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HOME > Classical Novels > One Hundred Years of Solitude > Chapter 16
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Chapter 16

IT RAINED FOR four years, eleven months, and two days. There were periods of drizzle during which everyone put on his full dress a convalescent look to celebrate the clearing, but the people soon grew accustomed to interpret the pauses as a sign of redoubled rain. The sky crumbled into a set of destructive storms and out of the north came hurricanes that scattered roofs about and knocked down walls and uprooted every last plant of the banana groves. Just as during the insomnia plague, as úrsula came to remember during those days, the calamity itself inspired defenses against boredom. Aureli-ano Segun-do was one of those who worked hardest not to be conquered by idleness. He had gone home for some minor matter on the night that Mr. Brown unleashed the storm, and Fernanda tried to help him with a half-blown-out umbrella that she found in a closet. "I don't need it," he said. "I'll stay until it clears." That was not, of course, an ironclad promise, but he would accomplish it literally. Since his clothes were at Petra Cotes's, every three days he would take off what he had on and wait in his shorts until they washed. In order not to become bored, he dedicated himself to the task of repairing the many things that needed fixing in the house. He adjusted hinges, oiled locks, screwed knockers tight, and planed doorjambs. For several months he was seen wandering about with a toolbox that the gypsies must have left behind in José Arcadio Buendía's days, and no one knew whether because of the involuntary exercise, the winter tedium or the imposed abstinence, but his belly was deflating little by little like a wineskin and his face of a beatific tortoise was becoming less bloodshot and his double chin less prominent until he became less pachydermic all over and was able to tie his own shoes again. Watching him putting in latches and repairing clocks, Fernanda wondered whether or not he too might be falling into the vice of building so that he could take apart like Colonel Aureli-ano Buendía and his little gold fishes, Amaranta and her shroud and her buttons, José Arca-dio and the parchments, and úrsula and her memories. But that was not the case. The worst part was that the rain was affecting everything and the driest of machines would have flowers popping out among their gears they were not oiled every three days, and the threads in brocades rusted, and wet clothing would break out in a rash of saffron-colored moss. The air was so damp that fish could have come in through the doors and swum out the windows, floating through the atmosphere in the rooms. One morning úrsula woke up feeling that she was reaching her end in a placid swoon and she had already asked them to take her to Father Antonio Isabel, even if it had to be on a stretcher, when Santa Sofía de la Piedad discovered that her back was paved with leeches. She took them off one by one, crushing them with a firebrand before they bled her to death. It was necessary to dig canals to get the water out of the house and rid it of the frogs and snails so that they could dry the floors and take the bricks from under the bedposts and walk in shoes once more. Occupied with the many small details that called for his attention, Aureli-ano Segun-do did not realize that he was getting old until one afternoon when he found himself contemplating the premature dusk from a rocking chair and thinking about Petra Cotes without quivering. There would have been no problem in going back to Fernan-da's insipid love, because her beauty had become solemn with age, but the rain had spared him from all emergencies of passion and had filled him with the spongy serenity of a lack of appetite. He amused himself thinking about the things that he could have done in other times with that rain which had already lasted a year. He had been one of the first to bring zinc sheets to Macon-do, much earlier than their popularization by the banana company, simply to roof Petra Cotes's bedroom with them and to take pleasure in the feeling of deep intimacy that the sprinkling of the rain produced at that time. But even those wild memories of his mad youth left him unmoved, just as during his last debauch he had exhausted his quota of salaciousness and all he had left was the marvelous gift of being able to remember it without bitterness or repentance. It might have been thought that the deluge had given him the opportunity to sit and reflect and that the business of the pliers and the oilcan had awakened in him the tardy yearning of so many useful trades that he might have followed in his life and did not; but neither case was true, because the temptation of a sedentary domesticity that was besieging him was not the result of any rediscovery or moral lesion. it came from much farther off, unearthed by the rain's pitchfork from the days when in Melquíades' room he would read the prodigious fables about flying carpets and whales that fed on entire ships and their crews. It was during those days that in a moment of carelessness little Aureli-ano appeared on the porch and his grandfather recognized the secret of his identity. He cut his hair, dressed him taught him not to be afraid of people, and very soon it was evident that he was a legitimate Aureli-ano Buendía, with his high cheekbones, his startled look, and his solitary air. It was a relief for Fernanda. For some time she had measured the extent of her pridefulness, but she could not find any way to remedy it because the more she thought of solutions the less rational they seemed to her. If she had known that Aureli-ano Segun-do was going to take things the way he did, with the fine pleasure of a grandfather, she would not have taken so many turns or got so mixed up, but would have freed herself from mortification the year before Amaranta úrsula, who already had her second teeth, thought of her nephew as a scurrying toy who was a consolation for the tedium of the rain. Aureli-ano Segun-do remembered then the English ency-clopedia that no one had since touched in Meme's old room. He began to show the children the pictures, especially those of animals, and later on the maps and photographs remote countries and famous people. Since he did not know any English and could identify only the most famous cities and people, he would invent names and legends to satisfy the children's insatiable curiosity.
Fernanda really believed that her husband was waiting for it to clear to return to his concubine. During the first months of the rain she was afraid that he would try to slip into her bedroom that she would have to undergo the shame revealing to him that she was incapable of reconciliation since the birth of Amaranta úrsula. That was the reason for her anxious correspondence with the invisible doctors, interrupted by frequent disasters of the mail. During the first months when it was learned that the trains were jumping their tracks in the rain, a letter from the invisible doctors told her that hers were not arriving. Later on, when contact with the unknown correspondents was broken, she had seriously thought of putting on the tiger mask that her husband had worn in the bloody carnival and having herself examined under a fictitious name by the banana company doctors. But one of the many people who regularly brought unpleasant news of the deluge had told her that the company was dismantling its dispensaries to move them to where it was not raining. Then she gave up hope. She resigned herself to waiting until the rain stopped and the mail service was back to normal, and in the meantime she sought relief from her secret ailments with recourse to her imagination, because she would rather have died than put herself in the hands of the only doctor left in Macon-do, the extravagant Frenchman who ate grass like a donkey. She drew close to úrsula, trusting that she would know of some palliative for her attacks. But her twisted habit of not calling things by their names made her put first things last and use "expelled" for "gave birth" and "burning" for "flow" so that it would all be less shameful, with the result that úrsula reached the reasonable conclusion that her trouble was intestinal rather than uterine, and she advised her to take a dose of calomel on an empty stomach. If it had not been for that suffering, which would have had nothing shameful about it for someone who did not suffer as well from shamefulness, and if it had not been for the loss of the letters, the rain would not have bothered Fernanda, because, after all, her whole life had been spent as if it had been raining. She did not change her schedule or modify her ritual. When the table was still raised up on bricks and the chairs put on planks so that those at the table would not get their feet wet, she still served with linen tablecloths and fine chinaware and with lighted candles, because she felt that the calamities should not be used as a pretext for any relaxation in customs. No one went out into the street any more. If it had depended on Fernanda, they would never have done so, not only since it started raining but since long before that, because she felt that doors had been invented to stay closed that curiosity for what was going on in the street was a matter for harlots. Yet she was the first one to look out when they were told that the funeral procession for Colonel Geri-neldo Márquez was passing by and even though she only watched it through the half-opened window it left her in such a state of affliction that for a long time she repented in her weakness.
She could not have conceived of a more desolate cortege. They had put the coffin in an oxcart over which they built a canopy of banana leaves, but the pressure of the rain was so intense and the streets so muddy that with every step the wheels got stuck and the covering was on the verge of falling apart. The streams of sad water that fell on the coffin were soaking the flag that had been placed on top which was actually the flag stained with blood and gunpowder that had been rejected by more honorable veterans. On the coffin they had also placed the saber with tassels of silver and copper, the same one that Colonel Geri-neldo Márquez used to hang on the coat rack in order to go into Amaranta's sewing room unarmed. Behind the cart, some barefoot and all of them with their pants rolled up, splashing in the mud were the last survivors of the surrender at Neerlandia carrying a drover's staff in one hand and in the other a wreath of paper flowers that had become discolored in the rain. They appeared like an unreal vision along the street which still bore the name of Colonel Aureli-ano Buendía and they all looked at the house as they passed and turned the corner at the square, where they had to ask for help to move the cart, which was stuck. úrsula had herself carried to the door by Santa Sofía de la Piedad. She followed the difficulties of the procession with such attention that no one doubted that she was seeing it, especially because raised hand of an archangelic messenger was moving with the swaying of the cart.
"goodbye, Geri-neldo, my son," she shouted. "Say hello to my people and tell them I'll see them when it stops raining."
Aureli-ano Segun-do helped her back to bed and with the same informality with which he always treated her, he asked her the meaning of her farewell.
"It's true," she said. "I'm only waiting for the rain to stop in order to die."
The condition of the streets alarmed Aureli-ano Segun-do. He finally became worried about the state of his animals and he threw an oilcloth over his head and sent to Petra Cotes's house. He found her in the court-yard, in the water up to her waist, trying to float the corpse of a horse. Aureli-ano Segun-do helped her with a lever, and the enormous swollen body gave a turn like a bell and was dragged away by the torrent of liquid mud. Since the rain began, all that Petra Cotes had done was to clear courtyard of dead animals. During the first weeks she sent messages to Aureli-ano Segun-do for him to take urgent measures and he had answered that there was no rush, that the situation was not alarming, that there would be plenty of time to think about something when it cleared. She sent him word that the horse pastures were being flooded, that the cattle were fleeing to high ground, where there was nothing to eat and where they were at the mercy of jaguars and sickness. "There's nothing to be done," Aureli-ano Segun-do an-swered her. "Others will be born when it clears." Petra Cates had seen them die in dusters and the was able to butcher only those stuck in the mud. She saw with quiet impotence how the deluge was pitilessly exterminating a fortune that at one time was considered the largest and most solid in Macon-do, and of which nothing remained but pestilence. When Aureli-ano Segun-do decided to go see what was going on, he found only the corpse of the horse and a squalid mule in the ruins of the stable. Petra Cotes watched him arrive without surprise, joy, or resentment, and she only allowed herself an ironic smile.
"It's about time!" she said.
She had aged, all skin and bones, and her tapered eyes of a carnivorous animal had become sad and tame from looking at the rain so much. Aureli-ano Segun-do stayed at her house more than three months, not because he felt better there than in that his family, but because he needed all that time to make the decision to throw the piece of oilcloth back over his head. "There's no rush," he said, as he had said in the other home. "Let's hope that it clears in the next few hours." During the course of the first week he became accustomed to the inroads that time and the rain had made in the health of his concubine, and little by little he was seeing her as she had been before, remembering her jubilant excesses and the delirious fertility that her love provoked in the animals, and partly through love, partly through interest, one night during the second week he awoke her with urgent caresses. Petra Cotes did not react. "Go back to sleep," she murmured. "These aren't times for things like that." Aureli-ano Segun-do saw himself in the mirrors on the ceiling, saw Petra Cotes's spinal column like a row of spools strung together along a cluster of withered nerves, and he saw that she was right, not because the times but because of themselves, who were no longer up to those things.
Aureli-ano Segun-do returned home with his trunks, convinced that not only úrsula but all the inhabitants Macon-do were waiting for it to dear in order to die. He had seen them as he passed by, sitting in their parlors with an absorbed look and folded arms, feeling unbroken time pass, relentless times, because it was useless to divide it into months and years, and the days into hours, when one could do nothing but contemplate the rain. The children greeted Aureli-ano Segun-do with excitement because he was playing the asthmatic accordion for them again. But the concerts did not attract their attention as much as the sessions with the encyclopedia, and once more they got together in Meme's room, where Aureli-ano Segun-do's imagination changed a dirigible into a flying elephant who was looking for a place to sleep among the clouds. On one occasion he came across a man on horseback who in spite of his strange outfit had a familiar look, after examining him closely he came to the conclusion that it was a picture of Colonel Aureli-ano Buendía. He showed it to Fernanda and she also admitted the resemblance of the horseman not only to the colonel but to everybody in the family, although he was actually a Tartar warrior. Time passed in that way with the Colossus of Rhodes and snake charmers until his wife told him that there were only three pounds of dried meat and a sack rice left in the pantry.
Chapter 16 Page 2


Chapter 16 Page 2
And what do you want me to do about it?" he asked.
"I don't know," Fernanda answered. "That's men's business."
"Well," Aureli-ano Segun-do said, "something will be done when it clears."
He was more interested in the encyclopedia than In the domestic problem, even when he had to content himself with a scrap of meat and a little rice for lunch. "It's impossible to do anything now," he would say. "It can't rain for the rest of our lives." while the urgencies of the pantry grew greater, Fernanda's indignation also grew, until her eventual protests, her infrequent outbursts came forth in an uncontained, unchained torrent that begin one morning like the monotonous drone of a guitar and as the day advanced rose in pitch, richer and more splendid. Aureli-ano Segun-do was not aware of the singsong until the following day after breakfast when he felt himself being bothered by a buzzing that was by then more fluid and louder than the sound of the rain, and it was Fernanda, who was walking throughout the house complaining that they had raised her to be a queen only to have her end up as a servant in a madhouse, with a lazy, idola-trous, libertine husband who lay on his back waiting for bread to rain down from heaven while she was straining her kidneys trying to keep afloat a home held together with pins where there was so much to do, so much to bear up under and repair from the time God gave his morning sunlight until it was time to go to bed that when she got there eyes were full of ground glass, and yet no one ever said to her, "Good morning, Fernanda, did you sleep well?" Nor had they asked her, even out of courtesy, why she was so pale or why she awoke with purple rings under her eyes in spite of the fact that she expected it, of course, from a family that had always considered her a nuisance, an old rag, a booby painted on the wall, and who were always going around saying things against her behind her back, call-ing her church mouse, calling her Pharisee, calling her crafty, and even Amaranta, may she rest in peace, had said aloud that she was one of those people who could not tell their rectums from their ashes, God have mercy, such words, and she had tolerated everything with resig-nation because of the Holy Father, but she had not been able to tolerate it any more when that evil José Arcadio Segun-do said that the damnation of the family had come when it opened its doors to a stuck-up highlander, just imagine, a bossy highlander, Lord save us, a highlander daughter of evil spit of the same stripe as the highlanders the government sent to kill workers, you tell me, and he was referring to no one but her, the godchild of the Duke of Alba, a lady of such lineage that she made ............

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