew."
"The whole bunch is communist, Fernando. Several of them have been dealt with already back when I was on the Committee.” He checked his father’s face but it revealed nothing. “A smart communist is the worst kind." He took a bite, “My doctor says he is big too, bigger than you or Gustav.” He chewed reflectively, “Big and smart—I don’t like it,”
"He's a doctor now. He’s got a stake in keeping the world in order. It's like a buying a home, one becomes more conservative. I'm sure he sees things differently. Did they give him the license?"
"They will—conditional. He has to do slave labor in a government hospital for a few years.” Fabio took a choppy breath, agitation building. “He's a communist Jew, Fernando. The other Germans carved swastikas on Gustav's trees." He stabbed at his food.
"That's Gustav. Wilhelm—William is not a Jew, if anyone is a Jew it's me."
Fabio's countenance intensified, the words came through clenched teeth, "Don't start that again. Grandmother was a Brandt—a German—period." He was visibly angry, “You talk like Gustav, that’s what he always said about you!”
With good reason, Fernando thought, I told him. He could feel the same anger arising as when Fabio used to tell him of the taunts he suffered in school. I should have kept my mouth shut in those days. The anger morphed into guilt for the way his oldest boys were treated. Fabio and Oscar had handled it by denying Fernando’s heritage and by fist fighting. Fernando himself dropped the topic in those days as though it had never existed. Mother was dead by then anyway. All of this passed through Fernando in a matter of seconds.
Fabio was looking away, at the bookcases on the other side of the table. "I'll put a thousand quetzales on the side that says he's the worst of the lot." He pulled the napkin away and put his hands on his thighs, sitting upright, "You are his grandfather. I'll defer to your judgment." His words crisp.
The older man nodded. "What does Oscar say?"
"Hah! You don't want to know."
I thought so, Fernando mused. The brothers have talked all this out. They don't know what to do.
"Oscar was always hot-headed, I heard he changed his name also."
"He's Col. Mento now, his 'nom de guerre,’ to go with his new rank.” Fabio wagged the quotes derisively, "Thank God he's not in charge of our strategy. He'd make a great actor."
The old man heard his oldest son's derision and images of the two boys passed through his mind like they say about images of life in extremis. "Oscar is a picaroon, pure and simple. He always has been. His idea of winning is taking their money and raping their women. I'm sorry to say it."
Fabio stared. He leaned away, elbow on the table holding his head, the disbelief in his face gave way to a new understanding. "I never knew you felt that way. Oscar is a good soldier, one of our best, and he is in charge of the western areas where William is. He has his limitations but he is a good leader."
Fernando did not respond immediately. He had surprised himself twice and it was a serious mistake. It's what happens when you get old, you think you have the right to say what you think to anybody, he thought, still, there is no excuse. He had to recover the situation before Fabio took all of this the wrong way and it would be several more months before he visited again. I don't have that many left. Bothelbows found the table, both hands to his forehead; his fingers squeezed his eyes as though he could erase what he had just said.
"Fabio, I do not want our first dinner in months to be unpleasant. Our talk about Oscar was not good. I should not have said those things. I'm sorry that I did." He paused, "Those other stories, they are just family lore, please forget I brought it up."
"I suppose we shouldn't have." Fabio waited until his father looked up, "I apologize also. What do you want to do about William?"
"Mother's Day is next month, it will be a good time to have a family reunion, get your sister's here, all the wives and mothers." He looked for Fabio's reaction but got nothing, "The party is so I can invite William. Please come and get Oscar also—with his wife this time!"
"As you wish, Fernando. You do the inviting and I'll get everyone here. William is at the government hospital in Reu."
The remainder of dinner was the kind of small talk that men who dislike small talk make. Neither learned anything of interest. After Fabio left, Fernando had his evening whisky. My God, I've lost some steps. If I had conducted my business like that, we'd have been out on the street. His 74 years straddled his neck like sand bags.