MEME’S LAST VACATIONS coincided with the period of mourning for Colonel Aureliano Buend?a. The shuttered house was no place for parties. They spoke in whispers, ate in silence, recited the rosary three times a day, and even clavichord practice during the heat of siesta time had a funereal echo. In spite of her secret hostility toward the colonel, it was Fernanda who imposed the rigor of that mourning, impressed by the solemnity with which the government exalted the memory of its dead enemy. Aureliano Segundo, as was his custom came back to sleep in the house during his daughter’s vacation and Fernanda must have done some. thing to regain her privileges as his legitimate wife because the following year Meme found a newborn little sister who against the wishes of her mother had been baptized with the name Amaranta ?rsula.
Meme had finished her course of study. The diploma that certified her as a concert clavichordist was ratified by the virtuosity with which she executed popular melodies of the seventeenth century at the gathering organized to celebrate the completion of her studies and with which the period of mourning came to in end. More than her art, the guests admired her duality. Her frivolous and even slightly infantile character did not seem up to any serious activity, but when she sat down at the clavichord she became a different girl, one whose unforeseen maturity gave her the air of an adult. That was how she had always been. She really did am have any definite vocation, but she had earned the highest grades by means of inflexible discipline simply in order not to annoy her mother. They could have imposed on her an apprenticeship in any other field and the results would have been the same. Since she had been very small she had been troubled by Fernanda’s strictness, her custom of deciding in favor of extremes; and she would have been capable of a much more difficult sacrifice than the clavichord lessons merely not to run up against her intransigence. During the graduation ceremonies she had the impression that the parchment with Gothic letters and illuminated capitals was freeing her from a compromise that she had accepted not so much out of obedience as out of convenience, and she thought that from then on not even the insistent Fernanda would worry any more about an instrument that even the nuns looked upon as a museum fossil. During the first years she thought that her calculations were mistaken because after she had put half the town to sleep, not only in the parlor but also at all charitable functions, school ceremonies, and patriotic celebrations that took place in Macondo, her mother still invited to the house every newcomer whom she thought capable of appreciating her daughter’s virtues. Only after the death of Amaranta, when the family shut itself up again in a period of mourning, was Meme able to lock the clavichord and forget the key in some dresser drawer without Fernanda’s being annoyed on finding out when and through whose fault it had been lost. Meme bore up under the exhibitions with the same stoicism that she had dedicated to her apprenticeship. It was the price of her freedom. Fernanda was so pleased with her docility and so proud of the admiration that her art inspired that she was never against the house being fall of girl friends, her spending the afternoon in the groves, and going to the movies with Aureliano Segundo or some muted lady as long as the film was approved by Father Antonio Isabel from the pulpit. During those moments of relaxation Meme’s real tastes were revealed. Her happiness lay at the other extreme from discipline, in noisy parties, in gossip about lovers, in prolonged sessions with her girl friends, where they learned to smoke and talked about male business, and where they once got their hands on some cane liquor and ended up naked, measuring and comparing the parts of their bodies. Meme would never forget that night when she arrived home chewing licorice lozenges, and without noticing their consternation, sat down at the table where Fernanda and Amaranta were eating dinner without saying a word to each other. She had spent two tremendous hours in the bedroom of a girl friend, weeping with laughter and fear, and beyond an crises she had found the rare feeling of. bravery that she needed in order to run away from school and tell her mother in one way or another that she could use the clavichord as an enema. Sitting at the head of the table, drinking a chicken broth that landed in her stomach like an elixir of resurrection, Meme then saw Fernanda and Amaranta wrapped in an accusatory halo of reality. She had to make a great effort not to throw at them their prissiness, their poverty of spirit their delusions of grandeur. From the time of her second vacation she had known that her father was living at home only in order to keep up appearances, and knowing Fernanda as she did and having arranged later to meet Petra Cotes, she thought that her father was right. She also would have preferred being the daughter of the concubine. In the haziness of the alcohol Meme thought with pleasure about the scandal that would have taken place if she were to express her thoughts at that moment, and the intimate satisfaction of her roguishness was so intense that Fernanda noticed it.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Meme answered. “I was only now discovering how much I loved you both.”
Amaranta was startled by the obvious burden of hate that the declaration carried. But Fernanda felt so moved that she thought she would go mad when Meme awoke at midnight with her head splitting with pain and drowning in vomited gall. She gave her a vial of castor oil, put compresses on her stomach and ice cubes on her head, and she made her stay in bed for five days and follow the diet ordered by the new and outlandish French doctor, who after examining her for more than two hours reached the foggy conclusion that she had an ailment peculiar to women. Having lost her courage, in a miserable state of demoralization, Meme had no other recourse but to bear up under it. ?rsula, completely blind by then but still active and lucid, was the only one who guessed the exact diagnosis. “As far as I can see,” she thought, “that’s the same thing that happens to drunken people.” But she not only rejected the idea, she reproached herself for the frivolity of her thought. Aureliano Segundo felt a twinge of conscience when he saw Meme’s state of prostration and he promised himself to take better care of her in the future. That was how the relationship of jolly comradeship was born between father and daughter, which freed him for a time from the bitter solitude of his revels and freed her from Fernanda’s watchful eye without necessity of provoking the domestic crisis that seemed inevitable by then. At that time Aureliano Segundo postponed any appointments in order to be with Meme, to take her to the movies or the circus, and he spent the greater part of his idle time with her. In recent times his annoyance with the absurd obesity that prevented him from tying his shoes and his abusive satisfaction with all manner of appetites had began to sour his character. The discovery of his daughter restored his former joviality and the pleasure of being with her was slowly leading him away from dissipation. Meme was entering a fruitful age. She was not beautiful, as Amaranta had never been, but on the other hand she was pleasant, uncomplicated, and she had the virtue of making a good impression on people from the first moment. She had a modem spirit that wounded the antiquated sobriety and poorly disguised miserly heart of Fernanda, and that, on the other hand, Aureliano Segundo took pleasure in developing. It was he who resolved to take her out of the bedroom she had occupied since childhood, where the fearful eyes of the saints still fed her adolescent terrors, and he furnished for her a room with a royal bed, a large dressing table, and velvet curtains, not realizing that he was producing a second version of Petra Cotes’s room. He was so lavish with Meme that he did not even know how much money he gave her because she herself would take it out of his pockets, and he kept abreast of every kind of new beauty aid that arrived in the commissary of the banana company. Meme’s room became filled with pumice-stone cushions to polish her nails with, hair curlers, toothbrushes, drops to make her eyes languid, and so many and such new cosmetics and artifacts of beauty that every time Fernanda went into the room she was scandalized by the idea that her daughter’s dressing table must have been the same as those of the French matrons. Nevertheless Fernanda divided her time in those days between little Amaranta ?rsula, who was mischievous and sickly, and a touching correspondence with the invisible physicians. So that when she noticed the complicity between father and daughter the only promise she extracted from Aureliano Segundo was that he would never take Meme to Petra Cotes’s house. It was a meaningless demand because the concubine was so annoyed with the comradeship between her lover and his daughter that she did not want anything to do with her. Petra was tormented by an unknown fear, as if instinct were telling her that Meme, by just wanting it, could succeed in what Fernanda had been unable to do: deprive her of a love that by then she considered assured until death. For the first time Aureliano Segundo had to tolerate the harsh expressions and the violent tirades of his concubine, and he was even afraid that his wandering trunks would make the return journey to his wife’s house. That did not happen. No one knew a man better than Petra Cotes knew her lover and she knew that the trunks would remain where they had been sent because if Aureliano Segundo detested anything it was complicating his life with modifications and changes. So the trunks stayed where they were and Petra Cotes set about reconquering the husband by sharpening the only weapons that his daughter could not use on him. It too was an unnecessary effort because Meme had no desire to intervene in her father’s affairs and if she had, it would certainly have been in favor of the concubine. She had no time to bother anybody. She herself swept her room and made her bed, as the nuns had taught her. In the morning she took care of her clothes, sewing on the porch or using Amaranta’s old pedal machine. While the others were taking their siestas she would practice the clavichord for two hours, knowing that the daily sacrifice would keep Fernanda calm. For the same reason she continued giving concerts at church fairs and school parties, even though the requests were less and less frequent. At nightfall she would fix herself up, put on one of her simple dresses and her stiff high shoes, and if she had nothing to do with her father she would go to the homes of her girl friends, where she would stay until dinnertime. It was rare that Aureliano Segundo would not call for her then to take her to the movies.
Among Meme’s friends there were three young American girls who broke through the electrified chicken fence barrier and made friends with girls from Macondo. One of them was Patricia Brown. Grateful for the hospitality of Aureliano Segundo, Mr. Brown opened the doors of his house to Meme and invited her to the Saturday dances, which were the only ones where gringos and natives mingled. When Fernanda found out about it she forgot about Amaranta ?rsula and the invisible doctors for a moment and became very melodramatic. “Just think,” she said to Meme, “what the colonel must be thinking in his grave.” She sought, of course, the backing of ?rsula. But the blind old woman, contrary to what everyone expected, saw nothing reproachable in Meme’s going to the dances and making friends with American girls her own age as long as she kept her strict habits and was not converted to the Protestant religion. Meme sensed the thought of her great-great-grandmother very well and the day after the dances she would get up earlier than usual to go to mass. Fernanda’s opposition lasted until the day when Meme broke down her resistance with the news that the Americans wanted to hear her play the clavichord. The instrument was taken out of the house again and carried to Mr. Brown’s, where the young concert artist really did receive very sincere applause and the most enthusiastic congratulations. From then on she was invited not only to the dances but also to the Sunday swim parties in the pool and to lunch once a week. Meme learned to swim like a professional, to play tennis, and to eat Virginia ham with slices of pineapple. Among dances, swimming, and tennis she soon found herself getting involved in the English language. Aureliano Segundo was so enthusiastic over the progress of his daughter that from a traveling salesman he bought a six-volume English encyclopedia with many color prints which Meme read in her spare time. The reading occupied the attention that she had formerly given to gossip about sweethearts and the experimental retreats that she would go through with her girl friends, not because it was imposed as discipline but because she had lost all interest by then in talking about mysteries that were in the public domain. She looked back on the drunken episode as an infantile adventure and it seemed so funny to her that she told Aureliano Segundo about it and he thought it was more amusing than she did. “If your mother only knew,” he told her, doubling up with laughter, as he always said when he told her something in confidence. He had made her promise that she would let him know about her first love affair with the same confidence, and Meme told him that she liked a redheaded American boy who had come to spend his vacation with his parents. “What do you know,” Aureliano Segundo said, laughing. “If your mother only knew.” But Meme also told him that the boy had gone back to his country and had disappeared from sight. The maturity of her judgment ensured peace in the family. Aureliano Segundo then devoted more time to Petra Cotes, and although his body and soul no longer permitted him the debauches of days gone by, he lost no chance to arrange them and to dig out the accordion, which by then had some keys held in place by shoelaces. At home, Amaranta was weaving her interminable shroud and ?rsula dragged about in her decrepitude through the depths of the shadows where the only thing that was still visible was the ghost of Jos? Arcadio Buend?a under the chestnut tree. Fernanda consolidated her authority. Her monthly letters to her son Jos? Arcadio at that time did not carry a string of lies and she hid from him only her correspondence with the invisible doctors, who had diagnosed a benign tumor in her large intestine and were preparing her for a telepathic operation.
It might have been aid that peace and happiness reigned for a long time in the tired mansion of the Buend?as if it had not been for the sudden death of Amaranta, which caused a new uproar. It was an unexpected event. Although she was old and isolated from everyone, she still looked firm and upright and with the health of a rock that she had always had. No one knew her thoughts since the afternoon on which she had given Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez his final rejection and shut herself up to weep. She was not seen to cry during the ascension to heaven of Remedios the Beauty or over the extermination of the Aurelianos or the death of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, who was the person she loved most in this world, although she showed it only when they found his body under the chestnut tree. She helped pick up the body. She dressed him in his soldier’s uniform, shaved him, combed his hair, and waxed his mustache better than he had ever done in his days of glory. No one thought that there was any love in that act because they were accustomed to the familiarity of Amaranta with the rites of death. Fernanda was scandalized that she did not understand the relationship of Catholicism with life but only its relationship with death, as if it were not a religion but a compendium of funeral conventions. Amaranta was too wrapped up in the eggplant patch of her memories to understand those subtle apologetics. She had reached old age with all of her nostalgias intact. When she listened to the waltzes of Pietro Crespi she felt the same desire to weep that she had had in adolescence, as if time and harsh lessons had meant nothing. The rolls of music that she herself had thrown into the trash with the pretext that they had rotted from dampness kept spinning and playing in her memory. She had tried to sink them into the swampy passion that she allowed herself with her nephew Aureliano Jos? and she tried to take refuge in the calm and virile protection of Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez, but she had not been able to overcome them, not even with the most desperate act of her old age when she would bathe the small Jos? Arcadio three years before he was sent to the seminary and caress him not as a grandmother would have done with a grandchild, but as a woman would have done with a man, as it was said that the French matrons did and as she had wanted to do with Pietro Crespi at the age of twelve, fourteen, when she saw him in his dancing tights and with the magic wand with which he kept time to the metronome. At times It pained her to have let that outpouring of misery follow its course, and at times it made her so angry that she would prick her fingers with the needles, but what pained her most and enraged her most and made her most bitter was the fragrant and wormy guava grove of love that was dragging her toward death. Just as Colonel Aureliano Buend?a thought about his war, unable to avoid it, so Amaranta thought about Rebeca. But while her brother had managed to sterilize his memories, she had only managed to make hers more scalding. The only thing that she asked of God for many years was that he would not visit on her the punishment of dying before Rebeca. Every time she passed by her house and noted the progress of destruction she took comfort in the idea that God was listening to her. One afternoon, when she was sewing on the porch, she was assailed by the certainty that she would be sitting in that place, in the same position, and under the same light when they brought her the news of Rebeca’s death. She sat down to wait for it, as one waits for a letter, and the fact was that at one time she would pull off buttons to sew them on again so that inactivity would not make the wait longer and more anxious. No one in the house realized that at that time Amaranta was sewing a fine shroud for Rebeca. Later on, when Aureliano Triste told how he had seen her changed into an apparition with leathery skin and a few golden threads on her skull, Amaranta was not surprised because the specter described was exactly what she had been imagining for some time. She had decided to restore Rebeca’s corpse, to disguise with paraffin the damage to her face and make a wig for her from the hair of the saints. She would manufacture a beautiful corpse, with the linen shroud and a plush-lined coffin with purple trim. and she would put it at the disposition of the worms with splendid funeral ceremonies. She worked out the plan with such hatred that it made her tremble to think about the scheme, which she would have carried out in exactly the same way if it had been done out of love, but she would not allow herself to become upset by the confusion and went on perfecting the details so minutely that she came to be more than a specialist and was a virtuoso in the rites of death. The only thing that she did not keep In mind in her fearsome plan was that in spite of her pleas to God she might die before Rebeca. That was, in fact, what happened. At the final moment, however, Amaranta did not feel frustrated, but on the contrary, free of all bitterness because death had awarded her the privilege of announcing itself several years ahead of time. She saw it on one burning afternoon sewing with her on the porch a short time after Meme had left for school. She saw it because it was a woman dressed in blue with long hair, with a sort of antiquated look, and with a certain resemblance to Pilar Ternera during the time when she had helped with the chores in the kitchen. Fernanda was present several times and did not see her, in spite of the fact that she was so real, so human, and on one occasion asked of Amaranta the favor of threading a needle. Death did not tell her when she was going to die or whether her hour was assigned before that of Rebeca, but ordered her to begin sewing her own shroud on the next sixth of April. She was authorized to make it as complicated and as fine as she wanted, but just as honestly executed as Rebeca’s, and she was told that she would die without pain, fear, or bitterness at dusk on the day that she finished it. Trying to waste the most time possible, Amaranta ordered some rough flax and spun the thread herself. She did it so carefully that the work alone took four years. Then she started the sewing. As she got closer to the unavoidable end she began to understand that only a miracle would allow her to prolong the work past Rebeca’s death, but the very concentration gave her the calmness that she needed to accept the idea of frustration. It was then that she understood the vicious circle of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a’s little gold fishes. The world was reduced to the surface of her skin and her inner self was safe from all bitterness. It pained her not to have had that revelation many years before when it had still been possible to purify memories and reconstruct the universe under a new light and evoke without trembling Pietro Crespi’s smell of lavender at dusk and rescue Rebeca from her slough of misery, not out of hatred or out of love but because of the measureless understanding of solitude. The hatred that she noticed one night in Memes words did not upset her because it was directed at her, but she felt the repetition of another adolescence that seemed as clean as hers must have seemed and that, however, was already tainted with rancor. But by then her acceptance of her fate was so deep that she was not even upset by the certainty that all possibilities of rectification were closed to her. Her only objective was to finish the shroud. Instead of slowing it down with useless detail as she had done in the beginning, she speeded up the work. One week before she calculated that she would take the last stitch on the night of February 4, and without revealing the motives, she suggested to Meme that she move up a clavichord concert that she had arranged for the day after, but the girl paid no attention to her. Amaranta then looked for a way to delay for forty-eight hours, and she even thought that death was giving her her way because on the night of February fourth a storm caused a breakdown at the power plant. But on the following day, at eight in the morning, she took the last stitch in the most beautiful piece of work that any woman had ever finished, and she announced without the least bit of dramatics that she was going to die at dusk. She not only told the family but the whole town, because Amaranta had conceived of the idea that she could make up for a life of meanness with one last favor to the world, and she thought that no one was in a better position to take letters to the dead.
The news that Amaranta Buend?a was sailing at dusk carrying the mail of death spread throughout Macondo before noon, and at three in the afternoon there was a whole carton full of letters in the parlor. Those who did not want to write gave Amaranta verbal messages, which she wrote down in a notebook with the name and date of death of the recipient. “Don’t worry,” she told the senders. “The first thing I’ll do when I get there is to ask for him and give him your message.” It was farcical. Amaranta did not show any upset or the slightest sign of grief, and she even looked a bit rejuvenated by a duty accomplished. She was as straight and as thin as ever. If it had not been for her hardened cheekbones and a few missing teeth, she would have looked much younger than she really was. She herself arranged for them to put the letters in a box sealed with pitch and told them to place it in her grave in a way best to protect it from the dampness. In the morning she had a carpenter called who took her measurements for the coffin as she stood in the parlor, as if it were for a new dress. She showed such vigor in her last hours that Fernanda thought she was making fun of everyone. ?rsula, with the experience that Buend?as died without any illness, did not doubt at all that Amaranta had received an omen of death, but in any case she was tormented by the fear that with the business of the letters and the anxiety of the senders for them to arrive quickly they would bury her alive in their confusion. So she set about clearing out the house, arguing with the intruders as she shouted at them, and by four in the afternoon she was successful. At that time Amaranta had finished dividing her things among the poor and had left on the severe coffin of unfinished boards only the change of clothing and the simple cloth slippers that she would wear in death. She did not neglect that precaution because she remembered that when Colonel Aureliano Buend?a died they had to buy a pair of new shoes for him because all he had left were the bedroom slippers that he wore in the workshop. A little before five Aureliano Segundo came to fetch Meme for the concert and was surprised that the house was prepared for the funeral. if anyone seemed alive at the moment it was the serene Amaranta, who had even had enough time to cut her corns. Aureliano Segundo and Meme took leave of her with mocking farewells and promised her that on the following Saturday they would have a big resurrection party. Drawn by the public talk that Amaranta Buend?a was receiving letters for the dead, Father Antonio Isabel arrived at five o’clock for the last rites and he had to wait for more than fifteen minutes for the recipient to come out of her bath. When he saw her appear in a madapollam nightshirt and with her hair loose over her shoulders, the decrepit parish priest thought that it was a trick and sent the altar boy away. He thought however, that he would take advantage of the occasion to have Amaranta confess after twenty years of reticence. Amaranta answered simply that she did not need spiritual help of any kind because her conscience was clean. Fernanda was scandalized. Without caring that people could hear her she asked herself aloud what horrible sin Amaranta had committed to make her prefer an impious death to the shame of confession. Thereupon Amaranta lay down and made ?rsula give public testimony as to her virginity.
“Let no one have any illusions,” she shouted so that Fernanda would hear her. “Amaranta Buend?a is leaving this world just as she came into it.
She did not get up again. Lying on cushions, as if she really were ill, she braided her long hair and rolled it about her ears as death had told her it should be on her bier. Then she asked ?rsula for a mirror and for the first time in more than forty years she saw her face, devastated by age and martyrdom, and she was surprised at how much she resembled the mental image that she had of herself. ?rsula understood by the silence in the bedroom that it had begun to grow dark.
“Say good-bye to Fernanda,” she begged her. One minute of reconciliation is worth more than a whole life of friendship.”
“It’s of no use now,” Amaranta replied.
Meme could not help thinking about her when they turned on the lights on the improvised stage and she began the second part of the program. In the middle of the piece someone whispered the news in her ear and the session stopped. When he arrived home, Aureliano Segundo had to push his way through the crowd to see the corpse of the aged virgin, ugly and discolored, with the black bandage on her hand and wrapped in the magnificent shroud. She was laid out in the parlor beside the box of letters.
?rsula did not get up again after the nine nights of mourning for Amaranta, Santa Sof?a de la Piedad took care of her. She took her meals to her bedroom and annatto water for her to wash in and she kept her up to date on everything that happened in Macondo. Aureliano Segundo visited her frequently and he brought her clothing which she would place beside the bed along with the things most indispensable for daily life, so that in a short time she had built up a world within reach of her hand. She managed to arouse a great love in little Amaranta ?rsula, who was just like her, and whom she taught how to read. Her lucidity, the ability to be sufficient un herself made one think that she was naturally conquered by the weight of her hundred years, but even though it was obvious that she was having trouble seeing, no one suspected that she was totally blind. She had so much time at her disposal then and so much interior silence to watch over the life of the house that she was the first to notice Meme’s silent tribulation.
“Come here,” she told her. “Now that were alone, confess to this poor old woman what’s bothering you.”
Meme avoided the conversation with a short laugh. ?rsula did not insist, but she ended up confirming her suspicions when Meme did not come back to visit her. She knew that she was getting up earlier than usual, that she did not have a moment’s rest as she waited for the time for her to go out, that she spent whole nights walking back and forth in the adjoining bedroom, and that the fluttering of a butterfly would bother her. On one occasion she said that she was going to see Aureliano Segundo and ?rsula was surprised that Fernanda’s imagination was so limited when her husband came to the house looking for his daughter. It was too obvious that Meme was involved in secret matters, in pressing matters, in repressed anxieties long before the night that Fernanda upset the house because she caught her kissing a man in the movies.
Meme was so wrapped up in herself at that time that she accused ?rsula of having told on her. Actually, she told on herself. For a long time she had been leaving a trail that would have awakened the most drowsy person and it took Fernanda so long to discover it because she too was befogged, by her relationship with the invisible doctors. Even so she finally noticed the deep silences, the sudden outbursts, the changes in mood, and the contradictions of her daughter. She set about on a disguised but implacable vigilance. She let her go out with her girl friends as always, she helped her get dressed for the Saturday parties, and she never asked an embarrassing question that might arouse her. She already had a great deal of proof that Meme was doing different things from what she said, and yet she would give no indication of her suspicions, hoping for the right moment. One night Meme said that she was going to the movies with her father. A short time later Fernanda heard the fireworks of the debauch and the unmistakable accordion of Aureliano Segundo from the direction of Petra Cotes’s place. Then she got dressed, went to the movie theater, and in the darkness of the seats she recognized her daughter. The upsetting feeling of certainty stopped her from seeing the man she was kissing, but she managed to hear his tremulous voice in the midst of the deafening shouts and laughter of the audience. “I’m sorry, love,” she heard him say, and she took Meme out of the place without saying a word to her, put her through the shame of parading her along the noisy Street of the Turks, and locked her up in her bedroom.
On the following day at six in the afternoon, Fernanda recognized the voice of the man who came to call on her. He was young, sallow, with dark and melancholy eyes which would not have startled her so much if she had known the gypsies, and a dreamy air that to any woman with a heart less rigid would have been enough to make her understand her daughter’s motives. He was wearing a shabby linen suit with shoes that showed the desperate defense of superimposed patches of white zinc, and in his hand he was carrying a straw hat he had bought the Saturday before. In all of his life he could never have been as frightened as at that moment, but he had a dignity and presence that spared him from humiliation and a genuine elegance that was defeated only by tarnished hands and nails that had been shattered by rough work. Fernanda, however, needed only one look to guess his status of mechanic. She saw that he was wearing his one Sunday suit and that underneath his shirt he bore the rash of the banana company. She would not let him speak. She would not even let him come through the door, which a moment later she had to close because the house was filled with yellow butterflies.
“Go away,” she told him. “You’ve got no reason to come calling on any decent person.”
His name was Mauricio Babilonia. He had been born and raised in Macondo, and he was an apprentice mechanic in the banana company garage. Meme had met him by chance one afternoon when she went with Patricia Brown to get a car to take a drive through the groves. Since the chauffeur was sick they assigned him to take them and Meme was finally able to satisfy her desire to sit next to the driver and see what he did. Unlike the regular chauffeur, Mauricio Babilonia gave her a practical lesson. That was during the time that Meme was beginning to frequent Mr. Brown’s house and it was still considered improper for a lady to drive a car. So she was satisfied with the technical information and she did not see Mauricio Babilonia again for several months. Later on she would remember that during the drive her attention had been called to his masculine beauty, except for the coarseness of his hands, but that afterward she had mentioned to Patricia Brown that she had been bothered by his rather proud sense of security. The first Saturday that she went to the movies with her father she saw Mauricio Babilonia again, with his linen suit, sitting a few seats away from them, and she noticed that he was not paying much attention to the film in order to turn around and look at her. Meme was bothered by the vulgarity of that. Afterward Mauricio Babilonia came over to say hello to Aureliano Segundo and only then did Meme find out that they knew each other because he had worked in Aureliano Triste’s early power plant and he treated her father with the air of an employee. That fact relieved the dislike that his pride had caused in her. They had never been alone together nor had they spoken except in way of greeting, the night when she dreamed that he was saving her from a shipwreck and she did not feel gratitude but rage. It was as if she had given him the opportunity he was waiting for, since Meme yearned for just the opposite, not only with Mauricio Babilonia but with any other man who was interested in her. Therefore she was so indignant after the dream that instead of hating him, she felt an irresistible urge to see him. The anxiety became more intense during the course of the week and on Saturday it was so pressing that she had to make a great effort for Mauricio Babilonia not to notice that when he greeted her in the movies her heart was in her mouth. Dazed by a confused feeling of pleasure and rage, she gave him her hand for the first time and only then did Mauricio Babilonia let himself shake hers. Meme managed to repent her impulse in a fraction of a second but the repentance changed immediately into a cruel satisfaction on seeing that his hand too was sweaty and cold. That night she realized that she would not have a moment of rest until she showed Mauricio Babilonia the uselessness of his aspiration and she spent the week turning that anxiety about in her mind. She resorted to all kinds of useless tricks so that Patricia Brown would go get the car with her. Finally she made use of the American redhead who was spending his vacation in Macondo at that time and with the pretext of learning about new models of cars she had him take her to the garage. From the moment she saw him Meme let herself be deceived by herself and believed that what was really going on was that she could not bear the desire to be alone with Mauricio Babilonia, and she was made indignant by the certainty that he understood that when he saw her arrive.
“I came to see the new models,” Meme said.
“That’s a fine excuse,” he said.
Meme realized that he was burning in the heat of his pride, and she desperately looked for a way to humiliate him. But he would not give her any time. “Don’t get upset,” he said to her in a low voice. “It’s not the first time that a woman has gone crazy over a man.” She felt so defeated that she left the garage without seeing the new models and she spent the night turning over in bed and weeping with indignation. The American redhead, who was really beginning to interest her, looked like a baby in diapers. It was then that she realized that the yellow butterflies preceded the appearances of Mauricio Babilonia. She had seen them before, especially over the garage, and she had thought that they were drawn by the smell of paint. Once she had seen them fluttering about her head before she went into the movies. But when Mauricio Babilonia began to pursue her like a ghost that only she could identify in the crowd, she understood that the butterflies had something to do with him. Mauricio Babilonia was always in the audience at the concerts, at the movies, at high mass, and she did not have to see him to know that he was there, because the butterflies were always there. Once Aureliano Segundo became so impatient with the suffocating fluttering that she felt the impulse to confide her secret to him as she had promised, but instinct told her that he would laugh as usual and say: “What would your mother say if she found out?” One morning, while she was pruning the roses, Fernanda let out a cry of fright and had Meme taken away from the spot where she was, which was the same place in the garden where Remedios the Beauty had gone up to heaven. She had thought for an instant that the miracle was going to be repeated with her daughter, because she had been bothered by a sudden flapping of wings. It was the butterflies. Meme saw them as if they had suddenly been born out of the light and her heart gave a turn. At that moment Mauricio Babilonia came in with a package that according to what he said, was a present from Patricia Brown. Meme swallowed her blush, absorbed her tribulation, and even managed a natural smile as she asked him the favor of leaving it on the railing because her hands were dirty from the garden. The only thing that Fernanda noted in the man whom a few months later she was to expel from the house without remembering where she had seen him was the bilious texture of his skin.
“He’s a very strange man,” Fernanda said. “You can see in his face that he’s going to die.”
Meme thought that her mother had been impressed by the butterflies When they finished pruning the row bushes she washed her hands and took the package to her bedroom to open it. It was a kind of Chinese toy, made up of five concentric boxes, and in the last one there was a card laboriously inscribed by someone who could barely write: We’ll get together Saturday at the movies. Meme felt with an aftershock that the box had been on the railing for a long time within reach of Fernanda’s curiosity, and although she was flattered by the audacity and ingenuity of Mauricio Babilonia, she was moved by his Innocence in expecting that she would keep the date. Meme knew at that time that Aureliano Segundo had an appointment on Saturday night. Nevertheless, the fire of anxiety burned her so much during the course of the week that on Saturday she convinced her father to leave her alone in the theater and come back for her after the show. A nocturnal butterfly fluttered about her head while the lights were on. And then it happened. When the lights went out, Mauricio Babilonia sat down beside her. Meme felt herself splashing in a bog of hesitation from which she could only be rescued, as had occurred in her dreams, by that man smelling of grease whom she could barely see in the shadows.
“If you hadn’t come,” he said, “You never would have seen me again.”
Meme felt the weight of his hand on her knee and she knew that they were both arriving at the other side of abandonment at that instant.
“What shocks me about you,” she said, smiling, “is that you always say exactly what you shouldn’t be saying.”
She lost her mind over him. She could not sleep and she lost her appetite and sank so deeply into solitude that even her father became an annoyance. She worked out an intricate web of false dates to throw Fernanda off the track, lost sight of her girl friends, leaped over conventions to be with Mauricio Babilonia at any time and at any place. At first his crudeness bothered her. The first time that they were alone on the deserted fields behind the garage he pulled her mercilessly into an animal state that left her exhausted. It took her time to realize that it was also a form of tenderness and it was then that she lost her calm and lived only for him, upset by the desire to sink into his stupefying odor of grease washed off by lye. A short time before the death of Amaranta she suddenly stumbled into in open space of lucidity within the madness and she trembled before the uncertainty of the future. Then she heard about a woman who made predictions from cards and went to see her in secret. It was Pilar Ternera. As soon as Pilar saw her come in she was aware of Meme’s hidden motives. “Sit down,” she told her. “I don’t need cards to tell the future of a Buend?a,” Meme did not know and never would that the centenarian witch was her great-grandmother. Nor would she have believed it after the aggressive realism with which she revealed to her that the anxiety of falling in love could not find repose except in bed. It was the same point of view as Mauricio Babilonia’s, but Meme resisted believing it because underneath it all she imagined that it had been inspired by the poor judgment of a mechanic. She thought then that love on one side was defeating love on the other, because it was characteristic of men to deny hunger once their appetites were satisfied. Pilar Ternera not only cleared up that mistake, she also offered the old canopied bed where she had conceived Arcadio, Meme’s grandfather, and where afterward she conceived Aureliano Jos?. She also taught her how to avoid an unwanted conception by means of the evaporation of mustard plasters and gave her recipes for potions that in cases of trouble could expel “even the remorse of conscience.” That interview instilled In Meme the same feeling of bravery that she had felt on the drunken evening. Amaranta’s death, however, obliged her to postpone the decision. While the nine nights lasted she did not once leave the side of Mauricio Babilonia, who mingled with the crowd that invaded the house. Then came the long period of mourning and the obligatory withdrawal and they separated for a time. Those were days of such inner agitation, such irrepressible anxiety, and so many repressed urges that on the first evening that Meme was able to get out she went straight to Pilar Ternera’s. She surrendered to Mauricio Babilonia, without resistance, without shyness, without formalities, and with a vocation that was so fluid and an intuition that was so wise that a more suspicious man than hers would have confused them with obvious experience. They made love twice a week for more than three months, protected by the innocent complicity of Aureliano Segundo, who believed without suspicion in his daughter’s alibis simply in order to set her free from her mother’s rigidity.
On the night that Fernanda surprised them in the movies Aureliano Segundo felt weighted down by the burden of his conscience and he visited Meme in the bedroom where Fernanda kept her locked up, trusting that she would reveal to him the confidences that she owed him. But Meme denied everything. She was so sure of herself, so anchored in her solitude that Aureliano Segundo had the impression that no link existed between them anymore, that the comradeship and the complicity were nothing but an illusion of the past. He thought of speaking to Mauricio Babilonia, thinking that his authority as his former boss would make him desist from his plans, but Petra Cotes convinced him that it was a woman’s business, so he was left floating in a limbo of indecision, barely sustained by the hope that the confinement would put an end to his daughter’s troubles.
Meme showed no signs of affliction. On the contrary, from the next room ?rsula perceived the peaceful rhythm of her sleep, the serenity of her tasks, the order of her meals, and the good health of her digestion. The only thing that intrigued ?rsula after almost two months of punishment was that Meme did not take a bath in the morning like everyone else, but at seven in the evening. Once she thought of warning her about the scorpions, but Meme was so distant, convinced that she had given her away, that she preferred not to disturb her with the impertinences, of a great-great-grandmother. The yellow butterflies would invade the house at dusk. Every night on her way back from her bath Meme would find a desperate Fernanda killing butterflies with an insecticide bomb. “This is terrible,” she would say, “All my life they told me that butterflies at night bring bad luck.” One night while Meme was in the bathroom, Fernanda went into her bedroom by chance and there were so many butterflies that she could scarcely breathe. She grabbed for the nearest piece of cloth to shoo them away and her heart froze with terror as she connected her daughter’s evening baths with the mustard plasters that rolled onto the floor. She did not wait for an opportune moment as she had the first time. On the following day she invited the new mayor to lunch. Like her, he had come down from the highlands, and she asked him to station a guard in the backyard because she had the impression that hens were being stolen. That night the guard brought down Mauricio Babilonia as he was lifting up the tiles to get into the bathroom where Meme was waiting for him, naked and trembling with love among the scorpions and butterflies as she had done almost every night for the past few months. A bullet lodged in his spinal column reduced him to his bed for the rest of his life. He died of old age in solitude, without a moan, without a protest, without a single moment of betrayal, tormented by memories and by the yellow butterflies, who did not give him a moment’s peace, and ostracized as a chicken thief.