One Hundred Years of Solitude - 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 Macondo 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 extra-careful 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 Aureliano 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 Macondo. 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 with 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.