Meme’s Solitude (excerpt from One Hundred Years of Solitude)

by Catherine Chiu

She lost her mind over him. She could not sleep and she lost her appetite and sank so deeply into solitude that even her father became an annoyance. She worked out an intricate wed of false dates to throw Fernanda off the track, lost sight of her girlfriends, leaped over conventions to be with Mauricio Babilonia at any time and at any place. At first his crudeness bothered her. The first time that they were alone on the deserted fields behind the garage he pulled her mercilessly into an animal state that left her exhausted. It took her a time to realize that it was also a form of tenderness and it was then that she lost her calm and lived only for him, upset by the desire to sink into his stupefying odor of grease washed off by lye. A short time before the death of Amaranta she suddenly stumbled into an open space of lucidity within the madness and she trembled before the uncertainty of the future. Then she heard about a woman who made predictions from cards and went to see her in secret. It was Pilar Ternera. As soon as Pilar saw her come in she was aware of Meme’s hidden motives. “Sit down,” she told her. “I don’t need cards to tell the future of a Buendía. ” Meme did not know and never would that the centenarian witch was her great-grandmother. Nor would she have believed it after the aggressive realism with which she revealed to her that the

anxiety of falling in love could not find repose except in bed. It was the same point of view as Mauricio Babilonia’s, but Meme resisted believing it because underneath it all she imagined that it had been inspired by the poor judgement of a mechanic. She thought then that love on one side was defeating love on the other, because it was characteristics of men to deny hunger once their appetites were satisfied. Pilar Ternera not only cleared up that mistake, she also offered the old canopied bed where she had conceived Arcadio, Meme’s grandfather, and where afterwards she conceived Aureliano José. She also taught her how to avoid an unwanted conception by means of the evaporation of mustard plasters and gave her recipes for potions that in cases of trouble could expel “even the remorse of conscience.” That interview instilled in Meme the same feeling of bravery that she had felt on the drunken evening. Amaranta’s death, however, obliged her to postpone the decision. While the nine nights lasted she did not once leave the side of Mauricio Babilonia, who mingled with the crowd that invaded the house. Then came the long period of mourning and the obligatory withdrawal and they separated for a time. Those were days of such inner agitation, such irrepressible anxiety, and so many repressed urges that on the first evening that meme was able to get out she went straight to Pilar Ternera’s. She surrendered to Mauricio Babilonia without resistance, without shyness, without formalities, and with a vocation that was so fluid and intuition that was so wise that a more suspicious man than hers would have confused them with obvious experience. They made love twice a week for more than three months, protected by the innocent complicity of Aureliano Segundo, who believed without suspicion in his daughter’s alibis simply in order to set her free from her mother’s rigidity.

On the night that Fernanda surprised them in the movies Aureliano Segundo felt weighted down by the burden of his conscience and he visited Meme in the bedroom where Fernanda kept her locked up, trusting that she would reveal to him the confidences that she owed him. But Meme denied everything. She was so sure of herself, so anchored in her solitude that Aureliano Segundo had the impression that no link existed between them anymore, that the comradeship and the complicity were nothing but an illusion of the past. He thought of speaking to Mauricio Babilonia, thinking that his authority as his former boss would make him desist from his plans, but Petra Cotes convinced him that it was a woman’s business, so he was left floating in a limbo of indecision, barely sustained by the hope that the confinement would put an end to his daughter’s troubles.

Meme showed no signs of affliction. On the contrary, from the next room Úrsula perceived the peaceful rhythm of her sleep, the serenity of her tasks, the order of her meals, and the good health of her digestion. The only thing that intrigued Úrsula after almost two months of punishment was that Meme did not take a bath in the morning like everyone else, but at seven in the evening. Once she thought of warning her about the scorpions, but Meme was so distant, convinced that she had given her away, that she preferred not to disturb her with the impertinences of a great-great-grandmother. The yellow butterflies would invade the house at dusk. Every night on her way back from her bath Meme would find a desperate Fernanda killing butterflies with an insecticide bomb. “This is terrible,” she would say. “All my life they told me that butterflies at night bring bad luck.” One night, while Meme was in the bathroom, Fernanda went into her bedroom by chance and there were so many butterflies that she could scarcely breathe. She grabbed for the nearest piece of clothe to shoo them away and her heart froze with terror as she connected her daughter’s evening baths with the mustard plasters that rolled onto the floor. She did not wait for an opportune moment as she had the first time. On the following day she invited the new mayor to lunch. Like her, he had come down from the highlands, and she asked him to station a guard in the backyard because she had the impression that hens were being stolen. That night the guard brought down Mauricio Babilonia as he was lifting up the tiles to get into the bathroom where Meme was waiting for him, naked and trembling with love among the scorpions and butterflies as she had done almost every night for the past few months. A bullet lodged in his spinal column reduced him to his bed for the rest of his life. He died of old age in solitude, without a moan, without a protest, without a single moment of betrayal, tormented by memories and by the yellow butterflies, who did not give him a moment’s peace, and ostracized as chicken thief.

“Let’s go, Renata,” she told her.

She gave no explanation. Meme for her part, did not expect or want any. She not only did not know where they were going, but it would have been the same to her if they had been taking her to the slaughterhouse. She had not spoken again nor would she do so for the rest of her life from the time that she heard the shot in the backyard and the simultaneous cry of pain from Mauricio Babilonia. When her mother ordered her out of the bedroom she did not comb her hair or wash her face and she got into the train as if she were walking in her sleep, not even noticing the yellow butterflies that were still accompanying her. Fernanda never found out, nor did she take the trouble to, whether the stony silence was determination of her will or whether she had become mute because of the impact of the tragedy.

“Come, Renata,” she said to her.

Meme took her hand and let herself be led. The last time that Fernanda saw her, trying to keep up with the novice, the iron grating of the cloister had just closed behind her. She was still thinking about Mauricio Babilonia, his smell of grease, and his halo of  butterflies, and she would keep on thinking about him for all the days of her life until the remote autumn morning when she died of old age, with her name changed and her head shaved and without ever having spoken a word, in a gloomy hospital in Cracow.

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