One Hundred Years of Solitude - Chapter 18


   “I give up,?she said to Aureliano. “This is too much house for my poor bones.?
   Aureliano asked her where she was going and she made a vague sign, as if she did not have the slightest idea of her destination. She tried to be more precise, however, saying that she was going to spend her last years with a first cousin who lived in Riohacha. It was not a likely explanation. Since the death of her parents she had not had contact with anyone in town or received letters or messages, nor had she been heard to speak of any relatives. Aureliano gave her fourteen little gold fishes because she was determined to leave with only what she had: one peso and twenty-five cents. From the window of the room he saw her cross the courtyard with her bundle of clothing, dragging her feet and bent over by her years, and he saw her reach her hand through an opening in the main door and replace the bar after she had gone out. Nothing was ever heard of her again.
   When she heard about the flight, Fernanda ranted for a whole day as she checked trunks, dressers, and closets, item by item, to make sure that Santa Sofía de la Piedad had not made off with anything. She burned her fingers trying to light a fire for the first time in her life and she had to ask Aureliano to do her the favor of showing her how to make coffee. Fernanda would find her breakfast ready when she arose and she would leave her room again only to get the meal that Aureliano had left covered on the embers for her, which she would carry to the table to eat on linen tablecloths and between candelabra, sitting at the solitary head of the table facing fifteen empty chairs. Even under those circumstances Aureliano and Fernanda did not share their solitude, but both continued living on their own, cleaning their respective rooms while the cobwebs fell like snow on the rose bushes, carpeted the beams, cushioned the walls. It was around that time that Fernanda got the impression that the house was filling up with elves. It was as if things, especially those for everyday use, had developed a faculty for changing location on their own. Fernanda would waste time looking for the shears that she was sure she had put on the bed and after turning everything upside down she would find them on a shelf in the kitchen, where she thought she had not been for four days. Suddenly there was no fork in the silver chest and she would find six on the altar and three in the washroom. That wandering about of things was even more exasperating when she sat down to write. The inkwell that she had placed at her right would be on the left, the blotter would be lost and she would find it two days later under her pillow, and the pages written to Jos?Arcadio would get mixed up with those written to Amaranta ?rsula, and she always had the feeling of mortification that she had put the letters in opposite envelopes, as in fact happened several times. On one occasion she lost her fountain pen. Two weeks later the mailman, who had found it in his bag, returned it. He had been going from house to house looking for its owner. At first she thought it was some business of the invisible doctors, like the disappearance of the pessaries, and she even started a letter to them begging them to leave her alone, but she had to interrupt it to do something and when she went back to her room she not only did not find the letter she had started but she had forgotten the reason for writing it. For a time she thought it was Aureliano. She began to spy on him, to put things in his path trying to catch him when he changed their location, but she was soon convinced that Aureliano never left Melquíades?room except to go to the kitchen or the toilet, and that he was not a man to play tricks. So in the end she believed that it was the mischief of elves and she decided to secure everything in the place where she would use it. She tied the shears to the head of her bed with a long string. She tied the pen and the blotter to the leg of the table, and the glued the inkwell to the top of it to the right of the place where she normally wrote. The problems were not solved overnight, because a few hours after she had tied the string to the shears it was not long enough for her to cut with, as if the elves had shortened it. The same thing happened to her with the string to the pen and even with her own arm which after a short time of writing could not reach the inkwell. Neither Amaranta ?rsula in Brussels nor Jos?Arcadio in Rome ever heard about those insignificant misfortunes. Fernanda told them that she was happy and in reality she was, precisely because she felt free from any compromise, as if life were pulling her once more toward the world of her parents, where one did not suffer with day-to-day problems because they were solved beforehand in one’s imagination. That endless correspondence made her lose her sense of time, especially after Santa Sofía de la Piedad had left. She had been accustomed to keep track of the days, months, and years, using as points of reference the dates set for the return of her children. But when they changed their plans time and time again, the dates became confused, the periods were mislaid, and one day seemed so much like another that one could not feel them pass. Instead of becoming impatient, she felt a deep pleasure in the delay. It did not worry her that many years after announcing the eve of his final vows, Jos?Arcadio was still saying that he was waiting to finish his studies in advanced theology in order to undertake those in diplomacy, because she understood how steep and paved with obstacles was the spiral stairway that led to the throne of Saint Peter. On the other hand, her spirits rose with news that would have been insignificant for other people, such as the fact that her son had seen the Pope. She felt a similar pleasure when Amaranta ?rsula wrote to tell her that her studies would last longer than the time foreseen because her excellent grades had earned her privileges that her father had not taken into account in his calculations.