Read Collected Stories Online

Authors: Gabriel García Márquez,Gregory Rabassa,J.S. Bernstein

Collected Stories (4 page)

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And there she would be. She would contemplate the moment, detail by detail, from a
corner, from the ceiling, from the chinks in the wall, from anywhere; from the best angle, shielded by her bodiless state, in her spacelessness. It bothered her, thinking about it. Now she realized her mistake. She wouldn’t be able to give any explanation, clear anything up, console anybody. No living being could be informed of her transformation. Now – perhaps the only time that she needed them
– she wouldn’t have a mouth, arms, so that everybody could know that she was there, in her corner, separated from the three-dimensional world by an unbridgeable distance. In her new life she was isolated, completely prevented from grasping emotions. But at every moment something was vibrating in her, a shudder that ran through her, overwhelming her, making her aware of that other physical universe
that moved outside her world. She couldn’t hear, she couldn’t see, but she
knew
about that sound and that sight. And there, in the heights of her superior world, she began to know that an environment of anguish surrounded her.

Just a moment before – according to our temporal world – she had made the passage, so that only now was she beginning to know the peculiarities, the characteristics, of
her new world. Around her an absolute, radical darkness spun. How long would that darkness last? Would she have to get used to it for eternity? Her anguish grew from her concentration as she saw herself sunken in that thick impenetrable fog: could she be in limbo? She shuddered. She remembered everything she had heard about limbo. If she really was there, floating beside her were other pure spirits,
those of children who had died without baptism, who had been dying for a thousand years. In the darkness she tried to find next to her those beings who must have been much purer, ever so much
simpler, than she. Completely isolated from the physical world, condemned to a sleepwalking and eternal life. Maybe the ‘boy’ was there looking for an exit that would lead him to his body.

But no. Why should
she be in limbo? Had she died, perhaps? No. It was simply a change in state, a normal passage from the physical world to an easier, uncomplicated world, where all dimensions had been eliminated.

Now she would not have to bear those subterranean insects. Her beauty had collapsed on her. Now, in that elemental situation, she could be happy. Although – oh! – not completely happy, because now her
greatest desire, the desire to eat an orange, had become impossible. It was the only thing that might have caused her still to want to be in her first life. To be able to satisfy the urgency of the acidity that still persisted after the passage. She tried to orient herself so as to reach the pantry and feel, if nothing else, the cool and sour company of the oranges. It was then that she discovered
a new characteristic of her world: she was everywhere in the house, in the courtyard, on the roof, even in the ‘boy’’s orange tree. She was in the whole physical world there beyond. And yet she was nowhere. She became upset again. She had lost control over herself. Now she was under a superior will, she was a useless being, absurd, good for nothing. Without knowing why, she began to feel sad. She
almost began to feel nostalgia for her beauty: for the beauty that had foolishly ruined her.

But one supreme idea reanimated her. Hadn’t she heard, perhaps, that pure spirits can penetrate any body at will? After all, what harm was there in trying? She attempted to remember what inhabitant of the house could be put to the proof. If she could fulfill her aim she would be satisfied: she could eat
the orange. She remembered. At that time the servants were usually not there. Her mother still hadn’t arrived. But the need to eat an orange, joined now to the curiosity of seeing herself incarnate in a body different from her own, obliged her to act at once. And yet there was no one there in whom she could
incarnate herself. It was a desolating bit of reason: there was nobody in the house. She
would have to live eternally isolated from the outside world, in her undimensional world, unable to eat the first orange. And all because of a foolish thing. It would have been better to go on bearing up for a few more years under that hostile beauty and not wipe herself out forever, making herself useless, like a conquered beast. But it was too late.

She was going to withdraw, disappointed,
into a distant region of the universe, to a place where she could forget all her earthly desires. But something made her suddenly hold back. The promise of a better future had opened up in her unknown region. Yes, there was someone in the house in whom she could reincarnate herself: the cat! Then she hesitated. It was difficult to resign herself to live inside an animal. She would have soft, white
fur, and a great energy for a leap would probably be concentrated in her muscles. And she would feel her eyes glow in the dark like two green coals. And she would have white, sharp teeth to smile at her mother from her feline heart with a broad and good animal smile. But no! It couldn’t be. She imagined herself quickly inside the body of the cat, running through the corridors of the house once more,
managing four uncomfortable legs, and that tail would move on its own, without rhythm, alien to her will. What would life look like through those green and luminous eyes? At night she would go to mew at the sky so that it would not pour its moonlit cement down on the face of the ‘boy,’ who would be on his back drinking in the dew. Maybe in her status as a cat she would also feel fear. And maybe,
in the end, she would be unable to eat the orange with that carnivorous mouth. A coldness that came from right then and there, born of the very roots of her spirit, quivered in her memory. No. It was impossible to incarnate herself in the cat. She was afraid of one day feeling in her palate, in her throat, in all her quadruped organism, the irrevocable desire to eat a mouse. Probably when her spirit
began to inhabit the cat’s body she would no longer feel any desire to eat an orange but the repugnant
and urgent desire to eat a mouse. She shuddered on thinking about it, caught between her teeth after the chase. She felt it struggling in its last attempts at escape, trying to free itself to get back to its hole again. No. Anything but that. It was preferable to stay there for eternity, in that
distant and mysterious world of pure spirits.

But it was difficult to resign herself to live forgotten forever. Why did she have to feel the desire to eat a mouse? Who would rule in that synthesis of woman and cat? Would the primitive animal instinct of the body rule, or the pure will of the woman? The answer was crystal clear. There was no reason to be afraid. She would incarnate herself in
the cat and would eat her desired orange. Besides, she would be a strange being, a cat with the intelligence of a beautiful woman. She would be the center of all attention … It was then, for the first time, that she understood that above all her virtues what was in command was the vanity of a metaphysical woman.

Like an insect on the alert which raises its antennae, she put her energy to work
throughout the house in search of the cat. It must still be on top of the stove at that time, dreaming that it would wake up with a sprig of heliotrope between its teeth. But it wasn’t there. She looked for it again, but she could no longer find the stove. The kitchen wasn’t the same. The corners of the house were strange to her; they were no longer those dark corners full of cobwebs. The cat was
nowhere to be found. She looked on the roof, in the trees, in the drains, under the bed, in the pantry. She found everything confused. Where she expected to find the portraits of her ancestors again, she found only a bottle of arsenic. From there on she found arsenic all through the house, but the cat had disappeared. The house was no longer the same as before. What had happened to her things? Why
were her thirteen favorite books now covered with a thick coat of arsenic? She remembered the orange tree in the courtyard. She looked for it, and tried to find the ‘boy’ again in his pit of water. But the orange tree wasn’t in its place and the ‘boy’ was nothing now but a handful of arsenic mixed with ashes underneath a heavy
concrete platform. Now she really was going to sleep. Everything was
different. And the house had a strong smell of arsenic that beat on her nostrils as if from the depths of a pharmacy.

Only then did she understand that three thousand years had passed since the day she had had a desire to eat the first orange.

Bitterness for Three Sleepwalkers

Now we had her there, abandoned in a corner of the house. Someone told us, before we brought her things – her clothes which smelled of newly cut wood, her weightless shoes for the mud – that she would be unable to get used to that slow life, with no sweet tastes, no attraction except that harsh, wattled solitude, always pressing on her back. Someone told
us – and a lot of time had passed before we remembered it – that she had also had a childhood. Maybe we didn’t believe it then. But now, seeing her sitting in the corner with her frightened eyes and a finger placed on her lips, maybe we accepted the fact that she’d had a childhood once, that once she’d had a touch that was sensitive to the anticipatory coolness of the rain, and that she always carried
an unexpected shadow in profile to her body.

All this – and much more – we believed that afternoon when we realized that above her fearsome subworld she was completely human. We found it out suddenly, as if a glass had been broken inside, when she began to give off anguished shouts; she began to call each one of us by name, speaking amidst tears until we sat down beside her; we began to sing
and clap hands as if our shouting could put the scattered pieces of glass back together. Only then were we able to believe that at one time she had had a childhood. It was as if her shouts were like a revelation somehow; as if they had a lot of remembered tree and deep river about them. When she got up, she leaned over a little and, still without covering her face with her apron, still without blowing
her nose, and still with
tears, she told us:

‘I’ll never smile again.’

We went out into the courtyard, the three of us, not talking: maybe we thought we carried common thoughts. Maybe we thought it would be best not to turn on the lights in the house. She wanted to be alone – maybe – sitting in the dark corner, weaving the final braid which seemed to be the only thing that would survive her
passage toward the beast.

Outside, in the courtyard, sunk in the deep vapor of the insects, we sat down to think about her. We’d done it so many times before. We might have said that we were doing what we’d been doing every day of our lives.

Yet it was different that night: she’d said that she would never smile again, and we, who knew her so well, were certain that the nightmare had become the
truth. Sitting in a triangle, we imagined her there inside, abstract, incapacitated, unable even to hear the innumerable clocks that measured the marked and minute rhythm with which she was changing into dust. ‘If we only had the courage at least to wish for her death,’ we thought in a chorus. But we wanted her like that: ugly and glacial, like a mean contribution to our hidden defects.

We’d
been adults since before, since a long time back. She, however, was the oldest in the house. That same night she had been able to be there, sitting with us, feeling the measured throbbing of the stars, surrounded by healthy sons. She would have been the respectable lady of the house if she had been the wife of a solid citizen or the concubine of a punctual man. But she became accustomed to living
in only one dimension, like a straight line, perhaps because her vices or her virtues could not be seen in profile. We’d known that for many years now. We weren’t even surprised one morning, after getting up, when we found her face down in the courtyard, biting the earth in a hard, ecstatic way. Then she smiled, looked at us again; she had fallen out of the second-story window onto the hard clay of
the courtyard and had remained there, stiff and concrete, face down on the damp clay. But later we learned
that the only thing she had kept intact was her fear of distances, a natural fright upon facing space. We lifted her up by the shoulders. She wasn’t as hard as she had seemed to us at first. On the contrary, her organs were loose, detached from her will, like a lukewarm corpse that hadn’t
begun to stiffen.

Her eyes were open, her mouth was dirty with that earth that already must have had a taste of sepulchral sediment for her when we turned her face up to the sun, and it was as if we had placed her in front of a mirror. She looked at us all with a dull, sexless expression that gave us – holding her in my arms now – the measure of her absence. Someone told us she was dead; and
afterward she remained smiling with that cold and quiet smile that she wore at night when she moved about the house awake. She said she didn’t know how she got to the courtyard. She said that she’d felt quite warm, that she’d been listening to a cricket, penetrating, sharp, which seemed – so she said – about to knock down the wall of her room, and that she had set herself to remembering Sunday’s prayers,
with her cheek tight against the cement floor.

We knew, however, that she couldn’t remember any prayer, for we discovered later that she’d lost the notion of time when she said she’d fallen asleep holding up the inside of the wall that the cricket was pushing on from outside and that she was fast asleep when someone, taking her by the shoulders, moved the wall aside and laid her down with her
face to the sun.

That night we knew, sitting in the courtyard, that she would never smile again. Perhaps her inexpressive seriousness pained us in anticipation, her dark and willful living in a corner. It pained us deeply, as we were pained the day we saw her sit down in the corner where she was now; and we heard her say that she wasn’t going to wander
through the house any more. At first we
couldn’t believe her. We’d seen her for months on end going through the rooms at all hours, her head hard and her shoulders drooping, never stopping, never growing tired. At night we would hear her thick body noise moving between two darknesses, and we would lie awake in bed many times hearing her stealthy walking, following her all through the house with our ears. Once she told us that she had seen
the cricket inside the mirror glass, sunken, submerged in the solid transparency, and that it had crossed through the glass surface to reach her. We really didn’t know what she was trying to tell us, but we could all see that her clothes were wet, sticking to her body, as if she had just come out of a cistern. Without trying to explain the phenomenon, we decided to do away with the insects in the
house: destroy the objects that obsessed her.

We had the walls cleaned; we ordered them to chop down the plants in the courtyard and it was as if we had cleansed the silence of the night of bits of trash. But we no longer heard her walking, nor did we hear her talking about crickets any more, until the day when, after the last meal, she remained looking at us, she sat down on the cement floor,
still looking at us, and said: ‘I’m going to stay here, sitting down,’ and we shuddered, because we could see that she had begun to look like something already almost completely like death.

That had been a long time ago and we had even grown used to seeing her there, sitting, her braid always half wound, as if she had become dissolved in her solitude and, even though she was there to be seen,
had lost her natural faculty of being present. That’s why we now knew that she would never smile again; because she had said so in the same convinced and certain way in which she had told us once that she would never walk again. It was as if we were certain that she would tell us later: ‘I’ll never see again,’ or maybe ‘I’ll never hear again,’ and we knew that she was sufficiently human to go along
willing the elimination of her vital functions and that spontaneously she would go about ending herself, sense by sense, until one day we would find her leaning against the wall, as if she had fallen asleep for the first time in her life. Perhaps there was still a lot of time left for that, but the three of us, sitting in the courtyard, would have liked to hear her sharp and sudden broken-glass
weeping that night, at least to give us the illusion that a baby … a girl baby had been born in the house. In order to believe that she had been born renewed.

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