The Torment of Three Sleepwalkers
By Gabriel García Márquez
Now we had her there, resigned to one corner of the house. Someone told us, before we moved her things – her fragrant clothing smelling of fresh wood, her weightless shoes for the clay ground – that she could not get accustomed to the slow life, without sweet tastes, without any other charm than the impenetrable, marble solitude always pressing down on her. Someone told us – and much time had passed before we would remember it – that she too had a childhood. Maybe we did not believe it then. But now, seeing her sitting in the corner with eyes like saucers and one finger placed over her lips, maybe we recognized that once she had a childhood. That at one time she could sense the early freshness of rain. Yet her body always bore the silhouette of an unexpected shadow.
All of this – and much more – we learned that afternoon when we realized that, on top of her tremendous internal life, she was completely human. We discover this when suddenly she began to howl as if inside her glass had shattered. She began to call each of us by name, choking out words between sobs until we sat next to her. We began to sing and clap our hands, as if our yelling could weld the scattered glass shards. Only then could we believe that she had a childhood. It was as if her screams were a revelation; as if they were a flourishing tree, fed by a deep river. When she pulled herself together, she leaned forward a little and, still without covering her face with her apron, still without blowing her nose, and still crying, she told us: “I will never smile again.”
The three of us went to the patio without speaking. Perhaps we believed we could read each others’ minds. Maybe we thought that it would be better not to turn on the house lights. She wanted to be alone – maybe – sitting in the dark corner, weaving her last braid. It seemed to be the only human thing about her that would survive her transformation into an animal.
Outside on the patio, submerged in the deep mist of insects, we sat and thought about her. We had done this many times before. We could have said that we were doing what we had done every day of our lives.
Nonetheless, that night was different; she had said that she would never smile again. We knew her so well that we were certain that the nightmare had come true. Sitting in a triangle we imagined her inside the house, her mind elsewhere, incapacitated. She could not hear the countless clocks that measured the time, marked and meticulous, in which she was turning to dust. “If only we had the strength to wish for her death,” we thought in unison.
But we wanted her like that, ugly and frigid like a selfish contribution to our hidden flaws.
We were adults even before this, many years earlier. She was, nonetheless, the eldest of the house. This same night she could have been there, sitting with us, feeling the warm pulse of the stars, surrounded by healthy sons. She would have been the respectable woman of the house if she had been the wife of a good middle-class bourgeois man or the concubine of a punctual man. But she became accustomed to living in one single dimension, like a straight line, perhaps because her vices or virtues could not align with her profile. For years we had known it. It did not even surprise us when one morning after waking, we found her face down on the patio, biting the ground in a hard, static pose. Then she smiled and turned to look at us; she had fallen from the second-story window onto the hard clay of the patio and had stayed there, stiff and concrete, flat on her face in the damp mud. Later, we found out that the one thing that remained intact was her fear of heights, the natural panic in front of empty space. We stood her up by the shoulders. She was not as sturdy as she had seemed at first. On the contrary; she had soiled herself, her intestines free from her will, like a warm corpse that had not yet begun to stiffen.
Her eyes were open, her mouth dirty from the earth that must have tasted like the dirt of a tomb. When we turned her to face the sun it was as if we had put her in front of a mirror. As I held her in my arms, she looked at us all with a lifeless, sexless expression, which gave us a sense of her true absence. Someone told us she was dead. Then she was smiling with that cold and calm grin like she did the nights when she wandered, half-awake through the house. She said she did not know how she got to the patio. She said she had felt very hot, and she was hearing a piercing, high-pitched cricket that seemed (as she said) to be trying to knock down the wall of her room. Then she had begun to recite the Sunday prayers, with her cheek pressed to the cement floor.
Nonetheless, we would find out that she had not been able to remember any prayers. Just as we later learned that she had lost all sense of time when she said that she had been sleeping, holding up the wall that the cricket was pushing from the outside. She said that she was completely asleep when someone pulled her by the shoulders, separated her from the wall, and turned her face-up towards the sun.
Sitting on the patio that night we knew she would not smile again. Maybe in that moment her severe expression hurt us, and we felt a hint of the pain we would feel witnessing, over time, her dark and determined, isolated life. It continued to deeply hurt us; just as we were hurt the day when we saw her sitting in that same corner and heard her say that she would never again wander about the house. At first we could not believe her. For entire months we had seen her walking through the rooms at every hour, stubborn and slouched, without stopping, without ever getting tired. At night we heard the steady murmur of her body, heavy, moving between two darknesses. Most times we would stay awake in our beds, hearing her stealthy walk, using our ears to follow her through the whole house. Once, she told us that she had seen the cricket inside the mirror, sunken, submerged in the solid transparency, and that she had gone through the glass surface to reach it. We did not know, in reality, what it was she wanted to tell us. But we all realized that her clothes were wet, plastered to her body, as if she had just come out of a pond. Without trying to explain the incident we decided to exterminate all the insects of the house; to destroy the objects that obsessed her. We had the walls cleaned, we ordered the bushes on the patio cut, and it was as if we had restored the silence of the night. But then we did not hear her walk nor speak of crickets until the day when, after dinner, she kept looking at us, sat herself on the cement floor still without breaking the stare, and told us: “I will stay here, sitting.” We shuddered. We could see that she was beginning to resemble something that was already very much like death.
Much time had passed since this, until we became accustomed to seeing her there, sitting with her braid always half woven, as if she had dissolved in her solitude. As if, although you were looking right at her, she had lost the natural ability to exist. Because of this, we knew that she would not smile again; because she had said it in the same convinced and definitive way in which she once told us that she would not walk again. It was as if we could be certain that later she would tell us: “I will not see again,” or maybe “I will not hear again.” We would find out what was the most basic form of humanity, as she would go on willingly eliminating her vital functions. Spontaneously she would terminate sense after sense, until the day that we would find her resting against the wall, as if she had fallen asleep for the first time in her life. Maybe there was much time left before this. But us three, sitting on the patio, would have wished for that night, to hear her sharp and sudden wail like broken glass, to at least create the illusion that a child had been born in the house. To believe that she had been born again.