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Chapter 19

AMARANTA úRSULA returned with the angels of December, driven on a sailor's breeze, leading her husband by a silk rope tied around his neck. She appeared without warning, wearing an ivory-colored dress, a string of pearls that reached almost to her knees, emerald and topaz rings, and with her straight hair in a smooth bun held behind her ears by swallow-tail brooches. The man whom she had married six months before was a thin, older Fleming with the look of a sailor about him. She had only to push open the door to the parlor to realize that her absence had been longer and more destructive than she had imagined.
"Good Lord," she shouted, more gay than alarmed, "it's obvious that there's no woman in this house!"
The baggage would not fit on the porch. Besides Fernanda's old trunk, which they had sent her off to school with, she had two upright trunks, four large suitcases, a bag for parasols, eight hatboxes, a gigantic cage with half a hundred canaries, and her husband's velocipede, broken down in a special case which allowed him to carry it like a cello. She did not even take a day of rest after the long trip. She put on some worn denim overalls that her husband had brought along with other automotive items and set about on a new restoration of the house. She scattered the red ants, who had already taken possession of the porch, brought the rose bushes back to life, uprooted the weeds, and planted ferns, oregano, and begonias again in the pots along the railing. She took charge of a crew of carpenters, locksmiths, and masons, who filled in the cracks in the floor, put doors and windows back on their hinges, repaired the furniture, and white-washed the walls inside and out, so that three months after her arrival one breathed once more the atmosphere of youth and festivity that had existed during the days of the pianola. No one in the house had ever been in a better mood at all hours and under any circumstances, nor had anyone ever been readier to sing and dance and toss all items and customs from the past into the trash. With a sweep of her broom she did away with the funeral mementos and piles of useless trash and articles of superstition that had been piling up in the corners, and the only thing she spared, out of gratitude to úrsula, was the daguerreotype of Remedios in the parlor. "My, such luxury," she would shout, dying with laughter. "A fourteen-year-old grandmother!" When one of the masons told her that the house was full of apparitions and that the only way to drive them out was to look for the treasures they had left buried, she replied amid loud laughter that she did not think it was right for men to be superstitious. She was so spontaneous, so emancipated, with such a free and modern spirit, that Aureli-ano did not know what to do with his body when he saw her arrive. "My, my!" she shouted happily with open arms. "Look at how my darling cannibal has grown!" Before he had a chance to react she had already put a record on the portable phonograph she had brought with her and was trying to teach him the latest dance steps. She made change the dirty pants that he had inherited from Colonel Aureli-ano Buendía and gave him some youthful shirts and two-toned shoes, and she would push him into the street when he was spending too much time in Melquíades' room.
Active, small, and indomitable like úrsula, and almost as pretty and provocative as Remedios the Beauty, she was endowed with a rare instinct for anticipating fashion. When she received pictures of the most recent fashions in the mail, they only proved that she had not been wrong about the models that she designed herself and sewed on Amaranta's primitive pedal machine. She subscribed to every fashion magazine, art publication. and popular music review published in Europe, and she had only to glance at them to realize that things in the world were going just as she imagined they were. It was incomprehensible why a woman with that spirit would have returned to a dead town burdened by dust and heat, and much less with a husband who had more than enough money to live anywhere in the world and who loved her so much that he let himself be led around by her on a silk leash. As time passed, however, her intention to stay was more obvious, because she did not make any plans that were not a long way off, nor did she do anything that did not have as an aim the search for a comfortable life and a peaceful old age in Macon-do. The canary cage showed that those aims were made up on the spur of the moment. Remembering that her mother had told her in a letter about the extermination of the birds, she had delayed her trip several months until she found a ship that stopped at the Fortunate Isles and there she chose the finest twenty-five pairs canaries so that she could repopulate the skies of Macon-do. That was the most lamentable of her numerous frustrated undertakings. As the birds reproduced Amaranta úrsula would release them in pairs, and no sooner did they feel themselves free than they fled the town. She tried in vain to awaken love in them by means of the bird cage that úrsula had built during the first reconstruction of the house. Also in vain were the artificial nests built of esparto grass in the almond trees and the birdseed strewn about the roofs, and arousing the captives so that their songs would dissuade the deserters, because they would take flights on their first attempts and make a turn in the sky, just the time needed to find the direction to the Fortunate Isles.
They had met two years before they were married, when the sports biplane in which he was making rolls over the school where Amaranta úrsula was studying made an intrepid maneuver to avoid the flagpole and the primitive framework of canvas and aluminum foil was caught by the tail on some electric wires. From then on, paying no attention to his leg in splints, on weekends he would pick up Amaranta úrsula at the nun's boardinghouse where she lived, where the rules were not as severe as Fernanda had wanted, and he would take her to his country club. They began to love each other at an altitude of fifteen hundred feet in the Sunday air of the moors, and they felt all the closer togetas the beings on earth grew more and more minute. She spoke to him of Macon-do as the brightest and most peaceful town on earth, and of an enormous house, scented with oregano, where she wanted to live until old age with a loyal husband and two strong sons who would be named Rodrigo Gonzalo, never Aureli-ano and José Arcadio, and a daughter who would be named Virginia and never Remedios. She had evoked the town idealized by nostalgia with such strong tenacity that Gaston understood that she would not get married unless he took her to live in Macon-do. He agreed to it, as he agreed later on to the leash, because he thought it was a passing fancy that could be overcome in time. But when two years in Macon-do had passed Amaranta úrsula was as happy as on the first day, he began to show signs of alarm. By that time he had dissected every dissectible insect in the region, he spoke Spanish like a native, and he had solved all of the crossword puzzles in the magazines that he received in the mail. He did not have the pretext climate to hasten their return because nature had endowed him with a colonial liver which resisted the drowsiness siesta time water that had vinegar worms in it. He liked the native cooking so much that once he ate eighty-two iguana eggs at one sitting. Amaranta úrsula, on the other hand, had brought in by train fish and shellfish in boxes of ice, canned meats and preserved fruits, which were the only things she could eat, and she still dressed in European style and received designs by mail in spite of the fact that she had no place to go and no one to visit and by that time her husband was not in a mood to appreciate her short skirts, her tilted felt hat, and her seven-strand necklaces. Her secret seemed to lie in the fact that she always found a way to keep busy, resolving domestic problems that she herself had created, and doing a poor job on a thousand things which she would fix on the following day with a pernicious diligence that made one think of Fernanda and the hereditary vice of making something just to unmake it. Her festive genius was still so alive then that when she received new records she would invite Gaston to stay in the parlor until very late to practice the dance steps that her schoolmates described to her in sketches and they would generally end up making love on the Viennese rocking chairs or on the bare floor. The only thing that she needed to be completely happy was the birth children, but she respected the pact she had made with her husband not to have any until they had been married for five years.
Looking for something to fill his idle hours with, Gaston became accustomed to spending the morning in Melquíades' room with the shy Aureli-ano. He took pleasure in recalling with him the most hidden corners of his country, which Aureli-ano knew as if he had spent much time there. When Gaston asked him what he had done to obtain knowledge that was not in the encyclopedia, he received the same answer as José Arcadio: "Everything Is known." In addition to Sanskrit he had learned English and French and a little Latin and Greek. Since he went out every afternoon at that time and Amaranta úrsula had set aside a weekly sum for him for his personal expenses, his room looked like a branch of the wise Catalonian's bookstore. He read avidly until late at night, although from the manner in which he referred to his reading, Gaston thought that he did not buy the books in order to learn but to verify the truth of his knowledge, that none of them interested him more than the parchments, to which he dedicated most his time in the morning. Both Gaston and his wife would have liked to incorporate him into the family life, but Aureli-ano was a hermetic man with a cloud of mystery that time was making denser. It was such an unfathomable condition that Gaston failed in his efforts to become intimate with him and had to seek other pastimes for his idle hours. It was around that time that he conceived the idea of establishing an airmail service.
It was not a new project. Actually, he had it fairly well advanced when he met Amaranta úrsula, except that it was not for Macon-do, but for the Belgian Congo, where his family had investments in palm oil. The marriage the decision to spend a few months in Macon-do to please his wife had obliged him to postpone it. But when he saw that Amaranta úrsula was determined to organize a commission for public improvement and even laughed at him when he hinted at the possibility of returning, he understood that things were going to take a long time and he reestablished contact his forgotten partners in Brussels, thinking that it was just as well to be a pioneer in the Caribbean as in- Africa. While his steps were progressing he prepared a landing field in the old enchanted region which at that time looked like a plain of crushed flintstone, and he studied the wind direction, the geography of the coastal region, and the best routes for aerial navigation, without knowing that his diligence, so similar to that of Mr. Herbert, was filling the town with the dangerous suspicion that his plan was not to set up routes but to plant banana trees. Enthusiastic over the idea that, after all, might justify his permanent establishment in Macon-do, he took several trips to the capital of the province, met with authorities, obtained licenses, and drew up contracts for exclusive rights. In the meantime he maintained a correspondence with his partners in Brussels which resembled that of Fernanda with the invisible doctors, and he finally convinced them to ship the first airplane under the care of an expert mechanic, who would assemble it in the nearest port and fly it to Macon-do. One year after his first meditations and meteorological calculations, trusting in the repeated promises of his correspondents, he had acquired the habit of strolling through the streets, looking at the sky, hanging onto the sound of the breeze in hopes that the airplane would appear.
Although she had not noticed it, the return of Amaranta úrsula had brought on a radical change in Aureli-ano's life. After the death of José Arcadio he had become a regular customer at the wise Catalonian's bookstore. Also, the freedom that he enjoyed then and the time at his disposal awoke in him a certain curiosity about the town, which he came to know without any surprise. He went through the dusty and solitary streets, examining with scientific interest the inside of houses in ruin, the metal screens on the windows broken by rust and the dying birds, and the inhabitants bowed down by memories. He tried to reconstruct in his imagination the annihilated splendor of the old banana-company town, whose dry swimming pool was filled to the brim with rotting men's and women's shoes, in the houses of which, destroyed by rye grass, he found the skeleton of a German shepherd dog still tied to a ring by a steel chain a telephone that was ringing, ringing, ringing until he picked it up and an anguished and distant woman spoke in English, and he said yes, that the strike was over, that three thousand dead people had been thrown into the sea, that the banana company had left, and that Macon-do finally had peace after many years. Those wanderings led him to the prostrate red-light district, where in other times bundles banknotes had been burned to liven up the revels, and which at that time was a maze of streets more afflicted and miserable than the others, with a few red lights still burning and with deserted dance halls adorned with the remnants of wreaths, where the pale, fat widows of no one, the French great-grandmothers and the Babylonian matriarchs, were still waiting beside their photographs. Aureli-ano could not find anyone who remembered his family, not even Colonel Aureli-ano Buendía, except for the oldest of the West Indian Negroes, an old man whose cottony hair gave him the look of a photographic negative and who was still singing the mournful sunset psalms in the door of his house. Aureli-ano would talk to him in the tortured Papiamento that he had learned in a few weeks and sometimes he would share his chicken-head soup, prepared by the great-granddaughter, with him. She was a large black woman with solid bones, the hips of a mare, teats like live melons, and a round and perfect head armored with a hard surface of wiry hair which looked like a medieval warrior's mail headdress. Her name was Nigromanta. In those days Aureli-ano lived off the sale of silverware, candlesticks, and other bric-a-brac from the house. When he was penniless, which was most of the time, he got people in the back of the market to give him the chicken heads that they were going to throw away and he would take them to Nigromanta to make soups, fortified with purslane and seasoned with mint. When the great-grandfather died Aureli-ano stopped going by the house, but he would run into Nigromanta under the dark almond trees on the square, using her wild-animal whistles to lure the few night owls. Many times he stayed with her, speaking in Papiamento about chicken-head soup and other dainties of misery, and he would have kept right on if she had not let him know that his presence frightened off customers. Although he sometimes felt the temptation and although Nigromanta herself might have seemed to him as the natural culmination of a shared nostalgia, he did not go to bed with her. So Aureli-ano was still a virgin when Amaranta úrsula returned to Macon-do and gave him a sisterly embrace that left him breathless. Every time he saw her, and worse yet when she showed him the latest dances, he felt the same spongy release in his bones that had disturbed his great-great-grandfather when Pilar Ternera made her pretexts about the cards in the granary. Trying to squelch the torment, he sank deeper into the parchments and eluded the innocent flattery of that aunt who was poisoning his nights with a flow of tribulation, but the more he avoided her the more the anxiety with which he waited for her stony laughter, her howls of a happy cat, and her songs of gratitude, agonizing in love at all hours and in the most unlikely parts of the house. One night thirty feet from his bed, on the silver workbench, the couple unhinged bellies broke the bottles and ended up making love in a pool of muriatic acid. Aureli-ano not only could not sleep for a single second, but he spent the next day with a fever, sobbing with rage. The first night that he waited for Nigromanta to come to the shadows of the almond trees it seemed like an eternity, pricked as he was by the needles of uncertainty and clutching in his fist the peso and fifty cents that he had asked Amaranta úrsula for, not so much because he needed it as to involve her, debase her, prostitute her in his adventure in some way. Nigromanta took him to her room, which was lighted with false candlesticks, to her folding cot with the bedding stained from bad loves, and to her body a wild dog, hardened and without soul, which prepared itself to dismiss him as if he were a frightened child, and suddenly it found a man whose tremendous power demanded a movement of seismic readjustment from her insides.

They became lovers. Aureli-ano would spend his mornings deciphering parchments and at siesta time he would go to the bedroom where Nigromanta was waiting for him, to teach him first how to do it like earthworms, then like snails, and finally like crabs, until she had to leave him and lie in wait for vagabond loves. Several weeks passed before Aureli-ano discovered that around her waist she wore a small belt that seemed to be made out a cello string, but which was hard as steel and had no end, as if it had been born and grown with her. Almost always, between loves, they would eat naked in the bed, in the hallucinating heat and under the daytime stars that the rust had caused to shine on the zinc ceiling. It was the first time that Nigromanta had had a steady man, a bone crusher from head to toe, as she herself said, dying with laughter, and she had even begun to get romantic illusions when Aureli-ano confided in her about his repressed passion for Amaran-ta úrsula, which he had not been able to cure with the substitution but which was twisting him inside all the more as experience broadened the horizons of love. After that Nigromanta continued to receive the same warmth as ever but she made him pay for her services so strictly that when Aureli-ano had no money she would make an addition to his bill, which was not figured in numbers but by marks that she made with her thumbnail behind the door. At sundown, while she was drifting through the shadows in the square, Aureli-ano, was going along the porch like a stranger, scarcely greeting Amaranta úrsula and Gaston, who usually dined at that time, and shutting herself up in his room again, unable to read or write or even think because of the anxiety brought on by the laughter, the whispering, the preliminary frolics, then the explosions of agonizing happiness that capped the nights in the house. That was his life two years before Gaston began to wait for the airplane, and it went on the same way on the afternoon that he went to the bookstore of the wise Catalonian and found four ranting boys in a heated argument about the methods used to kill cockroaches in the Middle Ages. The old bookseller, knowing about Aureli-ano's love for books that had been read only by the Venerable Bede, urged him with a certain fatherly malice to get into the discussion, and without even taking a breath, he explained that the cockroach, the oldest winged insect on the face of the earth, had already been the victim slippers in the Old Testament, but that since the species was definitely resistant to any and all methods of extermination, from tomato dices with borax to flour and sugar, and with its one thousand six hundred three varieties had resisted the mos............

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