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Chapter 20

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 Macon-do 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 extracareful 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 Aureli-ano first met him he had two boxes of those motley pages that in some way made one think of Melquíades' 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 Macon-do. 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 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."
Germán Aureli-ano 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 Macon-do 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, 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 Lérida. 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. Germán and Aureli-ano 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 Macon-do, 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 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 the sun on the dusty almond trees, the whistle of the train during the lethargy of siesta time, just as in Macon-do 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 Macon-do, 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.
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, Aureli-ano and Amaranta úrsula 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 úrsula's shrieks, her songs of agony would break out the same at two in the afternoon on the diningroom 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. Aureli-ano 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 Aureli-ano Buendía and they disemboweled the mattresses and emptied them on the floor as they suffocated in storms of cotton. Although Aureli-ano was just as ferocious a lover as his rival, it was Amaranta úrsula 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, Aureli-ano 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 úrsula's erect breasts with egg whites or smooth her elastic thighs and peach-like stomach with cocoa butter, she would play with Aureli-ano'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 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 úrsula 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 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 úrsula dismissed the possibility of an inopportune return. Aureli-ano, 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. Aureli-ano could visualize him then in a turtleneck sweater which he took off only when the sidewalk Cafés 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 Aureli-ano grew to think about them as Amaranta úrsula 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. Aureli-ano and Amaranta úrsula opened their eyes, dug deep into their souls, looked at the letter with their hands on their hearts, 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 Aureli-ano. 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 úrsula 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 Léopoldville, 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 Macon-do was the only thing that had any sentimental value for him. Aureli-ano bore Amaranta úrsula'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 m............

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