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Chapter 14

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 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 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 Macon-do, 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 Aureli-ano Segun-do 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 otextreme 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 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. úrsula, 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. Aure-liano Segun-do 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 Aureli-ano Segun-do postponed any appointments in order to be 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 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, Aureli-ano Segun-do 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, 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 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, tooth-brushes, drops to make her eyes languid, and so many and such new cosmetics and artifacts beauty that every time Fernanda went into the room she was scan-dalized by the idea that her daughter's dressing table must have been the same as those of the French ma-trons. Nevertheless Fernanda divided her time in those days between little Amaranta úrsula, 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 Aureli-ano Segun-do 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 Aureli-ano Segun-do 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 Aureli-ano Segun-do 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 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 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 Aureli-ano Segun-do would not call for her then to take her to the movies.
It might have been aid that peace and happiness reigned for a long time in the tired mansion of the Buendías 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 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 Geri-neldo Márquez his final rejection 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 Aureli-anos or the death of Colonel Aureli-ano Buendía, 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 Aureli-ano José and she tried to take refuge in the calm and virile protection of Colonel Geri-neldo Márquez, 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 José Arcadio three years before he was sent to the seminary 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 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 Aureli-ano Buendía 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 Aureli-ano Triste told how he had seen her changed into an apparition 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 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 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, Amaran-ta did not feel frustrated, but on the contrary, free of all bitterness because death had awarded her the privi-lege 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, 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 thread-ing 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 Aureli-ano Buendía'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 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 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 stit............

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