One Hundred Years of Solitude - 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 and 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 ?rsula came to remember during those days, the calamity itself inspired defenses against boredom. Aureliano Segundo 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 Jos?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 Aureliano Buendía and his little gold fishes, Amaranta and her shroud and her buttons, Jos?Arcadio and the parchments, and ?rsula 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 if 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 ?rsula 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, Aureliano Segundo 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 Fernanda’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 Macondo, 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 Aureliano 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 Aureliano 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 Aureliano Segundo 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 ?rsula, who already had her second teeth, thought of her nephew as a scurrying toy who was a consolation for the tedium of the rain. Aureliano Segundo remembered then the English encyclopedia 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 of 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.