for Gabriel García Márquez, dying
The old man died, and the priest, who was his friend of many years, spoke in his homily about eclipses, mountains falling into the sea, and monsters engendered in the turbulent sheets of newlyweds.
Some months later a solar eclipse did occur, but the scientists and the Indians knew all about it in advance. There were mudslides in flood season, too, but that was nothing unusual, with the worst of the rains. The thing that nobody anticipated was the monsters.
Right on schedule, a few days shy of nine months out from the funeral, Laura Maldonado, who lived on Chubasco Street, gave birth to a small creature with eyes that glowed like hot nails, fully developed fangs, and the wings of a bat. Next, Ximena Moreno from Suestado Street brought forth a slime-secreting eel with a shark fin and perfectly formed feet and ankles. Then Mayra Alejandra Eckstein Zapata from Cordonazo Street gave birth to a sweet-faced child embedded in the shell of a crab.
From that time, for the space of a full year, the infants arrived in astonishing packages. Most were stillborn or died soon. Five or six eked out a kind of existence that the people of the town made room for.
Visitors from the news agencies and the universities came to make their reports, but the locals politely ignored them, knowing that the answer to these mysteries lay tangled in the roots of the trees there, lay buried under rocks or flagstones or in the archives of their dead grandparents’ memories. Besides, they had their own writer, a young man with a caterpillar mustache, who tackled the subject in his own way, developing a classification system from which he derived remarkable lists. It was his contention that all of the wingless creatures were either formerly or potentially winged, with stumps or divots on their shoulder blades. Even the eel had dimples by its dorsal fin. None of this could, of course, be substantiated. Few of the children had remained above ground for long, and the hurried descriptions of them, tending toward religious euphemism, lacked that level of detail. No one outside of the town took the young writer very seriously. He wrote for money, gabbed in cafés, and trailed after prostitutes. Later though, he reworked his lists into a startling literary style, won something called the Top Prize Award, and was carried away on a whirlwind of celebrity.
And he was surely right in arguing for the “genealogical significance” of the newborns and against the imprecise language that classed them all as monsters. Several women simply gave birth to frogs, and a frog is no monster. Another young lady was delivered of a handful of grubs. Briefly viable fish and lizards drew fewer and fewer comments throughout the year. The university crowd never understood this distinction.
A few normal children were born during that time, but the town treated them as outsiders. All of them took their difficult adolescence elsewhere at the first opportunity. The one exception was a hybrid, born with an ordinary skin disease that made him appear, even as he emerged from the womb, in the likeness and apparel of a clown. His mother got one look at him and died of fright on the delivery table. He was later elected their mayor.
By that time the phenomenon of the monsters had hardened into a memory that might or might not be true, a story told and told. The ending was always the same: they brought news of it to the old priest, but he was inconsolable.
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