Photograph on the Beach

By Emilio Carballido

Translated by Jacqueline E. Bixler

Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall 2014)

 Photograph on the Beach: Life in A Snapshot

I first met Emilio Carballido in Mexico City in June 1977, when he was, coincidentally, putting the finishing touches on Photograph on the Beach/Fotografía en la playa.[1] During the many years that I have devoted to the study of this theatre, I have at times been asked which of his nearly one hundred plays is my favorite.[2] I have unfailingly answered with Fotografía en la playa, which was also, I later discovered, Carballido’s personal favorite.

In a style reminiscent of Chekovian drama, Carballido takes a long still shot of a large family that comes together for a brief reunion on a beach somewhere in the state of Veracruz. In the span of one day, members of four generations converge in the home of the grandmother, where, like the waves of the gulf, they merge and meld, only to clash and separate anew. The constant entrance, exit, and regrouping of characters soon reveals strong, dangerous undercurrents below the surface of feigned contentment, personal fulfillment, and familial harmony. The final scene, in which all sixteen characters, including family, friends, and servants, hold still for a family portrait, is one of the most powerful scenes ever created by Carballido. Frozen for the short moments it takes to snap a picture and therein for eternity, the characters’ smiles are belied by their voices, which thrust us into the future and remind us that life is ephemeral.

My decision to translate Fotografía en la playa is not only based on my predilection for this play, but also on two particular events: the passing of Carballido in 2008 and the mass shooting that occurred at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. As if it were itself a snapshot, Photograph on the Beach captures the life of its creator. For example, the figure of Grandmother is based on Carballido’s grandmother, a storyteller extraordinaire who raised him in a small town in the state of Veracruz. Dismissed by her family as blind, deaf, and senile, Grandmother is nonetheless the character around whom the others revolve and the only one who actually understands what is going on. Héctor is Emilio himself , a gay writer and teacher who likewise ended up living in his Veracruzan cradle after spending most of his professional life in Mexico City. The character of Nelly and her premature death in France are based on Yolanda Guillaumín, one of the many young, talented artists that Carballido mentored and supported during his lifetime.

Despite these anecdotal links, Photograph on the Beach transcends both Carballido’s life and the time during which the play was written. This play is not only about the complexity of relationships and the ultimate strength of family ties, but also about the fragility and fugacity of life itself. The final words of the characters, heard above the sound of the waves and beyond the frozen smiles on their faces, remind us that death lurks around the next corner:

Jorge: Chacho had already gotten married, and Vevita, too. It was my turn. That’s when the accident happened. I was on a motorcycle. I didn’t feel anything. I just turned my head and something was running over me. And then I wasn’t there.

Seemingly by chance, a number of students in an advanced Spanish class at Virginia Tech were reading Fotografía en la playa the week of April 16, 2007, when the lives of 32 students and faculty members were suddenly cut short. During the days and weeks that followed, we saw photo after photo of each victim, smiling in what appeared to be an eternal present. I could not help but think of Carballido’s play and its final “message.”

During the process of translating the dramatic text, I realized that my predilection for this particular work is based in large measure on the intensity of this last scene, the way the physical and the emotional, the momentary and the timeless, the verbal and the visual, all come together in one frozen moment. As for the rest of the text, I found, to my chagrin, that it is often wordy and repetitious. While I was initially loathe to eliminate anything, colleagues and other friendly readers persuaded me as to the need to cut, or at least condense, parts of the dialogue. Another challenge was the colloquial, very “Mexican” register used by the characters, particularly those of the younger generations. Furthermore, in order to convey the discontent that lurks beneath the surface of this “happy family,” I needed to find language that carries a tone that is sarcastic, if not ironic.  The metaphorical, elliptical passages delivered by the Grandmother and Héctor were particularly difficult to translate. I can only hope to have been successful in capturing Carballido’s “way with words,” his remarkable wit, and his trademark blend of the poetic and the profane, the metaphorical and the mundane.

During his long career, Carballido captured time and time again the complexity of human relationships, particularly those that involve family. While some may not agree with my selection of Photograph on the Beach as the best of Carballido, the weaving of life and death, the momentary and the eternal, the profound and the pedestrian, is without a doubt classic Carballido.

— Jacqueline E. Bixler

Photograph on the Beach is just one of the nearly one hundred plays that Emilio Carballido (1925-2008) created over the course of six decades. During his long lifetime, he was widely recognized as the most influential and successful Mexican playwright of the 20th century. His plays continue to be a staple of the theatre scene in Mexico City and are also frequently staged in Europe, the US, and throughout Latin America. An extraordinarily prolific and versatile playwright, Carballido wrote thirty full-length plays and over sixty one-act pieces as well as movie scripts, operettas, adaptations, and children’s theatre. He created plays in a wide variety of styles and tones, including comedy, dark comedy, farce, espectáculos based on historical events and personages, and tragicomic adaptations of classical mythology. Aside from his own writing, he devoted his life to the promotion of Mexican theatre through university classes, workshops, edited collections of Teatro joven, and the theatre journal Tramoya, which he founded in 1975 and edited until his death. Other English translations of his works include: Conversation among the Ruins; I Too Speak of the Rose; The Day They Let the Lions Loose; The Mirror; The Time and the Place; The Golden Thread; The Intermediate Zone; The Clockmaker from Córdoba; Theseus; Medusa; Orinoco; A Rose, by Any Other Names; The Sea and Its Secrets; The Census, and A Short Day’s Anger.

Jacqueline E. Bixler is Alumni Distinguished Professor of Spanish at Virginia Tech, where she teaches Latin American literature, film, and culture. She received her Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Kansas. Currently chair of the Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures at Virginia Tech and Editor of the Latin American Theatre Review, she has published six books and over sixty essays on contemporary Mexican, Argentine, and Chilean theatre.


Photograph on the Beach

First staged by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in the Casa de la Paz theatre, Mexico City, in July 1984.



Celia – her daughter

Constanza – daughter of Celia

Adrian – son of Celia

Hector – son of Celia

Agustin – son of Celia

Veva – wife of Agustin

Vevita – daughter of Agustin and Veva

Chacho – son of Agustin and Veva

Jorge – son of Celia’s deceased son, also named Jorge

Nelly – Hector’s student and Jorge’s girlfriend

Benita – maid

Patricia – maid

Elisa – wife of Adrian

Adolfo – Vevita’s boyfriend

Luis – Hector’s friend


Seaside. The clothing should be from 1960s.

The patio: Sky in the background. In front of that, a wall about 6 feet high, preferably of a dense, visual texture. Cement floor. In the center, a rustic wooden chair with a woven straw seat. Nothing else.

The beach: Sand, sky and a beach chair. Nothing else. Clouds that cross the sky and disappear.

No intermission.


The patio: Bright sunlight. Grandmother, seated, shells peas. Silence. The mailman whistles nearby. She raises her head. Pause.

Grandmother: The mailman’s here. (She looks up.) Flocks of birds. Such a sunny day. All these crazy birds. Pigeons and seagulls. Vultures, too, way up there. They fly so smoothly, just gliding around, like they’re going to stay up there forever. You start wishing that you could be one of them. All it takes is a carcass to bring them down. (Shelling peas.) I can smell the sea from here. Some days it’s like that. Veva must be sick. No, when someone’s sick, they send a telegram, or call. Or they don’t even let us know. She already sent the money for this month.  (Shelling peas.) They must be coming. That’s it. More visitors. It’s one of those years. So, Agustin is coming. They were here two years ago. No, three. Well, I’m still here. But this will be the last time. (Shelling peas.) Benita! Benita!

The maid sticks her head in.

Grandmother: If you’ve hung out the sheets, make sure they hold. If not, they go flying and end up God knows where, with one big gust, just like life. Life is nothing but a big gust of wind.

Benita: Miss Cata, there’s nothing on the line. I’ve even finished ironing them. (She exits.)

Grandmother: Good. (Shells peas.) Ah, the billowing sheets. My wedding sheets, my brand-new little house. I watched so many trees grow tall, and for what? I didn’t even want to sell the place. There are no trees here. (Looks up.) Adrian hasn’t even had breakfast. And it’s nearly noon. He sleeps too much. Constanza says he needs it. Well, that could be true. God bless those who can sleep. (Shells peas.) It’s no good to stay awake, like some wandering soul, tossing and turning until the roosters crow… to roam around the house in the dark, saying the rosary until the churchbells ring and the milkman comes. Blessed are those who can sleep. (Looks up.) But not all day. No, not those who get up at noon, nap all afternoon, flip through the papers and just go back to bed… (Stops suddenly but continues to shell peas. A short silence.) I wonder if he’s drinking. (She pauses and goes back to shelling.) No, he doesn’t drink. (Shelling peas.) Constanza! Constanza, please come here! She must’ve gone down to the telephone. (Shelling peas.) If you ask them, I’m just an idiot, I don’t notice anything. The phone rings, she answers, says something, hangs up, and runs off to the public phone on the corner. She’s much too old for that. Benita! Benita!

Benita sticks her head in.

Grandmother: Is Constanza here?

Benita: Yes.

Grandmother: Please tell her to come here.

Benita exits.

Grandmother: The impulses of the young are that and nothing more. But an old maid? They’ll roll around in the hay with her. Or she’ll wind up lost, God knows where. Constanza, please come! She’s much too old for that. (Shells peas.)

Silence. Constanza enters.

Grandmother: Come close, dear. (She whispers in her ear.) Listen, your brother Adrian, he doesn’t drink.

Constanza: (Annoyed.) No, grandma. Of course not.

Grandmother: I know he doesn’t. That’s what I said: he doesn’t drink. But… there are other things. That’s what I wanted to tell you. There are… I don’t know, drugs. That boy isn’t…?

Constanza: You were shouting for me just to tell me that? God, grandma, how can you think such a thing?!

Grandmother: Well, why does he sleep so much?

Constanza: He doesn’t sleep that much.

Grandmother: Yes, he does. I’m telling you, pay attention. Adrian is a good boy, but when they’re in jail they learn terrible things. That’s what jails are for.

Constanza: Grandma! How can you say that?

Grandmother: Don’t get angry. I was just thinking. But keep an eye on him, just in case.

Constanza: He sleeps… out of apathy, depression, disillusionment.

Grandmother: Well, that may be. But those all cause insomnia. So keep an eye on him.

Constanza: You never run out of things to make up! (She leaves, disgusted.)

Grandmother: You’re right. I never know what to invent. Life doesn’t know either, does it?

She shells peas. Pause. Nelly enters.

Nelly: Good morning, ma’am.

Grandmother: (Observing her.) Good morning. A very good morning.

Nelly: Would you like some help?

Grandmother: No, thanks. I’ve nearly finished. Besides, you wouldn’t know how.

Nelly: What makes you think I don’t know how to shell peas?!

Grandmother: All you modern girls know how to do is open cans…

Nelly: (Laughs.) Miss Catita, that’s not true. You must think I don’t know anything about cooking.

Grandmother: Well, do you?

Nelly: Not much.

Grandmother: (Skeptical.) Well, if you want, join me later. I mean, if you want to learn how to cook something.

Nelly: (Lying.) Oh, yes, I’d like that.

Grandmother: Aren’t your legs cold in that dress?

Nelly: No, it’s so hot! In fact, you must be suffocating all buttoned up.

Grandmother: Dark colors deflect the heat.

Nelly: This is very light.

Grandmother: Yes, very. (Pause.) Don’t your underpants show when you sit down?

Nelly: Yes, but they ‘re special. Look. (She lifts her skirt.)

Grandmother: Oh, how pretty. (She gathers up her things to leave.)

Nelly: You’re leaving? Can I help you?

Grandmother: I can handle it. You stay here. (She exits.)

Nelly smiles, disapprovingly, moving her head a little. She then shrugs her shoulders and sits down.

Nelly: (Reciting. As she does so, Hector enters)

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,

Tenait dans son bec un fromage;

Maître Renard, par l’odeur aléché,

Lui tint, à peu près, ce language.

Eh, bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau…

Hector: Eh, bonjour, mademoiselle la Renard.

Nelly: Bonsoir, monsieur Hector.

Hector: I stayed up late.

Nelly: Reading?

Hector: Thinking.

Nelly:  Oh. About your work?

Hector: My… everything.

Nelly: Oh. (Making a small gesture.)

Hector: (Pause.) Just think: our body is constantly changing. Tissues are forever transforming. If you blink right now, biochemical changes take place in your eye. Open it and it’s a different organism.

Nelly: Really?

Hector: Yes. And what you were seeing before has also changed. Energy is nothing more than change. What we see is a cloud, an illusion of atoms, an eternal explosion. And our eyes, after blinking, are never the same. So…

Nelly: So what?

Hector: Everything we see is like a fantasy. It’s not true that the sea is calm, nor that it’s calm right now. Everything we look at is like the sea.

Nelly: You stayed up all night thinking about that? (She gets up.)

Hector: No. That occurred to me while I was in the shower.

Nelly:  Ah. (Pause.) Your other brother is coming.

Hector: Says who?

Nelly: Your mother.

Hector sits down.

Hector: Where are they going to put him?

Nelly: He’s coming with your sister-in-law and their brats.

Hector: All of them?!

Nelly: No. Just half of them.

Hector: The little ones?

Nelly: The older ones. The question is where are they going to put me? Now do you see?

Hector: See what?

Nelly:  I shouldn’t have come. They don’t even like me.

Hector:  Constanza likes you.

Nelly: She already knew me. And she probably thinks we’re an item.

Hector: She likes you because she doesn’t think we’re an item.

Jorge enters with fruit and shares it with them.

Jorge:  Uncle Agustin is coming.

Hector: So I hear.

Jorge: With Aunt Veva, Chacho and Vevita.

Nelly: Those idiots are going to kick me out of your room.

Hector: They’ll be in the living room, with Jorge and me.

Nelly: They’re going to move me out. You’ll see.

Jorge: I’ll tell them to leave you where you are.

Nelly: As if they’ll listen to you.

Jorge: (To Nelly, upon seeing Celia approach.) Come on, run!

Nelly: Where? Ah!

They take off running. Celia enters.

Celia: Where are they going?

Hector: I don’t know.

Celia: We need milk. I’ll send Jorge. That girl doesn’t let go of him. (Pause.) I thought she was your… girlfriend, your… something.

Whenever he’s with Celia, Hector speaks without facial expression and without changing his tone.

Hector: (Dryly.) My daughter, perhaps?

Celia: How could you think that? She’s not young enough.  (Pause.) She’s not your daughter, right?

Hector: No.

Celia:  Guess what? Your brother Agustin is coming.

Hector: How nice.

Celia: What a joy to have my four children here with me. All but Jorge, the poor thing. Life is so cruel… How could he go like that? He wasn’t old enough.

Hector: And what is the right age to die?

Celia:  Normally it’s the older ones. Our children should never leave us. One day you’ll come home and find me gone. Where’s Mom, you’ll say. And I’ll be rotting away in my grave, getting eaten by worms! (Tears in her eyes.) And my children elsewhere, unaware. Mom’s gone! (Dries her eyes. Pause. She speaks quicky, without transition or pause.) Mrs. Graco was a humble woman. She scrubbed floors, or something like that. Then one day this group of Roman women, the frivolous kind, were talking about who had the best jewelry. Mrs. Graco went and got her two kids, showed them to the women, and said: “These are my jewels.” They were humiliated. Well, I have four jewels. And that’s a mother’s pride. (Laughs and caresses him.) I’ll put your brother in Jorge’s room. He and Chacho and Jorge can sleep there.

Hector: What about Veva?

Celia: Her? She can sleep with Constanza. There’s no reason for her to be glued to her husband like a snail. Let’s give him a little rest, don’t you think?

Celia exits, crossing paths with Constanza, who goes directly to Hector.

Constanza: Hey, do you think Adrian is using drugs?

Hector: Yes.

Constanza: Really? That’s what grandma thinks. But what sort of drugs?

Hector: Tranquillizers.

Constanza: He’s going to kill himself!

Hector: Kill himself, no, but…

Constanza:  Talk to him, o.k.?

Hector: What am I going to say?

Constanza: Tell him to stop taking that shit.

Hector: He’s not a kid. And when someone uses drugs, it’s for a reason.

Constanza: Apathy, depression, disillusionment…

Hector: Exactly.

Silence. They remain still.

Constanza: (Leaving.) Agustin is coming with his brood.

Hector: So I hear. (Exits.)

Celia and Grandmother quickly cross the stage.

Celia: I want to know why you always turn the television off on me.

Grandmother: Because it’s stupid. I didn’t bring you up to watch those things.

Celia: I’m not a child, mother. I can watch what I want!

Grandmother: As long as your mother is alive, you can’t. Turn it on, if you must, but put on some other program. (Exits.)

Celia: Constanza! Constanza! Your grandmother won’t let me watch my TV show. Constanza! (She is about to exit.)

Grandmother appears in front of her.

Grandmother: Do something useful for a change. You sit there all day, watching idiotic programs. There’s plenty to do in this house. Help out. Do something. (Exits.)

Celia: Constanza! (Exits.)

The light changes. Agustin, Veva, Vevita and Chacho enter with suitcases.

Agustin: The family home, kids. Check it out. This is where your father played, where he grew up.

Vevita: We see it every year, Dad.

Agustin: These old walls, marked by time… So many memories.

Grandmother enters. She looks at them, confused. Agustin opens his arms.

Grandmother: Good morning. What can I do for you?

Chacho: Gran, it’s us.

Agustin: Grandma, how are you?

Grandmother: Oh, it’s you. I don’t have my glasses on. Is that you, Agustin?

Agustin: Of course it is, Grandma.

Grandmother: Ah, and your children. How they’ve grown.

Veva: But you do have your glasses on.

Grandmother: They’re reading glasses. Also, your husband has a moustache now and he looks old.

Agustin: (As if he were dealing with a child.) I’ve had a moustache for years. You  simply didn’t recognize us. You don’t know who we are anymore.

Grandmother: Fine, I didn’t recognize you. I know, I know, I’m a stupid old woman. But don’t just stand there like idiots. Go on in.

They all hug and kiss one another.

Veva: You never change.

Grandmother: Neither do you.

Chacho: How are you, Gran? (He kisses her.)

Celia enters.

Celia: My dear son!

Agustin: Mom! My beautiful mom! Hey, kids, your grandmother’s here!


(At the same time.)




They exchange kisses. Constanza enters.

Constanza: You’re here!


Your brother’s finally here.

Aunt Consta!


Consta, you look great!

Hey, Veva, kids!

Etc. More exclamations. More kisses and hugs. Hector enters.

All the new arrivals:  Hector!!!!

Everyone exchanges kisses, exclamations, hugs, effusive expressions of affection. Nelly and Jorge enter and witness the scene.

Nelly: (Parodying the others.) Jorge, Jorgito, you’re here!

Jorge: Nelly, my little Nel! (They kiss and hug one another.)

Vevita: Jorge, Jorge’s here!

Everyone:  Jorge, Jorge!

They all talk at the same time, repeating the same incoherent gushing of affection. The tiring car ride, the years that have passed, each other’s appearance, “you look great,” “you’ve put on some weight,” etc., gesturing wildly as they speak or in response to what is said… Nelly approaches and greets them. They respond in kind. Everyone exits, all speaking at the same time.

After they have left, Patricia comes in carrying blankets and pillows. She belts out what she knows of a bolero.

Patricia: (Singing to herself.)

Vuelan las gaviotas en parvadas,

en la vieja playa llora el mar,

brillan los cocuyos cual cascadas,

todo en nuestro nido sigue igual…

[The seagulls fly in flocks,

the sea sobs down at the old beach,

the fireflies glow like waterfalls,

all remains the same in our nest…]

Nelly enters.

Patricia: Are you going to the beach, too?

Nelly: I hope so.

Patricia: I’m afraid of the water. Can you believe that? I was born here. But I’m at least going to get wet.

Nelly: Well, o.k.

Patricia: I’m also afraid nothing’s ever going to change and I’ll never get what I want.

Nelly: What is it you want?

Patricia:  I wish I knew.

(She sings.)

Con toda esa belleza y tú no estás,

mi amor, regresa pronto, sin tardar,

que yo me estoy muriendo de ansiedad…

[All that beauty and you aren’t here,

Come back soon, my love, without delay,

for I’m dying of anxiety.]

She exits. Nelly leans on the wall in the background. Constanza enters and sits down, tense, angry. She starts crying. Nelly approaches her slowly.

Nelly: What’s wrong, Constanza?

Constanza: You were there? I’m so nervous. So, so nervous. (She dries her eyes, half smiles and shrugs her shoulders.)  Nerves.

Nelly hugs her. Constanza bursts out crying.

Constanza: I want to leave. I can’t take it anymore. They’ve left me here with both of them. I deal with the house. I pay for everything. No one helps. I take care of both of them. (Blows her nose.) No one helps. (Pause. She blows her nose again and dries her eyes.) Don’t say anything to Hector.

Nelly: No, of course not.

Constanza: (Heatedly.) He’s not even married. He could live with them! Oh, I’m so ashamed. Forgive me. (She exits quickly.)

Nelly moves backstage. Jorge enter.

Jorge: They took my room away from you. Hector and I will be in the living room, with Chacho. You have to stay with Vevita and Constanza.

Nelly: With Vevita, over my dead body. No way. The same applies to that creep, Chacho.

Jorge: Well… You probably don’t want to stay with my grandmother.

Nelly:  It would be better if I just left. I only see you at night and now not even that…

Jorge: They call on me for everything. No one helps Constanza.

Nelly: I know. Why did you bring me here? This is your thing. Actually you didn’t bring me here. It was Hector.

Jorge: Don’t get mad, Nel.

Nelly: I should be studying, not hanging around here like a lovesick idiot, getting in the way.

Jorge: It was my idea. I asked Hector to invite you. I wanted us to be together.

Nelly: So very together. Now they want me to cook. Aren’t we going to the lagoon?

Jorge: Not now. My Uncle Agustin is here.

Nelly: So what?

Jorge:  I never see them. I can’t leave.

Nelly: You don’t see me either.

Jorge: Don’t be like that…

Nelly: It’s true. Here it’s because of your family. There it’s because of your work and your classes.

Jorge: You have classes, too.

Nelly: That only makes it worse. And if I get the grant… You aren’t going with me.

Jorge: I told you I’ll try…

Nelly: You’ll try… You were also going live with me…

Jorge: Why do I always piss off my girlfriends? They’re not going to stick around. Come over here… (They sit on the floor, hand in hand.) I have to graduate, get settled. When you return, I’ll have my degree.

Nelly: Your grandmothers told me they want you to marry a girl with buck teeth.

Jorge: Don’t listen to that. I always play along. Then they forget all about it. You know what? You can stay in the kitchen. I’ll put a little cot in there, o.k.?

Nelly: So your grandmother can catch us. She walks around the house when she can’t sleep.

Jorge: Yeah, you’re right.

Nelly: What if I stay in the living room with you guys?

Jorge: No, you know them!

They look in each direction and then kiss.

Nelly: If I go to Paris and you stay here, they’re going to make you marry Buck Tooth. And just to stay on their good side you’ll do it.

Jorge: I’m not going to do anything, but you, over there, all by your little self…

Nelly: What?

Jorge: All those French guys, Nel… All blonde…

Nelly: And you here with all these loose women… All of them beautiful…

Jorge: Those who leave don’t remember anything.

Nelly: And those who stay?

Jorge: We remember longer.

They kiss.

Jorge: Stay with Constanza. I’ll make sure they put Vevita someplace else.

Nelly:  Don’t kiss me. Watch out.

Celia enters, clinging on to Agustin. They don’t see Nelly and Jorge.

Celia: I’m so happy to see my four jewels all together.

Constanza, Hector, and Adrian enter.

Agustin: But Jorge isn’t here, Mom. Our unforgettable Jorge.

Adrian: It’s so sunny. Let’s go to the living room.

Hector: (To Jorge and Nelly.) And you two?

Jorge signals him to keep quiet. He and Nelly creep out on hands and knees.

Agustin: This is where we played. So many memories!

Celia: So very many, my dear, that they wouldn’t fit in a book.

Hector: Depends on the size of the book.

Celia: In a huge one, maybe.

Constanza: Let’s go in, o.k.?

They start to exit. Constanza stops Hector, who stops Adrian.

Constanza and Hector: (Together.)

Hey, wait…

I want to talk to you…

They look at one another and smile.

Celia: (Offstage.) Hey, kids! Come here!

Hector: We’re on our way. (Softly.) Shit.

Grandmother passes through.

Grandmother: That girl, Nelly, she sleeps with Jorge, doesn’t she?

Hector: Grandma, what do you mean?

Abuela: Just keep your eyes open so at least they won’t do it in this house. (Exits.)

Constanza: You think nothing but nonsense! Nothing but lies!

Hector: Jesus, Grandma, don’t be like that!

Hector, Constanza and Adrian look at one another. Celia sticks her head in.

Celia: We opened the sherry. Come and have a drink. (Exits.)

Constanza: I wanted to talk with the three of you. It’ll have to be later. In the meantime, talk to each other. (Exits.)

The two look at one another. Pause.

Hector: Listen: don’t fuck things up, Adrian.

Adrian: With what?

Hector: Don’t take that shit anymore.

Adrian: What shit?

Hector: Those barbituates, or whatever they are.

Adrian goes over and sits down.

Adrian: If I don’t take them, I don’t sleep.

Hector: But they’re addictive. And they’re going to destroy your heart. Is that what you want? (Pause.)

Adrian: I don’t want to be awake.

Pause. They look at each other. Hector goes over to him.

Hector: Well, you have to… You have to… (He puts a hand on Adrian’s neck.)

Adrian: I know. (Pause.) We’ll see.


Hector: But don’t take so many.

Adrian: I’ll take less.

Hector: That’s it. Take less.

They look at one another.

Celia: (Shouting jokingly from offstage.) If you don’t get in here, we’re going to finish off the sherry!

Hector: Shit.

Adrian: Let’s go.

They exit.

Veva: (Enters.) No way. I want to be with my husband. Why do you guys have to separate us? Was that your mother’s idea?

Constanza: (Enters.) I thought we three women could room together.

Veva: And that other one, the one chasing after my nephew Jorge?

Constanza: O.k., she can go with you guys and I’ll stay with my mother.

Veva: I’m going to be with my husband, not with that woman. Let me be with him. I never sleep without him. Never. I mean, never.

Constanza: We’ll see how we can accommodate everyone.

Veva: But he and I together.

Constanza: Yes, together.

Veva: It really wasn’t your mother’s idea?

Constanza: No, I already told you.

Veva: That’s odd.

They exit. Vevita and Chacho enter.

Vevita: If they make me sleep with Grandma, I’m going to a hotel. I don’t give a shit if they get mad.

Chacho: You’ll put up with it just like the rest of us. We’ll sleep wherever we can.

Vevita: Adolfo promised to come visit me. Some visit! This house is like a concentration camp.

Chacho: That’s why you’re going to a hotel. So he can pay you a nice visit in your comfy little bed.

Vevita: I’m not going there for that, and if I were it would be my business, not yours or anyone else’s. I’m old enough.

Chacho: Well, what do I care if they knock you up? Go to hell.

Vevita: Same to you, you fucking jerk.

Grandmother passes through.

Grandmother: Nice mouth, dear. Lovely. (Exits.)

Vevita: (Softly.) Look what you did, asshole. Grandma heard me and it’s all your fault!

She hits him furiously. He laughs loudly and defends himself as if he were boxing. They exit the stage running. Adrian, Hector and Agustin enter, each with a beer, walking slowly and aimlessly, in silence.

Agustin: They need to whitewash this wall. Look at it.

Hector: You can pay for the paint.

Silence. Adrian sits down.

Adrian: You were right, Hector. Elisa’s family. The fact that they are rich. Or were rich. It’s not a problem for her. She’s wonderful, a perfect companion. She helps me. At one point she even started selling things she’d smuggled across the border. She did her part. I could never ask her to give up her people. I could never make her leave all that behind. They weren’t going to see her poorly dressed. She wasn’t going to have less with me. I wasn’t going to make her do without her usual comforts. I never asked her family for anything, not even a glass of water. Nothing. That’s why it was so difficult. She even knows how to sew. She made clothes. She always had the kids dressed like princes and princesses, like little dolls. You’ve seen my kids. It was hard with what I made. Elisa worked miracles.

Agustin: Yeah. She also worked up huge bills at the store.

Adrian: I didn’t have credit. She did, because of her family. We both bought stuff. I wasn’t walk around looking like a beggar. I needed to look good. It wasn’t just her. It was both of us. And then those other expenses… You can’t let others pay the bill. You can’t play dumb when it shows up on the table.

Agustin: You always paid before anyone else could.

Adrian: Well, it’s a little embarrassing when people think you’re starving. They think you’re going to skip out on paying. So, you pay, while they play dumb. They have no problem owing money. They owed Elisa so much for the stuff she smuggled. They would say “I’ll pay you later, sweetie.” And in the end she never got paid.

Hector: But Adrian, you were living like a rich man, in every respect. Those schools your children were going to…  I kept telling you, nothing but expensive. Run by priests! Nothing but robbery.

Adrian: Yeah, I know. But it takes time to figure that out. I was getting commisions. Thanks to those acquaintances, I sold more. I sold more than anyone.

Agustin: You also spent more than anyone.

Adrian: Yeah, I know. You go over a little bit, and then a little bit more… Then all of a sudden they’re going to repossess. Bills all over the place. I couldn’t let them take it all away. I mean, a repossession, how could I face Elisa’s family? That’s why I did it.

Agustin: Isn’t embezzlement worse than repossession?

Adrian: I got both. And now Elisa is with her parents and I’m here. And now I’ve got a record. So where can I work? No, I’m going to go north and have Elisa join me with the kids. That’s what I’ve decided.

Agustin: You’re going to take Elisa?

Adrian: She’s my wife!

Agustin: You’re going to ruin yourself all over again. She doesn’t know how to do anything but spend, look nice, and spend.

Adrian: Your wife spends more and she doesn’t look nice.

Agustin: We pay. We don’t owe. We don’t… (He stops.)

Hector: We know, Agustin. You have lots of money.

Agustin: Not that much, but… It’s just a matter of priorities. Veva isn’t like… (He stops.)

Adrian: It wasn’t Elisa, damn it! It was me! I am to blame, not her!

Hector: Don’t shout. Agustin, you could give Adrian a recommendation.

Agustin: Can I? Well, I can, more or less, … as a brother… But you have to promise me…

Adrian: No, Agustin. I don’t have to promise anyone anything. That’s what jail was for. Not even Constanza, who bailed me out on her own. She knows I’ll pay her back. (Pause.) Or that I won’t. (Pause.) I know what I’ve done, so you don’t have to tell me. And thanks, but I’m better off without a recommendation. (About to leave.)

Hector: Hold on. (Stops him.)

The three of them remain there, quiet and still, as if frozen. Hector has a hand on Adrian’s arm.

Agustin: Look, I only meant… You misunderstood. I only…

Hector: That’s enough. Be quiet.

Silence and stillness.

Adrian: It’s so hard to start over.

They exit in the same slow, purposeless way in which they entered. Grandmother enters and sits down.

Grandmother: Celia, come here. I said, come here.

Celia: Yes, mother.

Grandmother: If you stay with me, where will Constanza sleep?

Celia: In the living room, with Vevita and Hector’s little friend.

Grandmother: So that anyone who shows up can see them in their undies.

Celia: Well, where should I put them?

Grandmother: In Adrian’s room.

Celia: I didn’t want to bother Adrian. You see how he is.

Grandmother: Yes, I see, and that’s why you need to bother him. Make him do things. Wake him up. That’s what you need to do.

Celia: So where do I put Adrian?

Grandmother: In the living room, with Jorge and Hector.

Celia: And Agustin in my room, with Veva? She won’t let go of him.

Grandmother: Well, yes. Put them in there.

Jorge and Nelly enter.

Grandmother: This young lady, put her with you and Vevita in Jorge’s room.

Jorge: With me, Gran?

Grandmother: No, you’re going to the living room!

Jorge: Ah.

Celia: The three of us won’t fit in there!

Grandmother: Yes, you will. You’ll see.

Celia: I’ll put the girls in there and stay with you.

Grandmother: Those two? Alone? No way.

Celia: Why not?

Grandmother: Come with me and I’ll explain.

(She pulls Celia by the hand and they exit.)

Patricia enters, carrying a cot and sheets. Benita enters from the opposite side.

Patricia: Now they don’t want them here but in the living room.

Benita:  Not Jorgito’s room?

Patricia: We need one cot in there.

Jorge: Yeah, one in my room. And one in the living room.

Benita: Well, why don’t they just say so?

Patricia: The wind is going to kick up, it’s going to get cold and there aren’t enough blankets.

Benita: I’m not going to cart things around like an idiot from one side of the house to the other.

Jorge: Here, I’ll help you.

Nelly: And then you can go with me to get my ticket to Mexico City. I’m leaving.

Jorge: Hey, Nel. Wait.

Benita, Nelly and Jorge exit. Chacho enters.

Patricia: You grab me again and I’m going to tell your grandmother.

Chacho: Like it bothers you.

Patricia: Grab this. You wanted to grab something? Well, make yourself useful.

She exits, leaving him with the cot and blankets.

Chacho: And where am I supposed to take this? Wait. (To himself.) Fuckin’ tightass bitch.

He picks up the things and exits.

The light changes.

Constanza and Hector enter slowly. They take a few steps and stop. They take a few more steps. Agustin and Adrian enter the same way, as if the four of them were crossing the house from one end to the other.

Constanza:  If I had gotten married… I was going to get married. You guys remember, don’t you? I was going to get married. I was… Vevita’s age. But he was… he was one of those guys who want you to stay at home. “My wife doesn’t work, I support her.” I wanted to be independent. (Laughs.) Independent. That’s why I never got married. (Stops in front of the three men.) I’m going to be an old woman. I’ve grown old taking care of mom and grandma. You’ve always done what you please, Hector. You’re free. You teach your classes and write your books. But you could teach here, couldn’t you? You’d probably make more than in Mexico City.

Hector: That’s what you think.

Constanza: Hector, you should come and live here. If your friend, that guy, what was his name?

Hector: He hasn’t died. His name is Ruben.

Constanza: Right. Ruben. He doesn’t live with you anymore. I mean, you’re alone. And that girl, Nelly, your student, is leaving soon for Europe…

Hector: That’s still not for sure.

Constanza: She just has to take an exam. She’s got the grant and she’s going. You’ll be all alone. Why don’t you come and live here?

Hector: My work is in Mexico City. What would I do here?

Constanza: The same thing you do there! And what about you, Adrian? You talk about going north, but why not start over here? Everyone loves you. They know it was a mistake. They would give you a second chance. Running away isn’t the answer. You would only feel worse. Besides, you could live here for free. Elisa and the kids could come later. Grandma adores you. This is your home. Mom and Grandma and I only fight. I’m like them, I’m a woman. I’m tense. I’m nervous. But you, they love you so much. You’re the favorite, you’re…

Adrian: Elisa would never live here.

Constanza: But you’re here…

Adrian: For now. I don’t contribute anything, nor can I.

Constanza: I can pay to keep the place up. (He shakes his head no. He turns his back on her, leaning against the wall, his forehead against the wall, his hand raised.) Agustin, send your two oldest children. Or ask for a a transfer. They’d give it to you.

Agustin: The position here is nowhere near what I have now. And the kids go to school, as you’ve noticed.

Constanza: And surely you’ve noticed that we have schools here. Better than the ones there.

Agustin: And what would it cost to have two kids here? Grandma doesn’t put up with them and clearly doesn’t love them.

Constanza: It would cost you very little, because I pay for everything here, everything, and I earn a tenth of what you do.

Agustin: I send money every month.

Constanza: A token amount.

Agustin:  I have five kids. I have responsibilities. No one pays for my expenses. I have to earn my money.

Constanza: And I have nothing but responsibilities! No social life at all. And I pay for everything, even the taxes.

Agustin: The house will be yours. It’s already in your name.

Constanza: So I can wander around like a ghost, without a single living thing to give meaning to my life. No, I’m leaving. I’m telling you right now: I’m leaving. You better start thinking about what who’s going to take care of this place, because it’s not going to be me.

Adrian: Don’t be like that.

Constanza: How would you like me to be? The three of you took off, made your lives and left me stuck here.

Hector: You act as if we’d done this to you on purpose.

Constanza: It was on purpose. Every little step we take is on purpose. It was on purpose. You left me here. (She sits down in the chair.)

Hector: It must be what you wanted. You chose to stay.

Constanza cries, whining and moaning, with her face in her hands. She looks at the three of them.

Constanza: All you think about is yourselves. (She exits rapidly.)


Hector: Something needs to change.

Adrian: Poor thing. She’s right.

Agustin: It’s menopause. (Exits.)

They exit as well, slowly, after looking troublingly at each other’s eyes. Veva and Vevita enter.

Vevita:  Everyone together… I don’t even feel like going.

Veva: It’s the same as if went alone.

Vevita: It’s not the same. Are they bringing Grandma?

Veva: Of course.

Vevita: Any nasty remarks, I’m going to let her have it.

Veva: She deserves it. I won’t be the one to stop you.

Vevita: But Dad will.

Veva: Leave him to me.

Vevita: I’m going to wear my new bikini. And they’d better not say anything. They’ll see. I’m so sick of them. I’ve had it.

Veva: Put it on, dear. Put on your bikini. If I had your body, I’d put one on, too.

They exit. Patricia passes through quickly, shouting.

Patricia: Well, I don’t know who’s staying where but I’m not moving these cots anymore. I’m tired. Let them figure it out.


Elisa enters. A beautiful woman. She is wearing a very light, pale gray silk sweater and a strand of pearls. She looks around, in doubt as to what to do. She stops next to the chair, as if she were posing, like a fashion model. She remains still.

Adrian enters and stands there looking at her. They remain still, in silence.

Elisa: Darling.


Adrian: Come in. What are you doing out here?

Elisa: Let me have a look at you. You’re so thin and pale. Oh, Adrian.

She starts to cry.

Adrian: There now. Don’t cry.

Elisa: Why didn’t you go see me?

Adrian: Mmhh. (He takes two steps back.)

Elisa: I thought you’d call. Or come see me. Of course I knew you were here. News travels. I was just hoping you would call. (Silence.) I also thought, maybe he wants to be alone. I didn’t know what to think. I felt so weird about your family. How could I be with you here, in this house?

He looks at her. She carefully wipes her eyes. She looks at him and tries to smile. Silence.

Adrian: You could have asked me about the children. At least have let me know.

Elisa: How was I supposed to tell you? You can imagine. Father was afraid the other kids at school would say things to them. Everyone was talking about it. It was in the newspapers. I… thought you would understand. They’re in a better school now. They’re learning English. It was better this way, without them knowing. Do you think I did the wrong thing?

Adrian: I think you could have told me.

Elisa: But how? You don’t get along with my father. He wanted to visit you. I was the one who said, “Father, it’s better not to go to that horrible place…”

Adrian: And how do you know it’s horrible?

Elisa: … thinking it could upset you, that you’d feel bad if Father went to see you. That’s what I thought. And I… (She stops speaking.)

Adrian: (After a moment of silence.) And you? Yes, and you?

Elisa: It was all so ugly. The newspapers, everything. They had that same picture of me from the gossip pages. And the way that people talk about conjugal visits. How could I let that happen? I didn’t think you would ask for that, but people would talk about it anyway. That I was going to see you like a whore. In that horrible place.

Adrian: Again, how do you know it’s horrible?

Elisa: They say it’s… they say… (Looks him in the face.) You wouldn’t have wanted to see me, would you?

Adrian looks around him and speaks to her quickly:

Adrian: I’ve told them you visited me. On special days. Because they would all go to see me and would ask me about you. And I’ve told them we see each other once a week, since I got out. I leave for the whole day, and I say we saw each other. So, be careful.

Elisa: Why do you tell them that?

Adrian is about to say something but decides not to.

Elisa: I mean, I know they think I should have… but you don’t. Or do you? It’s unbearable to think of you there. And to see you with bars between us, I just couldn’t. Adrian, tell me what you’re thinking.

He moves away from her.

Adrian: I don’t know what I think. Yes I do. I mean, I have plans. To go to the States, be closer to the kids, be able to see them. Bring them with us. We could go together, start over again, like the people we really are. Without knowing anyone. We could… Why are you here?

Elisa: It’s only natural, isn’t it?

Adrian: What do you want? A divorce?

She starts to cry.

Elisa: Why do you talk to me like that? I wanted to work things out. To be together, to talk. Give me a handkerchief; this one is too small. Let’s go outside. I don’t want your family to see me like this.

She takes the handkerchief and sobs.

Celia enters.

Celia: Elisa, what a surprise. Finally. How are you? Are you crying?

Elisa: No, no, I was just…

Adrian: Yes, she’s crying, can’t you see?

Celia: We weren’t expecting to see you, Elisa. Come on into the living room. Or if you want some privacy, you can go to Adrian’s room.

Adrian: They’re filling it with cots. The maids are there.

Celia: I’ll tell them to leave you two alone.

Elisa: Ma’am, I don’t… (Stops talking.)

Celia exits.

Adrian: Tell her. Tell her you haven’t come to stay.

Elisa: Well, no. Here? How?

Adrian: Exactly. How?

Elisa: It wouldn’t be… prudent, it wouldn’t be…

Adrian: You are coming to bed with me. Now.

Elisa: Adrian, let me go. No. Your family…

Adrian: Shut up. Let’s go.

He presses her against his body, feeling her all over, grabbing her buttocks, her breasts.

Elisa: How can you think that… here…!

He kisses her brutally on the mouth, grabs her, squeezes her. He exits, taking her with him.

Nelly enters, carrying a small tape recorder, on which she listens to the recitation of a French poem. (“10 juin 1936” by Robert Desnos, Domaine Public, NRF). She moves her lips as she listens:

Recorded voice:

Chaque jour le ciel est si clair

Que les nuages dans l’air

Sont comme l’écume sur la mer.


Morts ! Épaves sombrées dans la terre,

Nous ignorons vos misères

Chantées par les solitaires.


Nous nageons, nous vivons,

Dans l’air pur de chaque saison.

La vie este belle et l’air est bon.

The music changes to “Menilmontant” by Trénet. Nelly sings along, quietly, exaggerating with her lips as she pronounces the words. Little by little she adopts a slightly parodied music-hall pose.



Mais oui, madame

C’est là que j’ai

Laissé mon cœur

C’est là que bien

Retrouvé mon âme

Toute ma flamme

Tout mon bonheur.


Quand je revois

Ma petite église

Oú le mariage

Allait gaiment.

Quand je revois

Ma vieille maison grise

Même la brise

Parle d’antan

(She raises her voice as her gestures become more dramatic.)

Elle me raconte

Comme autrefois

De jolis contes


Beaux jours passés

Je vous revois

Un rendez-vous

Une musique

Des yeux rêveurs

Tout un roman

Tout un roman d’amour poétique et pathétique


(She remains posed, like a movie star, smiling. Sudden darkness. A bright camera flash briefly illuminates her. Darkness. The next scene opens immediately, without any pause.)




A beach chair located toward the back of the stage. Near the center, a pile of sand. Nothing else. The lighting changes constantly due to the passing clouds. 

Elisa is seated gracefully in the chair. Same clothing. Adrian stands near the center of the stage with his back to her. Agustin, Hector, Chacho, Jorge, Adolfo and a young man – Luis – look at the sea. They all face forward in bathing suits, forming an irregular line. Patricia, also in a bathing suit, lies in the sun on a towel.

Luis: There’s going to be a north wind. You can tell by the waves and the way the sky looks. The weather’s going to change today.

Agustin: I remember those northern winds, and us playing hooky from school… Do you remember, Hector? We used to take Adrian to kindergarten…

Adrian: You bastards would take my money and spend it on cigarettes.


Hector:  You see a wave, and then another, and another. Like a web of reflections on the surface. Like a tapestry of light. If you look long enough, you become colorless just like it. That only happens with the sea.

Adrian: Or with a fire. Or the branches of a tree on a windy day.

Hector: But the sea is more powerful.

Adolfo: I saw the sea for the first time not long ago. I grew up in Mexico City.

Agustin: And how did it strike you?

Adolfo: It was incredible. So this is the sea, I thought. Of course, you get used to it.

Luis: You can’t go in too far, because of the currents. And the drop-offs. You’re walking out and all of a sudden you can’t touch the bottom. Then the current pulls you down.

Chacho: It looks awesome. So much movement. You can almost you’ll see half-naked women out there.

Adrian: They say you suffer when you drown. From fighting the current, from the anguish of trying to live. So maybe it’s better to sink. Just fill your lungs with water and sink to the bottom. I bet you don’t suffer at all.

Agustin: What gets me about the sea is the size. It’s the very picture of infinity.

Hector: What you were saying about the wind, Adrian…

Adrian: What was I saying about the wind?

Hector: And about fire. To throw yourself, lose sight of yourself. What we were talking about before.

Adrian: What about it?

Hector: They’re all natural elements. To see the trees and clouds moving is to see the air itself. Or when you see a fire. They’re all… natural forces, beyond our control, the world as it really is, without us. That’s why you get lost in it.

Adrian: Well, the Earth is an element. But nothing happens when you stand there and look at it. . If you do look at it, nothing happens. It doesn’t hypnotize you.

Hector: It’s true, the Earth is just there. It doesn’t say anything at all.

Adolfo: The sea isn’t actually all that good for swimming. It’s too big. Pools are better. You know where the edge is. A pool has limits…

Chacho: But the sea ocean is so exciting. You’ve got oysters, clams, turtles.

Jorge: It makes you want to see the other side. To go there in a boat, or fly. Sometimes I watch them load the boats. When they come in at night, full of lights, with the tugboat pulling the bigger ship. And the siren when the ship comes in… The lighthouse turning around…

Adolfo: I’m going to come back next time I have a vacation. Although now I want to see Acapulco.

Hector puts his hand on Luis’s shoulder.

Luis: My friends must be wondering where I am. I’m going to go see what they’re up to.

Hector: Of course. You should go find them.

Luis: Aren’t you coming?

Hector: Sure. Let’s go.

They exit.

Chacho: Uncle Hector just hooked up.

Agustin: Now there’s a stupid joke. Adolfo is going to think… It’s just not a good joke.

Chacho: Sorry, Dad.

Elisa: I was remembering Mazatlán. The ocean’s so different. Here it’s green, there it’s blue. Do you remember? We could see the whole bay from the balcony. We sat out and watched it get dark. It feels like so long ago…

Adrian: That was a long time ago.

Agustin: When did you two go to Mazatlán?

Adrian: For our honeymoon.

Agustin: It’s like swapping one ocean for another.

Adrian: That’s right.

Elisa: I want some coconut milk.

Adrian: (Flatly.) Do you have any money? I don’t.

Elisa: Yeah. Come with me.

As they are leaving, they cross paths with Grandmother.

Adrian: Granny, you’re going to swim. That’s great. (He kisses her.)

Adrian and Elisa exit.

Grandmother is wearing an old-fashioned bathing suit made of cotton. White, loose, with straps and lace trim. Barefoot, she has let down her hair, which is still abundant and very white.

Agustin: Granny! Are you going to get in the water?

Grandmother: Of course I am.

Agustin: I hope you’ll be okay.

Grandmother: When has it ever hurt anyone?

Agustin: Well… after eating. You get cramps.

Grandmother: I haven’t eaten anything.

Chacho: Gran, you have so much hair. It’s so pretty.

Grandmother: I’m losing it. You should have seen it twenty years ago.

Chacho: I couldn’t. I hadn’t been born yet.

Vevita enters wearing her bikini.

Vevita: Look at Granny! She’s in a bathing suit!

Adolfo: Aren’t you going to wear one? Or are you going to tell me that those bits of confetti are a bathing suit?

Vevita: Adolfo, don’t be a drag.

Adolfo: I was kidding. What do I care? Take it off.

Vevita: Dad, listen to him.

Agustin coughs.

Adolfo: I’m just kidding, sir. Don’t worry.

Chacho: Don’t mind her, future brother-in-law. She often walks around in less than that.

Agustin: Vevita, I think that’s a bit much.

Vevita: A bit much of what? What, do you want me to dress like Grandma?

Adolfo: I want you to dress, period.

Vevita: Well, there’s nothing wrong with this.

Chacho: Nothing. That’s exactly the point.

Adolfo: I don’t mean to stick my nose in other people’s business, sir, but so many guys’ll be checking her out that my jaw is going to hurt from trying to look tough.

Chacho: Don’t be so selfish. Let other guys enjoy her, too.

Vevita: (Shouting furiously.) I’m going to go get dressed!

Grandmother: What for, dear? You look adorable.

Vevita starts to respond and leaves.

Adolfo: I’m going with her. I don’t want some guy hassling her.


Agustin: Where is your mother? How can she let her go out like that? Unbelievable! And that asshole boyfriend? What is he thinking? That he’s already her husband, or what?

Chacho: With any luck he is.

Agustin: Show some respect for your sister.

Chacho: I’m just saying.

Agustin: Where is your mother?

Chacho: With yours. I mean, I saw them together, over there.

Agustin exits. Chacho laughs really hard. He then gives Jorge a kick, boxes with him, and the two exit while still boxing.

Grandmother sits down in the beach chair.

Grandmother:  Who are you, dear? Hector’s student?

Patricia: Ay, Miss Catita, I’m Patty, your maid.

Grandmother: I didn’t recognize you. Probably because you don’t have any clothes on.

Patricia: That’s okay. (She holds up her book, as she’s been doing for a while, runs her eyes across it, and puts it down again. Pause.) I’m in high school. I go in the afternoons. I already know some English. This coming year, I’m going to study cosmetics. It doesn’t take all that long and it pays well.

Grandmother: What’s that about cosmetics?

Patricia:  Well, styling and… coloring hair, giving perms… nails… things they do in the beauty salon.

Grandmother: That’ll earn some money. All the most hideous women pay for those silly procedures, just to get even uglier.

Patricia: But with that money, I’m going to study to be a secretary, or a bank teller.

Grandmother: Better a bank teller. Secretaries aren’t respected. And aren’t you going to get married?

Patricia: If I find a man who can keep me comfortable. If not, what’s the point, don’t you think?

Grandmother: If you only knew how my husband proposed to me… So you’re Patricia, then. Your bathing suit’s not all that bad. I’ve seen worse. Don’t think I’m an idiot. I remember everything. But I don’t see well. I don’t hear well. And I don’t walk all that well. If you live forever, you have to pay the price to stick around.

Patricia: I wouldn’t want to live that long. Not as long as you.

Grandmother: It was strange with my husband. I didn’t even realize he was proposing. There was this big guanabano tree. You’ve seen that kind of fruit; so big and deformed. It’s barely ripe before it falls. And then it lies there, with its flesh exposed to the air, with all those black seeds. Well, there were so many of them, and they were so sweet. And I gave one to my husband. I mean, to this man who was just a neighbor at the time, just a friend of the family. And do you know what he did? He thanked me with a poem. I read it and simply thought, “What a lovely little poem.” It wasn’t until my sister saw it and told me he was proposing. The little poem was just that: a declaration of love.

Patricia: Do you want to get in the water? I’ll come with you. Give me your hand.

Grandmother: (Giving Patricia her hand.) The poem went like this…

The two exit. Vevita – with a short cover-up over her bikini –, Adolfo, Chacho, Jorge, and Nelly enter, playing ball.

Shouts, laughter, voices ad libitum. The ball goes off to one side and they all run after it.

They exit. 

Adrian and Elisa enter and slowly cross the stage, hand in hand, somber.

Adrian: I know you’re ashamed and that it’s hard for you to be with me. That’s why I’m thinking that someplace else…

Elisa: You know what my father is like… Your own pride keeps you from letting them help you… well, that would be the way for you to help yourself.

Adrian: (Laughs sarcastically.) Help myself.

Elisa: (Stopping.) Tell me the truth. Do you really think I wouldn’t come and join you?

Adrian: I don’t know anything. Neither do you.

She looks at the ground, then at the sea, and sighs.

Elisa: It was so nice to come here with our friends, with the kids, to watch them play, watch them make sand castles…

They exit.

Veva and Celia enter. The latter has had her hair done at the beauty salon. She carries her shoes and stockings in her hand.

Celia: Elisa is so classy. She dresses so well. You can tell she watches her figure.

Veva: I’m not going to kill myself to be thin. Agustin doesn’t like bones, anyway. He likes to get his hands full. The bigger I get, the more there is to grab.

Celia: He’s changed over the years. You’ve changed, too; you didn’t used to be so crude.

Veva: I don’t beat around the bush. I like being me. We’re happy, we have everything. We just bought another dining room set. It’s gorgeous.

Celia: Lucky you.

Veva: I like having nice things, and for my kids to have nice things. Agustin provides for all of us. Everything’s mine. My husband, my children, my house. All my furniture, my kitchen, everything.

They exit. Veva is wearing a beach cover-up. Barefoot.

Nelly enters, breathless, and stops.

Jorge enters.

Jorge: What’s wrong?

Nelly: I got tired.

They hug tightly. Silence.

Nelly: We fight every day, we get bored when we’re together, we don’t like the same movies, you like making me mad… And I don’t even know how much you love me.

Jorge: I don’t either.

Nelly: When are you going to know?

Jorge: After you leave.

Nelly: When Hector told you about my scholarship, you turned pale.

Jorge: Yeah, I did.

Nelly: But once I leave, it won’t matter, will it?

They draw apart. Jorge looks at her, puts his hands on her shoulders. They speak in a factual, nonsentimental way.

Jorge: It’s going to hurt.

Nelly: Really?

Jorge: Can’t you see it’s already hurting?

Nelly:  Why then…?

Jorge: Why what?

Nelly: Why do you act as though everything but our relationship were important? You could live with me and Hector. You could try to come to Paris. We could stay together.

Jorge: We have to think about the future. About choosing a direction, and making plans. We have to consider that someday we’ll be different.

Nelly: You act just like your family. And you aren’t.

Jorge: It’s true. I’m not like them.

Nelly: And you think I’m going to get in your way…. Or you’re saying what we have isn’t serious?

Jorge: We fight every day, we get bored when we’re together, we don’t like the same movies. And I don’t know how much you love me, either.

Nelly: I do know. I love you a lot.

Jorge: And it hurts when I think about you going away. you hurt me. You can’t just throw everything aside. But you can’t just live in the moment, either.

Nelly: Why not?

Jorge: All those years ahead of us.

Nelly: What about today? What about here?

He hugs her tightly.

Jorge: Today. Here.

They kiss. Without any transition they run off stage. Adrian, Elisa, Veva, and Agustin enter.

Veva: (Annoyed.) Stop telling them that.

Agustin: I like people to know what you’re like. Or do you two think it’s wrong for me to talk about it?

Elisa: No…

Veva: Fortunately, I haven’t had any further reason to be that way.

Agustin: But how long did we live like that? You know what a year of unemployment does. She has a real gift for selling things. She sold all the household stuff, replaced it with new, and then she sold the new stuff, too. Whenever she saw me depressed, she would whip out some cash as if she had a magic wand, and then she’d take us all to dinner and a movie. Then I would find out she’d sold two or three of her own dresses.

Veva: They didn’t fit anymore.

Agustin: And why is that? She cooked, of course, but always ate in the kitchen, where we couldn’t see. Eggs for the kids, steak for me. And she’d eat the beans, potatoes and tortillas. That’s why she gained weight. It’s easy to ruin your figure when you’re poor.

Elisa: I’ve seen a lot of thin poor people.

Agustin: There was one thing she didn’t sell: her silverware. 54 pieces of silver, a real work of art. She gave it to a friend in government, for Christmas. That’s how I got my job in Customs. That’s why our kids have a future. Thanks to my wife’s sacrifices, and her silverware.

Elisa has been looking at her nails and playing with her necklace.

Elisa: There’s just one part I don’t believe, Agustin.

Agustin: What?

Elisa: That it took you so long to find out what your wife was eating.

Agustin: Why do you say that?

Elisa: Because no one makes a secret of sacrifice. Everyone else just plays dumb. They accept it. And then later they find a way to pay it back, with coldness, unfaithfulness…

Agustin: You should know.

Elisa: Of course I know, because that’s how it is. (Pause.) Look how well Grandma swims. She’s so cute.

Elisa, Adrian, Agustin slowly exit… Veva takes a few steps back.

She remains there, with her fist pressed against her mouth.

Agustin returns.

Agustin: What’s wrong, dear? What is it?

Veva: Let me go. Nothing. Don’t hug me. It’s really hot.

They exit.

Constanza enters. She kneels by the towel on the sand, all alone, and starts to speak.

Constanza: He may not look all that educated, but that’s only because of his work. He’s a mechanic and wears greasy overalls. (She giggles to herself.) But he’s different when we go out, when we go to the movies, or to the beach. His wife walked out on him and left him with a baby. I’m not ashamed to be seen with him. That sort of thing doesn’t bother me. He’s getting a divorce, though we don’t really talk about it. Soon we might even live together. But I’ve seen pictures of his wife, so young and pretty. I’m ten years older than he. I don’t even know if he loves me. When we… well… I suppose I can tell you: when we meet at one of those motels, it’s hard for me to feel anything. I get distracted, you see, I get scared. I’m just about to climax, and then I start thinking about something else, or just looking around the room, or I hear some noise, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just afraid. The one time it happened I screamed. I didn’t know where I was or even who I was. I was out of control. It was like dying, like disappearing, ceasing to exist. Afterwards I was ashamed, though of course he was thrilled. It hasn’t happened again…

Nelly enters, or has already entered. She sun bathes on a towel with her eyes closed. Constanza continues to speak in that direction.

He’s going to Oaxaca for a few months, and he wants me to go with him. I’ve decided to go. I’m so afraid, but I said yes, knowing full well that I’m not coming back. I’ll  just stay with him, or we’ll live somewhere else. I can’t bring him here, saddle him with a pair of old women. They need so much attention. No, I’ll take care of his son. That must be what he wants. Maybe I’m just crazy. This should all make me happy, but thinking about it only makes me want to cry.

She begins to cry. Nelly gets up and kneels to embrace her.

Nelly: Everything will be just fine. You know how hard it’s going to be and that’s why it upsets you.

Constanza: Maybe, but I won’t be happy.

Agustin comes running up to them.

Agustin: Where’s Grandma? We need to take a picture with all of us together.

He runs off stage.

Benita and Patricia enter. They don’t seem to notice the other two women, who are now quiet. Benita is using a ragged old slip as a bathing suit.

Benita: You get paid more than I do.

Patricia: That’s not my fault.

Benita: They say I’m like family, but it’s a miracle they pay me at all. I took care of the kids when they were sick. I took them to school. I stayed up when they went out. But then, once they started to love me, Miss Celia got crazy jealous. She said all sorts of things so that they’d laugh at me. And now whenever we come to the beach, like today: Benita, put up the umbrella. Benita, carry this. Benita, screw you. Benita, go shrivel up and die. I’d rather just go home and be with my own children. I mean, what am I even doing here? None of this is mine.

Patricia: I’ve been thinking the same thing.

Benita: But even my children don’t love me anymore. They were always jealous. I did this so they could go to college, so they wouldn’t have to be servants like me. But kids don’t understand that sort of thing.

Patricia: And did they go to college?

Benita: All of them. And now they look down on me.

Patricia: You’re making things up. Why would they do that?

Celia peeks in.

Celia: Ah, Benita, finally. Go find everyone and get them all together. The photographer has arrived.

Celia disappears.

Benita: (Under her breath.) Get them yourself, you lazy old bitch.

She and Patricia exit.

Constanza: I’m not having my picture taken. That’s the last thing I need.

She gets up and leaves.

Nelly: Constanza, you can’t. Constanza…

She takes off after her.

Grandmother enters slowly, very slowly, with her hair flowing. She breathes deeply. She kneels and fills her fists with sand, letting it run very slowly through her fingers, as if she were trying to retain it. She then looks at her empty hand.

The photographer enters, with his outdated camera on a tripod, covered with a black cloth, and a bucket to rinse (enjuagar) the photos. He installs himself parsimoniously frontstage and to the left. He is inexpressive, calm, eternally patient. 

Grandmother doesn’t seem to notice him. She starts singing, softly and in tune, “Las violetas,” by Lerdo de Tejada.

Grandmother: (Singing.)

This morning I sent you some violets

that I found in the jungle at dawn,

Agustin enters, calling to the others. Grandmother continues to sing.

Agustin: Come here, everyone. He says for us to gather here. Veva, Chacho, Vevita, come here. Get your aunts and uncles. We’re going to take a family picture.

Grandmother: (Continuing to sing.)

And at night I brought you fresh roses

that I cut at dusk.

Do you know what such beautiful flowers

mean in figurative language?

They mean,

they mean,

that you should know how to be faithful to me during the day

and that you should know how to love me during the night.

Veva, Chacho, Vevita and Adolfo enter.

Their voices are heard over Grandmother’s song as they start arguing.

Vevita: Just us?

Agustin: No, everyone. Where’s my mother?

Veva: Over there, pestering Benita.

Agustin: What a mess. Go find your uncles.

Agustin, Vevita and Chacho leave. Adolfo starts to join them.

Vevita: Stay with my mom. (She exits.)

Adolfo: Happily.

He forces a smile and goes toward Veva. Grandmother has finished singing, repeating the last two verses:

Grandmother: that you should know how to be faithful to me during the day and that you should know how to love me during the night.

Veva: (Friendly.) Doesn’t my clothing make you uncomfortable?

Adolfo: (Innocently.) Me? Why should it make me uncomfortable?

Veva: Well, since you like to criticize other people’s clothing, you should also criticize mine, shouldn’t you?

Adolfo: I… I mean… well, it’s just that…

Veva: (Hasn’t stopped talking.) You have no claim to Vevita. She asked permission for you to come and I told her, “well, everyone is free to come and be wherever we are.” And that’s all.

Adolfo: (Tries to talk.) No, ma’am, I was just saying…

Veva: (Hasn’t stopped talking.) You didn’t like my daughter’s bathing suit? And why should you have an opinion? Are you something to her? Did you buy it for her?

Adolfo: I’m her boyfriend, ma’am.

Veva: Boyfriend? You might be her friend, like so many others. Only they never take anything for granted.

Adolfo: (Softly.) Please forgive me.

Veva: Why me? Go say that to Vevita.

Vevita enters.

Vevita: (Clearly lying.) Aunt Constanza is on her way.

Veva: This young man has something to say to you. (To him.) Tell her.

Adolfo: I ask that… that… you forgive me for what I said.

Vevita: About what, Adolfo?

Adolfo: About your bathing suit.

Vevita: Ah. But it was a joke.

Adolfo: Yeah, it was.

Veva: This young man is going around saying he’s your boyfriend. Explain that to me.

Vevita: I haven’t given him any reason to think that. He must think a lot of himself.

Veva: That’s what I say.

Vevita: (Giggles.) That’s not true, honey. Just a joke.

Veva: And take off that cover-up or you’re going to roast.

Vevita: No kidding, it’s hot.

She takes it off, letting out a malicious giggle.

She stretches her arms and breathes deeply.

Grandmother hasn’t missed a bit of this. She goes back to playing with the sand. Adrian and Elisa enter. They line up with the others. The photographer arranges the group in an artistic fashion. He puts Grandmother with everyone else. Celia and Agustin enter.

Celia: One last time, the whole family together. Well, a few grandchildren are missing, and we’ve got a few who aren’t family. But that’s okay. It’ll be beautiful.

Grandmother: Yes, these photographs are lovely. Soon enough we can start counting the dead.

Celia: Mom, you love to say the worst.

Jorge, Nelly and Constanza arrive.

Constanza: Here we are.

Chacho, Hector and Luis arrive.

Agustin: What were you guys doing?

Chacho: Having a few beers.

Agustin: Get in the photograph.

Luis: Not me. This is family. Good afternoon, everyone.

Hector: This is Luis. He’s a friend of mine. I mean, we… met and we are… This is my family, Luis.

Hands wave. Fake smiles.

Nelly: With a few extras. Like me.

Adolfo: And me.

Luis: Well, I’ll be an extra, too, then.

Hector: Yeah. You there, Jorge. Then Nelly. Then me…

Luis: Then me.

The photographer arranges the group again and goes to his camera.

Celia: But I can’t be photographed barefoot. That’s ridiculous.

Agustin: Sir, will our feet be in the photograph?

The photographer nods yes.

Celia: You see? Mine are so ugly. I’m going to get my shoes. Come with me, dear.

Celia and Agustin exit.

Agustin: Just another moment. So Mom can look gorgeous.

Celia: Oh, Agustin, how am I going to look gorgeous? I’ve gotten so ugly.

They leave. The group relaxes, and sort of breaks apart, as they wait.

Constanza: And so what happened, Nelly?

Nelly: Well, I was just spending everything. It felt so good to have some money. I had the radio shows, the dubbings, I was about to finish my degree. Every now and then I would think about having a home of my own, but not seriously. And then Daisy was getting ready to leave and started selling everything. Everything at a discount. When I went to see her, the only thing she had left was a refrigerator. The thing was brand-new. I had 400 pesos, and she let me have it. I was thrilled! I told everyone at the boarding house about it. That’s great, they said, what a bargain. But of course I couldn’t put the thing in my room. So I had to start looking for a new place. I didn’t have a stick of furniture. I would have to get a bed, at the very least, and a kitchen table, and some books, and … blankets, sheets, towels. Pictures and curtains, too, so the place would be inviting. Then a blender, and a radio, and God knows what else. As for the refrigerator, I started to get mad at that piece of junk. I started losing sleep over it. I heard the factory whistles in the morning. Everything was messed up, and all because of a refrigerator! I remembered that Myrna was about to get married. We’d had a fight and weren’t talking to each other. Well, I went to make up with her and I gave her the fridge. Poor Myrna, she didn’t know how to thank me. And I slept happily all morning. I even skipped a recording.

The photographer lines them up again as he sees fit. Giggles, pantomimed impersonations. Grandmother makes faces at the camera. Everyone laughs.

Grandmother: It doesn’t matter. We old women are horribly ugly.

Nelly: You have beautiful hair.

Grandmother: You should’ve seen it twenty years ago.

Luis: Is it true that you write?

Hector: I’ve published three books. I paid to have the first one published. I still have a lot to write.

Luis: Maybe you’ll give me a copy.

Hector: The second one didn’t do well. It got good reviews, but it didn’t sell. A radio station offered it as part of a promotion. For one month, the first twenty people who called the station got to choose from two gifts: a record or my book. They all asked for the record.

Luis: Well you’ll have to give me a copy of that one, too.

Celia and Agustin enter.

Celia: When are they going to take our picture? What are they waiting for?

Veva: For you to take your place. That’s all we need.

Vevita: Come over here with us, Grandma. Let’s put her on the other side of us. Let’s see where you go, Dad.

The photographer arranges them.

Adrian: Isn’t Benita going to be in it?

Celia: She looks just great for a photo. Poor camera.

Hector: We all look just great.

Celia: That many people won’t fit in a photo. We’re already too many.

Adrian: I’m going to get Benita.

Celia: Go ahead, dear. But if we don’t all fit, then no.

Adrian exits. Elisa goes with him.

Agustin: Just another moment, sir.

Chacho: Patience, pal.

Hector: Mom, how would you like it if I came here to live with you and grandma? Would you like that?

Celia: Dear, I’m only happy when you’re all here with me. Do you mean move here?

Hector: That’s what I was thinking.

Celia: But dear, you live such a free life. I don’t know how you’d feel coming back here. It’s so small, everyone knows us.

Hector: I’d be fine. And the he place, who knows? Constanza could take a vacation, take a break from all the responsibility. She certainly deserves it.

Celia: My dear, Constanza was born to live like that, with us. Look at her: she’s always happy.

Vevita: The sky is getting cloudy.

Adolfo: The photo isn’t going to come out.

Luis: Of course it will, if we just stay still a little bit longer.

Benita: I don’t know why you want me here.

Adrian: It’s a family photo. We’re all here and you should be here, too.

Benita: Not everyone is here. Your children didn’t come. You don’t need me.

Adrian: Come on, Benita. Come stand with the two of us, in the middle.

Chacho: Patricia, come over here by me.

She goes to the other side.

The Photographer goes to his camera and looks through the lens.

Photographer: You are fine just like that. Don’t move. It’s going to take time. I’m going to count to three. Don’t anyone move until I say “three.”

Adolfo: And since there aren’t any little birdies, everyone look at that wave.

Chacho: Yes, there are little birdies.

Veva: Be quiet.

Vevita: Find a wave that’s calm and different from the others.

Hector: They’re all calm and different.

Luis: Some are bigger than others. They stand out.

Adrian: They crash faster and make more noise.

Hector: You know, Adrian, what we were saying about the elements. From a different perspective, over time, you might be able to see the very waves of the earth. We might see them rise up and erase whole cities. Niniveh, Palenque, Babylon. Nine waves to wash away the nine Troys. And the bones of those who drowned. With a little snorkeling gear you could look in at the cemetery, see that tapestry of white coral.

Patricia: It’s getting dark…

Elisa: (Softly.) It wouldn’t really be a separation. You know that, right? And you know I’ll always love you. Why don’t you say something?

Photographer:  The cloud is moving out. Don’t move. Everyone look at the sea.

He rearranges them just a bit.

Luis: (To Hector.) I tried to kill myself once, when I was fourteen. I hung myself from the shower with a laundry line. I jumped from the edge of the tub, felt myself kicking, felt the tug, felt something immeasurable. Then I blacked out; a big flash. Afterwards, I was all bruised, lying there, which is why I think I must have fallen. And my neck was torn up. I wore a scarf for days, despite the heat. The laundry line wasn’t broken. I never knew what had happened. I never knew why I’m alive.

Hector: And do you think we know?

Photographer:  Now, please, everyone be still. I’m going to count.

Chacho: Think about something pleasant.

A brief, still silence. The sound of the sea rises.

Photographer: One…

Everyone adopts that special “photo” expression.

Patricia: The whole day is mine. No one is giving me orders.

Elisa: No tears, no fear. I can hear the dance music.

Vevita: A giant mirror.

Celia: My skin, so smooth and unblemished, my neck like it was before…

Adolfo: They’ve put my name on the office door.

Chacho: Women find me attractive. People like me. I can be whatever I want.

Adrian: I remember my youthful dreams and they don’t hurt anymore.

Veva: To have something.

Grandmother: To remember…

Photographer: Two…

From this moment on, their faces remain smiling. Set, photographed faces. Their expressions do not correspond to what they are going to say.

Jorge: After what happened to Nelly, which devastated my uncle, I just kept working. I was making more and more money. I was about to get my degree. Bucktooth, as Nelly called her, would visit my relatives and make plans for us. My own plans were actually happening, but they were starting to look a little empty, a little sad. There was nothing else for me to do. Chacho had already gotten married, and Vevita, too. It was my turn. That’s when the accident happened. I was on a motorcycle. I didn’t feel anything. I just turned my head and something was running over me. And then I wasn’t there.

Nelly: As we entered the curve, someone shouted. We were in the Alps, with this incredible view. I never knew who shouted. Later I heard them say in French that my face was crashed and that I might be blind, or paralyzed, if I survived. I heard this whimpering for such a long time. It was me.

Benita: You should have seen her cry, the poor thing. She didn’t want to close my eyelids. She was afraid to touch me. I realized we don’t need to share blood to be family. Celia’s my sister, though she might not know it.

Adrian: Some people have multiple heart attacks. I only had one. I went down right in front of Grandma. A huge burst that wouldn’t let me breathe. It didn’t last long.

Grandmother: (Shouting.) Adrian! I haven’t forgotten. Neither has Constanza.

Constanza: (Softly.) The two of us alone here in the house. Looking at this old photo, counting the dead. Just Grandmother and I. The photo has begun to fade.

An intense white light.

It gradually turns yellow and blurry.

The sound of the sea rises.



Begun in Madrid, October 1, 1974

Finished in Mexico City, June 12, 1977

[1] The first pubished version of the text appeared in Carballido: Fotografía en la playa, Soñar la noche, Las cartas de Mozart (Mexico City: Escenología, 1994). The premiere took place in in Mexico City in the Teatro de la Paz of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, and was followed in May 1985 with a staging in the Teatro Pedro Díaz of Córdoba, Carballido’s alleged birthplace, as part of the celebration of his 60th birthday. In 2004, it was staged in the enormous theatre of the Palacio de Bellas Artes of Mexico City.

[2] For more information on this play and on Carballido’s theatre in general, see my book, Convention and Transgression. The Theatre of Emilio Carballido (Bucknell UP, 1997).

One thought on “Photograph on the Beach

  1. Pingback: Editor’s Note 5.2 | The Mercurian

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