weekend-readsIn Evil Hour: An Excerpt from the Novel

Gabriel García Márquez

From The Kenyon Review, Summer 1979, New Series, Vol. I, No. 3

Translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

Dr Giraldo was thinking, his chin daubed with lather, when a nauseating whiff drew him out of his memories. A flock of buzzards scattered on the opposite shore, frightened by the waves from the launch. The stench of rottenness hung over the wharf for a moment, mingling with the morning breeze, and even penetrated deep inside the houses.

“Still there, God damn it,” the mayor exclaimed on the balcony of his bedroom, watching the buzzards scatter. “Fucking cow.”

He covered his nose with a handkerchief, went into the room, and closed the balcony door. The smell persisted inside. Without taking off his hat, he hung the mirror on a nail and began the careful attempt at shaving his still rather inflamed cheek. A moment later the impresario of the circus knocked at the door.

The mayor had him sit down, observing him in the mirror while he shaved. He was wearing a black-and-white checkered shirt, riding breeches with leggings, and carried a whip with which he gave himself systematic taps on the knee.

“I’ve already had the first complaints about you people,” the mayor said as he finished dragging the razor over the stubble of two weeks of desperation. “Just last night.”

“What might that be?”

“That you’re sending out boys to steal cats.”

“That’s not true,” the impresario said. “Every cat that’s brought to us we buy by the pound, without asking where it comes from, to feed the wild animals.”

“Are they thrown in alive?”

“Oh, no,” the impresario said. “That would arouse the animals’ instinct of cruelty.”

After washing, the mayor turned to him, rubbing his face with the towel. Until then he hadn’t noticed that he was wearing rings with colored stones on almost all his fingers.

“Well, you’re going to have to think up some other way,” he said. “Hunt crocodiles, if you want, or take advantage of the fish that are going to waste in this weather. But live cats, don’t mess with them.”

The impresario shrugged his shoulders and followed the mayor to the street. Groups of men were chatting by the dock in spite of the foul odor of the cow beached in the brambles on the opposite bank.

“You sissies,” the mayor shouted. “Instead of standing around there gossiping like women, you should have been busy since yesterday organizing an expedition to float that cow away.”

Some men surrounded him.

“Fifty pesos,” the mayor proposed, “for the one who brings me the cow’s horns within an hour.”

A disorder of voices exploded at the end of the dock. Some men had heard the mayor’s offer and were leaping into their canoes, shouting mutual challenges as they cast off. “A hundred pesos,” the mayor doubled, all enthusiastic. “Fifty for each horn.” He took the impresario to the end of the dock. They both waited until the first craft reached the dunes on the other shore. Then the mayor turned to the impresario, smiling.

“This is a happy town,” he said.

The impresario nodded. “The only thing wrong is something like this,” the mayor went on. “People think too much about foolishness because there’s nothing to do.” A small group of children had slowly been forming around them.

“There’s the circus,” the impresario said.

The mayor was dragging him along by the arm toward the square.

“What do they do?” he asked.

“Everything,” the impresario said. “We’ve got a complete show, for children and for adults.”

“That’s not enough,” the mayor replied. “It’s got to be within the reach of everybody.”

“We’ve kept that in mind too,” the impresario said.

Together they went to a vacant lot behind the movie theater, where they’d begun to raise the tent. Taciturn-looking men and women were taking cloths and bright colors out of the enormous trucks plated with fancy tinwork. As he followed the impresario through the crush of human beings and odds and ends, shaking everybody’s hand, the mayor felt as if he were in the midst of a shipwreck. A robust woman with resolute movements and teeth that were almost completely capped with gold examined his hand after shaking it.

“There’s something strange in your future,” she said.

The mayor drew his hand back, unable to repress a momentary feeling of depression. The impresario gave the woman a tap on the arm with his whip. “Leave the lieutenant alone,” he said without stopping, escorting the mayor to the back of the lot, where the animals were.

“Do you believe in all that?” he asked him.

“That depends,” said the mayor.

“They’ve never been able to convince me,” the impresario said. “When a person gets mixed up in things like that he ends up believing only in human will.”

The mayor contemplated the animals, who were drowsy with the heat. The cages exhaled a bitter, warm vapor and there was a kind of hopeless anguish in the measured breathing of the wild creatures. The impresario stroked the nose of a leopard with his whip as it twisted like a mime, growling.

“What’s the name?” the mayor asked.

“Aristotle.”

“I meant the woman,” the mayor explained.

“Oh,” the impresario said, “We call her Casandra, Mirror of the Future.”

The mayor put on a desolate expression.

“I’d like to go to bed with her,” he said.

“Everything’s possible,” said the impresario.

• •

The widow Montiel opened the windows of her bedroom, murmuring: “Poor men.” She put her night table in order, returned her rosary and prayer book to the drawer, and wiped the soles of her mallow-colored slippers on the jaguar skin laid out in front of the bed. Then she took a complete turn about the room to lock the dressing table, the three doors to the wardrobe, and a square cupboard on which there was a plaster Saint Raphael. Finally she locked the room, and went down the broad staircase made of stones with carved labyrinths on them.

On the landing of the stairs, the country-fair bustle of her courtyard came up to meet her. To one side of the railing there was a scaffolding with cheeses wrapped in fresh leaves; farther on, in an outside gallery, sacks of salt and skins full of honey were piled up; and to the rear of the courtyard, a stable with mules and horses, and saddles on the crossbeams. The house was impregnated with a persistent beast-of-burden smell mingled with another smell, of tanning and the grinding of cane.

In the office the widow said good morning to Mr Carmichael, who was laying out bundles of banknotes on the desk while he jotted down the amounts in the ledger. When she opened the window onto the river, the nine o’clock light entered the living room, which was overloaded with cheap decorations, great overstuffed chairs upholstered in gray, and an enlarged portrait of José Montiel, with a funeral wreath around the frame. The widow noticed the whiff of rottenness before she saw the boats on the dunes of the far shore.

“What’s going on on the other bank?” she asked.

“They’re trying to float a dead cow,” Mr Carmichael answered.

“So that’s it,” the widow said. “All night long I was dreaming about that smell.” She looked at Mr Carmichael, absorbed in his work, and added: “Now all we need is the deluge.”

Mr Carmichael spoke without raising his head.

“It started two weeks ago.”

“That’s right,” the widow admitted. “Now we’ve reached the end. All that’s left to do is to lie down in a grave in the sun and the dew until death comes for us.”

Mr Carmichael listened to her without interrupting his accounts. “For years we’ve been complaining that nothing ever happened in this town,” the widow went on. “All of a sudden the tragedy starts, as if God had fixed everything so that what had stopped happening for so many years would begin to happen.”

Mr Carmichael turned to look at her from the safe and saw her with her elbows on the window, her eyes fixed on the opposite shore. She was wearing a black dress with long sleeves and was biting her nails.

“When the rain stops, things will get better,” Mr Carmichael said.

“It won’t stop,” the widow predicted. “Misfortunes never come alone.”

“All this is a meaningless scandal,” Mr Carmichael said. “If a person pays attention to lampoon she ends up going crazy.”

“The lampoons,” sighed the widow.

“They’ve already put mine up,” Mr Carmichael said.

“Yours?”

“Mine,” Mr Carmichael confirmed. “They put it up, quite large and quite complete, on Saturday of last week. It looked like a movie poster.”

The widow pulled a chair over to the desk. “This is infamous,” she exclaimed. “There’s nothing that can be said about a family as exemplary as yours.” Mr Carmichael wasn’t alarmed.

“Since my wife is white, the kids have come out all colors,” he explained. “Just imagine, eleven of them.”

“Of course,” the widow said.

“Well, the lampoon said that I’m only the father of the black ones. And they listed the fathers of the others. They even involved Don Chepe Montiel, may he rest in peace.”

“My husband!”

“Yours and those of four other ladies,” Mr Carmichael said.

The widow began to sob. “Luckily my daughters are far away,” she said. “They say they don’t ever want to come back to this savage country where students are murdered in the street, and I tell them that they’re right, that they should stay in Paris for good.” Mr Carmichael turned his chair half around, understanding that the embarrassing daily episode had begun once more.

“You’ve got no reason to worry,” he said.

“Quite the contrary,” the widow sobbed. “I’m the first one who should have packed up her goods and got away from this town, even if this land and the business that are so tied up with our misfortune are lost. No, Mr Carmichael: I don’t want gold basins to spit blood into.”

Mr Carmichael tried to console her.

“You have to face up to your responsibilities,” he said. “You can’t throw a fortune out the window.”

“Money is the devil’s dung,” the widow said.

“But in this case it’s also the result of Don Chepe Montiel’s hard work.”

The widow bit her fingers.

“You know that’s not true,” she replied. “It’s ill-gotten wealth and the first to pay for it by dying without confession was José Montiel.”

It wasn’t the first time she’d said it.

“The blame, naturally, belongs to that criminal,” she exclaimed, pointing to the mayor, who was going along the opposite sidewalk on the arm of the circus impresario. “But I’m the one who suffers the expiation.”

Mr Carmichael left her. He put the bundles of bills, fastened with rubber bands, into a cardboard box, and from the door to the courtyard, he called out the names of the peasants in alphabetical order.

While the men were receiving their Wednesday pay, the widow Montiel heard them pass without answering their greetings. She lived alone in the gloomy nine-room house where Big Mama had died and which José Montiel had bought without imagining that his widow would have to endure her solitude in it until death. At night, while she went about through the empty rooms with the insecticide bomb, she would find Big Mama squashing lice in the hallways, and she would ask her: “When am I going to die?” But that happy communication with the beyond only managed to increase her uncertainty, because the answers, like those of all the dead, were silly and contradictory.

A little after eleven o’clock, through her tears, the widow saw Father Ángel crossing the square. “Father, Father,” she called, feeling that she was taking a final step with that call. But Father Ángel didn’t hear her. He had knocked at the door of the widow Asís, on the opposite sidewalk, and the door had opened partway in a surreptitious manner to let him in.

• •

On the porch that overflowed with the song of birds, the widow Asís was lying on a canvas chair, her face covered with a handkerchief soaked in Florida water. From the way he knocked on the door she knew it was Father Ángel, but she prolonged the momentary relief until she heard the greeting. Then she uncovered her face, devastated by insomnia.

“Forgive me, Father,” she said. “I didn’t expect you so early.”

Father Ángel ignored the fact that he had been invited to lunch. He excused himself, a little confused, saying that he, too, had spent the morning with a headache and had preferred to cross the square before the heat began.

“It doesn’t matter,” the widow said. “I just meant that I didn’t want you to find me looking like a wreck.”

The priest took from his pocket a breviary that was losing its binding. “If you want, you can rest a while more and I’ll pray,” he said. The widow objected.

“I feel better,” she said.

She walked to the end of the porch, her eyes closed, and on the way back she laid out the handkerchief with extreme tidiness on the arm of the folding chair. When she sat down opposite Father Ángel she looked several years younger.

“Father,” she said then, without any drama, “I have need of your help.”

Father Ángel put his breviary into his pocket.

“At your service.”

“It’s Roberto Asís again.”

Against his promise to forget about the lampoon, Roberto Asís the day before had departed until Saturday, and returned home unexpectedly that same night. Since then, until dawn, when fatigue overcame him, he had been sitting in the darkness of the room, waiting for his wife’s supposed lover.

Father Ángel listened to her perplexed.

“There’s no basis for that,” he said.

“You don’t know the Asíses, Father,” the widow replied. “They carry hell in their imaginations.”

“Rebeca knows my view of the lampoons,” he said. “But if you want, I can talk to Roberto Asís too.”

“By no means,” said the widow. “That would just be stoking the coals. On the other hand, if you could talk about the lampoons in your Sunday sermon, I’m sure that Roberto Asís would feel called upon to reflect.”

Father Ángel opened his arms.

“Impossible,” he exclaimed. “It would be giving the thing an importance that it doesn’t have.”

“Nothing’s more important than avoiding a crime.”

“Do you think it can reach those extremes?”

“Not only do I think so,” the widow said, “but I’m sure that I won’t have the means to prevent it.”

A moment later they sat down at the table. A barefoot servant girl brought rice and beans, stewed vegetables, and a platter of meatballs covered with a thick brown sauce. Father Ángel served himself in silence. The hot peppers, the profound silence of the house, and the feeling of uneasiness that filled his heart at that moment carried him back to his narrow little neophyte’s room in the burning noon of Macondo. On a day like that, dusty and hot, he had denied Christian burial to a hanged man whom the stiff-necked inhabitants of Macondo had refused to bury. He unbuttoned the collar of his cassock to let the sweat out.

“All right,” he said to the widow. “Then make sure that Roberto Asís doesn’t miss mass on Sunday.”

The widow Asís promised him.

• •

Dr Giraldo and his wife, who never took a siesta, spent the afternoon reading a story by Dickens. They were on the inside terrace, he in a hammock, listening with his fingers interlaced behind his neck, she with the book in her lap, reading with her back to the lozenges of light where the geraniums glowed. She was reading dispassionately, with a professional emphasis, not shifting her position in the chair. She didn’t raise her head until the end, but even then she remained with the book open on her knees while her husband washed in the basin of the washstand. The heat foretold a storm.

“Is it a long short story?” she asked, after thinking about it carefully.

With scrupulous movements learned in the operating room, the doctor withdrew his head from the basin. “They say it’s a short novel,” he said in front of the mirror, putting brilliantine on his hair. “I would say, rather, that it’s a long short story.” With his fingers he rubbed the vaseline into his scalp and concluded:

“Critics might say that it’s a short story, but a long one.”

He got dressed in white linen, helped by his wife. She could have been mistaken for an older sister, not only because of the peaceful devotion with which she attended him, but from the coldness of her eyes, which made her look like an older person. Before leaving, Dr Giraldo showed her the list and order of his visits, should an urgent case come up, and he moved the hands on the clock chart in the waiting room: The doctor will return at 5 o’clock.

The street was buzzing with heat. Dr Giraldo walked along the shady sidewalk pursued by a foreboding: in spite of the harshness of the air, it wouldn’t rain that afternoon. The buzz of the harvest flies intensified the solitude of the port, but the cow had been removed and dragged off by the current, and the rotten smell had left an enormous gap in the atmosphere.

The telegrapher called to him from the hotel.

“Did you get a telegram?” Dr Giraldo hadn’t.”

“ ‘Advise conditions office, signed Arcofán,’ ” the telegrapher quoted from memory.

They went to the telegraph office together. While the physician was writing a reply, the civil servant began to nod.

“It’s the muriatic acid,” the doctor explained with great scientific conviction. And in spite of his foreboding, he added as consolation when he’d finished writing: “Maybe it’ll rain tonight.”

The telegrapher counted the words. The doctor didn’t pay any attention to him. He was hanging on a fat book lying open by the key. He asked if it was a novel.

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo,” telegraphed the telegrapher. He stamped the copy of the message and came back to the railing with the book. “I think this should last us until December.”

For years Dr Giraldo had known that the telegrapher spent his free time transmitting poems to the lady telegrapher in San Bernardo del Viento. He hadn’t known that he also read her novels.

“Now, this is serious,” he said, thumbing through the well-used tome which awoke in his memory the confused emotions of an adolescent. “Alexandre Dumas would have been more appropriate.”

“She likes this one,” the telegrapher explained.

“Have you ever met her?”

The telegraphers hook his head no.

“But it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’d recognize her in any part of the world by the little jumps she always puts on the R.”

That afternoon Dr Giraldo had reserved an hour for Don Sabas. He found him in bed exhausted, wrapped in a towel from the waist up.

“Was the candy good?” the doctor asked.

“It’s the heat,” Don Sabas lamented, turning his enormous grandmother’s body toward the door. “I took my injection after lunch.”

Dr Giraldo opened his bag on a table placed by the window. The harvest flies were buzzing in the courtyard, and the house had a botanical heat. Seated in the courtyard, Don Sabas urinated like a languid spring. When the doctor put the amber liquid in the test tube, the patient felt comforted. He said, watching the analysis:

“Be very careful, Doctor. I don’t want to die without finding out how this novel comes out.”

Dr Giraldo dropped a blue tablet into the sample.

“What novel?”

“The lampoons.”

Don Sabas followed him with a mild look until he finished heating the tube on the alcohol lamp. He sniffed it. The faded eyes of the patient awaited him with a question.

“It’s fine,” the doctor said as he poured out the sample into the courtyard. Then he scrutinized Don Sabas. “Are you hung up on that business too?”

“Not me,” the sick man said. “But I’m like a Jap enjoying the people’s fright.”

Dr Giraldo prepared the hypodermic syringe.

“Besides,” Don Sabas went on to say, “they already put mine up two days ago. The same nonsense: my sons’ mess and the story about the donkeys.”

The doctor tightened Don Sabas’s artery with a rubber hose. The patient insisted on the story about the donkeys; he had to retell it because the doctor didn’t think he’d heard it.

“It was a donkey deal I made some twenty years ago,” he said. “It so happened that the donkeys I sold were found dead in the morning two days later, with no signs of violence.”

He offered his arm with its flaccid flesh so that the doctor could take the blood sample. When Dr Giraldo covered the prick with cotton, Don Sabas flexed his arm.

“Well, do you know what people made up?”

The doctor shook his head.

“The rumor went around that I had gone into the yard myself at night and shot the donkeys on the inside, sticking the revolver up their assholes.”

Dr Giraldo put the glass tube with the blood sample into his pocket.

“That story’s got every appearance of being true,” he said.

“It was snakes,” Don Sabas said, sitting in bed like an Oriental idol. “But in any case, you have to be a fool to write a lampoon about something that everybody knows.”

“That’s always been a characteristic of lampoons,” the doctor said. “They say what everybody knows, which is almost always sure to be the truth.”

Don Sabas suffered a momentary relapse. “Really,” he murmured, drying the sweat on his dizzy eyelids. He recovered immediately:

“What’s happening is that there isn’t a single fortune in this country that doesn’t have some dead donkey behind it.”

The doctor received the phrase leaning over the washstand. He saw his own reaction reflected in the water: a dental system so perfect that it didn’t seem natural. Looking at the patient over his shoulder, he said:

“I’ve always believed, my dear Don Sabas, that shamelessness is your only virtue.”

The patient grew enthusiastic. His doctor’s knocks had produced a kind of sudden youth in him. “That and my sexual prowess,” he said, accompanying the words with a bending of the arm that might have been a stimulant for the circulation, but which the doctor took as an express lewdness. Don Sabas gave a little bounce on his buttocks.

“That’s why I die laughing at the lampoons,” he went on. “They say that my sons get carried away by every little girl who begins to blossom in these woods, and I say: they’re their father’s sons.”

Before taking his leave, Dr Giraldo had to listen to a spectral recapitulation of Don Sabas’s sexual adventures.

“Happy youth,” the patient finally exclaimed. “Happy times, when a little girl of sixteen cost less than a heifer.”

“Those memories will increase your sugar concentration,” the doctor said.

Don Sabas opened his mouth. “On the contrary,” he replied. “They’re better than your damned insulin shots.”

When he reached the street the doctor had the impression that a delicious soup had begun to circulate in Don Sabas’s arteries. But something else was worrying him then: the lampoons. For some days rumors had been reaching his office. That afternoon, after visiting Don Sabas, he realized that he really hadn’t heard talk about anything else for a week.

He made several visits during the next hour and at every one they talked about the lampoons. He listened to the stories without making any comments, with an apparently indifferent little smile, but really trying to come to a conclusion. He was on his way back to his office when Father Ángel, who was coming from the widow Montiel’s, rescued him from his reflections.

“How are those patients doing, Doctor?” Father Ángel asked.

“Mine are fine, Father,” the doctor answered. “What about yours?”

Father Ángel bit his lips. He took the doctor by the arm and they began to cross the square.

“Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know,” the doctor said. “I’ve heard that there’s a serious epidemic among your clientele.”

Father Ángel made a deviation that to the doctor seemed deliberate.

“I’ve just come from the widow Montiel,” he said. “That poor woman’s nerves have got her worn out.”

“It might be her conscience,” the doctor diagnosed.

“It’s an obsession with death.”

Although they lived in opposite directions, Father Ángel accompanied him to his office.

“Seriously, Father” — the doctor picked up the thread — “what do you think about the lampoons?”

“I don’t think about them,” the priest said. “But if you make me, I’d say that they’re the work of envy in an exemplary town.”

“We doctors didn’t even diagnose like that in the Middle Ages,” Dr Giraldo replied.

They stopped in front of the office. Fanning himself slowly, Father Ángel asserted for the second time that day that “one mustn’t give things an importance they don’t have.” Dr Giraldo felt shaken by a hidden desperation.

“How do you know, Father, that there’s nothing true in what the lampoons say?”

“I’d know it from the confessional.”

The doctor looked him coldly in the eyes.

“All the more serious if you don’t know it from the confessional,” he said.

That afternoon Father Ángel noticed that in the poor people’s houses, too, they were talking about the lampoons, but in a different way and even with a healthy merriment. He ate without appetite, after attending prayers with a thorn of pain in his head, which he attributed to the meatballs for lunch. Then he looked at the moral classification of the movie and, for the first time in his life, felt an obscure pride as he gave the twelve round tolls of absolute prohibition. Finally he put a stool by the street door, feeling that his head was bursting with pain, and got ready to verify publicly which ones were going into the movie contrary to his admonition.

• •

The mayor went in. Sitting in a corner of the orchestra section, he smoked two cigarettes before the film began. The movie house was a courtyard surrounded by a cement wall, covered with zinc plates halfway up in the orchestra, and with grass that seemed to revive every morning, fertilized with chewing gum and cigarette butts. For a moment, the mayor saw the benches of unplaned wood floating in the air over the iron grating that separated the orchestra seats from the balcony, and he noticed a vertiginous undulation in the space on the back wall that was painted white, where the film was projected.

He felt better when the lights went out. Then the strident music of the loudspeaker ceased but the vibration of the electric generator set up in a wooden shack next to the projector became more intense.

Before the movie there were some advertising slides. A trooping of muffled whispers, confused steps, and suppressed laughter moved the darkness for brief moments. Momentarily surprised, the mayor thought that that clandestine entry had the character of a subversive act against Father Ángel’s rigid norms.

Although it might only have been because of the wake of cologne, he recognized the manager of the movie when he passed by.

“You bandit,” he whispered, grabbing him by the arm. “You’ll have to pay a special tax.”

Laughing between his teeth, the manager took the next seat.

“It’s a good picture,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned,” the mayor said, “I’d like them all to be bad. There’s nothing more boring than a moral movie.”

Years before, no one had taken that censorship of the bells very seriously. But every Sunday, at the main mass, Father Ángel would point out from the pulpit and drive from the church the women who had contravened his warning during the week.

“The back door has been my salvation,” the manager said.

The mayor began to follow the ancient newsreel. He spoke, pausing every time there was an item of interest on the screen.

“It’s the same with everything,” he said. “The priest won’t give communion to women in short sleeves and they keep on wearing short sleeves, but they put on fake long sleeves before going to mass.”

After the newsreel, the coming attractions for the next week were shown. They watched them in silence. At the end, the manager leaned over toward the mayor.

“Lieutenant,” he whispered. “Buy this mess from me.”

The mayor didn’t take his eyes off the screen.

“It’s not a good business.”

“Not for me,” the manager said. “But on the other hand, it would be a gold mine for you. It’s obvious: the priest wouldn’t come to you with the business of his little bells.”

The mayor reflected before answering.

“It sounds good to me,” he said.

But he didn’t say anything concrete. He put his feet on the bench in front and lost himself in the turns of a tangled drama which in the end, according to what he thought, didn’t deserve even four bells.

When he left the movie he lingered at the poolroom, where they were playing lotto. It was hot and the radio was sweating out some stony music. After drinking a bottle of soda water, the mayor went off to bed.

He walked unconcerned along the riverbank, sensing the flooded river in the darkness, the sound of its entrails and its smell of a huge animal. Opposite the bedroom door he stopped abruptly. Taking a leap backward, he unholstered his revolver.

“Come out where I can see you,” he said in a tense voice, “or I’ll blow your head off.”

A very sweet voice came out of the darkness.

“Don’t be so nervous, Lieutenant.”

He stood pointing his revolver until the hidden person came out into the light. It was Casandra.

“You escaped just by a hair,” the mayor said.

He had her come to the bedroom. For a long time Casandra spoke, following an irregular course. She sat on the hammock and while she spoke she took off her shoes and looked with a certain candor at her toenails, which were painted a vivid red.

Sitting opposite her, fanning himself with his cap, the mayor followed the conversation with conventional correctness. He had gone back to smoking. When it struck twelve, she lay face down in the hammock, reached out an arm adorned with a set of noisy bracelets, and pinched his nose.

“It’s late, boy,” she said. “Turn out the light.”

The mayor smiled.

“It wasn’t for that,” he said.

She didn’t understand.

“Do you know how to tell fortunes?” the mayor asked.

Casandra sat up in the hammock again. “Of course,” she said. And then, having understood, she put her shoes on.

“But I didn’t bring my cards,” she said.

“Anyone who eats dirt” — the mayor smiled — “carries his own soil.”

He took out a worn deck from the bottom of his suitcase. She examined each card, front and back, with serious attention. “The other cards are better,” she said. “But in any case, the important thing is the message.” The mayor pulled over a small table, sat down across from her, and Casandra laid out the cards.

“Love or business?” she asked.

The mayor dried the sweat on his hands.

“Business,” he said.

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