Eva is Inside her Cat
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
All of a sudden she noticed that her beauty had fallen all apart on her, that it
had begun to pain her physically like a tumor or a cancer. She still remembered
the weight of the privilege she had borne over her body during adolescence,
which she had dropped now--who knows where?--with the weariness of resignation,
with the final gesture of a declining creature. It was impossible to bear that
burden any longer. She had to drop that useless attribute of her personality
somewhere; as she turned a corner, somewhere in the outskirts. Or leave it
behind on the coatrack of a second-rate restaurant like some old useless coat.
She was tired of being the center of attention, of being under siege from men's
long looks. At night, when insomnia stuck its pins into her eyes, she would have
liked to be an ordinary woman, without any special attraction. Everything was
hostile to her within the four walls of her room. Desperate, she could feel her
vigil spreading out under her skin, into her head, pushing the fever upward
toward the roots of her hair. It was as if her arteries had become peopled with
hot, tiny insects who, with the approach of dawn, awoke each day and ran about
on their moving feet in a rending subcutaneous adventure in that place of clay
made fruit where her anatomical beauty had found its home. In vain she struggled
to chase those terrible creatures away. She couldn't. They were part of her own
organism. They'd been there, alive, since much before her physical existence.
They came from the heart of her father, who had fed them painfully during his
nights of desperate solitude. Or maybe they had poured into her arteries through
the cord that linked her to her mother ever since the beginning of the world.
There was no doubt that those insects had not been born spontaneously inside her
body. She knew that they came from back there, that all who bore her surname had
to bear them, had to suffer them as she did when insomnia held unconquerable
sway until dawn. It was those very insects who painted that bitter expression,
that unconsolable sadness on the faces of her forebears. She had seen them
looking out of their extinguished existence, out of their ancient portraits,
victims of that same anguish. She still remembered the disquieting face of the
greatgrandmother who, from her aged canvas, begged for a minute of rest, a
second of peace from those insects who there, in the channels of her blood, kept
on martyrizing her, pitilessly beautifying her. No. Those insects didn't belong
to her. They came, transmitted from generation to generation, sustaining with
their tiny armor all the prestige of a select caste, a painfully select group.
Those insects had been born in the womb of the first woman who had had a
beautiful daughter. But it was necessary, urgent, to put a stop to that heritage.
Someone must renounce the eternal transmission of that artificial beauty. It was
no good for women of her breed to admire themselves as they came back from their
mirrors if during the night those creatures did their slow, effective, ceaseless
work with a constancy of centuries. It was no longer beauty, it was a sickness
that had to be halted, that had to be cut off in some bold and radical way.
She still remembered the endless hours spent on that bed sown with hot needles.
Those nights when she tried to speed time along so that with the arrival of
daylight the beasts would stop hurting her. What good was beauty like that?
Night after night, sunken in her desperation, she thought it would have been
better for her to have been an ordinary woman, or a man. But that useless virtue
was denied her, fed by insects of remote origin who were hastening the
irrevocable arrival of her death. Maybe she would have been happy if she had had
the same lack of grace, that same desolate ugliness, as her Czechoslovakian
friend who had a dog's name. She would have been better off ugly, so that she
could sleep peacefully like any other Christian.
She cursed her ancestors. They were to blame for her insomnia. They had
transmitted that exact, invariable beauty, as if after death mothers shook and
renewed their heads in order to graft them onto the trunks of their daughters.
It was as if the same head, a single head, had been continuously transmitted,
with the same ears, the same nose, the identical mouth, with its weighty
intelligence, to all the women who were to receive it irremediably like a
painful inheritance of beauty. It was there, in the transmission of the head,
that the eternal microbe that came through across generations had been
accentuated, had taken on personality, strength, until it became an invincible
being, an incurable illness, which upon reaching her, after having passed
through a complicated process of judgment, could no longer be borne and was
bitter and painful . . . just like a tumor or a cancer.
It was during those hours of wakefulness that she remembered the things
disagreeable to her fine sensibility. She remembered the objects that made up
the sentimental universe where, as in a chemical stew, those microbes of despair
had been cultivated. During those nights, with her big round eves open and
frightened, she bore the weight of the darkness that fell upon her temples like
molten lead. Everything was asleep around her. And from her corner, in order to
bring on sleep, she tried to go back over her childhood memories.
But that remembering always ended with a terror of the unknown. Always, after
wandering through the dark corners of the house, her thoughts would find
themselves face to face with fear. Then the struggle would begin. The real
struggle against three unmovable enemies. She would never--no, she would
never--be able to shake the fear from her head. She would have to bear it as it
clutched at her throat. And all just to live in that ancient mansion, to sleep
alone in that corner, away from the rest of the world.
Her thoughts always went down along the damp, dark passageways, shaking the dry
cobweb-covered dust off the portraits. That disturbing and fearsome dust that
fell from above, from the place where the bones of her ancestors were falling
apart. Invariably she remembered the "boy." She imagined him there,
sleepwalking under the grass in the courtyard beside the orange tree, a handful
of wet earth in his mouth. She seemed to see him in his clay depths, digging
upward with his nails, his teeth, fleeing the cold that bit into his back,
looking for the exit into the courtyard through that small tunnel where they had
placed him along with the snails. In winter she would hear him weeping with his
tiny sob, mud-covered, drenched with rain. She imagined him intact. Just as they
had left him five years before in that water-filled hole. She couldn't think of
him as having decomposed. On the contrary, he was probably most handsome sailing
along in that thick water as on a voyage with no escape. Or she saw him alive
but frightened, afraid of feeling himself alone, buried in such a somber
courtyard. She herself had been against their leaving him there, under the
orange tree, so close to the house. She was afraid of him. She knew that on
nights when insomnia hounded her he would sense it. He would come back along the
wide corridors to ask her to stay with him, ask her to defend him against those
other insects, who were eating at the roots of his violets. He would come back
to have her let him sleep beside her as he did when he was alive. She was afraid
of feeling him beside her again after he had leaped over the wall of death. She
was afraid of stealing those hands that the "boy" would always keep
closed to warm up his little piece of ice. She wished, after she saw him turned
into cement, like the statue of fear fallen in the mud, she wished that they
would take him far away so that she wouldn't remember him at night. And yet they
had left him there, where he was imperturbable now, wretched, feeding his blood
with the mud of earthworms. And she had to resign herself to seeing him return
from the depths of his shadows. Because always, invariably, when she lay awake
she began to think about the "boy," who must be calling her from his
piece of earth to help him flee that absurd death.
But now, in her new life, temporal and spaceless, she was more tranquil. She
knew that outside her world there, everything would keep going on with the same
rhythm as before; that her room would still be sunken in early-morning darkness,
and her things, her furniture, her thirteen favorite books, all in place. And
that on her unoccupied bed, the body aroma that filled the void of what had been
a whole woman was only now beginning to evaporate. But how could "that"
happen? How could she, after being a beautiful woman, her blood peopled by
insects, pursued by the fear of the total night, have the immense, wakeful
nightmare now of entering a strange, unknown world where all dimensions had been
eliminated? She remembered. That night--the night of her passage--had been
colder than usual and she was alone in the house, martyrized by insomnia. No one
disturbed the silence, and the smell that came from the garden was a smell of
fear. Sweat broke out on her body as if the blood in her arteries were pouring
out its cargo of insects. She wanted someone to pass by on the street, someone
who would shout, would shatter that halted atmosphere. For something to move in
nature, for the earth to move around the sun again. But it was useless.
There was no waking up even for those imbecilic men who had fallen asleep under
her ear, inside the pillow. She, too, was motionless. The walls gave off a
strong smell of fresh paint, that thick, grand smell that you don't smell with
your nose but with your stomach. And on the table the single clock, pounding on
the silence with its mortal machinery. "Time . . . oh, time!" she
sighed, remembering death. And there in the courtyard, under the orange tree,
the "boy" was still weeping with his tiny sob from the other world.
She took refuge in all her beliefs. Why didn't it dawn right then and there or
why didn't she die once and for all? She had never thought that beauty would
cost her so many sacrifices. At that moment--as usual--it still pained her on
top of her fear. And underneath her fear those implacable insects were still
martyrizing her. Death had squeezed her into life like a spider, biting her in a
rage, ready to make her succumb. But the final moment was taking its time. Her
hands, those hands that men squeezed like imbeciles with manifest animal
nervousness, were motionless, paralyzed by fear, by that irrational terror that
came from within, with no motive, just from knowing that she was abandoned in
that ancient house. She tried to react and couldn't. Fear had absorbed her
completely and remained there, fixed, tenacious, almost corporeal, as if it were
some invisible person who had made up his mind not to leave her room. And the
most upsetting part was that the fear had no justification at all, that it was a
unique fear, without any reason, a fear just because.
The saliva had grown thick on her tongue. That hard gum that stuck to her palate
and flowed because she was unable to contain it was bothersome between her teeth.
It was a desire that was quite different from thirst. A superior desire that she
was feeling for the first time in her life. For a moment she forgot about her
beauty, her insomnia, and her irrational fear. She didn't recognize herself. For
an instant she thought that the microbes had left her body. She felt that they'd
come out stuck to her saliva. Yes, that was all very fine. It was fine that the
insects no longer occupied her and that she could sleep now, but she had to find
a way to dissolve that resin that dulled her tongue. If she could only get to
the pantry and . . . But what was she thinking about? She gave a start of
surprise. She'd never felt "that desire." The urgency of the acidity
had debilitated her, rendering useless the discipline that she had faithfully
followed for so many years ever since the day they had buried the
"boy." It was foolish, but she felt revulsion about eating an orange.
She knew that the "boy" had climbed up to the orange blossoms and that
the fruit of next autumn would be swollen with his flesh, cooled by the coolness
of his death. No. She couldn't eat them. She knew that under every orange tree
in the world there was a boy buried, sweetening the fruit with the lime of his
bones. Nevertheless, she had to eat an orange now. It was the only thing for
that gum that was smothering her. It was the foolishness to think that the
"boy" was inside a fruit. She would take advantage of that moment in
which beauty had stopped paining her to get to the pantry. But wasn't that
strange? It was the first time in her life that she'd felt a real urge to eat an
orange. She became happy, happy. Oh, what pleasure! Eating an orange. She didn't
know why, but she'd never had such a demanding desire. She would get up, happy
to be a normal woman again, singing merrily until she got to the pantry, singing
merrily like a new woman, newborn. She would,even get to the courtyard and . . .
Her memory was suddenly cut off. She remembered that she had tried to get up and
that she was no longer in her bed, that her body had disappeared, that her
thirteen favorite books were no longer there, that she was no longer she, now
that she was bodiless, floating, drifting over an absolute nothingness, changed
into an amorphous dot, tiny, lacking direction. She was unable to pinpoint what
had happened. She was confused. She just had the sensation that someone had
pushed her into space from the top of a precipice. She felt changed into an
abstract, imaginary being. She felt changed into an in corporeal woman,
something like her suddenly having entered that high and unknown world of pure
She was afraid again. But it was a different fear from what she had felt a
moment before. It was no longer the fear of the "boy" 's weeping. It
was a terror of the strange, of what was mysterious and unknown in her new world.
And to think that all of it had happened so innocently, with so much naivete on
her part. What would she tell her mother when she told her what had happened
when she got home? She began to think about how alarmed the neighbors would be
when they opened the door to her bedroom and discovered that the bed was empty,
that the locks had not been touched, that no one had been able to enter or to
leave, and that, nonetheless, she wasn't there. She imagined her mother's
desperate movements as she searched through the room, conjecturing, wondering
"what could have become of that girl?" The scene was clear to her. The
neighbors would arrive and begin to weave comments together--some of them
malicious--concerning her disappearance. Each would think according to his own
and particular way of thinking. Each would try to offer the most logical
explanation, the most acceptable, at least, while her mother would run along all
the corridors in the big house, desperate, calling her by name.
And there she would be. She would contemplate the moment, detail by detail, from
a corner, from the ceiling, from the chinks in the wall, from anywhere; from the
best angle, shielded by her bodiless state, in her spacelessness. It bothered
her, thinking about it. Now she realized her mistake. She wouldn't be able to
give any explanation, clear anything up, console anybody. No living being could
be informed of her transformation. Now--perhaps the only time that she needed
them--she wouldn't have a mouth, arms, so that everybody could know that she was
there, in her corner, separated from the three-dimensional world by an
unbridgeable distance. In her new life she was isolated, completely prevented
from grasping emotions. But at every moment something was vibrating in her, a
shudder that ran through her, overwhelming her, making her aware of that other
physical universe that moved outside her world. She couldn't hear, she couldn't
see, but she knew about that sound and that sight. And there, in the heights of
her superior world, she began to know that an environment of anguish surrounded
Just a moment before--according to our temporal world-she had made the passage,
so that only now was she beginning to know the peculiarities, the
characteristics, of her new world. Around her an absolute, radical darkness spun.
How long would that darkness last? Would she have to get used to it for
eternity? Her anguish grew from her concentration as she saw herself sunken in
that thick impenetrable fog: could she be in limbo? She shuddered. She
remembered everything she had heard about limbo. If she really was there,
floating beside her were other pure spirits, those of children who had died
without baptism, who had been dying for a thousand years. In the darkness she
tried to find next to her those beings who must have been much purer, ever so
much simpler, than she. Completely isolated from the physical world, condemned
to a sleepwalking and eternal life. Maybe the "boy" was there looking
for an exit that would lead him to his body.
But no. Why should she be in limbo? Had she died, perhaps? No. It was simply a
change in state, a normal passage from the physical world to an easier,
uncomplicated world, where all dimensions had been eliminated.
Now she would not have to bear those subterranean insects. Her beauty had
collapsed on her. Now, in that elemental situation, she could be happy.
Although--oh!--not completely happy, because now her greatest desire, the desire
to eat an orange, had become impossible. It was the only thing that might have
caused her still to want to be in her first life. To be able to satisfy the
urgency of the acidity that still persisted after the passage. She tried to
orient herself so as to reach the pantry and feel, if nothing else, the cool and
sour company of the oranges. It was then that she discovered a new
characteristic of her world: she was everywhere in the house, in the courtyard,
on the roof, even in the "boy" 's orange tree. She was in the whole
physical world there beyond. And yet she was nowhere. She became upset again.
She had lost control over herself. Now she was under a superior will, she was a
useless being, absurd, good for nothing. Without knowing why, she began to feel
sad. She almost began to feel nostalgia for her beauty: for the beauty that had
foolishly ruined her.
But one supreme idea reanimated her. Hadn't she heard, perhaps, that pure
spirits can penetrate any body at will? After all, what harm was there in trying?
She attempted to remember what inhabitant of the house could be put to the proof.
If she could fulfill her aim she would be satisfied: she could eat the orange.
She remembered. At that time the servants were usually not there. Her mother
still hadn't arrived. But the need to eat an orange, joined now to the curiosity
of seeing herself incarnate in a body different from her own, obliged her to act
at once. And yet there was no one there in whom she could incarnate herself. It
was a desolating bit of reason: there was nobody in the house. She would have to
live eternally isolated from the outside world, in her undimensional world,
unable to eat the first orange. And all because of a foolish thing. It would
have been better to go on bearing up for a few more years under that hostile
beauty and not wipe herself out forever, making herself useless, like a
conquered beast. But it was too late.
She was going to withdraw, disappointed, into a distant region of the universe,
to a place where she could forget all her earthly desires. But something made
her suddenly hold back. The promise of a better future had opened up in her
unknown region. Yes, there was someone in the house in whom she could
reincarnate herself: the cat! Then she hesitated. It was difficult to resign
herself to live inside an animal. She would have soft, white fur, and a great
energy for a leap would probably be concentrated in her muscles. And she would
feel her eyes glow in the dark like two green coals. And she would have white,
sharp teeth to smile at her mother from her feline heart with a broad and good
animal smile. But no! It couldn't be. She imagined herself quickly inside the
body of the cat, running through the corridors of the house once more, managing
four uncomfortable legs, and that tail would move on its own, without rhythm,
alien to her will. What would life look like through those green and luminous
eyes? At night she would go to mew at the sky so that it would not pour its
moonlit cement down on the face of the "boy," who would be on his back
drinking in the dew. Maybe in her status as a cat she would also feel fear. And
maybe in the end, she would be unable to eat the orange with that carnivorous
mouth. A coldness that came from right then and there, born of the very roots of
her spirit quivered in her memory. No. It was impossible to incarnate herself in
the cat. She was afraid of one day feeling in her palate in her throat in all
her quadruped organism, the irrevocable desire to eat a mouse. Probably when her
spirit began to inhabit the cat s body she would no longer feel any desire to
eat an orange but the repugnant and urgent desire to eat a mouse. She shuddered
on thinking about it, caught between her teeth after the chase. She felt it
struggling in its last attempts at escape, trying to free itself to get back to
its hole again. No. Anything but that. It was preferable to stay there for
eternity in that distant and mysterious world of pure spirits.
But it was difficult to resign herself to live forgotten forever. Why did she
have to feel the desire to eat a mouse? Who would rule in that synthesis of
woman and cat? Would the primitive animal instinct of the body rule, or the pure
will of the woman? The answer was crystal clear. There was no reason to be
afraid. She would incarnate herself in the cat and would eat her desired orange.
Besides, she would be a strange being, a cat with the intelligence of a
beautiful woman. She would be the center of all attention. . . . It was then,
for the first time, that she understood that above all her virtues what was in
command was the vanity of a metaphysical woman.
Like an insect on the alert which raises its antennae, she put her energy to
work throughout the house in search of the cat. It must still be on top of the
stove at that time, dreaming that it would wake up with a sprig of heliotrope
between its teeth. But it wasn't there. She looked for it again, but she could
no longer find the stove. The kitchen wasn't the same. The corners of the house
were strange to her; they were no longer those dark corners full of cobwebs. The
cat was nowhere to be found. She looked on the roof, in the trees, in the drains,
under the bed, in the pantry. She found everything confused. Where she expected
to find the portraits of her ancestors again, she found only a bottle of arsenic.
From there on she found arsenic all through the house, but the cat had
disappeared. The house was no longer the same as before. What had happened to
her things? Why were her thirteen favorite books now covered with a thick coat
of arsenic? She remembered the orange tree in the courtyard. She looked for it,
and tried to find the "boy" again in his pit of water. But the orange
tree wasn't in its place and the "boy" was nothing now but a handful
of arsenic mixed with ashes underneath a heavy concrete platform. Now she really
was going to sleep. Everything was different. And the house had a strong smell
of arsenic that beat on her nostrils as if from the depths of a pharmacy.
Only then did she understand that three thousand years had passed since the day
she had had a desire to eat the first orange.