IN THE BEWILDERMENT of her last years, ?rsula had had very little free time to attend to the papal education of Jos? Arcadio, and the time came for him to get ready to leave for the seminary right away. Meme, his sister, dividing her time between Fernanda’s rigidity and Amaranta’s bitterness, at almost the same moment reached the age set for her to be sent to the nuns’ school, where they would make a virtuoso on the clavichord of her. ?rsula felt tormented by grave doubts concerning the effectiveness of the methods with which she had molded the spirit of the languid apprentice Supreme Pontiff, but she did not put the blame on her staggering old age or the dark clouds that barely permitted her to make out the shape of things, but on something that she herself could not really define and that she conceived confusedly as a progressive breakdown of time. “The years nowadays don’t pass the way the old ones used to,” she would say, feeling that everyday reality was slipping through her hands. In the past, she thought, children took a long time to grow up. All one had to do was remember all the time needed for Jos? Arcadio, the elder, to go away with the gypsies and all that happened before he came back painted like a snake and talking like an astronomer, and the things that happened in the house before Amaranta and Arcadio forgot the language of the Indians and learned Spanish. One had to see only the days of sun and dew that poor Jos? Arcadio Buend?a went through under the chestnut tree and all the time weeded to mourn his death before they brought in a dying Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, who after so much war and so much suffering from it was still not fifty years of age. In other times, after spending the whole day making candy animals, she had more than enough time for the children, to see from the whites of their eyes that they needed a dose of castor oil. Now, however, when she had nothing to do and would go about with Jos? Arcadio riding on her hip from dawn to dusk, this bad kind of time compelled her to leave things half done. The truth was that ?rsula resisted growing old even when she had already lost count of her age and she was a bother on all sides as she tried to meddle in everything and as she annoyed strangers with her questions as to whether they had left a plaster Saint Joseph to be kept until the rains were over during the days of the war. No one knew exactly when she had begun to lose her sight. Even in her later years, when she could no longer get out of bed, it seemed that she was simply defeated by decrepitude, but no one discovered that she was blind. She had noticed it before the birth of Jos? Arcadio. At first she thought it was a matter of a passing debility and she secretly took marrow syrup and put honey on her eyes, but quite soon she began to realize that she was irrevocably sinking into the darkness, to a point where she never had a clear notion of the invention of the electric light, for when they put in the first bulbs she was only able to perceive the glow. She did not tell anyone about it because it would have been a public recognition of her uselessness. She concentrated on a silent schooling in the distances of things and peoples voices, so that she would still be able to see with her memory what the shadows of her cataracts no longer allowed her to. Later on she was to discover the unforeseen help of odors, which were defined in the shadows with a strength that was much more convincing than that of bulk and color, and which saved her finally from the shame of admitting defeat. In the darkness of the room she was able to thread a needle and sew a buttonhole and she knew when the milk was about to boil. She knew with so much certainty the location of everything that she herself forgot that she was blind at times. On one occasion Fernanda had the whole house upset because she had lost her wedding ring, and ?rsula found it on a shelf in the children’s bedroom. Quite simply, while the others were going carelessly all about, she watched them with her four senses so that they never took her by surprise, and after some time she discovered that every member of the family, without realizing it, repeated the same path every day, the same actions, and almost repeated the same words at the same hour. Only when they deviated from meticulous routine did they run the risk of losing something. So when she heard Fernanda all upset be cause she had lost her ring, ?rsula remembered that the only thing different that she had done that day was to put the mattresses out in the sun because Meme had found a bedbug the might before. Since the children had been present at the fumigation, ?rsula figured that Fernanda had put the ring in the only place where they could not reach it: the shelf. Fernanda, on the other hand, looked for it in vain along the paths of her everyday itinerary without knowing that the search for lost things is hindered by routine habits and that is why it is so difficult to find them.
The rearing of Jos? Arcadio helped ?rsula in the exhausting task of keeping herself up to date on the smallest changes in the house. When she realized that Amaranta was dressing the saints in the bedroom she pretended to show the boy the differences in the colors.
“Let’s see,” she would tell him. “Tell me what color the Archangel Raphael is wearing.”
In that way the child gave her the information that was denied her by her eyes, and long before he went away to the seminary ?rsula could already distinguish the different colors of the saints’ clothing by the texture. Sometimes unforeseen accidents would happen. One afternoon when Amaranta was ‘embroidering on the porch with the begonias ?rsula bumped into her.
“For heaven’s sake,” Amaranta protested. “watch where you’re going.”
“It’s your fault,” ?rsula said. “You’re not sitting where you’re supposed to.”
She was sure of it. But that day she began to realize something that no one had noticed and it was that with the passage of the year the sun imperceptibly changed position and those who sat on the porch had to change their position little by little without being aware of it. From then on ?rsula had only to remember the date in order to know exactly where Amaranta was sitting. Even though the trembling of her hands was more and more noticeable and the weight of her feet was too much for her, her small figure was never seen in so many places at the same time. She was almost as diligent as when she had the whole weight of the house on her shoulders. Nevertheless, in the impenetrable solitude of decrepitude she had such clairvoyance as she examined the most insignificant happenings in the family that for the first time she saw clearly the truths that her busy life in former times had prevented her from seeing. Around the time they were preparing Jos? Arcadio for the seminary she had already made a detailed recapitulation of life in the house since the founding of Macondo and had completely changed the opinion that she had always held of her descendants. She realized that Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had not lost his love for the family because he had been hardened by the war, as she had thought before, but that he had never loved anyone, not even his wife Remedios or the countless one-night women who had passed through his life, and much less his sons. She sensed that he had fought so many wars not out of idealism, as everyone had thought, nor had he renounced a certain victory because of fatigue, as everyone had thought, but that he had won and lost for the same reason, pure and sinful pride. She reached the conclusion that the son for whom she would have given her life was simply a man incapable of love. One night when she was carrying him in her belly she heard him weeping. It was such a definite lament that Jos? Arcadio Buend?a woke up beside her and was happy with the idea that his son was going to be a ventriloquist. Other people predicted that he would be a prophet. She, on the other hand, shuddered from the certainty that the deep moan was a first indication of the fearful pig tail and she begged God to let the child die in her womb. But the lucidity of her old age allowed her to see, and she said so many times, that the cries of children in their mothers’ wombs are not announcements of ventriloquism or a faculty for prophecy but an unmistakable sign of an incapacity for love. The lowering of the image of her son brought out in her all at once all the compassion that she owed him. Amaranta, however, whose hardness of heart frightened her, whose concentrated bitterness made her bitter, suddenly became clear to her in the final analysis as the most tender woman who had ever existed, and she understood with pitying clarity that the unjust tortures to which she had submitted Pietro Crespi had not been dictated by a desire for vengeance, as everyone had thought, nor had the slow martyrdom with which she had frustrated the life of Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez been determined by the gall of her bitterness, as everyone had thought, but that both actions had been a mortal struggle between a measureless love and an invincible cowardice, and that the irrational fear that Amaranta had always had of her own tormented heart had triumphed in the end. It was during that time that ?rsula, began to speak Rebeca’s name, bringing back the memory of her with an old love that was exalted by tardy repentance and a sudden admiration, coming to understand that only she, Rebeca, the one who had never fed of her milk but only of the earth of the land and the whiteness of the walls, the one who did not carry the blood of her veins in hers but the unknown blood of the strangers whose bones were still clocing in their grave. Rebeca, the one with an impatient heart, the one with a fierce womb, was the only one who bad the unbridled courage that ?rsula had wanted for her line.
“Rebeca,” she would say, feeling along the walls, “how unfair we’ve been to you!”
In the house they simply thought that her mind was wandering, especially since the time she had begun walking about with her right arm raised like the Archangel Gabriel. Fernanda, however, realized that there was a sun of clairvoyance in the shadows of that wandering, for ?rsula could say without hesitation how much money had been spent in the house during the previous year. Amaranta had a similar idea one day as her mother was stirring a pot of soup in the kitchen and said all at once without knowing that they were listening to her that the corn grinder they had bought from the first gypsies and that had disappeared during the time before Jos? Arcadio, had taken his sixty-five trips around the world was still in Pilar Ternera’s house. Also almost a hundred years old, but fit and agile in spite of her inconceivable fatness, which frightened children as her laughter had frightened the doves in other times, Pilar Ternera was not surprised that ?rsula was correct because her own experience was beginning to tell her that an alert old age can be more keen than the cards.
Nevertheless, when ?rsula realized that she had not had enough time to consolidate the vocation of Jos? Arcadio, she let herself be disturbed by consternation. She began to make mistakes, trying to see with her eyes the things that intuition allowed her to see with greater clarity. One morning she poured the contents of an inkwell over the boy’s head thinking that it was rose water. She stumbled so much in her insistence in taking part in everything that she felt herself upset by gusts of bad humor and she tried to get rid of the shadows that were beginning to wrap her in a straitjacket of cobwebs. It was then that it occurred to her that her clumsiness was not the first victory of decrepitude and darkness but a sentence passed by time. She thought that previously, when God did not make the same traps out of the months and years that the Turks used when they measured a yard of percale, things were different. Now children not only grew faster, but even feelings developed in a different way. No sooner had Remedios the Beauty ascended to heaven in body and soul than the inconsiderate Fernanda was going about mumbling to herself because her sheets had been carried off. The bodies of the Aurelianos were no sooner cold in their graves than Aureliano Segundo had the house lighted up again, filled with drunkards playing the accordion and dousing themselves in champagne, as if dogs and not Christians had died, and as if that madhouse which had cost her so many headaches and so many candy animals was destined to become a trash heap of perdition. Remembering those things as she prepared Jos? Arcadio’s trunk, ?rsula wondered if it was not preferable to lie down once and for all in her grave and let them throw the earth over her, and she asked God, without fear, if he really believed that people were made of iron in order to bear so many troubles and mortifications, and asking over and over she was stirring up her own confusion and she felt irrepressible desires to let herself go and scamper about like a foreigner and allow herself at last an instant of rebellion, that instant yearned for so many times and so many times postponed, putting her resignation aside and shitting on everything once and for all and drawing out of her heart the infinite stacks of bad words that she had been forced to swallow over a century of conformity.
“Shit!” she shouted.
Amaranta, who was starting to put the clothes into the trunk, thought that she had been bitten by a scorpion.
“Where is it?” she asked in alarm.
“The bug!” Amaranta said.
?rsula put a finger on her heart.
“Here,” she said.
On Thursday, at two in the afternoon, Jos? Arcadio left for the seminary. ‘?rsula would remember him always as she said good-bye to him, languid and serious, without shedding a tear, as she had taught him, sweltering in the heat in the green corduroy suit with copper buttons and a starched bow around his neck. He left the dining room impregnated with the penetrating fragrance of rose water that she had sprinkled on his head so that she could follow his tracks through the house. While the farewell lunch was going on, the family concealed its nervousness with festive expressions and they celebrated with exaggerated enthusiasm the remarks that Father Antonio Isabel made. But when they took out the trunk bound in velvet and with silver corners, it was as if they had taken a coffin out of the house. The only one who refused to take part in the farewell was Colonel Aureliano Buend?a.
“That’s all we need,” he muttered. “A Pope!”
Three months later Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda took Meme to school and came back with a clavichord, which took the place of the pianola. It was around that time that Amaranta started sewing her own shroud. The banana fever had calmed down. The old inhabitants of Macondo found themselves surrounded by newcomers and working hard to cling to their precarious resources of times gone by, but comforted in any case by the sense that they had survived a shipwreck. In the house they still had guests for lunch and the old routine was never really set up again until the banana company left years later. Nevertheless, there were radical changes in the traditional sense of hospitality because at that time it was Fernanda who imposed her rules. With ?rsula relegated to the shadows and with Amaranta absorbed In the work of her winding cloth, the former apprentice queen had the freedom to choose the guests and impose on them the rigid norms that her parents had taught her. Her severity made the house a redoubt of old customs in a town convulsed by the vulgarity with which the outsiders squandered their easy fortunes. For her, with no further questions asked, proper people were those who had nothing to do with the banana company. Even Jos? Arcadio Segundo, her brother-in-law, was the victim of her discriminatory jealousy because during the excitement of the first days he gave up his stupendous fighting cocks again and took a job as foreman with the banana company.
“He won’t ever come into this house again,” Fernanda said, “as long as he carries the rash of the foreigners.”
Such was the narrowness imposed in the house that Aureliano Segundo felt more comfortable at Petra Cotes’s. First, with the pretext of taking the burden off his wife, he transferred his parties. Then, with the pretext that the animals were losing their fertility, he transferred his barns and stables. Finally, with the pretext that it was cooler in his concubine’s house, he transferred the small office in which he handled his business. When Fernanda realized that she was a widow whose husband had still not died, it was already too late for things to return to their former state. Aureliano Segundo barely ate at home and the only appearances he put in, such as to sleep with his wife, were not enough to convince anyone. One night, out of carelessness, morning found him in Petra Cotes’s bed. Fernanda, contrary to expectations, did not reproach him in the least or give the slightest sigh of resentment, but on the same day she sent two trunks with his clothing to the house of his concubine. She sent them in broad daylight and with instructions that they be carried through the middle of the street so that everyone could see them, thinking that her straying husband would be unable to bear the shame and would return to the fold with his head hung low. But that heroic gesture was just one more proof of how poorly Fernanda knew not only the character of her husband but the character of a community that had nothing to do with that of her parents, for everyone who saw the trunks pass by said that it was the natural culmination of a story whose intimacies were known to everyone, and Aureliano Segundo celebrated the freedom he had received with a party that lasted for three days. To the greater disadvantage of his wife, as she was entering into a sad maturity with her somber long dresses, her old-fashioned medals, and her out-of-place pride, the concubine seemed to be bursting with a second youth, clothed in gaudy dresses of natural silk and with her eyes tiger-striped with a glow of vindication. Aureliano Segundo gave himself over to her again with the fury of adolescence, as before, when Petra Cotes had not loved him for himself but because she had him mixed up with his twin brother and as she slept with both of them at the same time she thought that God had given her the good fortune of having a man who could make love like two. The restored passion was so pressing that on more than one occasion they would look each other in the eyes as they were getting ready to eat and without saying anything they would cover their plates and go into the bedroom dying of hunger and of love. Inspired by the things he had seen on his furtive visits to the French matrons, Aureliano Segundo bought Petra Cotes a bed with an archiepiscopal canopy, put velvet curtains on the windows, and covered the ceiling and the walls of the bedroom with large rock-crystal mirrors. At the same time he was more of a carouser and spendthrift than ever. On the train, which arrived every day at eleven o’clock, he would receive cases and more cases of champagne and brandy. On the way back from the station he would drag the improvised cumbiamba along in full view of all the people on the way, natives or outsiders, acquaintances or people yet to be known, without distinctions of any kind. Even the slippery Mr. Brown, who talked only in a strange tongue, let himself be seduced by the tempting signs that Aureliano Segundo made him and several times he got dead drunk in Petra Cotes’s house and he even made the fierce German shepherd dogs that went everywhere with him dance to some Texas songs that he himself mumbled in one way or another to the accompaniment of the accordion.
“Cease, cows,” Aureliano Segundo shouted at the height of the party. “Cease, because life is short.”
He never looked better, nor had he been loved more, nor had the breeding of his animals been wilder. There was a slaughtering of so many cows, pigs, and chickens for the endless parties that the ground in the courtyard turned black and muddy with so much blood. It was an eternal execution ground of bones and innards, a mud pit of leftovers, and they had to keep exploding dynamite bombs all the time so that the buzzards would not pluck out the guests’ eyes. Aureliano Segundo grew fat, purple-colored, turtle-shaped, because of an appetite comparable only to that of Jos? Arcadio when he came back from traveling around the world. The prestige of his outlandish voracity, of his immense capacity as a spendthrift, of his unprecedented hospitality went beyond the borders of the swamp and attracted the best-qualified gluttons from all along the coast. Fabulous eaters arrived from everywhere to take part in the irrational tourneys of capacity and resistance that were organized in the house of Petra Cotes. Aureliano Segundo was the unconquered eater until the luckless Saturday when Camila Sagastume appeared, a totemic female known all through the land by the good name of “The Elephant.” The duel lasted until dawn on Tuesday. During the first twenty-four hours, having dispatched a dinner of veal, with cassava, yams, and fried bananas, and a case and a half of champagne in addition, Aureliano Segundo was sure of victory. He seemed more enthusiastic, more vital than his imperturbable adversary, who possessed a style that was obviously more professional, but at the same time less emotional for the large crowd that filled the house. While Aureliano Segundo ate with great bites, overcome by the anxiety of victory, The Elephant was slicing her meat with the art of a surgeon and eating it unhurriedly and even with a certain pleasure. She was gigantic and sturdy, but over her colossal form a tenderness of femininity prevailed and she had a face that was so beautiful, hands so fine and well cared for, and such an irresistible personal charm that when Aureliano Segundo saw her enter the house he commented in a low voice that he would have preferred to have the tourney in bed and not at the table. Later on, when he saw her consume a side of veal without breaking a single rule of good table manners, he commented seriously that that delicate, fascinating, and insatiable proboscidian was in a certain way the ideal woman. He was not mistaken. The reputation of a bone crusher that had preceded The Elephant had no basis. She was not a beef cruncher or a bearded lady from a Greek circus, as had been said, but the director of a school of voice. She had learned to eat when she was already the respectable mother of a family, looking for a way for her children to eat better and not by means of any artificial stimulation of their appetites but through the absolute tranquility of their spirits. Her theory, demonstrated in practice, was based on the principle that a person who had all matters of conscience in perfect shape should be able to eat until overcome by fatigue. And it was for moral reasons and sporting interest that she left her school and her home to compete with a man whose fame as a great, unprincipled eater had spread throughout the country. From the first moment she saw him she saw that Aureliano Segundo would lose not his stomach but his character. At the end of the first night, while The Elephant was boldly going on, Aureliano Segundo was wearing himself out with a great deal of talking and laughing. They slept four hours. On awakening each one had the juice of forty oranges, eight quarts of coffee, and thirty raw eggs. On the second morning, after many hours without sleep and having put away two pigs, a bunch of bananas, and four cases of champagne, The Elephant suspected that Aureliano Segundo had unknowingly discovered the same method as hers, but by the absurd route of total irresponsibility. He was, therefore, more dangerous than she had thought. Nevertheless, when Petra Cotes brought two roast turkeys to the table, Aureliano Segundo was a step away from being stuffed.
“If you can’t, don’t eat any more,” The Elephant said to him. “Let’s call it a tie.”
She said it from her heart, understanding that she could not eat another mouthful either, out of remorse for bringing on the death of her adversary. But Aureliano Segundo interpreted it as another challenge and he filled himself with turkey beyond his incredible capacity. He lost consciousness. He fell face down into the plate filled with bones, frothing at the mouth like a dog, and drowning in moans of agony. He felt, in the midst of the darkness, that they were throwing him from the top of a tower into a bottomless pit and in a last flash of consciousness he realized that at the end of that endless fall death was waiting for him.
“Take me to Fernanda,” he managed to say.
His friends left him at the house thinking that they had helped him fulfill his promise to his wife not to die in his concubine’s bed. Petra Cotes had shined his patent leather boots that he wanted to wear in his coffin, and she was already looking for someone to take them when they came to tell her that Aureliano Segundo was out of danger. He did recover, indeed, in less than a week, and two weeks later he was celebrating the fact of his survival with unprecedented festivities. He continued living at Petra Cotes’s but he would visit Fernanda every day and sometimes he would stay to eat with the family, as if fate had reversed the situation and had made him the husband of his concubine and the lover of his wife.
It was a rest for Fernanda. During the boredom of her abandonment her only distractions were the clavichord lessons at siesta time and the letters from her children. In the detailed messages that she sent them every two weeks there was not a single line of truth. She hid her troubles from them. She hid from them the sadness of a house which, in spite of the light on the begonias, in spite of the heaviness at two in the afternoon, in spite of the frequent waves of festivals that came in from the street was more and more like the colonial mansion of her parents. Fernanda would wander alone among the three living ghosts and the dead ghost of Jos? Arcadio Buend?a, who at times would come to sit down with an inquisitive attention in the half-light of the parlor while she was playing the clavichord. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a was a shadow. Since the last time that he had gone out into the street to propose a war without any future to Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez, he left the workshop only to urinate under the chestnut tree. He did not receive any visits except that of the barber every three weeks, He fed on anything that ?rsula brought him once a day, and even though he kept on making little gold fishes with the same passion as before, he stopped selling them when he found out that people were buying them not as pieces of jewelry but as historic relics. He made a bonfire in the courtyard of the dolls of Remedios which had decorated, their bedroom since their wedding. The watchful ?rsula realized what her son was doing but she could not stop him.
“You have a heart of stone,” she told him.
“It’s not a question of a heart,” he said. “The room’s getting full of moths.”
Amaranta was weaving her shroud. Fernanda did not understand why she would write occasional letters to Meme and even send her gifts and on the other hand did not even want to hear about Jos? Arcadio. “They’ll die without knowing why,” Amaranta answered when she was asked through ?rsula, and that answer planted an enigma in Fernanda’s heart that she was never able to clarify. Tall, broad-shouldered, proud, always dressed in abundant petticoats with the lace and in air of distinction that resisted the years and bad memories, Amaranta seemed to carry the cross of ashes of virginity on her forehead. In reality she carried it on her hand in the black bandage, which she did not take off even to sleep and which she washed and ironed herself. Her life was spent in weaving her shroud. It might have been said that she wove during the day and unwove during the night, and not with any hope of defeating solitude in that way, but, quite the contrary, in order to nurture it.
The greatest worry that Fernanda had during her years of abandonment was that Meme would come to spend her first vacation and not find Aureliano Segundo at home. His congestion had put an end to that fear. When Meme returned, her parents had made an agreement that not only would the girl think that Aureliano Segundo was still a domesticated husband but also that she would not notice the sadness of the house. Every year for two months Aureliano Segundo played his role of an exemplary husband and he organized parties with ice cream and cookies which the gay and lively schoolgirl enhanced with the clavichord. It was obvious from then on that she had inherited very little of her mother’s character. She seemed more of a second version of Amaranta when the latter had not known bitterness and was arousing the house with her dance steps at the age of twelve or fourteen before her secret passion for Pietro Crespi was to twist the direction of her heart in the end. But unlike Amaranta, unlike all of them, Meme still did not reveal the solitary fate of the family and she seemed entirely in conformity with the world, even when she would shut herself up in the parlor at two in the afternoon to practice the clavichord with an inflexible discipline. It was obvious that she liked the house, that she spent the whole year dreaming about the excitement of the young people her arrival brought around, and that she was not far removed from the festive vocation and hospitable excesses of her father. The first sign of that calamitous inheritance was revealed on her third vacation, when Meme appeared at the house with four nuns and sixty-eight classmates whom she had invited to spend a week with her family on her own Initiative and without any previous warning.
“How awful!” Fernanda lamented. “This child is as much of a barbarian as her father!”
It was necessary to borrow beds and hammocks from the neighbors, to set up nine shifts at the table, to fix hours for bathing, and to borrow forty stools so that the girls in blue uniforms with masculine buttons would not spend the whole day running from one place to another. The visit was a failure because the noisy schoolgirls would scarcely finish breakfast before they had to start taking turns for lunch and then for dinner, and for the whole week they were able to take only one walk through the plantations. At nightfall the nuns were exhausted, unable to move, give another order, and still the troop of tireless adolescents was in the courtyard singing school songs out of tune. One day they were on the point of trampling ?rsula, who made an effort to be useful precisely where she was most in the way. On another day the nuns got all excited because Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had urinated under the chestnut tree without being concerned that the schoolgirls were in the courtyard. Amaranta was on the point of causing panic because one of the nuns went into the kitchen as she was salting the soup and the only thing that occurred to her to say was to ask what those handfuls of white powder were.
“Arsenic,” Amaranta answered.
The night of their arrival the students carried on in such a way, trying to go to the bathroom before they went to bed, that at one o’clock in the morning the last ones were still going in. Fernanda then bought seventy-two chamberpots but she only managed to change the nocturnal problem into a morning one, because from dawn on there was a long line of girls, each with her pot in her hand, waiting for her turn to wash it. Although some of them suffered fevers and several of them were infected by mosquito bites, most of them showed an unbreakable resistance as they faced the most troublesome difficulties, and even at the time of the greatest heat they would scamper through the garden. When they finally left, the flowers were destroyed, the furniture broken, and the walls covered with drawings and writing, but Fernanda pardoned them for all of the damage because of her relief at their leaving. She returned the borrowed beds and stools and kept the seventy-two chamberpots in Melqu?ades’ room. The locked room, about which the spiritual life of the house revolved in former times, was known from that time on as the “chamberpot room.” For Colonel Aureliano Buend?a it was the most appropriate name, because while the rest of the family was still amazed by the fact that Melqu?ades’ room was immune to dust and destruction, he saw it turned into a dunghill. In any case, it did not seem to bother him who was correct, and if he found out about the fate of the room it was because Fernanda kept passing by and disturbing his work for a whole afternoon as she put away the chamberpots.
During those days Jos? Arcadio Segundo reappeared in the house. He went along the porch without greeting anyone and he shut himself up in the workshop to talk to the colonel. In spite of the fact that she could not see him, ?rsula analyzed the clicking of his foreman’s boots and was surprised at the unbridgeable distance that separated him from the family, even from the twin brother with whom he had played ingenious games of confusion in childhood and with whom he no longer had any traits in common. He was linear, solemn, and had a pensive air and the sadness of a Saracen and a mournful glow on his face that was the color of autumn. He was the one who most resembled his mother, Santa Sof?a de la Piedad. ?rsula reproached herself for the habit of forgetting about him when she spoke about the family, but when she sensed him in the house again and noticed that the colonel let him into the workshop during working hours, she reexamined her old memories and confirmed the belief that at some moment in childhood he had changed places with his twin brother, because it was he and not the other one who should have been called Aureliano. No one knew the details of his life. At one time it was discovered that he had no fixed abode, that he raised fighting cocks at Pilar Ternera’s house and that sometimes he would stay there to sleep but that he almost always spent the night in the rooms of the French matrons. He drifted about, with no ties of affection, with no ambitions, like a wandering star in ?rsula’s planetary system.
In reality, Jos? Arcadio Segundo was not a member of the family, nor would he ever be of any other since that distant dawn when Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez took him to the barracks, not so that he could see an execution, but so that for the rest of his life he would never forget the sad and somewhat mocking smile of the man being shot. That was not only his oldest memory, but the only one he had of his childhood. The other one, that of an old man with an old-fashioned vest and a hat with a brim like a crow’s wings who told him marvelous things framed in a dazzling window, he was unable to place in any period. It was an uncertain memory, entirely devoid of lessons or nostalgia, the opposite of the memory of the executed man, which had really set the direction of his life and would return to his memory clearer and dearer as he grew older, as if the passage of time were bringing him closer to it. ?rsula tried to use Jos? Arcadio Segundo to get Colonel Aureliano Buend?a. to give up his imprisonment. “Get him to go to the movies,” she said to him. “Even if he doesn’t like the picture, as least he’ll breathe a little fresh air.” But it did not take her long to realize that he was as insensible to her begging as the colonel would have been, and that they were armored by the same impermeability of affection. Although she never knew, nor did anyone know, what they spoke about in their prolonged sessions shut up in the workshop, she understood that they were probably the only members of the family who seemed drawn together by some affinity.
The truth is that not even Jos? Arcadio Segundo would have been able to draw the colonel out of his confinement. The invasion of schoolgirls had lowered the limits of his patience. With the pretext that his wedding bedroom was at the mercy of the moths in spite of the destruction of Remedios’ appetizing dolls, he hung a hammock in the workshop and then he would leave it only to go into the courtyard to take care of his necessities. ?rsula was unable to string together even a trivial conversation with him. She knew that he did not look at the dishes of food but would put them at one end of his workbench while he finished a little fish and it did not matter to him if the soup curdled or if the meat got cold. He grew harder and harder ever since Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez refused to back him up in a senile war. He locked himself up inside himself and the family finally thought of him is if he were dead. No other human reaction was seen in him until one October eleventh, when he went to the. street door to watch a circus parade. For Colonel Aureliano Buend?a it had been a day just like all those of his last years. At five o’clock in the morning the noise of the toads and crickets outside the wall woke him up. The drizzle had persisted since Saturday and there was no necessity for him to hear their tiny whispering among the leaves of the garden because he would have felt the cold in his bones in any case. He was, as always, wrapped in his woolen blanket and wearing his crude cotton long drawers, which he still wore for comfort, even though because of their musty, old-fashioned style he called them his “Goth drawers.” He put on his tight pants but did not button them up, nor did he put the gold button into his shirt collar as he always did, because he planned to take a bath. Then he put the blanket over his head like a cowl. brushed his dripping mustache with his fingers, and went to urinate in the courtyard. There was still so much time left for the sun to come out that Jos? Arcadio Buend?a was still dozing under the shelter of palm fronds that had been rotted by the rain. He did not see him, as he had never seen him, nor did he hear the incomprehensible phrase that the ghost of his father addressed to him as he awakened, startled by the stream of hot urine that splattered his shoes. He put the bath off for later, not because of the cold and the dampness, but because of the oppressive October mist. On his way back to the workshop he noticed the odor of the wick that Santa Sof?a de la Piedad was using to light the stoves, and he waited in the kitchen for the coffee to boil so that he could take along his mug without sugar. Santa Sof?a de la Piedad asked him, as on every morning, what day of the week it was, and he answered that it was Tuesday, October eleventh. Watching the glow of the fire as it gilded the persistent woman who neither then nor in any instant of her life seemed to exist completely, he suddenly remembered that on one October eleventh in the middle of the war he had awakened with the brutal certainty that the woman with whom he had slept was dead. She really was and he could not forget the date because she had asked him an hour before what day it was. In spite of the memory he did not have an awareness this time either of to what degree his omens had abandoned him and while the coffee was boiling he kept on thinking out of pure curiosity but without the slightest risk of nostalgia about the woman whose name he had never known and whose face he had not seen because she had stumbled to his hammock in the dark. Nevertheless, in the emptiness of so many women who came into his life in the same way, he did not remember that she was the one who in the delirium of that first meeting was on the point of foundering in her own tears and scarcely an hour before her death had sworn to love him until she died. He did not think about her again or about any of the others after he went into the workshop with the steaming cup, and he lighted the lamp in order to count the little gold fishes, which he kept in a tin pail. There were seventeen of them. Since he had decided not to sell any, he kept on making two fishes a day and when he finished twenty-five he would melt them down and start all over again. He worked all morning, absorbed, without thinking about anything, without realizing that at ten o’clock the rain had grown stronger and someone ran past the workshop shouting to close the doors before the house was flooded, and without thinking even about himself until ?rsula came in with his lunch and turned out the light.
“What a rain!” ?rsula said.
“October,” he said.
When he said it he did not raise his eyes from the first little fish of the day because he was putting in the rubies for the eyes. Only when he finished it and put it with the others in the pail did he begin to drink the soup. Then, very slowly, he ate the piece of meat roasted with onions, the white rice, and the slices of fried bananas all on the same plate together. His appetite did not change under either the best or the harshest of circumstances. After lunch he felt the drowsiness of inactivity. Because of a kind of scientific superstition he never worked, or read, or bathed, or made love until two hours of digestion had gone by, and it was such a deep-rooted belief that several times he held up military operations so as not to submit the troops to the risks of indigestion. So he lay down in the hammock, removing the wax from his ears with a penknife, and in a few minutes he was asleep. He dreamed that he was going into an empty house with white walls and that he was upset by the burden of being the first human being to enter it. In the dream he remembered that he had dreamed the same thing the night before and on many nights over the past years and he knew that the image would be erased from his memory when he awakened because that recurrent dream had the quality of not being remembered except within the dream itself. A moment later, indeed, when the barber knocked at the workshop door, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a awoke with the impression that he had fallen asleep involuntarily for a few seconds and that he had not had time to dream anything.
“Not today.” he told the barber. “We’ll make it on Friday.”
He had a three-day beard speckled with white hairs, but he did not think it necessary to shave because on Friday he was going to have his hair cut and it could all be done at the same time. The sticky sweat of the unwanted siesta aroused the scars of the sores in his armpits. The sky had cleared but the sun had not come out. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a released a sonorous belch which brought back the acidity of the soup to his palate and which was like a command from his organism to throw his blanket over his shoulders and go to the toilet. He stayed there longer than was necessary, crouched over the dense fermentation that was coming out of the wooden box until habit told him that it was time to start work again. During the time he lingered he remembered again that it was Tuesday, and that Jos? Arcadio Segundo had not come to the workshop because it was payday on the banana company farms. That recollection, as all of those of the past few years, led him to think about the war without his realizing it. He remembered that Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez had once promised to get him a horse with a white star on its face and that he had never spoken about it again. Then he went on toward scattered episodes but he brought them back without any judgment because since he could not think about anything else, he had learned to think coldly so that inescapable memories would not touch any feeling. On his way back to the workshop, seeing that the air was beginning to dry out, he decided that it was a good time to take a bath, but Amaranta had got there ahead of him. So he started on the second little fish of the day. He was putting a hook on the tail when the sun came out with such strength that the light creaked like a fishing boat. The air, which had been washed by the three-day drizzle, was filled with flying ants. Then he came to the realization that he felt like urinating and he had been putting it off until he had finished fixing the little fish. He went out into the courtyard at ten minutes after four, when he heard the distant brass instruments, the beating of the bass drum and the shouting of the children, and for the first time since his youth he knowingly fell into a trap of nostalgia and relived that prodigious afternoon Of the gypsies when his father took him to see ice. Santa Sof?a de la Piedad dropped what she was doing in the kitchen and ran to the door.
“It’s the circus,” she shouted.
Instead of going to the chestnut tree, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a also went to the street door and mingled with the bystanders who, were watching the parade. He saw a woman dressed in gold sitting on the head of an elephant. He saw a sad dromedary. He saw a bear dressed like a Dutch girl keeping time to the music with a soup spoon and a pan. He saw the clowns doing cartwheels at the end of the parade and once more he saw the face of his miserable solitude when everything had passed by and there was nothing but the bright expanse of the street and the air full of flying ants with a few onlookers peering into the precipice of uncertainty. Then he went to the chestnut tree, thinking about the circus, and while he urinated he tried to keep on thinking about the circus, but he could no longer find the memory. He pulled his head in between his shoulders like a baby chick and remained motionless with his forehead against the trunk of the chestnut tree. The family did not find him until the following day at eleven o’clock in the morning when Santa Sof?a de la Piedad went to throw out the garbage in back and her attention was attracted by the descending vultures.