Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
Love in the
Time of Cholera, 1988
from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
Death of Dr.
Death of Dr. Juvenal Urbino:
He was wearing his socks, and his shirt was
without its starched collar; his elastic suspenders with the green
stripes hung down from his waist. The mere idea of having to change
for the funeral irritated him. Soon he stopped reading, placed one
book on top of the other and began to rock very slowly in the wicker
rocking chair, contemplating with regret the banana plants in the
mire of the patio, the stripped mango, the flying ants that came
after the rain, the ephemeral splendor of another afternoon that
would never return. He had forgotten that he ever owned a parrot
from Paramaribo whom he loved as if he were a human being, when
suddenly he heard him say: "Royal parrot," His voice sounded close
by, almost next to him, and he then saw him in the lowest branch of
the mango tree.
"You scoundrel!" he shouted.
The parrot answered in an identical voice:
"You’re even more of a scoundrel, Doctor."
He continue to talk to him, keeping him in view
while he put on his boots with great care so as not to frighten him
and pulled his suspenders up over his arms and went down to the
patio, which was full of mud, testing the ground with his stick so
that he would not trip on the three steps of the terrace.
parrot did not move, and perched so close to the ground that Dr.
Urbino held out his walking stick for him so that he could sit on
the silver handle, as was his custom, but the parrot sidestepped and
jumped to the next branch, a little higher up but easier to reach
since the house ladder had been leaning against it even before the
arrival of the fireman. Dr. Urbino calculated the height and thought
that if he climbed two rungs he would be able to catch him. He
stepped onto the first, singing a disarming, friendly song to
distract the attention of the churlish bird, who repeated the words
without the music but sidled still farther out on the branch. He
climbed to the second rung without difficulty, holding on to the
ladder with both hands, and the parrot began to repeat the entire
song without moving from the spot. He climbed to the third rung and
then the fourth, for he had miscalculated the height of the branch,
and then he grasped the ladder with his left hand and tried to seize
the parrot with his right. Digna Pardo, the old servant,
coming to remind
him that he would be late for the funeral, saw the back of a man
standing on the ladder, and she would not have believed that he was
who he was if it had not been for the green stripes on the elastic
"Santisimo Sacramento!" she shrieked. "You’ll kill
Dr. Urbino caught the parrot around the neck with a
ca y est
But he released him immediately because the ladder slipped from
under his feet and for an instant he was suspended in air and then
he realized that he had died without Communion, without time to
repent of anything or to say goodbye to anyone, at seven minutes
after four on Pentecost Sunday.
Fermina Daza was in the kitchen tasting the soup for
supper when she heard Digna Pardo’s horrified shriek and the
shouting of the servants and then of the entire neighborhood. She
dropped the tasting spoon and tried her best to run despite the
invincible weight of her age, screaming like a mad woman without
knowing yet what had happened under the mango leaves, and her heart
jumped inside her ribs when she saw her man lying on his back in the
mud, dead to this life but still resisting death’s final blow for
one last minute so that she would have time to come to him. He
recognized her despite the uproar, through his tears of unrepeatable
sorrow at dying without her, and he looked at her for the last and
final time with eyes more luminous, more grief-stricken, more
grateful than she had ever seen them in half a century of a shared
life, and he managed to say to her with his last breath:
"Only God knows how much I loved you."
It was a memorable death, and not without reason.