But Blanca was used to living by herself When all was said and done, she had found peace in her household chores, her ceramics studio, and her creches of made-up animals in which the only figures that corresponded to the laws of reality were the Holy Family lost in a crowd of monsters. The only man in her life was Pedro Tercero, for she was born to have one love. The strength of this immutable desire saved her from the mediocrity and sadness of her fate. She was faithful to him even in those moments when he lost himself in a sea of straight-haired, long-boned nymphs, and never loved him any the less for his digressions. At first she thought she would die every time he moved away from her, but she soon realized that his absences were only as long as a sigh and that he invariably returned more in love and sweeter than ever. Blanca preferred those furtive hotel rendezvous with her lover to the routine of everyday life, the weariness of marriage and the shared poverty at the end of every month, the bad taste in the mouth on waking up, the tedium of Sundays, and the complaints of old age. She was an incurable romantic. Every once in a while she was tempted to take her clown’s suitcase and whatever was left of the jewels from the sock and go off with her daughter to live with him, but she always lost her nerve. Perhaps she feared the grandiose love that had stood so many tests would not be able to withstand the most dreadful test of all: living together. Alba was growing rapidly, and Blanca understood that she would not be able to rely much longer on the excuse that she had to watch over her daughter in order to postpone her lover’s needs, but she still preferred to put off the decision to some other time. Actually, much as she feared routine, she was horrified by Pedro Tercero’s way of living, and by his modest little house – in a working-class neighborhood among hundreds of others as poorly built of boards and corrugated metal, with packed earth floors and a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. For her, Pedro moved out of his neighborhood into a downtown apartment, thereby, without intending to do so, ascending to the middle class to which he had never aspired. But even this was not enough for Blanca, who found the apartment sordid, dark, and narrow and the building crowded. She said she could not let Alba grow up there, playing with other children in the street and on the steps, and attending public school. Thus Blanca’s youth went by and she entered middle age, resigned to the fact that her only moments of pleasure would come when she dressed up in her best clothes, her perfume, and her whorish underwear, which captivated Pedro Tercero and which she hid, red with shame, in the bottom of her wardrobe, imagining the explanations she would have to give if anyone discovered them. This woman who was so down to earth and practical in all other aspects of life sublimated her childhood passion and lived it tragically. She fed it with fantasies, idealized it, savagely defended it, stripped it of its prosaic truth, and turned it into the kind of love one found in novels.

As for Alba, she learned not to mention Pedro Tercero Garcia’s name because she understood the effect it caused in the family. She guessed that something terrible had taken place between her grandfather and the man with the missing fingers who kissed her mother on the mouth, but everyone, even Pedro Tercero himself, gave evasive answers to her questions. Sometimes, in the intimacy of their bedroom, Blanca told her anecdotes about him and taught her his songs, warning her not to hum them in the house. But she never told her that he was her father, and she even seemed to have forgotten it herself She recalled the past as a series of violent acts, abandonments, and sorrows, and she was not certain things had been the way she remembered. The episode of the mummies, the photographs, and the hairless Indian in Louis XV shoes that had prompted her flight from her husband’s house had grown hazy with time. She had told and retold the story of the count’s death of fever in the desert so often that she had come to believe it. Years later, the day her daughter came to tell her that the body of Jean de Satigny was lying in the icebox at the morgue, she was not relieved, for she had felt like a widow for years. Nor did she attempt to justify her lie. She took her old black tailored suit from the wardrobe, arranged the hairpins in her bun, and went with Alba to bury the Frenchman in the main cemetery, in a municipal grave, which was where the poor ended up, because Senator Trueba refused to make room for him in the salmon-colored mausoleum. Mother and daughter walked alone behind the black coffin they arranged to buy with Jaime’s help. They felt a little ridiculous in the oppressive summer heat, with a bouquet of wilting flowers in their hands and not a single tear for the solitary body they were laying to rest.
“I see my father didn’t have a single friend,” Alba observed.
Even on that occasion Blanca did not tell her daughter the truth.