She was thirty-two, her name was Aurelia, and she had been married eleven years. One Saturday afternoon, she looked through the kitchen window at the garden and saw the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Men of the world, those four horsemen of the Apocalypse. And good-looking. The first from the left was riding a sorrel horse with a dark mane. He was wearing white breeches, black boots, a crimson jacket, and a yellow fez with black pompoms. The second one had a sleeveless tunic overlaid with gold and violet and was barefoot. He was riding on the back of a plump dolphin. The third one had a respectable, black beard, trimmed at right angles. He had donned a gray Prince of Wales suit, white shirt, blue tie and carried a black leather portfolio. He was seated on a folding chair belted to the back of white-haired dromedary. The fourth one made Aurelia smile and realize that they were smiling at her. He was riding a black and gold Harley-Davidson 1200 and was wearing a white helmet and dark goggles and had long, straight, blond hair flying in the wind behind him. The four were riding in the garden without moving from the spot. They rode and smiled at her and she watched them through the kitchen window.
In that manner, she finished washing the two teacups, took off her apron, arranged her hair and went to the living room.
"I saw the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in the garden," she told her husband.
"I'll bet," he said without raising his eyes from his paper.
"What are you reading?" Aurelia asked.
"I said they were given a crown and a sword and a balance and power."
"Oh, right," said her husband.
And after that a week went by as all weeks do--very slowly at first and very quickly toward the end--and on Sunday morning, while she made the coffee, she again saw the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in the garden, but when she went back to the bedroom she didn't say anything to her husband.
The third time she saw them, one Wednesday, alone, in the afternoon, she stood looking at them for a half hour and finally, since she had always wanted to fly in a yellow and red dirigible; and since she had dreamed about being an opera singer, an emperor's lover, a co-pilot to Icarus; since she would have liked to scale black cliffs, laugh at cannibals, traverse the jungles on elephants with purple trappings, seize with her hands the diamonds that lay hidden in mines, preside in the nude over a parade of nocturnal monsters, live under water, domesticate spiders, torture the powerful of the earth, rob trains in the tunnels of the Alps, set palaces on fire, lie in the dark with beggars, climb on the bridges of all the ships in the world; finally--since it was sadly sterile to be a rational and healthy adult--finally, that Wednesday afternoon alone, she put on the long dress she had worn at the last New Year's party given by the company where her husband was assistant sales manager and went out to the garden. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse called her, the blond one on the Harley-Davidson gave her his hand and helped her up onto the seat behind him, and there they went, all five, raging into the storm and singing.
Two days later her husband gave in to family pressure and reported the disappearance of his wife.
"Moral: madness is a flower aflame," said the narrator. Or in other words, it's impossible to inflame the dead, cold, viscous, useless, and sinful ashes of common sense.
If you meet her on the street, cross quickly to the other side and quicken your pace. She’s a dangerous lady. She’s about forty or forty-five, has one married daughter and a son working in San Nicolas; her husband’s a sheet-metal worker. She rises very early, sweeps the sidewalk, sees her husband off, cleans, does the wash, shops, cooks. After lunch she watches television, sews or knits, irons twice a week, and at night goes to bed late. On Saturdays she does a general cleaning and washes windows and waxes the floors. On Sunday mornings she washes the clothes her son brings home—his name is Nestor Eduardo—she kneads dough for noodles or ravioli, and in the afternoon either her sister-inlaw comes to visit or she goes to her daughter’s house. It’s been a long time since she’s been to the movies, but she reads TV Guide and the police report in the newspaper. Her eyes are dark and her hands are rough and her hair is starting to go gray. She catches cold frequently and keeps a photo album in a dresser drawer along with a black crepe dress with lace collar and cuffs.
Her mother never hit her. But when she was six, she got a spanking for coloring on a door, and she had to wash it off with a wet rag. While she was doing it, she thought about doors, all doors, and decided that they were very dumb because they always led to the same places. And the one she was cleaning was definitely the dumbest of all, the one that led to her parents’ bedroom. She opened the door and then it didn’t go to her parents’ bedroom but to the Gobi desert. She wasn’t surprised that she knew it was the Gobi desert even though they hadn’t even taught her in school where Mongolia was and neither she nor her mother nor her grandmother had ever heard of Nan Shan or Khangai Nuru.
She stepped through the door, bent over to scratch the yellowish grit and saw that there was no one, nothing, and the hot wind tousled her hair, so she went back through the open door, closed it and kept on cleaning. And when she finished, her mother grumbled a little more and told her to wash the rag and take the broom to sweep up that sand and clean her shoes. That day she modified her hasty judgment about doors, though not completely, at least not until she understood what was going on.
What had been going on all her life and up until today was that from time to time doors behaved satisfactorily, though in general they were still acting dumb and leading to dining rooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, bedrooms and offices even in the best of circumstances. But two months after the desert, for example, the door that every day led to the bath opened onto the workshop of a bearded man dressed in a long uniform, pointed shoes, and a cap that tilted on one side of his head. The old man’s back was turned as he took something out of a highboy with many small drawers behind a very strange, large wooden machine with a giant steering wheel and screw, in the midst of cold air and an acrid smell. When he turned around and saw her he began to shout at her in a language she didn’t understand.
She stuck out her tongue, dashed out the door, closed it, opened it again, went into the bathroom and washed her hands for lunch.
Again, after lunch, many years later, she opened the door of her room and walked into a battlefield. She dipped her hands in the blood of the wounded and dead and pulled from the neck of a cadaver a crucifix that she wore for a long time under high-necked blouses or dresses without plunging necklines. She now keeps it in a tin box underneath the nightgowns with a brooch, a pair of earrings and a broken wristwatch that used to belong to her mother-in-law. In the same way, involuntarily and by chance, she visited three monasteries, seven libraries, and the highest mountains in the world, and who knows how many theaters, cathedrals, jungles, refrigeration plants, dens of vice, universities, brothels, forests, stores, submarines, hotels, trenches, islands, factories, palaces, hovels, towers and hell.
She’s lost count and doesn’t care; any door could lead anywhere and that has the same value as the thickness of the ravioli dough, her mother’s death, and the life crises that she sees on TV and reads about in TV Guide.
Not long ago she took her daughter to the doctor, and seeing the closed door of a bathroom in the clinic, she smiled. She wasn’t sure because she can never be sure, but she got up and went to the bathroom. However, it was a bathroom; at least there was a nude man in a bathtub full of water. It was all very large, with a high ceiling, marble floor and decorations hanging from the closed windows. The man seemed to be asleep in his white bathtub, short but deep, and she saw a razor on a wrought iron table with feet decorated with iron flowers and leaves and ending in lion’s paws, a razor, a mirror, a curling iron, towels, a box of talcum powder and an earthen bowl with water. She approached on tiptoe, retrieved the razor, tiptoed over to the sleeping man in the tub and beheaded him. She threw the razor on the floor and rinsed her hands in the lukewarm bathtub water. She turned around when she reached the clinic corridor and spied a girl going into the bathroom through the other door. Her daughter looked at her.
“That was quick.”
“The toilet was broken,” she answered.
A few days afterward, she beheaded another man in a blue tent at night. That man and a woman were sleeping mostly uncovered by the blankets of a low, king-size bed, and the wind beat around the tent and slanted the flames of the oil lamps. Beyond it there would be another camp, soldiers, animals, sweat, manure, orders and weapons. But inside there was a sword by the leather and metal uniforms, and with it she cut off the head of the bearded man. The woman stirred and opened her eyes as she went out the door on her way back to the patio that she had been mopping.
On Monday and Thursday afternoons, when she irons shirt collars, she thinks of the slit necks and the blood, and she waits. If it’s summer she goes out to sweep a little after putting away the clothing and until her husband arrives. If it’s windy she sits in the kitchen and knits. But she doesn’t always find sleeping men or staring cadavers. One rainy morning, when she was twenty, she was at a prison, and she made fun of the chained prisoners; one night when the kids were kids and were all living at home, she saw in a square a disheveled woman looking at a gun but not daring to take it out of her open purse. She walked up to her, put the gun in the woman’s hand and stayed there until a car parked at the corner, until the woman saw a man in gray get out and look for his keys in his pocket, until the woman aimed and fired. And another night while she was doing her sixth grade geography homework, she went to look for crayons in her room and stood next to a man who was crying on a balcony. The balcony was so high, so far above the street, that she had an urge to push him to hear the thud down below, but she remembered the orographic map of South America and was about to leave. Anyhow, since the man hadn’t seen her, she did push him and saw him disappear and ran to color in the map so she didn’t hear the thud, only the scream. And in an empty theater, she made a fire underneath the velvet curtain; in a riot she opened the cover to a basement hatchway; in a house, sitting on top of a desk, she shredded a two-thousand-page manuscript; in a clearing of a forest she buried the weapons of the sleeping men; in a river she opened the floodgates of a dike.
Her daughter’s name is Laura Inés, her son has a fiancée in San Nicolás and he’s promised to bring her over on Sunday so she and her husband can meet her. She has to remind herself to ask her sister-in-law for the recipe for orange cake, and Friday on TV is the first episode of a new soap opera. Again, she runs the iron over the front of the shirt and remembers the other side of the doors that are always carefully closed in her house, that other side where the things that happen are much less abominable than the ones we experience on this side, as you can easily understand.
The news spread fast. It would be correct to say that the news moved like a flaming trail of gunpowder, if it weren't for the fact that at this point in our civilization gunpowder was archaeology, ashes in time, the stuff of legend, nothingness. However, it was because of the magic of our new civilization that the news was known all over the world, practically instantaneously.
"Oooh!" the tsarina said.
You have to take into account that Her Gracious and Most Illustrious Virgin Majesty Ekaterina V, Empress of Holy Russia, had been carefully educated in the proper decorum befitting the throne, which meant that she would never have even raised an eyebrow or curved the corner of her lip, far less would she have made an interjection of that rude and vulgar kind. But not only did she say "Oooh!," she also got up and walked through the room until she reached the glass doors of the great balcony. She stopped there. Down below, covered by snow, Saint Leninburg was indifferent and unchanged, the city's eyes squinting under the weight of winter. At the palace, ministers and advisers were excited, on edge.
"And where is this place?" the tsarina asked.
And that is what happened in Russia, which is such a distant and atypical country. In the central states of the continent, there was real commotion. In Bolivia, in Paraguay, in Madagascar, in all the great powers, and in the countries that aspired to be great powers, such as High Peru, Iceland, or Morocco, hasty conversations took place at the highest possible level with knitted brows and hired experts. The strongest currencies became unstable: the guarani rose, the Bolivian peso went down half a point, the crown was discreetly removed from the exchange rates for two long hours, long queues formed in front of the exchanges in front of all the great capitals of the world. President Morillo spoke from the Oruro Palace and used the opportunity to make a concealed warning (some would call it a threat) to the two Peruvian republics and the Minas Gerais secessionist area. Morillo had handed over the presidency of Minas to his nephew, Pepe Morillo, who had proved to be a wet blanket whom everybody could manipulate, and now Morillo bitterly regretted his decision. Morocco and Iceland did little more than give their diplomats a gentle nudge in the ribs, anything to shake them into action, as they imagined them all to be sipping grenadine and mango juice in the deep south while servants in shiny black uniforms stood over them with fans.
The picturesque note came from the Independent States of North America. It could not have been otherwise. Nobody knew that all the states were now once again under the control of a single president, but that's how it was: some guy called Jack Jackson-Franklin, who had been a bit-part actor in videos, and who, aged eighty-seven, had discovered his extremely patriotic vocation of statesman. Aided by his singular and inexplicable charisma, and by his suspect family tree, according to which he was the descendent of two presidents who had ruled over the states during their glory days, he had managed to unify, at least for now, the seventy-nine northern states. Anyway, Mr. Jackson-Franklin said to the world that the Independent States would not permit such a thing to take place. No more, just that they would not permit such a thing to take place. The world laughed uproariously at this.
Over there, in the Saint Leninburg palace, ministers cleared their throats, advisers swallowed saliva, trying to find out if, by bobbing their Adam's apples up and down enough, they might be able to loosen their stiff official shirts.
"Ahem. Ahem. It's in the south. A long way to the south. In the west, Your Majesty."
"It is. Humph. Ahem. It is, Your Majesty, a tiny country in a tiny territory."
"It says that it is in Argentina," the tsarina said, still staring through the window but without paying any attention to the night as it fell over the snow-covered roofs and the frozen shores of the Baltic.
"Ah, yes, that's right, that's right, Your Majesty, a pocket republic."
Sergei Vasilievich Kustkarov, some kind of councilor and, what is more, an educated and sensible man, broke into the conversation.
"Several, Your Majesty, it is several."
And at last the tsarina turned around. Who cared a fig for the Baltic night, the snow-covered rooftops, the roofs themselves, and the city of which they were a part? Heavy silk crackled, starched petticoats, lace.
"Several of what, Councilor Kustkarov, several of what? Don't come to me with your ambiguities."
"I must say, Your Majesty, I had not the slightest intention--"
"Several of what?"
The tsarina looked directly at him, her lips held tightly together, her hands moving unceasingly, and Kustkarov panicked, as well he might.
"Rep-rep-republics, Your Majesty," he blurted out. "Several of them. Apparently, a long time ago, a very long time, it used to be a single territory, and now it is several, several republics, but their inhabitants, the people who live in all of them, all of the republics, are called, they call themselves, the people, that is, Argentinians."
The tsarina turned her gaze away. Kustkarov felt so relieved that he was encouraged to carry on speaking:
"There are seven of them, Your Majesty: Rosario, Entre dos Rios, Ladocta, Ona, Riachuelo, Yujujuy, and Labodegga."
The tsarina sat down.
"We must do something," she said.
Silence. Outside it was not snowing, but inside it appeared to be. The tsarina looked at the transport minister.
"This enters into your portfolio," she said.
Kustkarov sat down, magnificently. How lucky he was to be a councilor, a councilor with no specific duties. The transport minister, on the other hand, turned pale.
"I think, Your Majesty...," he dared to say.
"Don't think! Do something!"
"Yes, Your Majesty," the minister said, and, bowing, started to make his way to the door.
"Where do you think you're going?" the tsarina said, without moving her mouth or twitching an eyelid.
"I'm just, I'm going, I'm just going to see what can be done, Your Majesty."
There's nothing that can be done, Sergei Vasilievich thought in delight, nothing. He realized that he was not upset, but instead he felt happy. And on top of everything else a woman, he thought. Kustkarov was married to Irina Waldoska-Urtiansk, a real beauty, perhaps the most beautiful woman in all of Holy Russia. Perhaps he was being cuckolded; it would have been all too easy for him to find that out, but he did not want to. His thoughts turned in a circle: and on top of everything else a woman. He looked at the tsarina and was struck, not for the first time, by her beauty. She was not so beautiful as Irina, but she was magnificent.
In Rosario it was not snowing, not because it was summer, although it was, but because it never snowed in Rosario. And there weren't any palm trees: the Moroccans would have been extremely disappointed had they known, but their diplomats said nothing about the Rosario flora in their reports, partly because the flora of Rosario was now practically nonexistent, and partly because diplomats are supposed to be above that kind of thing.
Everyone who was not a diplomat, that is to say, everyone, the population of the entire republic that in the last ten years had multiplied vertiginously and had now reached almost two hundred thousand souls, was euphoric, happy, triumphant. They surrounded her house, watched over her as she slept, left expensive imported fruits outside her door, followed her down the street. Some potentate allowed her the use of a Ford 99, which was one of the five cars in the whole country, and a madman who lived in the Espinillos cemetery hauled water all the way up from the Pará lagoon and grew a flower for her which he then gave her.
"How nice," she said, then went on, dreamily, "Will there be flowers where I'm going?"
They assured her that there would be.
She trained every day. As they did not know exactly what it was she had to do to train herself, she got up at dawn, ran around the Independence crater, skipped, did some gymnastic exercises, ate little, learned how to hold her breath, and spent hours and hours sitting or curled into strange positions. She also danced the waltz. She was almost positive that the waltz was not likely to come in handy, but she enjoyed it very much.
Meanwhile, farther away, the trail of gunpowder had become a barrel of dynamite, although dynamite was also a legendary substance and didn't exist. The infoscreens in every country, whether poor or rich, central or peripheral, developed or not, blazed forth with extremely large headlines suggesting dates, inventing biographical details, trying to hide, without much success, their envy and confusion. No one was fooled:
"We have been wretchedly beaten," the citizens of Bolivia said.
"Who would have thought it," pondered the man on the Reykjavík omnibus.
The former transport minister of Holy Russia was off breaking stones in Siberia. Councilor Sergei Vasilievich Kustkarov was sleeping with the tsarina, but that was only a piece of low, yet spicy, gossip that has nothing to do with this story.
"We will not allow this to happen!" Mr. Jackson-Franklin blustered, tugging nervously at his hairpiece. "It is our own glorious history that has set aside for us this brilliant destiny! It is we, we and not this despicable banana republic, who are marked for this glory!"
Mr. Jackson-Franklin also did not know that there were no palm trees or bananas in Rosario, but this was due not to a lack of reports from his diplomats but rather a lack of diplomats. Diplomats are a luxury that a poor country cannot afford, and so poor countries often go to great pains to take offense and recall all the knights commanders and lawyers and doctors and even eventually the generals working overseas, in order to save money on rent and electricity and gas and salaries, not to mention the cost of the banquets and all the money in brown paper envelopes.
But the headlines kept on appearing on the infoscreens: "Argentinian Astronaut Claims She Will Reach Edge of Universe," "Sources Claim Ship Is Spaceworthy in Spite of or Because of Centuries-Long Interment," "Science or Catastrophe?," "Astronaut Not a Woman but a Transsexual" (this in the Imperialskaya Gazeta, the most puritan of the infoscreens, even more so than the Papal Piccolo Osservatore Lombardo), "Ship Launches," "First Intergalactic Journey in Centuries," "We Will Not Allow This to Happen!" (Portland Times).
She was dancing the waltz. She woke up with her heart thumping, tried out various practical hairstyles, ran, skipped, drank only filtered water, ate only olives, avoided spies and journalists, went to see the ship every day, just to touch it. The mechanics all adored her.
"It'll work, they'll see, it'll work," the chief engineer said defiantly.
Nobody contradicted him. No one dared say that it wouldn't.
It would make it, of course it would make it. Not without going through many incredible adventures on its lengthy journey. Lengthy? No one knew who Langevin was anymore, so no one was shocked to discover that his theory contradicted itself, ended up biting its own tail, and that however long the journey took, the observers would only perceive it as having lasted minutes. Someone called Cervantes, a very famous personage back in the early years of human civilization--it was still debated whether he had been a physicist, a poet, or a musician--had suggested a similar theory in one of his lost works.
One autumn dawn the ship took off from the Independence crater, the most deserted part of the whole desert republic of Rosario, at five forty-five in the morning. The exact time is recorded because the inhabitants of the country had all pitched in together to buy a clock, which they thought the occasion deserved (there was one other clock, in the Enclosed Convent of the Servants of Santa Rita de Casino, but because the convent was home to an enclosed order nothing ever went in or out of it, no news, no requests, no answers, no nothing). Unfortunately, they had not had enough money. But then someone had had the brilliant idea which had brought in the money they needed, and Rosario had hired out its army for parades in friendly countries: there weren't that many of them and the ones there were weren't very rich, but they managed to get the cash together. Anyone who was inspired by patriotism and by the proximity of glory had to see those dashing officers, those disciplined soldiers dressed in gold and crimson, protected by shining breastplates, capped off with plumed helmets, their catapults and pouches of stones at their waists, goose-stepping through the capital of Entre Dos Rios or the Padrone Giol vineyards in Labodegga, at the foot of the majestic Andes.
The ship blasted off. It got lost against the sky. Before the inhabitants of Rosario, their hearts in their throats and their eyes clouded by emotion, had time to catch their breath, a little dot appeared up there, getting bigger and bigger, and it was the ship coming back down. It landed at 06:11 on the same morning of that same autumn day. The clock that recorded this is preserved in the Rosario Historical Museum. It no longer works, but anyone can go and see it in its display cabinet in Room A of the Museum. In Room B, in another display case, is the so-called Carballensis Indentic Axe, the fatal tool that cut down all the vegetation of Rosario and turned the whole country into a featureless plain. Good and evil, side by side, shoulder to shoulder.
Twenty-six minutes on Earth, many years on board the ship. Obviously, she did not have a watch or a calendar with her: the republic of Rosario would not have been able to afford either of them. But it was many years, she knew that much.
Leaving the galaxy was a piece of cake. You can do it in a couple of jumps, everyone knows that, following the instructions that Albert Einsteinstein, the multifaceted violin virtuoso, director of sci-fi movies, and student of space-time, gave us a few hundred years back. But the ship did not set sail to the very center of the universe, as its predecessors had done in the great era of colonization and discovery; no, the ship went right to the edge of the universe.
Everyone also knows that there is nothing in the universe, not even the universe itself, which does not grow weaker as you reach its edge. From pancakes to arteries, via love, rubbers, photographs, revenge, bridal gowns, and power. Everything tends to imperceptible changes at the beginning, rapid change afterward; everything at the edge is softer and more blurred, as the threads start to fray from the center to the outskirts.
In the time it took her to take a couple of breaths, a breath and a half, over the course of many years, she passed through habitable and uninhabitable places, worlds which had once been classified as existent, worlds which did not appear and had never appeared and probably would never appear in any cartographical survey. Planets of exiles, singing sands, minutes and seconds in tatters, whirlpools of nothingness, space junk, and that's without even mentioning those beings and things, all of which stood completely outside any possibility of description, so much so that we tend not to perceive them when we look at them; all of this, and shock, and fear more than anything else, and loneliness. The hair grew gray at her temples, her flesh lost its firmness, wrinkles appeared around her eyes and her mouth, her knees and ankles started to act up, she slept less than before and had to half close her eyes and lean backward in order to make out the numbers on the consoles. And she was so tired that it was almost unbearable. She did not waltz any longer: she put an old tape into an old machine and listened and moved her gray head in time with the orchestra.
She reached the edge of the universe. Here was where everything came to an end, so completely that even her tiredness disappeared and she felt once again as full of enthusiasm as she had when she was younger. There were hints, of course: salt storms, apparitions, little brushstrokes of white against the black of space, large gaps made of sound, echoes of long-dead voices that had died giving sinister orders, ash, drums; but when she reached the edge itself, these indications gave way to space signage: "End," "You Are Reaching the Universe Limits," "The Cosmos General Insurance Company, YOUR Company, Says: GO NO FURTHER," "End of Protected Cosmonaut Space," etc., as well as the scarlet polygon that the OMUU had adopted to use as a sign for that's it, abandon all hope, the end.
All right, so she was here. The next thing to do was go back. But the idea of going back never occurred to her. Women are capricious creatures, just like little boys: as soon as they get what they want, then they want something else. She carried on.
There was a violent judder as she crossed the limit. Then there was silence, peace, calm. All very alarming, to tell the truth. The needles did not move, the lights did not flash, the ventilation system did not hiss, her alveoli did not vibrate, her chair did not swivel, the screens were blank. She got up, went to the portholes, looked out, saw nothing. It was logical enough:
"Of course," she said to herself, "when the universe comes to an end, then there's nothing."
She looked out through the portholes a little more, just in case. She still could see nothing, but she had an idea.
"But I'm here," she said. "Me and the ship."
She put on a space suit and walked out into the nothing.
When the ship landed in the Independence crater in the republic of Rosario, twenty-six minutes after it had taken off, when the hatch opened and she appeared on the ramp, the spirit of Paul Langevin flew over the crater, laughing fit to burst. The only people who heard him were the madman who had grown the flower for her in the Espinillos cemetery and a woman who was to die that day. No one else had ears or fingers or tongue or feet, far less did they have eyes to see him.
It was the same woman who had left, the very same, and this calmed the crowds down at the same time as it disappointed them, all the inhabitants of the country, the diplomats, the spies, and the journalists. It was only when she came down the gangplank and they came closer to her that they saw the network of fine wrinkles around her eyes. All other signs of her old age had vanished, and had she wished, she could have waltzed tirelessly, for days and nights on end, from dusk till dawn till dusk.
The journalists all leaned forward; the diplomats made signals, which they thought were subtle and unseen, to the bearers of their sedan chairs to be ready to take them back to their residences as soon as they had heard what she had to say; the spies took photographs with the little cameras hidden away in their shirt buttons or their wisdom teeth; all the old people put their hands together; the men raised their fists to their heart; the little boys pranced; the young girls smiled.
And then she told them what she had seen:
"I took off my suit and my helmet," she said, "and walked along the invisible avenues that smelled of violets."
She did not know that the whole world was waiting to hear what she said; that Ekaterina V had made Sergei Vasilievich get up at five o'clock in the morning so that he could accompany her to the grand salon and wait there for the news; that one of the seventy-nine Northern States had declared its independence because the president had not stopped anything from happening or obtained any glory, and this had lit the spark of rebellion in the other seventy-eight states, and this had made Mr. Jackson-Franklin leave the White House without his wig, in pajamas, freezing and furious; that Bolivia, Paraguay, and Iceland had allowed the two Peruvian republics to join their new alliance and defense treaty set up against a possible attack from space; that the high command of the Paraguayan aeronautical engineers had promised to build a ship that could travel beyond the limits of the universe, always assuming that they could be granted legal immunity and a higher budget, a declaration that made the guarani fall back the two points that it had recently risen and then another one as well; that Don Schicchino Giol, the new padrone of the Republic of Labodegga at the foot of the majestic Andes had been woken from his most recent drinking bout to be told that he had now to sign a declaration of war against the Republic of Rosario, now that they knew the strength of the enemy's forces.
"Eh? What? Hunh?" Don Schicchino said.
"I saw the nothingness of everything," she said, "and it was all infused with the unmistakable smell of wood violets. The nothingness of the world is like the inside of a stomach throbbing above your head. The nothingness of people is like the back of a painting, black, with glasses and wires that release dreams of order and imperfect destinies. The nothingness of creatures with leathery wings is a crack in the air and the rustle of tiny feet. The nothingness of history is the massacre of the innocents. The nothingness of words, which is a throat and a hand that break whatever they touch on perforated paper; the nothingness of music, which is music. The nothingness of precincts, of crystal glasses, of seams, of hair, of liquids, of lights, of keys, of food."
When she had finished her list, the potentate who owned the Ford 99 said that he would give it to her, and that in the afternoon he would send one of his servants with a liter of naphtha so that she could take the car out for a spin.
"Thank you," she said. "You are very generous."
The madman went away, looking up to the skies; who knows what he was searching for. The woman who was going to die that day asked herself what she should eat on Sunday, when her sons and their wives came to lunch. The president of the Republic of Rosario gave a speech.
And everything in the world carried on the same, apart from the fact that Ekaterina V named Kustkarov her interior minister, which terrified the poor man but which was welcomed with open arms by Irina as an opportunity for her to refresh her wardrobe and her stock of lovers. And Jack Jackson-Franklin sold his memoirs to one of Paraguay's more sophisticated magazines for a stellar amount of money, which allowed him to retire to live in Imerina. And six spaceships from six major world powers set off to the edges of the universe and were never seen again.
She married a good man who had a house with a balcony, a white bicycle, and a radio which, on clear days, could pick up the radio plays that LLL1 Radio Magnum transmitted from Entre Dos Rios, and she waltzed in white satin shoes. The day that her first son was born a very pale green shoot grew out of the ground on the banks of the great lagoon.
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