Eating Earth

One of my favorite characters in literature is Rebecca from One Hundred Years of Solitude. Rebecca suffers from what Garcia Marquez would call angst and psychologists might call pica.  She arrived orphaned at the family house, sucking her thumb and dragging a bag full of her parents’ bones.

Young Rebecca comforts herself by eating earth.  When she’s grown and scorned by the dainty pianist she loves, Rebecca surreptitiously resumes:

Pietro Crespi came back to repair the pianola.  Rebecca and Amaranta helped him put the strings in order and helped him with their laughter at the mixup of the melodies.  It was extremely pleasant and so chaste in its way that Ursula ceased her vigilance.

On the eve of his departure a farewell dance for him was improvised with the pianola and with Rebecca he put on a skillful demonstration of modern dances.  Arcadio and Amaranta matched them in grace and skill.  But the exhibition was interrupted because Pilar Ternera, who was at the door with the onlookers, had a fight, biting and hairpulling, with a woman who had dared to comment that Arcadio had a woman’s behind.

Toward midnight Pietro Crespi took his leave with a sentimental little speech, and he promised to return very soon.  Rebecca accompanied him to the door, and having closed up the house and put out the lamps, she went to her room to weep.  It was an inconsolable weeping that lasted for several days, the cause of which was not known even by Amaranta.

Her hermetism was not odd.  Although she seemed expansive and cordial, she had a solitary character and an impenetrable heart.  She was a splendid adolescent with long and firm bones, but she still insisted on using the small wooden rocking chair with which she had arrived at the house, reinforced many times and with the arms gone.

No one had discovered that even at that age she still had the habit of sucking her finger.  That was why she would not lose an opportunity to lock herself in the bathroom and had acquired the habit of sleeping with her face to the wall.

On rainy afternoons, embroidering and with a group of friends on the begonia porch, she would lose the thread of the conversation and a tear of nostalgia would salt her palate when she saw the strips of damp earth and the piles of mud that the earthworms had pushed up in the garden.  Those secret tastes, defeated in the past by oranges and rhubarb, broke out into an irrepressible urge when she began to weep.

She went back to eating earth.  The first time she did it almost out of curiosity, sure that the bad taste would be the best cure for the temptation.  And, in fact, she could not bear the earth in her mouth.  But she persevered, overcome by the growing anxiety, and little by little she was getting back her ancestral appetite, the taste of primary minerals, the unbridled satisfaction of what was the original food.

She would put handfuls of earth in her pockets, and ate them in small bits without being seen, with a confused feeling of pleasure and rage, as she instructed her girl friends in the most difficult needlepoint and spoke about other men, who did not deserve the sacrifice of having one eat the whitewash on the walls because of them.

The handfuls of earth made the only man who deserved that show of degradation less remote and more certain, as if the ground that he walked on with his fine patent leather boots in another part of the world were transmitting to her the weight and the temperature of his blood in a mineral savor that left a harsh aftertaste in her mouth and a sediment of peace in her heart.


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