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Chapter 17

úRSULA HAD to make a great effort to fulfill her promise to die when it cleared. The waves of lucidity that were so scarce during the rains became more frequent after August, when an and wind began to blow and suffocated the rose bushes and petrified the piles of mud, and ended up scattering over Macon-do the burning dust that covered the rusted zinc roofs and the age-old almond trees forever. úrsula cried in lamentation when she discovered that for more than three years she had been a plaything for the children. She washed her painted face, took off the strips of brightly colored cloth, the dried lizards and frogs, and the rosaries and old Arab necklaces that they had hung all over her body, and for the first time since the death of Amaranta she got up out of bed without anybody's help to join in the family life once more. The spirit of her invincible heart guided her through the shadows. Those who noticed her stumbling and who bumped into the archangelic arm she kept raised at head level thought that she was having trouble body, but they still did not think she was blind. She did not need to see to realize that the flower beds, cultivated with such care since the first rebuilding, had been destroyed by the rain and ruined by Aureli-ano Segun-do's excavations, and that the walls and the cement of the floors were cracked, the furniture mushy and discolored, the doors off their hinges, and the family menaced by a spirit of resignation and despair that was inconceivable in her time. Feeling her way along through the empty bedrooms she perceived the continuous rumble of the termites as they carved the wood, the snipping of the moths in the clothes closets, and the devastating noise of the enormous red ants that had prospered during the deluge and were undermining the foundations of the house. One day she opened the trunk with the saints and had to ask Santa Sofía de la Piedad to get off her body the cockroaches that jumped out and that had already turned the clothing to dust. "A person can't live in neglect like this," she said. "If we go on like this we'll be devoured by animals." From then on she did not have a moment of repose. Up before dawn, she would use anybody available, even the children. She put the few articles of clothing that were still usable out into the sun, she drove the cockroaches off with powerful insecticide attacks, she scratched out the veins that the termites had made on doors and windows and asphyxiated the ants in their anthills quicklime. The fever of restoration finally brought her to the forgotten rooms. She cleared out the rubble cobwebs in the room where José Arcadio Buendía had lost his wits looking for the Philosopher's stone, she put the silver shop which had been upset by the soldiers in order, and lastly she asked for the keys to Melquíades' room to see what state it was in. Faithful to the wishes of José Arcadio Segun-do, who had forbidden anyone to come in unless there was a clear indication that he had died, Santa Sofía de la Piedad tried all kinds of subterfuges to throw úrsula off the track. But so inflexible was her determination not to surrender even the most remote corner of the house to the insects that she knocked down every obstacle in her path, and after three days of insistence she succeeded in getting them to open the door for her. She had to hold on to the doorjamb so that the stench would not knock her over, but she needed only two seconds to remember that the school-girls' seventy-two chamberpots were in there and that on one of the rainy nights a patrol of soldiers had searched the house looking for José Arcadio Segun-do and had been unable to find him.
"Lord save us!" she exclaimed, as if she could see everything. "So much trouble teaching you good manners and you end up living like a pig."
José Arcadio Segun-do was still reading over the parchments. The only thing visible in the intricate tangle of hair was the teeth striped with green dime and his motionless eyes. When he recognized his great--grandmother's voice he turned his head toward the door, tried to smile, and without knowing it repeated an old phrase of úrsula's.
"What did you expect?" he murmured. "Time passes."
"That's how it goes," úrsula said, "but not so much."
When she said it she realized that she was giving the same reply that Colonel Aureli-ano Buendía had given in his death cell, and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle. But even then she did not give resignation a chance. She scolded José Arcadio Segun-do as if he were a child and insisted that he take a bath and shave and lend a hand in fixing up the house. The simple idea of abandoning the room that had given him peace terrified José Arcadio Segun-do. He shouted that there was no human power capable of making him go out because he did not want to see the train with two hundred cars loaded with dead people which left Macon-do every day at dusk on its way to the sea. "They were all of those who were at the station," he shouted. "Three thousand four hundred eight." Only then did úrsula realize that he was in a world of shadows more impenetrable than hers, as unreachable and solitary as that of his great-grandfather. She left him in the room, but she succeeded in getting them to leave the padlock off, clean it every day, throw the chamberpots away except for one, and to keep José Arcadio Segun-do as clean and presentable as his great--grandfather had been during his long captivity under the chestnut tree. At first Fernanda interpreted that bustle as an attack of senile madness and it was difficult for her to suppress her exasperation. But about that time José Arcadio told that he planned to come to Macon-do from Rome before taking his final vows, and the good news filled her with such enthusiasm that from morning to night she would be seen watering the flowers four times a day so that her son would not have a bad impression of the house. It was that same incentive which induced her to speed up her correspondence with the invisible doctors and to replace the pots of ferns and oregano and the begonias on the porch even before úrsula found out that they had been destroyed by Aureli-ano Segun-do's exterminating fury. Later on she sold the silver service and bought ceramic dishes, pewter bowls and soup spoons, and alpaca tablecloths, and with them brought poverty to the cupboards that had been accustomed to India Company chinaware and Bohemian crystal. úrsula always tried to go a step beyond. "Open the windows and the doors," she shouted. "Cook some meat and fish, buy the largest turtles around, let strangers come and spread their mats in the corners and urinate in the rose bushes and sit down to eat as many times as they want and belch and rant and muddy everything with their boots, and let them do whatever they want to us, because that's the only way to drive off rain." But it was a vain illusion. She was too old then and living on borrowed time to repeat the miracle of the little candy animals, and none of her descendants had inherited her strength. The house stayed closed on Fernanda's orders.
Aureli-ano Segun-do, who had taken his trunks back to the house of Petra Cotes, barely had enough means to see that the family did not starve to death. With the raffling of the mule, Petra Cotes and he bought some more animals with which they managed to set up a primitive lottery business. Aureli-ano Segun-do would go from house to house selling the tickets that he himself painted with colored ink to make them more attractive and convincing, and perhaps he did not realize that many people bought them out of gratitude and most of them out of pity. Nevertheless, even the most pitying purchaser was getting a chance to win a pig for twenty cents or a calf for thirty-two, and they became so hopeful that on Tuesday nights Petra Cotes's courtyard overflowed with people waiting for the moment when a child picked at random drew the winning number from a bag. It did not take long to become a weekly fair, for at dusk food and drink stands would be set up in the courtyard and many of those who were favored would slaughter the animals they had won right there on the condition that someone else supply the liquor and music, so that without having wanted to, Aureli-ano Segun-do suddenly found himself playing the accordion again and participating in modest tourneys of voracity. Those humble replicas of the revelry of former times served to show Aureli-ano Segun-do himself how much his spirits had declined and to what a degree his skill as a masterful carouser had dried up. He was a changed man. The two hundred forty pounds that he had attained during the days when he had been challenged by The Elephant had been reduced to one hundred fifty-six; the glowing and bloated tortoise face had turned into that of an iguana, and he was always on the verge of boredom and fatigue. For Petra Cotes, however, he had never been a better man than at that time, perhaps because the pity that he inspired was mixed with love, and because of the feeling of solidarity that misery aroused in both of them. The broken-down bed ceased to be the scene of wild activities and was changed into an intimate refuge. Freed of the repetitious mirrors, which had been auctioned off to buy animals for the lottery, and from the lewd damasks and velvets, which the mule had eaten, they would stay up very late with the innocence of two sleepless grandparents, taking advantage of the time to draw up accounts and put away pennies which they formerly wasted just for the sake of it. Sometimes the cock's crow would find them piling unpiling coins, taking a bit away from here to put there, to that this bunch would be enough to keep Fernanda happy and that would be for Amaranta úrsula's shoes, and that other one for Santa Sofía de la Piedad, who had not had a new dress since the time of all the noise, and this to order the coffin if úrsula died, and this for the coffee which was going up a cent a pound in price every three months, and this for the sugar which sweetened less every day, and this for the lumber which was still wet from the rains, and this other one for the paper and the colored ink to make tickets with, and what was left over to pay off the winner of the April calf whose hide they had miraculously saved when it came down with a symptomatic carbuncle just when all of the numbers in the raffle had already been sold. Those rites of poverty were so pure that they nearly always set aside the largest share for Fernanda, and they did not do so out of remorse or charity, but because her wellbeing was more important to them than their own. What was really happening to them, although neither of them realized it, was that they both thought of Fernanda as the daughter that they would have liked to have and never did, to the point where on a certain occasion they resigned themselves to eating crumbs for three days, so that she could buy a Dutch tablecloth. Nevertheless, no matter how much they killed themselves with work, no matter how much money they eked out, and no matter how many schemes they thought of, their guardian angels were asleep with fatigue while they put in coins and took them out trying to get just enough to live with. During the waking hours when the accounts were bad. they wondered what had happened in the world for the animals not to breed with the same drive as before, why money slipped through their fingers, and why people who a short time before had burned rolls of bills in the carousing considered it highway robbery to charge twelve cents for a raffle of six hens. Aureli-ano Segun-do thought without saying so that the evil was not in the world but in some hidden place in the mysterious heart of Petra Cotes, where something had happened during the deluge that had turned the animals sterile and made money scarce. Intrigued by that enigma, he dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her. Petra Cotes, for her part, loved him more and more as she felt his love increasing, and that was how in the ripeness of autumn she began to believe once more in the youthful superstition that poverty was the servitude of love. Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to fund the paradise of shared solitude. Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two wornout old people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs.
The raffles never got very far. At first Aureli-ano Segun-do would spend three days of the week shut up in what had been his rancher's office drawing ticket after ticket, Painting with a fair skill a red cow, a green pig, or a group of blue hens, according to the animal being raffled, and he would sketch out a good imitation of printed numbers and the name that Petra Cotes thought good to call the business: Divine Providence Raffles. But with time he felt so tired after drawing up to two thousand tickets a week that he had the animals, the name, and the numbers put on rubber stamps, and then the work was reduced to moistening them on pads of different colors. In his last years it occurred to him to substitute riddles for the numbers so that the prize could be shared by all of those who guessed it, but the system turned out to be so complicated and was open to so much suspicion that he gave it up after the second attempt.
Aureli-ano Segun-do was so busy trying to maintain the prestige of his raffles that he barely had time to see the children. Fernanda put Amaranta úrsula in a small private school where they admitted only six girls, but she refused to allow Aureli-ano to go to public school. She considered that she had already relented too much in letting him leave the room. Besides, the schools in those days accepted only the legitimate offspring of Catholic marriages on the birth certificate that had been pinned to Aureli-ano's clothing when they brought him to the house he was registered as a foundling. So he remained shut In at the mercy of Santa Sofía de la Piedad's loving eyes and úrsula's mental quirks, learning in the narrow world of the house whatever his grandmothers explained to him. He was delicate, thin, with a curiosity that unnerved the adults, but unlike the inquisitive and sometimes clairvoyant look that the colonel had at his age, his look was blinking and somewhat distracted. While Amaranta úrsula was in kindergarten, he would hunt earthworms torture insects in the garden. But once when Fernanda caught him putting scorpions in a box to put in úrsula's bed, she locked him up in Meme's old room, where he spent his solitary hours looking through the pictures in the encyclopedia. úrsula found him there one afternoon when she was going about sprinkling the house with distilled water and a bunch of nettles, and in spite of the fact that she had been with him many times she asked him who he was.


She had confused him with her son again, because the hot wind that came after the deluge and had brought occasional waves of lucidity to úrsula's brain had passed. She never got her reason back. When she went into the bedroom she found Petronila Iguarán there with the bothersome crinolines and the beaded jacket that she put on for formal visits, and she found Tranquilina Maria Miniata Alacoque Buendía, her grand-mother, fanning herself with a peacock feather in her invalid's rocking chair, and her great-grandfather Aure-liano Arcadio Buendía, with his imitation dolman of the viceregal guard, and Aureli-ano Iguarán, her father, who had invented a prayer to make the worms shrivel up and drop off cows, and her timid mother, and her cousin with the pig's tail, and José Arcadio Buendía, and her dead sons, all sitting in chairs lined up against the wall as if it were a wake and not a visit. She was tying a colorful string chatter together, commenting on things from many separate places and many different times, so that when Amaranta úrsula returned from school Aureli-ano grew tired of the encyclopedia, they would find her sitting on her bed, talking to herself and lost in a labyrinth of dead people. "Fire!" she shouted once in terror and for an instant panic spread through the house, but what she was telling about was the burning of a barn that she had witnessed when she was four years old. She finally mixed up the past with the present in such a way that in the two or three waves of lucidity that she had before she died, no one knew for certain whether she was speaking about she felt or what she remembered. Little by little she was shrinking, turning into a fetus, becoming mummified in life to the point that in her last months she was a cherry raisin lost inside of her nightgown, and the arm that she always kept raised looked like the paw of a marimonda monkey. She was motionless for several days, and Santa Sofía de la Piedad had to shake her to convince herself that she was alive and sat her on her lap to feed her a few spoonfuls of sugar water. She looked like a newborn old woman. Amaranta úrsula Aureli-ano would take her in and out of the bedroom, they would lay her on the altar to see if she was any larger than the Christ child, and one afternoon they hid her in a closet in the Pantry where the rats could have eaten her. One Palm Sunday they went into the bedroom while Fernanda was in church and carried úrsula out by the neck and ankles.
"Poor great-great-grandmother," Amaranta úrsula said. "She died of old age."
úrsula was startled.
"I'm alive!" she said.
"You can see." Amaranta úrsula said, suppressing her laughter, "that she's not even breathing."
"I'm talking!" úrsula shouted.
"She can't even talk," Aureli-ano said. "She died like a little cricket."
Then úrsula gave in to the evidence. "My God," she exclaimed in a low voice. "So this is what it's like to be dead." She started an endless, stumbling, deep prayer that lasted more than two days, and that by Tuesday had degenerated into a hodgepodge of requests to God and bits of practical advice to stop the red ants from bringing the house down, to keep the lamp burning by Remedios' daguerreotype, and never to let any Buendía marry a person of the same blood because their children would be born with the tail of a pig. Aureli-ano Segun-do tried to take advantage of her delirium to get her to ten him where the gold was buried, but his entreaties were useless once more "When the owner appears," úrsula said, "God will illuminate him so that he will find it." Santa Sofía de la Piedad had the certainty that they would find her dead from one moment to the next, because she noticed during those days a certain confusion in nature: the roses smelled like goosefoot, a pod of chick peas fell down and the beans lay on the ground in a perfect geometrical pattern in the shape of a starfish and one night she saw a row of luminous orange disks pass across the sky.
They found her dead on the morning of Good Friday. The last time that they had helped her calculate her age, during the time the banana company, she had estimated it as between one hundred fifteen and one hundred twenty-two. They buried her in a coffin that was not much larger than the basket in which Aureli-ano had arrived, and very few people were at the funeral, partly because there wet not many left who remembered her, and partly because it was so hot that noon that the birds in their confusion were running into walls like day pigeons and breaking through screens to die in the bedrooms.
At first they thought it was a plague. Housewives were exhausted from sweeping away so many dead birds, especially at siesta time, and the men dumped them into the river by the cartload. On Easter Sunday the hundred--year-old Father Antonio Isabel stated from the pulpit that the death of the birds was due to the evil influence of the Wandering Jew, whom he himself had seen the night before. He described him as a cross between a billy goat and a female heretic, an infernal beast whose breath scorched the air and whose look brought on the birth of monsters in newlywed women. There were not many who paid attention to his apocalyptic talk, for the town was convinced that the priest was rambling because of his age. But one woman woke everybody up at dawn on Wednesday because she found the tracks of a biped with a cloven hoof. They were so clear and unmistakable that those who went to look at them had no doubt about the existence of a fearsome creature similar to the one described by the parish priest and they got together to set traps in their courtyards. That was how they managed to capture it. Two weeks after úrsula's death, Petra Cotes and Aureli-ano Segun-do woke up frightened by the especially loud bellowing of a calf that was coming from nearby. When they got there a group of men were already pulling the monster off the sharpened stakes they had set in the bottom of a pit covered with dry leaves, and it stopped lowing. It was as heavy as an ox in spite of the fact that it was no taller than a young steer, and a green and greasy liquid flowed from its wounds. Its body was covered with rough hair, p............

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