Swarmed by Yellow Butterflies


Gabriel García Márquez photographed by Juan Ruy Castaño

 
 

“I came to see the new models,” Meme said. “That’s a fine excuse,” he said.

Meme realized that he was burning in the heat of his pride, and she desperately looked for a way to humiliate him. But he would not give her any time. “Don’t get upset,” he said to her in a low voice. “It’s not the first time that a woman has gone crazy over a man.” She felt so defeated that she left the garage without seeing the new models and she spent the night turning over in bed and weeping with indignation. The American redhead, who was really beginning to interest her, looked like a baby in diapers. It was then that she realized that the yellow butterflies preceded the appearances of Mauricio Babilonia. She had seen them before, especially over the garage, and she had thought that they were drawn by the smell of paint. Once she had seen them fluttering about her head before she went into the movies. But when Mauricio Babilonia began to pursue her like a ghost that only she could identify in the crowd, she understood that the butterflies had something to do with him. Mauricio Babilonia was always in the audience at the concerts, at the movies, at high mass, and she did not have to see him to know that he was there, because the butterflies were always there. Once Aureliano Segundo became so impatient with the suffocating fluttering that she felt the impulse to confide her secret to him as she had promised, but instinct told her that he would laugh as usual and say: “What would your mother say if she found out?” One morning, while she was pruning the roses, Fernanda let out a cry of fright and had Meme taken away from the spot where she was, which was the same place in the garden where Remedios the Beauty had gone up to heaven. She had thought for an instant that the miracle was going to be repeated with her daughter, because she had been bothered by a sudden flapping of wings. It was the butterflies. Meme saw them as if they had suddenly been born out of the light and her heart gave a turn. At that moment Mauricio Babilonia came in with a package that according to what he said, was a present from Patricia Brown. Meme swallowed her blush, absorbed her tribulation, and even managed a natural smile as she asked him the favor of leaving it on the railing because her hands were dirty from the garden. The only thing that Fernanda noted in the man whom a few months later she was to expel from the house without remembering where she had seen him was the bilious texture of his skin.

“He’s a very strange man,” Fernanda said. “You can see in his face that he’s going to die.”

Meme thought that her mother had been impressed by the butterflies. When they finished pruning the row bushes she washed her hands and took the package to her bedroom to open it. It was a kind of Chinese toy, made up of five concentric boxes, and in the last one there was a card laboriously inscribed by someone who could barely write: We’ll get together Saturday at the movies. Meme felt with an aftershock that the box had been on the railing for a long time within reach of Fernanda’s curiosity, and although she was flattered by the audacity and ingenuity of Mauricio Babilonia, she was moved by his Innocence in expecting that she would keep the date. Meme knew at that time that Aureliano Segundo had an appointment on Saturday night. Nevertheless, the fire of anxiety burned her so much during the course of the week that on Saturday she convinced her father to leave her alone in the theater and come back for her after the show. A nocturnal butterfly fluttered about her head while the lights were on. And then it happened. When the lights went out, Mauricio Babilonia sat down beside her. Meme felt herself splashing in a bog of hesitation from which she could only be rescued, as had occurred in her dreams, by that man smelling of grease whom she could barely see in the shadows.

“If you hadn’t come,” he said, “You never would have seen me again.”

Meme felt the weight of his hand on her knee and she knew that they were both arriving at the other side of abandonment at that instant.
“What shocks me about you,” she said, smiling, “is that you always say exactly what you shouldn’t be saying.”
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 web of false dates to throw Fernanda off the track, lost sight of her girl friends, 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 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 in 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 judgment of a mechanic. She thought then that love on one side was defeating love on the other, because it was characteristic 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 afterward she conceived Aureli-ano 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 an 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 cloth 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 a chicken thief.

Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude

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