AMARANTA ?RSULA returned with the angels of December, driven on a sailor’s breeze, leading her husband by a silk rope tied around his neck. She appeared without warning, wearing an ivory-colored dress, a string of pearls that reached almost to her knees, emerald and topaz rings, and with her straight hair in a smooth bun held behind her ears by swallow-tail brooches. The man whom she had married six months before was a thin, older Fleming with the look of a sailor about him. She had only to push open the door to the parlor to realize that her absence had been longer and more destructive than she had imagined.
“Good Lord,” she shouted, more gay than alarmed, “it’s obvious that there’s no woman in this house!”
The baggage would not fit on the porch. Besides Fernanda’s old trunk, which they had sent her off to school with, she had two upright trunks, four large suitcases, a bag for her parasols, eight hatboxes, a gigantic cage with half a hundred canaries, and her husband’s velocipede, broken down in a special case which allowed him to carry it like a cello. She did not even take a day of rest after the long trip. She put on some worn denim overalls that her husband had brought along with other automotive items and set about on a new restoration of the house. She scattered the red ants, who had already taken possession of the porch, brought the rose bushes back to life, uprooted the weeds, and planted ferns, oregano, and begonias again in the pots along the railing. She took charge of a crew of carpenters, locksmiths, and masons, who filled in the cracks in the floor, put doors and windows back on their hinges, repaired the furniture, and white-washed the walls inside and out, so that three months after her arrival one breathed once more the atmosphere of youth and festivity that had existed during the days of the pianola. No one in the house had ever been in a better mood at all hours and under any circumstances, nor had anyone ever been readier to sing and dance and toss all items and customs from the past into the trash. With a sweep of her broom she did away with the funeral mementos and piles of useless trash and articles of superstition that had been piling up in the corners, and the only thing she spared, out of gratitude to ?rsula, was the daguerreotype of Remedios in the parlor. “My, such luxury,” she would shout, dying with laughter. “A fourteen-year-old grandmother!” When one of the masons told her that the house was full of apparitions and that the only way to drive them out was to look for the treasures they had left buried, she replied amid loud laughter that she did not think it was right for men to be superstitious. She was so spontaneous, so emancipated, with such a free and modern spirit, that Aureliano did not know what to do with his body when he saw her arrive. “My, my!” she shouted happily with open arms. “Look at how my darling cannibal has grown!” Before he had a chance to react she had already put a record on the portable phonograph she had brought with her and was trying to teach him the latest dance steps. She made him change the dirty pants that he had inherited from Colonel Aureliano Buend?a and gave him some youthful shirts and two-toned shoes, and she would push him into the street when he was spending too much time in Melqu?ades’ room.
Active, small, and indomitable like ?rsula, and almost as pretty and provocative as Remedios the Beauty, she was endowed with a rare instinct for anticipating fashion. When she received pictures of the most recent fashions in the mail, they only proved that she had not been wrong about the models that she designed herself and sewed on Amaranta’s primitive pedal machine. She subscribed to every fashion magazine, art publication. and popular music review published in Europe, and she had only to glance at them to realize that things in the world were going just as she imagined they were. It was incomprehensible why a woman with that spirit would have returned to a dead town burdened by dust and heat, and much less with a husband who had more than enough money to live anywhere in the world and who loved her so much that he let himself be led around by her on a silk leash. As time passed, however, her intention to stay was more obvious, because she did not make any plans that were not a long way off, nor did she do anything that did not have as an aim the search for a comfortable life and a peaceful old age in Macondo. The canary cage showed that those aims were made up on the spur of the moment. Remembering that her mother had told her in a letter about the extermination of the birds, she had delayed her trip several months until she found a ship that stopped at the Fortunate Isles and there she chose the finest twenty-five pairs of canaries so that she could repopulate the skies of Macondo. That was the most lamentable of her numerous frustrated undertakings. As the birds reproduced Amaranta ?rsula would release them in pairs, and no sooner did they feel themselves free than they fled the town. She tried in vain to awaken love in them by means of the bird cage that ?rsula had built during the first reconstruction of the house. Also in vain were the artificial nests built of esparto grass in the almond trees and the birdseed strewn about the roofs, and arousing the captives so that their songs would dissuade the deserters, because they would take flights on their first attempts and make a turn in the sky, just the time needed to find the direction to the Fortunate Isles.
A year after her return, although she had not succeeded in making any friends or giving any parties, Amaranta ?rsula still believed that it was possible to rescue the community which had been singled out by misfortune. Gaston, her husband, took care not to antagonize her, although since that fatal noon when he got off the train he realized that his wife’s determination had been provoked by a nostalgic mirage. Certain that she would be defeated by the realities, he did not even take the trouble to put his velocipede together, but he set about hunting for the largest eggs among the spider webs that the masons had knocked down, and he would open them with his fingernails and spend hours looking through a magnifying glass at the tiny spiders that emerged. Later on, thinking that Amaranta ?rsula was continuing with her repairs so that her hands would not be idle, he decided to assemble the handsome bicycle, on which the front wheel was much larger than the rear one, and he dedicated himself to the capture and curing of every native insect he could find in the region, which he sent in jam jars to his former professor of natural history at the University of Li?ge where he had done advanced work in entomology, although his main vocation was that of aviator. When he rode the bicycle he would wear acrobat’s tights, gaudy socks, and a Sherlock Holmes cap, but when he was on foot he would dress in a spotless natural linen suit, white shoes, a silk bow tie, a straw boater, and he would carry a willow stick in his hand. His pale eyes accentuated his look of a sailor and his small mustache looked like the fur of a squirrel. Although he was at least fifteen years older than his wife, his alert determination to make her happy and his qualities as a good lover compensated for the difference. Actually, those who saw that man in his forties with careful habits, with the leash around his neck and his circus bicycle, would not have thought that he had made a pact of unbridled love with his wife and that they both gave in to the reciprocal drive in the least adequate of places and wherever the spirit moved them, as they had done since they had began to keep company, and with a passion that the passage of time and the more and more unusual circumstances deepened and enriched. Gaston was not only a fierce lover, with endless wisdom and imagination, but he was also, perhaps, the first man in the history of the species who had made an emergency landing and had come close to killing himself and his sweetheart simply to make love in a field of violets.
They had met two years before they were married, when the sports biplane in which he was making rolls over the school where Amaranta ?rsula was studying made an intrepid maneuver to avoid the flagpole and the primitive framework of canvas and aluminum foil was caught by the tail on some electric wires. From then on, paying no attention to his leg in splints, on weekends he would pick up Amaranta ?rsula at the nun’s boardinghouse where she lived, where the rules were not as severe as Fernanda had wanted, and he would take her to his country club. They began to love each other at an altitude of fifteen hundred feet in the Sunday air of the moors, and they felt all the closer together as the beings on earth grew more and more minute. She spoke to him of Macondo as the brightest and most peaceful town on earth, and of an enormous house, scented with oregano, where she wanted to live until old age with a loyal husband and two strong sons who would be named Rodrigo and Gonzalo, never Aureliano and Jos? Arcadio, and a daughter who would be named Virginia and never Remedios. She had evoked the town idealized by nostalgia with such strong tenacity that Gaston understood that she would not get married unless he took her to live in Macondo. He agreed to it, as he agreed later on to the leash, because he thought it was a passing fancy that could be overcome in time. But when two years in Macondo had passed and Amaranta ?rsula was as happy as on the first day, he began to show signs of alarm. By that time he had dissected every dissectible insect in the region, he spoke Spanish like a native, and he had solved all of the crossword puzzles in the magazines that he received in the mail. He did not have the pretext of climate to hasten their return because nature had endowed him with a colonial liver which resisted the drowsiness of siesta time and water that had vinegar worms in it. He liked the native cooking so much that once he ate eighty-two iguana eggs at one sitting. Amaranta ?rsula, on the other hand, had brought in by train fish and shellfish in boxes of ice, canned meats and preserved fruits, which were the only things she could eat, and she still dressed in European style and received designs by mail in spite of the fact that she had no place to go and no one to visit and by that time her husband was not in a mood to appreciate her short skirts, her tilted felt hat, and her seven-strand necklaces. Her secret seemed to lie in the fact that she always found a way to keep busy, resolving domestic problems that she herself had created, and doing a poor job on a thousand things which she would fix on the following day with a pernicious diligence that made one think of Fernanda and the hereditary vice of making something just to unmake it. Her festive genius was still so alive then that when she received new records she would invite Gaston to stay in the parlor until very late to practice the dance steps that her schoolmates described to her in sketches and they would generally end up making love on the Viennese rocking chairs or on the bare floor. The only thing that she needed to be completely happy was the birth of her children, but she respected the pact she had made with her husband not to have any until they had been married for five years.
Looking for something to fill his idle hours with, Gaston became accustomed to spending the morning in Melqu?ades’ room with the shy Aureliano. He took pleasure in recalling with him the most hidden corners of his country, which Aureliano knew as if he had spent much time there. When Gaston asked him what he had done to obtain knowledge that was not in the encyclopedia, he received the same answer as Jos? Arcadio: “Everything Is known.” In addition to Sanskrit he had learned English and French and a little Latin and Greek. Since he went out every afternoon at that time and Amaranta ?rsula had set aside a weekly sum for him for his personal expenses, his room looked like a branch of the wise Catalonian’s bookstore. He read avidly until late at night, although from the manner in which he referred to his reading, Gaston thought that he did not buy the books in order to learn but to verify the truth of his knowledge, and that none of them interested him more than the parchments, to which he dedicated most of his time in the morning. Both Gaston and his wife would have liked to incorporate him into the family life, but Aureliano was a hermetic man with a cloud of mystery that time was making denser. It was such an unfathomable condition that Gaston failed in his efforts to become intimate with him and had to seek other pastimes for his idle hours. It was around that time that he conceived the idea of establishing an airmail service.
It was not a new project. Actually, he had it fairly well advanced when he met Amaranta ?rsula, except that it was not for Macondo, but for the Belgian Congo, where his family had investments in palm oil. The marriage and the decision to spend a few months in Macondo to please his wife had obliged him to postpone it. But when he saw that Amaranta ?rsula was determined to organize a commission for public improvement and even laughed at him when he hinted at the possibility of returning, he understood that things were going to take a long time and he reestablished contact with his forgotten partners in Brussels, thinking that it was just as well to be a pioneer in the Caribbean as in Africa. While his steps were progressing he prepared a landing field in the old enchanted region which at that time looked like a plain of crushed flintstone, and he studied the wind direction, the geography of the coastal region, and the best routes for aerial navigation, without knowing that his diligence, so similar to that of Mr. Herbert, was filling the town with the dangerous suspicion that his plan was not to set up routes but to plant banana trees. Enthusiastic over the idea that, after all, might justify his permanent establishment in Macondo, he took several trips to the capital of the province, met with authorities, obtained licenses, and drew up contracts for exclusive rights. In the meantime he maintained a correspondence with his partners in Brussels which resembled that of Fernanda with the invisible doctors, and he finally convinced them to ship the first airplane under the care of an expert mechanic, who would assemble it in the nearest port and fly it to Macondo. One year after his first meditations and meteorological calculations, trusting in the repeated promises of his correspondents, he had acquired the habit of strolling through the streets, looking at the sky, hanging onto the sound of the breeze in hopes that the airplane would appear.
Although she had not noticed it, the return of Amaranta ?rsula had brought on a radical change in Aureliano’s life. After the death of Jos? Arcadio he had become a regular customer at the wise Catalonian’s bookstore. Also, the freedom that he enjoyed then and the time at his disposal awoke in him a certain curiosity about the town, which he came to know without any surprise. He went through the dusty and solitary streets, examining with scientific interest the inside of houses in ruin, the metal screens on the windows broken by rust and the dying birds, and the inhabitants bowed down by memories. He tried to reconstruct in his imagination the annihilated splendor of the old banana-company town, whose dry swimming pool was filled to the brim with rotting men’s and women’s shoes, and in the houses of which, destroyed by rye grass, he found the skeleton of a German shepherd dog still tied to a ring by a steel chain and a telephone that was ringing, ringing, ringing until he picked it up and an anguished and distant woman spoke in English, and he said yes, that the strike was over, that three thousand dead people had been thrown into the sea, that the banana company had left, and that Macondo finally had peace after many years. Those wanderings led him to the prostrate red-light district, where in other times bundles of banknotes had been burned to liven up the revels, and which at that time was a maze of streets more afflicted and miserable than the others, with a few red lights still burning and with deserted dance halls adorned with the remnants of wreaths, where the pale, fat widows of no one, the French great-grandmothers and the Babylonian matriarchs, were still waiting beside their photographs. Aureliano could not find anyone who remembered his family, not even Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, except for the oldest of the West Indian Negroes, an old man whose cottony hair gave him the look of a photographic negative and who was still singing the mournful sunset psalms in the door of his house. Aureliano would talk to him in the tortured Papiamento that he had learned in a few weeks and sometimes he would share his chicken-head soup, prepared by the great-granddaughter, with him. She was a large black woman with solid bones, the hips of a mare, teats like live melons, and a round and perfect head armored with a hard surface of wiry hair which looked like a medieval warrior’s mail headdress. Her name was Nigromanta. In those days Aureliano lived off the sale of silverware, candlesticks, and other bric-a-brac from the house. When he was penniless, which was most of the time, he got people in the back of the market to give him the chicken heads that they were going to throw away and he would take them to Nigromanta to make her soups, fortified with purslane and seasoned with mint. When the great-grandfather died Aureliano stopped going by the house, but he would run into Nigromanta under the dark almond trees on the square, using her wild-animal whistles to lure the few night owls. Many times he stayed with her, speaking in Papiamento about chicken-head soup and other dainties of misery, and he would have kept right on if she had not let him know that his presence frightened off customers. Although he sometimes felt the temptation and although Nigromanta herself might have seemed to him as the natural culmination of a shared nostalgia, he did not go to bed with her. So Aureliano was still a virgin when Amaranta ?rsula returned to Macondo and gave him a sisterly embrace that left him breathless. Every time he saw her, and worse yet when she showed him the latest dances, he felt the same spongy release in his bones that had disturbed his great-great-grandfather when Pilar Ternera made her pretexts about the cards in the granary. Trying to squelch the torment, he sank deeper into the parchments and eluded the innocent flattery of that aunt who was poisoning his nights with a flow of tribulation, but the more he avoided her the more the anxiety with which he waited for her stony laughter, her howls of a happy cat, and her songs of gratitude, agonizing in love at all hours and in the most unlikely parts of the house. One night thirty feet from his bed, on the silver workbench, the couple with unhinged bellies broke the bottles and ended up making love in a pool of muriatic acid. Aureliano not only could not sleep for a single second, but he spent the next day with a fever, sobbing with rage. The first night that he waited for Nigromanta to come to the shadows of the almond trees it seemed like an eternity, pricked as he was by the needles of uncertainty and clutching in his fist the peso and fifty cents that he had asked Amaranta ?rsula for, not so much because he needed it as to involve her, debase her, prostitute her in his adventure in some way. Nigromanta took him to her room, which was lighted with false candlesticks, to her folding cot with the bedding stained from bad loves, and to her body of a wild dog, hardened and without soul, which prepared itself to dismiss him as if he were a frightened child, and suddenly it found a man whose tremendous power demanded a movement of seismic readjustment from her insides.
They became lovers. Aureliano would spend his mornings deciphering parchments and at siesta time he would go to the bedroom where Nigromanta was waiting for him, to teach him first how to do it like earthworms, then like snails, and finally like crabs, until she had to leave him and lie in wait for vagabond loves. Several weeks passed before Aureliano discovered that around her waist she wore a small belt that seemed to be made out of a cello string, but which was hard as steel and had no end, as if it had been born and grown with her. Almost always, between loves, they would eat naked in the bed, in the hallucinating heat and under the daytime stars that the rust had caused to shine on the zinc ceiling. It was the first time that Nigromanta had had a steady man, a bone crusher from head to toe, as she herself said, dying with laughter, and she had even begun to get romantic illusions when Aureliano confided in her about his repressed passion for Amaranta ?rsula, which he had not been able to cure with the substitution but which was twisting him inside all the more as experience broadened the horizons of love. After that Nigromanta continued to receive him with the same warmth as ever but she made him pay for her services so strictly that when Aureliano had no money she would make an addition to his bill, which was not figured in numbers but by marks that she made with her thumbnail behind the door. At sundown, while she was drifting through the shadows in the square, Aureliano, was going along the porch like a stranger, scarcely greeting Amaranta ?rsula and Gaston, who usually dined at that time, and shutting herself up in his room again, unable to read or write or even think because of the anxiety brought on by the laughter, the whispering, the preliminary frolics, and then the explosions of agonizing happiness that capped the nights in the house. That was his life two years before Gaston began to wait for the airplane, and it went on the same way on the afternoon that he went to the bookstore of the wise Catalonian and found four ranting boys in a heated argument about the methods used to kill cockroaches in the Middle Ages. The old bookseller, knowing about Aureliano’s love for books that had been read only by the Venerable Bede, urged him with a certain fatherly malice to get into the discussion, and without even taking a breath, he explained that the cockroach, the oldest winged insect on the face of the earth, had already been the victim of slippers in the Old Testament, but that since the species was definitely resistant to any and all methods of extermination, from tomato dices with borax to flour and sugar, and with its one thousand six hundred three varieties had resisted the most ancient, tenacious, and pitiless persecution that mankind had unleashed against any living thing since the beginnings, including man himself, to such an extent that just as an instinct for reproduction was attributed to humankind, so there must have been another one more definite and pressing, which was the instinct to kill cockroaches, and if the latter had succeeded in escaping human ferocity it was because they had taken refuge in the shadows, where they became invulnerable because of man’s congenital fear of the dark, but on the other hand they became susceptible to the glow of noon, so that by the Middle Ages already, and in present times, and per omnia secula seculorum, the only effective method for killing cockroaches was the glare of the sun.
That encyclopedic coincidence was the beginning of a great friendship. Aureliano continued getting together in the afternoon with the four arguers, whose names were ?lvaro, Germ?n, Alfonso, and Gabriel, the first and last friends that he ever had in his life. For a man like him, holed up in written reality, those stormy sessions that began in the bookstore and ended at dawn in the brothels were a revelation. It had never occurred to him until then to think that literature was the best plaything that had ever been invented to make fun of people, as ?lvaro demonstrated during one night of revels. Some time would have to pass before Aureliano realized that such arbitrary attitudes had their origins in the example of the wise Catalonian, for whom wisdom was worth nothing if it could not be used to invent a way of preparing chick peas.
The afternoon on which Aureliano gave his lecture on cockroaches, the argument ended up in the house of the girls who went to bed because of hunger, a brothel of lies on the outskirts of Macondo. The proprietress was a smiling mamasanta, tormented by a mania for opening and closing doors. Her eternal smile seemed to have been brought on by the credulity of her customers, who accepted as something certain an establishment that did not exist except in the imagination, because even the tangible things there were unreal: the furniture that fell apart when one sat on it, the disemboweled phonograph with a nesting hen inside, the garden of paper flowers, the calendars going back to the years before the arrival of the banana company, the frames with prints cut out of magazines that had never been published. Even the timid little whores who came from the neighborhood: when the proprietress informed them that customers had arrived they were nothing but an invention. They would appear without any greeting in their little flowered dresses left over from days when they were five years younger, and they took them off with the same innocence with which they had put them on, and in the paroxysms of love they would exclaim good heavens, look how that roof is falling in, and as soon as they got their peso and fifty cents they would spend it on a roll with cheese that the proprietress sold them, smiling more than ever, because only she knew that that meal was not true either. Aureliano, whose world at that time began with Melqu?ades’ parchments and ended in Nigromanta’s bed, found a stupid cure for timidity in the small imaginary brothel. At first he could get nowhere, in rooms where the proprietress would enter during the best moments of love and make all sorts of comments about the intimate charms of the protagonists. But with time he began to get so familiar with those misfortunes of the world that on one night that was more unbalanced than the others he got undressed in the small reception room and ran through the house balancing a bottle of beer on his inconceivable maleness. He was the one who made fashionable the extravagances that the proprietress celebrated with her eternal smile, without protesting, without believing in them just as when Germ?n tried to burn the house down to show that it did not exist, and as when Alfonso wrung the neck of the parrot and threw it into the pot where the chicken stew was beginning to boil.
Although Aureliano felt himself linked to the four friends by a common affection and a common solidarity, even to the point where he thought of them as if they were one person, he was closer to Gabriel than to the others. The link was born on the night when he casually mentioned Colonel Aureliano Buend?a and Gabriel was the only one who did not think that he was making fun of somebody. Even the proprietress, who normally did not take part in the conversation argued with a madam’s wrathful passion that Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, of whom she had indeed heard speak at some time, was a figure invented by the government as a pretext for killing Liberals. Gabriel, on the other hand, did not doubt the reality of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a because he had been a companion in arms and inseparable friend of his great-great-grandfather Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez. Those fickle tricks of memory were even more critical when the killing of the workers was brought up. Every time that Aureliano mentioned the matter, not only the proprietress but some people older than she would repudiate the myth of the workers hemmed in at the station and the train with two hundred cars loaded with dead people, and they would even insist that, after all, everything had been set forth in judicial documents and in primary-school textbooks: that the banana company had never existed. So that Aureliano and Gabriel were linked by a kind of complicity based on real facts that no one believed in, and which had affected their lives to the point that both of them found themselves off course in the tide of a world that had ended and of which only the nostalgia remained. Gabriel would sleep wherever time overtook him. Aureliano put him up several times in the silver workshop, but he would spend his nights awake, disturbed by the noise of the dead people who walked through the bedrooms until dawn. Later he turned him over to Nigromanta, who took him to her well-used room when she was free and put down his account with vertical marks behind the door in the few spaces left free by Aureliano’s debts.
In spite of their disordered life, the whole group tried to do something permanent at the urging of the wise Catalonian. It was he, with his experience as a former professor of classical literature and his storehouse of rare books, who got them to spend a whole night in search of the thirty-seventh dramatic situation in a town where no one had any interest any more in going beyond primary school. Fascinated by the discovery of friendship, bewildered by the enchantments of a world which had been forbidden to him by Fernanda’s meanness, Aureliano abandoned the scrutiny of the parchments precisely when they were beginning to reveal themselves as predictions in coded lines of poetry. But the subsequent proof that there was time enough for everything without having to give up the brothels gave him the drive to return to Melqu?ades’ room, having decided not to flag in his efforts until he had discovered the last keys. That was during the time that Gaston began to wait for the airplane and Amaranta ?rsula was so lonely that one morning she appeared in the room.
“Hello, cannibal,” she said to him. “Back in your cave again?”
She was irresistible, with a dress she had designed and one of the long shad-vertebra necklaces that she herself had made. She had stopped using the leash, convinced of her husband’s faithfulness, and for the first time since her return she seemed to have a moment of ease. Aureliano did not need to see her to know that she had arrived. She put her elbows on the table, so close and so helpless that Aureliano heard the deep sound of her bones, and she became interested in the parchments. Trying to overcome his disturbance, he grasped at the voice that he was losing, the life that was leaving him, the memory that was turning into a petrified polyp, and he spoke to her about the priestly destiny of Sanskrit, the scientific possibility of seeing the future showing through in time as one sees what is written on the back of a sheet of paper through the light, the necessity of deciphering the predictions so that they would not defeat themselves, and the Centuries of Nostradamus and the destruction of Cantabria predicted by Saint Milanus. Suddenly, without interrupting the chat, moved by an impulse that had been sleeping in him since his origins, Aureliano put his hand on hers, thinking that that final decision would put an end to his doubts. She grabbed his index finger with the affectionate innocence with which she had done so in childhood, however, and she held it while he kept on answering questions. They remained like that, linked by icy index fingers that did not transmit anything in any way until she awoke from her momentary dream and slapped her forehead with her hand. “The ants!” she exclaimed. And then she forgot about the manuscripts, went to the door with a dance step, and from there she threw Aureliano a kiss with the tips of her fingers as she had said good-bye to her father on the afternoon when they sent her to Brussels.
“You can tell me later,” she said. “I forgot that today’s the day to put quicklime on the anthills.”
She continued going to the room occasionally when she had something to do in that part of the house and she would stay there for a few minutes while her husband continued to scrutinize the sky. Encouraged by that change, Aureliano stayed to eat with the family at that time as he had not done since the first months of Amaranta ?rsula’s return. Gaston was pleased. During the conversations after meals, which usually went on for more than an hour, he complained that his partners were deceiving him. They had informed him of the loading of the airplane on board a ship that did not arrive, and although his shipping agents insisted, that it would never arrive because it was not on the list of Caribbean ships, his partners insisted that the shipment was correct and they even insinuated that Gaston was lying to them in his letters. The correspondence reached such a degree of mutual suspicion that Gaston decided not to write again and he began to suggest the possibility of a quick trip to Brussels to clear things up and return with the airplane. The plan evaporated, however, as soon as Amaranta ?rsula reiterated her decision not to move from Macondo even if she lost a husband. During the first days Aureliano shared the general opinion that Gaston was a fool on a velocipede, and that brought on a vague feeling of pity. Later, when he obtained deeper information on the nature of men in the brothels, he thought that Gaston’s meekness had its origins in unbridled passion. But when he came to know him better and realized his true character was the opposite of his submissive conduct, he conceived the malicious suspicion that even the wait for the airplane was an act. Then he thought that Gaston was not as foolish as he appeared, but, quite the contrary, was a man of infinite steadiness, ability, and patience who had set about to conquer his wife with the weariness of eternal agreement, of never saying no, of simulating a limitless conformity, letting her become enmeshed in her own web until the day she could no longer bear the tedium of the illusions close at hand and would pack the bags herself to go back to Europe. Aureliano’s former pity turned into a violent dislike. Gaston’s system seemed so perverse to him, but at the same time so effective, that he ventured to warn Amaranta ?rsula. She made fun of his suspicions, however, without even noticing the heavy weight of love, uncertainty, and jealousy that he had inside. It had not occurred to her that she was arousing something more than fraternal affection in Aureliano until she pricked her finger trying to open a can of peaches and he dashed over to suck the blood out with an avidity and a devotion that sent a chill up her spine.
“Aureliano!” She laughed, disturbed. “You’re too suspicious to be a good bat.”
Then Aureliano went all out. Giving her some small, orphaned kisses in the hollow of her wounded hand, he opened up the most hidden passageways of his heart and drew out an interminable and lacerated intestine, the terrible parasitic animal that had incubated in his martyrdom. He told her how he would get up at midnight to weep in loneliness and rage over the underwear that she had left to dry in the bathroom. He told her about the anxiety with which he had asked Nigromanta to howl like a cat and sob gaston gaston gaston in his ear, and with how much astuteness he had ransacked her vials of perfume so that he could smell it on the necks of the little girls who went to bed because of hunger. Frightened by the passion of that outburst, Amaranta ?rsula was closing her fingers, contracting them like a shellfish until her wounded hand, free of all pain and any vestige of pity, was converted into a knot of emeralds and topazes and stony and unfeeling bones.
“Fool!” she said as if she were spitting. “I’m sailing on the first ship leaving for Belgium.”
?lvaro had come to the wise Catalonian’s bookstore one of those afternoons proclaiming at the top of his lungs his latest discovery: a zoological brothel. It was called The Golden Child and it was a huge open air salon through which no less than two hundred bitterns who told the time with a deafening cackling strolled at will. In wire pens that surrounded the dance floor and among large Amazonian camellias there were herons of different colors, crocodiles as fat as pigs, snakes with twelve rattles, and a turtle with a gilded shell who dove in a small artificial ocean. There was a big white dog, meek and a pederast, who would give stud services nevertheless in order to be fed. The atmosphere had an innocent denseness, as if it had just been created, and the beautiful mulatto girls who waited hopelessly among the blood-red petals and the outmoded phonograph records knew ways of love that man had left behind forgotten in the earthly paradise. The first night that the group visited that greenhouse of illusions the splendid and taciturn old woman who guarded the entrance in a wicker rocking chair felt that time was turning back to its earliest origins when among the five who were arriving she saw a bony, jaundiced man with Tartar cheekbones, marked forever and from the beginning of the world with the pox of solitude.
“Lord, Lord,” she sighed, “Aureliano!”
She was seeing Colonel Aureliano Buend?a once more as she had seen him in the light of a lamp long before the wars, long before the desolation of glory and the exile of disillusionment, that remote dawn when he went to her bedroom to give the first command of his life: the command to give him love. It was Pilar Ternera. Years before, when she had reached one hundred forty-five years of age, she had given up the pernicious custom of keeping track of her age and she went on living in the static and marginal time of memories, in a future perfectly revealed and established, beyond the futures disturbed by the insidious snares and suppositions of her cards.
From that night on Aureliano, took refuge in the compassionate tenderness and understanding of his unknown great-great-grandmother. Sitting in her wicker rocking chair, she would recall the past, reconstruct the grandeur and misfortunes of the family and the splendor of Macondo, which was now erased, while ?lvaro frightened the crocodiles with his noisy laughter and Alfonso invented outlandish stories about the bitterns who had pecked out the eyes of four customers who misbehaved the week before, and Gabriel was in the room of the pensive mulatto girl who did not collect in money but in letters to a smuggler boyfriend who was in prison on the other side of the Orinoco because the border guards had caught him and had made him sit on a chamberpot that filled up with a mixture of shit and diamonds. That true brothel, with that maternal proprietress, was the world of which Aureliano had dreamed during his prolonged captivity. He felt so well, so close to perfect companionship, that he thought of no other refuge on the afternoon on which Amaranta ?rsula had made his illusions crumble. He was ready to unburden himself with words so that someone could break the knots that bound his chest, but he only managed to let out a fluid, warm, and restorative weeping in Pilar Ternera’s lap. She let him finish, scratching his head with the tips of her fingers, and without his having revealed that he was weeping from love, she recognized immediately the oldest sobs in the history of man.
“It’s all right, child,” she consoled him. “Now tell me who it is.”
When Aureliano told her, Pilar Ternera let out a deep laugh, the old expansive laugh that ended up as a cooing of doves. There was no mystery in the heart of a Buend?a that was impenetrable for her because a century of cards and experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.
“Don’t worry,” she said, smiling. “Wherever she is right now, she’s waiting for you.”
It was half past four in the afternoon when Amaranta ?rsula came out of her bath. Aureliano saw her go by his room with a robe of soft folds and a towel wrapped around her head like a turban. He followed her almost on tiptoes, stumbling from drunkenness, and he went into the nuptial bedroom just as she opened the robe and closed it again in fright. He made a silent signal toward the next room where the door was half open and where Aureliano knew that Gaston was beginning to write a letter.
“Go away,” she said voicelessly.
Aureliano, smiled, picked her up by the waist with both hands like a pot of begonias, and dropped her on her back on the bed. With a brutal tug he pulled off her bathrobe before she had time to resist and he loomed over an abyss of newly washed nudity whose skin color, lines of fuzz, and hidden moles had all been imagined in the shadows of the other rooms. Amaranta ?rsula defended herself sincerely with the astuteness of a wise woman, weaseling her slippery, flexible, and fragrant weasel’s body as she tried to knee him in the kidneys and scorpion his face with her nails, but without either of them giving a gasp that might not have been taken for that breathing of a person watching the meager April sunset through the open window. It was a fierce fight, a battle to the death, but it seemed to be without violence because it consisted of distorted attacks and ghostly evasions, slow, cautious, solemn, so that during it all there was time for the petunias to bloom and for Gaston to forget about his aviator’s dream in the next room, as if they were two enemy lovers seeking reconciliation at the bottom of an aquarium. In the heat of that savage and ceremonious struggle, Amaranta ?rsula understood that her meticulous silence was so irrational that it could awaken the suspicions of her nearby husband much more than the sound of warfare that they were trying to avoid. Then she began to laugh with her lips tight together, without giving up the fight, but defending herself with false bites and deweaseling her body little by little until they both were conscious of being adversaries and accomplices at the same time and the affray degenerated into a conventional gambol and the attacks became caresses. Suddenly, almost playfully, like one more bit of mischief, Amaranta ?rsula dropped her defense, and when she tried to recover, frightened by what she herself had made possible, it was too late. A great commotion immobilized her in her center of gravity, planted her in her place, and her defensive will was demolished by the irresistible anxiety to discover what the orange whistles and the invisible globes on the other side of death were like. She barely had time to reach out her hand and grope for the towel to put a gag between her teeth so that she would not let out the cat howls that were already tearing at her insides.