One Hundred Years of Solitude - Chapter 17


   Aureliano Segundo, 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. Aureliano Segundo 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, Aureliano Segundo 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 Aureliano Segundo 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 and 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 ?rsula’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 ?rsula 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 well-being 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. Aureliano Segundo 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, and 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 worn-out old people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs.