One Hundred Years of Solitude - Chapter 14

   It might have been aid that peace and happiness reigned for a long time in the tired mansion of the Buendías if it had not been for the sudden death of Amaranta, which caused a new uproar. It was an unexpected event. Although she was old and isolated from everyone, she still looked firm and upright and with the health of a rock that she had always had. No one knew her thoughts since the afternoon on which she had given Colonel Gerineldo Márquez his final rejection and shut herself up to weep. She was not seen to cry during the ascension to heaven of Remedios the Beauty or over the extermination of the Aurelianos or the death of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who was the person she loved most in this world, although she showed it only when they found his body under the chestnut tree. She helped pick up the body. She dressed him in his soldier’s uniform, shaved him, combed his hair, and waxed his mustache better than he had ever done in his days of glory. No one thought that there was any love in that act because they were accustomed to the familiarity of Amaranta with the rites of death. Fernanda was scandalized that she did not understand the relationship of Catholicism with life but only its relationship with death, as if it were not a religion but a compendium of funeral conventions. Amaranta was too wrapped up in the eggplant patch of her memories to understand those subtle apologetics. She had reached old age with all of her nostalgias intact. When she listened to the waltzes of Pietro Crespi she felt the same desire to weep that she had had in adolescence, as if time and harsh lessons had meant nothing. The rolls of music that she herself had thrown into the trash with the pretext that they had rotted from dampness kept spinning and playing in her memory. She had tried to sink them into the swampy passion that she allowed herself with her nephew Aureliano Jos?and she tried to take refuge in the calm and virile protection of Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, but she had not been able to overcome them, not even with the most desperate act of her old age when she would bathe the small Jos?Arcadio three years before he was sent to the seminary and caress him not as a grandmother would have done with a grandchild, but as a woman would have done with a man, as it was said that the French matrons did and as she had wanted to do with Pietro Crespi at the age of twelve, fourteen, when she saw him in his dancing tights and with the magic wand with which he kept time to the metronome. At times It pained her to have let that outpouring of misery follow its course, and at times it made her so angry that she would prick her fingers with the needles, but what pained her most and enraged her most and made her most bitter was the fragrant and wormy guava grove of love that was dragging her toward death. Just as Colonel Aureliano Buendía thought about his war, unable to avoid it, so Amaranta thought about Rebeca. But while her brother had managed to sterilize his memories, she had only managed to make hers more scalding. The only thing that she asked of God for many years was that he would not visit on her the punishment of dying before Rebeca. Every time she passed by her house and noted the progress of destruction she took comfort in the idea that God was listening to her. One afternoon, when she was sewing on the porch, she was assailed by the certainty that she would be sitting in that place, in the same position, and under the same light when they brought her the news of Rebeca’s death. She sat down to wait for it, as one waits for a letter, and the fact was that at one time she would pull off buttons to sew them on again so that inactivity would not make the wait longer and more anxious. No one in the house realized that at that time Amaranta was sewing a fine shroud for Rebeca. Later on, when Aureliano Triste told how he had seen her changed into an apparition with leathery skin and a few golden threads on her skull, Amaranta was not surprised because the specter described was exactly what she had been imagining for some time. She had decided to restore Rebeca’s corpse, to disguise with paraffin the damage to her face and make a wig for her from the hair of the saints. She would manufacture a beautiful corpse, with the linen shroud and a plush-lined coffin with purple trim. and she would put it at the disposition of the worms with splendid funeral ceremonies. She worked out the plan with such hatred that it made her tremble to think about the scheme, which she would have carried out in exactly the same way if it had been done out of love, but she would not allow herself to become upset by the confusion and went on perfecting the details so minutely that she came to be more than a specialist and was a virtuoso in the rites of death. The only thing that she did not keep In mind in her fearsome plan was that in spite of her pleas to God she might die before Rebeca. That was, in fact, what happened. At the final moment, however, Amaranta did not feel frustrated, but on the contrary, free of all bitterness because death had awarded her the privilege of announcing itself several years ahead of time. She saw it on one burning afternoon sewing with her on the porch a short time after Meme had left for school. She saw it because it was a woman dressed in blue with long hair, with a sort of antiquated look, and with a certain resemblance to Pilar Ternera during the time when she had helped with the chores in the kitchen. Fernanda was present several times and did not see her, in spite of the fact that she was so real, so human, and on one occasion asked of Amaranta the favor of threading a needle. Death did not tell her when she was going to die or whether her hour was assigned before that of Rebeca, but ordered her to begin sewing her own shroud on the next sixth of April. She was authorized to make it as complicated and as fine as she wanted, but just as honestly executed as Rebeca’s, and she was told that she would die without pain, fear, or bitterness at dusk on the day that she finished it. Trying to waste the most time possible, Amaranta ordered some rough flax and spun the thread herself. She did it so carefully that the work alone took four years. Then she started the sewing. As she got closer to the unavoidable end she began to understand that only a miracle would allow her to prolong the work past Rebeca’s death, but the very concentration gave her the calmness that she needed to accept the idea of frustration. It was then that she understood the vicious circle of Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s little gold fishes. The world was reduced to the surface of her skin and her inner self was safe from all bitterness. It pained her not to have had that revelation many years before when it had still been possible to purify memories and reconstruct the universe under a new light and evoke without trembling Pietro Crespi’s smell of lavender at dusk and rescue Rebeca from her slough of misery, not out of hatred or out of love but because of the measureless understanding of solitude. The hatred that she noticed one night in Memes words did not upset her because it was directed at her, but she felt the repetition of another adolescence that seemed as clean as hers must have seemed and that, however, was already tainted with rancor. But by then her acceptance of her fate was so deep that she was not even upset by the certainty that all possibilities of rectification were closed to her. Her only objective was to finish the shroud. Instead of slowing it down with useless detail as she had done in the beginning, she speeded up the work. One week before she calculated that she would take the last stitch on the night of February 4, and without revealing the motives, she suggested to Meme that she move up a clavichord concert that she had arranged for the day after, but the girl paid no attention to her. Amaranta then looked for a way to delay for forty-eight hours, and she even thought that death was giving her her way because on the night of February fourth a storm caused a breakdown at the power plant. But on the following day, at eight in the morning, she took the last stitch in the most beautiful piece of work that any woman had ever finished, and she announced without the least bit of dramatics that she was going to die at dusk. She not only told the family but the whole town, because Amaranta had conceived of the idea that she could make up for a life of meanness with one last favor to the world, and she thought that no one was in a better position to take letters to the dead.