PILAR TERNERA died in her wicker rocking chair during one night of festivities as she watched over the entrance to her paradise. In accordance with her last wishes she was not buried in a coffin but sitting in her rocker, which eight men lowered by ropes into a huge hole dug in the center of the dance floor. The mulatto girls, dressed in black, pale from weeping, invented shadowy rites as they took off their earrings, brooches, and rings and threw them into the pit before it was closed over with a slab that bore neither name nor dates, and that was covered with a pile of Amazonian camellias. After poisoning the animals they closed up the doors and windows with brick and mortar and they scattered out into the world with their wooden trunks that were lined with pictures of saints, prints from magazines, and the portraits of sometime sweethearts, remote and fantastic, who shat diamonds, or ate cannibals, or were crowned playing-card kings on the high seas.
It was the end. In Pilar Ternera’s tomb, among the psalm and cheap whore jewelry, the ruins of the past would rot, the little that remained after the wise Catalonian had auctioned off his bookstore and returned to the Mediterranean village where he had been born, overcome by a yearning for a lasting springtime. No one could have foreseen his decision. He had arrived in Macondo during the splendor of the banana company, fleeing from one of many wars, and nothing more practical had occurred to him than to set up that bookshop of incunabula and first editions in several languages, which casual customers would thumb through cautiously, as if they were junk books, as they waited their turn to have their dreams interpreted in the house across the way. He spent half his life in the back of the store, scribbling in his extra-careful hand in purple ink and on pages that he tore out of school notebooks, and no one was sure exactly what he was writing. When Aureliano first met him he had two boxes of those motley pages that in some way made one think of Melqu?ades’ parchments, and from that time until he left he had filled a third one, so it was reasonable to believe that he had done nothing else during his stay in Macondo. The only people with whom he maintained relations were the four friends, whom he had exchanged their tops and kites for books, and he set them to reading Seneca and Ovid while they were still in grammar school. He treated the classical writers with a household familiarity, as if they had all been his roommates at some period, and he knew many things that should not have been known, such as the fact that Saint Augustine wore a wool jacket under his habit that he did not take off for fourteen years and that Arnaldo of Villanova, the necromancer, was impotent since childhood because of a scorpion bite. His fervor for the written word was an interweaving of solemn respect and gossipy irreverence. Not even his own manuscripts were safe from that dualism. Having learned Catalan in order to translate them, Alfonso put a roll of pages in his pockets, which were always full of newspaper clippings and manuals for strange trades, and one night he lost them in the house of the little girls who went to bed because of hunger. When the wise old grandfather found out, instead of raising a row as had been feared, he commented, dying with laughter, that it was the natural destiny of literature. On the other hand, there was no human power capable of persuading him not to take along the three boxes when he returned to his native village, and he unleashed a string of Carthaginian curses at the railroad inspectors who tried to ship them as freight until he finally succeeded in keeping them with him in the passenger coach. “The world must be all fucked up,” he said then, “when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.” That was the last thing he was heard to say. He had spent a dark week on the final preparations for the trip, because as the hour approached his humor was breaking down and things began to be misplaced, and what he put in one place would appear in another, attacked by the same elves that had tormented Fernanda.
“Collons,” he would curse. “I shit on Canon Twenty-seven of the Synod of London.”
Germ?n and Aureliano took care of him. They helped him like a child, fastening his tickets and immigration documents to his pockets with safety pins, making him a detailed list of what he must do from the time he left Macondo until he landed in Barcelona, but nonetheless he threw away a pair of pants with half of his money in it without realizing it. The night before the trip, after nailing up the boxes and putting his clothing into the same suitcase that he had brought when he first came, he narrowed his clam eyes, pointed with a kind of impudent benediction at the stacks of books with which he had endured during his exile, and said to his friends:
“All that shit there I leave to you people!”
Three months later they received in a large envelope twenty-nine letters and more than fifty pictures that he had accumulated during the leisure of the high seas. Although he did not date them, the order in which he had written the letters was obvious. In the first ones, with his customary good humor, he spoke about the difficulties of the crossing, the urge he had to throw the cargo officer overboard when he would not let him keep the three boxes in his cabin, the clear imbecility of a lady who was terrified at the number thirteen, not out of superstition but because she thought it was a number that had no end, and the bet that he had won during the first dinner because he had recognized in the drinking water on board the taste of the nighttime beets by the springs of L?rida. With the passage of the days, however, the reality of life on board mattered less and less to him and even the most recent and trivial happenings seemed worthy of nostalgia, because as the ship got farther away, his memory began to grow sad. That process of nostalgia was also evident in the pictures. In the first ones he looked happy, with his sport shirt which looked like a hospital jacket and his snowy mane, in an October Caribbean filled with whitecaps. In the last ones he could be seen to be wearing a dark coat and a milk scarf, pale in the face, taciturn from absence on the deck of a mournful ship that had come to be like a sleepwalker on the autumnal seas. Germ?n and Aureliano answered his letters. He wrote so many during the first months that at that time they felt closer to him than when he had been in Macondo, and they were almost freed from the rancor that he had left behind. At first he told them that everything was just the same, that the pink snails were still in the house where he had been born, that the dry herring still had the same taste on a piece of toast, that the waterfalls in the village still took on a perfumed smell at dusk. They were the notebook pages again, woven with the purple scribbling, in which he dedicated a special paragraph to each one. Nevertheless, and although he himself did not seem to notice it, those letters of recuperation and stimulation were slowly changing into pastoral letters of disenchantment. One winter night while the soup was boiling in the fireplace, he missed the heat of the back of his store, the buzzing of the sun on the dusty almond trees, the whistle of the train during the lethargy of siesta time, just as in Macondo he had missed the winter soup in the fireplace, the cries of the coffee vendor, and the fleeting larks of springtime. Upset by two nostalgias facing each other like two mirrors, he lost his marvelous sense of unreality and he ended up recommending to all of them that they leave Macondo, that they forget everything he had taught them about the world and the human heart, that they shit on Horace, and that wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.
?lvaro was the first to take the advice to abandon Macondo. He sold everything, even the tame jaguar that teased passersby from the courtyard of his house, and he bought an eternal ticket on a train that never stopped traveling. In the postcards that he sent from the way stations he would describe with shouts the instantaneous images that he had seen from the window of his coach, and it was as if he were tearing up and throwing into oblivion some long, evanescent poem: the chimerical Negroes in the cotton fields of Louisiana, the winged horses in the bluegrass of Kentucky, the Greek lovers in the infernal sunsets of Arizona, the girl in the red sweater painting watercolors by a lake in Michigan who waved at him with her brushes, not to say farewell but out of hope, because she did not know that she was watching a train with no return passing by. Then Alfonso and Germ?n left one Saturday with the idea of coming back on Monday, but nothing more was ever heard of them. A year after the departure of the wise Catalonian the only one left in Macondo was Gabriel, still adrift at the mercy of Nigromanta’s chancy charity and answering the questions of a contest in a French magazine in which the first prize was a trip to Paris. Aureliano, who was the one who subscribed to it, helped him fill in the answers, sometimes in his house but most of the time among the ceramic bottles and atmosphere of valerian in the only pharmacy left in Macondo, where Mercedes, Gabriel’s stealthy girl friend, lived. It was the last that remained of a past whose annihilation had not taken place because it was still in a process of annihilation, consuming itself from within, ending at every moment but never ending its ending. The town had reached such extremes of inactivity that when Gabriel won the contest and left for Paris with two changes of clothing, a pair of shoes, and the complete works of Rabelais, he had to signal the engineer to stop the train and pick him up. The old Street of the Turks was at that time an abandoned corner where the last Arabs were letting themselves be dragged off to death with the age-old custom of sitting in their doorways, although it had been many years since they had sold the last yard of diagonal cloth, and in the shadowy showcases only the decapitated manikins remained. The banana company’s city, which Patricia Brown may have tried to evoke for her grandchildren during the nights of intolerance and dill pickles in Prattville, Alabama, was a plain of wild grass. The ancient priest who had taken Father Angel’s place and whose name no one had bothered to find out awaited God’s mercy stretched out casually in a hammock, tortured by arthritis and the insomnia of doubt while the lizards and rats fought over the inheritance of the nearby church. In that Macondo forgotten even by the birds, where the dust and the heat had become so strong that it was difficult to breathe, secluded by solitude and love and by the solitude of love in a house where it was almost impossible to sleep because of the noise of the red ants, Aureliano, and Amaranta ?rsula were the only happy beings, and the most happy on the face of the earth.
Gaston had returned to Brussels. Tired of waiting for the airplane, one day he put his indispensable things into a small suitcase, took his file of correspondence, and left with the idea of returning by air before his concession was turned over to a group of German pilots who had presented the provincial authorities with a more ambitious project than his. Since the afternoon of their first love, Aureliano and Amaranta ?rsula had continued taking advantage of her husband’s rare unguarded moments, making love with gagged ardor in chance meetings and almost always interrupted by unexpected returns. But when they saw themselves alone in the house they succumbed to the delirium of lovers who were making up for lost time. It was a mad passion, unhinging, which made Fernanda’s bones tremble with horror in her grave and which kept them in a state of perpetual excitement. Amaranta ?rsula’s shrieks, her songs of agony would break out the same at two in the afternoon on the dining-room table as at two in the morning in the pantry. “What hurts me most,” she would say, laughing, “is all the time that we wasted.” In the bewilderment of passion she watched the ants devastating the garden, sating their prehistoric hunger with the beam of the house, and she watched the torrents of living lava take over the porch again, but she bothered to fight them only when she found them in her bedroom. Aureliano abandoned the parchments, did not leave the house again, and carelessly answered the letters from the wise Catalonian. They lost their sense of reality, the notion of time, the rhythm of daily habits. They closed the doors and windows again so as not to waste time getting undressed and they walked about the house as Remedios the Beauty had wanted to do and they would roll around naked in the mud of the courtyard, and one afternoon they almost drowned as they made love in the cistern. In a short time they did more damage than the red ants: they destroyed the furniture in the parlor, in their madness they tore to shreds the hammock that had resisted the sad bivouac loves of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a and they disemboweled the mattresses and emptied them on the floor as they suffocated in storms of cotton. Although Aureliano was just as ferocious a lover as his rival, it was Amaranta ?rsula who ruled in that paradise of disaster with her mad genius and her lyrical voracity, as if she had concentrated in her love the unconquerable energy that her great-great-grandmother had given to the making of little candy animals. And yet, while she was singing with pleasure and dying with laughter over her own inventions, Aureliano was becoming more and more absorbed and silent, for his passion was self-centered and burning. Nevertheless, they both reached such extremes of virtuosity that when they became exhausted from excitement, they would take advantage of their fatigue. They would give themselves over to the worship of their bodies, discovering that the rest periods of love had unexplored possibilities, much richer than those of desire. While he would rub Amaranta ?rsula’s erect breasts with egg whites or smooth her elastic thighs and peach-like stomach with cocoa butter, she would play with Aureliano’s portentous creature as if it were a doll and would paint clown’s eyes on it with her lipstick and give it a Turk’s mustache with her eyebrow pencil, and would put on organza bow ties and little tinfoil hats. One night they daubed themselves from head to toe with peach jam and licked each other like dogs and made mad love on the floor of the porch, and they were awakened by a torrent of carnivorous ants who were ready to eat them alive.
During the pauses in their delirium, Amaranta ?rsula would answer Gaston’s letters. She felt him to be so far away and busy that his return seemed impossible to her. In one of his first letters he told her that his Partners had actually sent the airplane, but that a shipping agent in Brussels had sent it by mistake to Tanganyika, where it was delivered to the scattered tribe of the Makondos. That mix-up brought on so many difficulties that just to get the plane back might take two years. So Amaranta ?rsula dismissed the possibility of an inopportune return. Aureliano, for his part, had no other contact with the world except for the letters from the wise Catalonian and the news he had of Gabriel through Mercedes, the silent pharmacist. At first they were real contacts. Gabriel had turned in his return ticket in order to stay in Paris, selling the old newspapers and empty bottles that the chambermaids threw out of a gloomy hotel on the Rue Dauphine. Aureliano could visualize him then in a turtleneck sweater which he took off only when the sidewalk Caf?s on Montparnasse filled with springtime lovers, and sleeping by day and writing by night in order to confuse hunger in the room that smelled of boiled cauliflower where Rocamadour was to die. Nevertheless, news about him was slowly becoming so uncertain, and the letters from the wise man so sporadic and melancholy, that Aureliano grew to think about them as Amaranta ?rsula thought about her husband, and both of them remained floating in an empty universe where the only everyday and eternal reality was love.
Suddenly, like the stampede in that world of happy unawareness, came the news of Gaston’s return. Aureliano and Amaranta ?rsula opened their eyes, dug deep into their souls, looked at the letter with their hands on their hearts, and understood that they were so close to each other that they preferred death to separation. Then she wrote her husband a letter of contradictory truths in which she repeated her love and said how anxious she was to see him again, but at the same time she admitted as a design of fate the impossibility of living without Aureliano. Contrary to what they had expected, Gaston sent them a calm, almost paternal reply, with two whole pages devoted to a warning against the fickleness of passion and a final paragraph with unmistakable wishes for them to be as happy as he had been during his brief conjugal experience. It was such an unforeseen attitude that Amaranta ?rsula felt humiliated by the idea that she had given her husband the pretext that he had wanted in order to abandon her to her fate. The rancor was aggravated six months later when Gaston wrote again from L?opoldville, where he had finally recovered the airplane, simply to ask them to ship him the velocipede, which of all that he had left behind in Macondo was the only thing that had any sentimental value for him. Aureliano bore Amaranta ?rsula’s spite patiently and made an effort to show her that he could be as good a husband in adversity as in prosperity, and the daily needs that besieged them when Gaston’s last money ran out created a bond of solidarity between them that was not as dazzling and heady as passion, but that let them make love as much and be as happy as during their uproarious and salacious days. At the time Pilar Ternera died they were expecting a child.
In the lethargy of her pregnancy, Amaranta ?rsula tried to set up a business in necklaces made out of the backbones of fish. But except for Mercedes, who bought a dozen, she could not find any customers. Aureliano was aware for the first time that his gift for languages, his encyclopedic knowledge, his rare faculty for remembering the details of remote deeds and places without having been there, were as useless as the box of genuine jewelry that his wife owned, which must have been worth as much as all the money that the last inhabitants of Macondo could have put together. They survived miraculously. Although Amaranta ?rsula did not lose her good humor or her genius for erotic mischief, she acquired the habit of sitting on the porch after lunch in a kind of wakeful and thoughtful siesta. Aureliano would accompany her. Sometimes they would remain there in silence until nightfall, opposite each other, looking into each other’s eyes, loving each other as much as in their scandalous days. The uncertainty of the future made them turn their hearts toward the past. They saw themselves in the lost paradise of the deluge, splashing in the puddles in the courtyard, killing lizards to hang on ?rsula, pretending that they were going to bury her alive, and those memories revealed to them the truth that they had been happy together ever since they had had memory. Going deeper into the past, Amaranta ?rsula remembered the afternoon on which she had gone into the silver shop and her mother told her that little Aureliano was nobody’s child because he had been found floating in a basket. Although the version seemed unlikely to them, they did not have any information enabling them to replace it with the true one. All that they were sure of after examining an the possibilities was that Fernanda was not Aureliano’s mother. Amaranta ?rsula was inclined to believe that he was the son of Petra Cotes, of whom she remembered only tales of infamy, and that supposition produced a twinge of horror in her heart.
Tormented by the certainty that he was his wife’s brother, Aureliano ran out to the parish house to search through the moldy and moth-eaten archives for some clue to his parentage. The oldest baptismal certificate that he found was that of Amaranta Buend?a, baptized in adolescence by Father Nicanor Reyna during the time when he was trying to prove the existence of God by means of tricks with chocolate. He began to have that feeling that he was one of the seventeen Aurelianos, whose birth certificates he tracked down as he went through four volumes, but the baptism dates were too far back for his age. Seeing him lost in the labyrinths of kinship, trembling with uncertainty, the arthritic priest, who was watching him from his hammock, asked him compassionately what his name was.
“Aureliano Buend?a,” he said.
“Then don’t wear yourself out searching,” the priest exclaimed with final conviction. “Many years ago there used to be a street here with that name and in those days people had the custom of naming their children after streets.”
Aureliano trembled with rage.
“So!” he said. “You don’t believe it either.”
“That Colonel Aureliano, Buend?a fought thirty-two civil wars and lost them all,” Aureliano answered. “That the army hemmed in and machine-gunned three thousand workers and that their bodies were carried off to be thrown into the sea on a train with two hundred cars.”
The priest measured him with a pitying look.
“Oh, my son,” he signed. “It’s enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”
So Aureliano and Amaranta ?rsula accepted the version of the basket, not because they believed it, but because it spared them their terror. As the pregnancy advanced they were becoming a single being, they were becoming more and more integrated in the solitude of a house that needed only one last breath to be knocked down. They restricted themselves to an essential area, from Fernanda’s bedroom, where the charms of sedentary love were visible, to the beginning of the porch, where Amaranta ?rsula would sit to sew bootees and bonnets for the newborn baby and Aureliano, would answer the occasional letters from the wise Catalonian. The rest of the house was given over to the tenacious assault of destruction. The silver shop, Melqu?ades’ room, the primitive and silent realm of Santa Sof?a de la Piedad remained in the depths of a domestic jungle that no one would have had the courage to penetrate. Surrounded by the voracity of nature, Aureliano and Amaranta ?rsula continued cultivating the oregano and the begonias and defended their world with demarcations of quicklime, building the last trenches in the age-old war between man and ant. Her long and neglected hair, the splotches that were beginning to appear on her face, the swelling of her legs, the deformation of her former lovemaking weasel’s body had changed Amaranta ?rsula from the youthful creature she had been when she arrived at the house with the cage of luckless canaries and her captive husband, but it did not change the vivacity of her spirit. “Shit,” she would say, laughingly. “Who would have thought that we really would end up living like cannibals!” The last thread that joined them to the world was broken on the sixth month of pregnancy when they received a letter that obviously was not from the wise Catalonian. It had been mailed in Barcelona, but the envelope was addressed in conventional blue ink by an official hand and it had the innocent and impersonal look of hostile messages. Aureliano snatched it out of Amaranta ?rsula’s hands as she was about to open it.
“Not this one,” he told her. “I don’t want to know what it says.”
Just as he had sensed, the wise Catalonian did not write again. The stranger’s letter, which no one read, was left to the mercy of the moths on the shelf where Fernanda had forgotten her wedding ring on occasion and there it remained, consuming itself in the inner fire of its bad news as the solitary lovers sailed against the tide of those days of the last stages, those impenitent and ill-fated times which were squandered on the useless effort of making them drift toward the desert of disenchantment and oblivion. Aware of that menace, Aureliano and Amaranta ?rsula spent the hot months holding hands, ending with the love of loyalty for the child who had his beginning in the madness of fornication. At night, holding each other in bed, they were not frightened by the sublunary explosions of the ants or the noise of the moths or the constant and clean whistle of the growth of the weeds in the neighboring rooms. Many times they were awakened by the traffic of the dead. They could hear ?rsula fighting against the laws of creation to maintain the line, and Jos? Arcadio Buend?a searching for the mythical truth of the great inventions, and Fernanda praying, and Colonel Aureliano Buend?a stupefying himself with the deception of war and the little gold fishes, and Aureliano Segundo dying of solitude in the turmoil of his debauches, and then they learned that dominant obsessions can prevail against death and they were happy again with the certainty that they would go on loving each other in their shape as apparitions long after other species of future animals would steal from the insects the paradise of misery that the insects were finally stealing from man.
One Sunday, at six in the afternoon, Amaranta ?rsula felt the pangs of childbirth. The smiling mistress of the little girls who went to bed because of hunger had her get onto the dining-room table, straddled her stomach, and mistreated her with wild gallops until her cries were drowned out by the bellows of a formidable male child. Through her tears Amaranta ?rsula could see that he was one of those great Buend?as, strong and willful like the Jos? Arcadios, with the open and clairvoyant eyes of the Aurelianos, and predisposed to begin the race again from the beginning and cleanse it of its pernicious vices and solitary calling, for he was the only one in a century who had been engendered with love.
“He’s a real cannibal.” she said. “We’ll name him Rodrigo.”
“No,” her husband countered. “We’ll name him Aureliano and he’ll win thirty-two wars.”
After cutting the umbilical cord, the midwife began to use a cloth to take off the blue grease that covered his body as Aureliano held up a lamp. Only when they turned him on his stomach did they see that he had something more than other men, and they leaned over to examine him. It was the tail of a pig.
They were not alarmed. Aureliano and Amaranta ?rsula were not aware of the family precedent, nor did they remember ?rsula’s frightening admonitions, and the midwife pacified them with the idea that the tail could be cut off when the child got his second teeth. Then they had no time to think about it again, because Amaranta ?rsula was bleeding in an uncontainable torrent. They tried to help her with applications of spider webs and balls of ash, but it was like trying to hold back a spring with one’s hands. During the first hours she tried to maintain her good humor. She took the frightened Aureliano by the hand and begged him not to worry, because people like her were not made to die against their will, and she exploded with laughter at the ferocious remedies of the midwife. But as Aureliano’s hope abandoned him she was becoming less visible, as if the light on her were fading away, until she sank into drowsiness. At dawn on Monday they brought a woman who recited cauterizing prayers that were infallible for man and beast beside her bed, but Amaranta ?rsula’s passionate blood was insensible to any artifice that did not come from love. In the afternoon, after twenty-four hours of desperation, they knew that she was dead because the flow had stopped without remedies and her profile became sharp and the blotches on her face evaporated in a halo of alabaster and she smiled again.
Aureliano did not understand until then how much he loved his friends, how much he missed them, and how much he would have given to be with them at that moment. He put the child in the basket that his mother had prepared for him, covered the face of the corpse with a blanket, and wandered aimlessly through the town, searching for an entrance that went back to the past. He knocked at the door of the pharmacy, where he had not visited lately, and he found a carpenter shop. The old woman who opened the door with a lamp in her hand took pity on his delirium and insisted that, no, there had never been a pharmacy there, nor had she ever known a woman with a thin neck and sleepy eyes named Mercedes. He wept, leaning his brow against the door of the wise Catalonian’s former bookstore, conscious that he was paying with his tardy sobs for a death that he had refused to weep for on time so as not to break the spell of love. He smashed his fists against the cement wall of The Golden Child, calling for Pilar Ternera, indifferent to the luminous orange disks that were crossing the sky and that so many times on holiday nights he had contemplated with childish fascination from the courtyard of the curlews. In the last open salon of the tumbledown red-light district an accordion group was playing the songs of Rafael Escalona, the bishop’s nephew, heir to the secrets of Francisco the Man. The bartender, who had a withered and somewhat crumpled arm because he had raised it against his mother, invited Aureliano to have a bottle of cane liquor, and Aureliano then bought him one. The bartender spoke to him about the misfortune of his arm. Aureliano spoke to him about the misfortune of his heart, withered and somewhat crumpled for having been raised against his sister. They ended up weeping together and Aureliano felt for a moment that the pain was over. But when he was alone again in the last dawn of Macondo, he opened up his arms in the middle of the square, ready to wake up the whole world, and he shouted with all his might:
“Friends are a bunch of bastards!”
Nigromanta rescued him from a pool of vomit and tears. She took him to her room, cleaned him up, made him drink a cup of broth. Thinking that it would console him, she took a piece of charcoal and erased the innumerable loves that he still owed her for, and she voluntarily brought up her own most solitary sadnesses so as not to leave him alone in his weeping. When he awoke, after a dull and brief sleep, Aureliano recovered the awareness of his headache. He opened his eyes and remembered the child.
He could not find the basket. At first he felt an outburst of joy, thinking that Amaranta ?rsula had awakened from death to take care of the child. But her corpse was a pile of stones under the blanket. Aware that when he arrived he had found the -door to the bedroom open, Aureliano went across the porch which was saturated with the morning sighs of oregano and looked into the dining room, where the remnants of the birth still lay: the large pot, the bloody sheets, the jars of ashes, and the twisted umbilical cord of the child on an opened diaper on the table next to the shears and the fishline. The idea that the midwife had returned for the child during the night gave him a pause of rest in which to think. He sank into the rocking chair, the same one in which Rebeca had sat during the early days of the house to give embroidery lessons, and in which Amaranta had played Chinese checkers with Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez, and in which Amaranta ?rsula had sewn the tiny clothing for the child, and in that flash of lucidity he became aware that he was unable to bear in his soul the crushing weight of so much past. Wounded by the fatal lances of his own nostalgia and that of others, he admired the persistence of the spider webs on the dead rose bushes, the perseverance of the rye grass, the patience of the air in the radiant February dawn. And then he saw the child. It was a dry and bloated bag of skin that all the ants in the world were dragging toward their holes along the stone path in the garden. Aureliano could not move. Not because he was paralyzed by horror but because at that prodigious instant Melqu?ades’ final keys were revealed to him and he saw the epigraph of the parchments perfectly placed in the order of man’s time and space: The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants.
Aureliano, had never been more lucid in any act of his life as when he forgot about his dead ones and the pain of his dead ones and nailed up the doors and windows again with Fernanda’s crossed boards so as not to be disturbed by any temptations of the world, for he knew then that his fate was written in Melqu?ades’ parchments. He found them intact among the prehistoric plants and steaming puddles and luminous insects that had removed all trace of man’s passage on earth from the room, and he did not have the calmness to bring them out into the light, but right there, standing, without the slightest difficulty, as if they had been written in Spanish and were being read under the dazzling splendor of high noon, he began to decipher them aloud. It was the history of the family, written by Melqu?ades, down to the most trivial details, one hundred years ahead of time. He had written it in Sanskrit, which was his mother tongue, and he had encoded the even lines in the private cipher of the Emperor Augustus and the odd ones in a Lacedemonian military code. The final protection, which Aureliano had begun to glimpse when he let himself be confused by the love of Amaranta ?rsula, was based on the fact that Melqu?ades had not put events in the order of man’s conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant. Fascinated by the discovery, Aureliano, read aloud without skipping the chanted encyclicals that Melqu?ades himself had made Arcadio listen to and that were in reality the prediction of his execution, and he found the announcement of the birth of the most beautiful woman in the world who was rising up to heaven in body and soul, and he found the origin of the posthumous twins who gave up deciphering the parchments, not simply through incapacity and lack of drive, but also because their attempts were premature. At that point, impatient to know his own origin, Aureliano skipped ahead. Then the wind began, warm, incipient, full of voices from the past, the murmurs of ancient geraniums, sighs of disenchantment that preceded the most tenacious nostalgia. He did not notice it because at that moment he was discovering the first indications of his own being in a lascivious grandfather who let himself be frivolously dragged along across a hallucinated plateau in search of a beautiful woman who would not make him happy. Aureliano recognized him, he pursued the hidden paths of his descent, and he found the instant of his own conception among the scorpions and the yellow butterflies in a sunset bathroom where a mechanic satisfied his lust on a woman who was giving herself out of rebellion. He was so absorbed that he did not feel the second surge of wind either as its cyclonic strength tore the doors and windows off their hinges, pulled off the roof of the east wing, and uprooted the foundations. Only then did he discover that Amaranta ?rsula was not his sister but his aunt, and that Sir Francis Drake had attacked Riohacha only so that they could seek each other through the most intricate labyrinths of blood until they would engender the mythological animal that was to bring the line to an end. Macondo was already a fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble being spun about by the wrath of the biblical hurricane when Aureliano skipped eleven pages so as not to lose time with facts he knew only too well, and he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror. Then he skipped again to anticipate the predictions and ascertain the date and circumstances of his death. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.