Resolved not to budge until poor Emilia's sisters had moved far enough along, he kept on watching the grave. He also knew that the moment he turned to leave the cemetery he would enter a world where he would no longer be able to find her. He was not resigned to running back and comforting those women with pious banalities, nor did he fool himself with the deplorably useless hope of seeking in them some trait through which Emilia could endure eternally. At last the women left; he was about to go as well when he discovered, at a distance that may be sarcastically deemed respectful, the man from the funeral home whom he recognized by his contrite, servile, and implacable air.
Since the night of the accident he had seen him prowling around Emilia's house in a black car. Now he would probably try to sell him a photo album, or clippings, or some kind of funereal adornment; but he was terrified by the mere possibility that this man, in his desire to promote the company's work, would impart macabre and gruesome details. What remained beneath the earth was not Emilia, and in all the world there was no place more incongruent from which to approach her than this marble slab bearing a name and a cross. While he lived, nevertheless, he would bring her flowers. Someone ought to do that and the right person was he. The right person, he thought with pride, and the only person, as in both life and death Emilia was alone. With a heavy heart he remembered that once upon a time he too had yearned for the certainty she now had, the certainty of knowing that nothing could happen. Together, they had read a French poet's verse and agreed that it was true:
Chère, pour peu que tu ne bouges (Each little move you make, my love,)
Renaissent tous mes désespoirs. (And all despair comes rushing back.)
How could one ask a being as alive as Emilia to remain still and unmoving at one's side without being inconsistent? He did not ask for anything, but the miracle of faithfulness occurred. Perhaps this was why he found himself in a solitude so extreme with no one to share the pain. The fatigue of the last few days led him to think in images, and without quite daydreaming, he saw himself as a gardener of graves. "Every Friday I will place a bouquet of flowers here," he muttered, "to make up for the money that these women will have to spend."
When he noticed the man had left, he slowly made his way back. He crossed open and desolate places, walked down to the square and the shade of the trees on Artiges street, and sensed in the air's warmth and the scent of leaves the still-distant spring. A piano in one of the nearby houses was tapping out a march, circus-like and trivial, which he hadn't heard in a while. He recalled Arguello, or was it Araujo? What now was his predecessor's name again? He was, in any case, a blurry figure that never bothered him. From what he gathered, he had met Emilia when she was not yet twenty years old, and he had probably taken advantage of the situation. Emilia had said nothing specifically negative about this first love of hers – she was incapable of that – but she let him understand without any doubt that this first love had counted little in her life. Apart from an experience of the blindness and crudeness that is youth, the episode in itself had no significance.
He stopped to cross the street. He looked at his house: an imitation stone façade, a dark and narrow wood door, the two side balconies, and the two above (in anticipation of an upper floor); he was amazed that all this had once seemed happy to him. He opened the door and entered as he might have entered a crypt.
That evening he could not rid himself of an absurd conviction. When someone knocked at the door, he would arrive trembling with hope. Despite the fact that he had lived a solitary, reclusive life, he found himself with many friends, and despite the particularities of his mourning, visit followed upon visit. He remembered others amidst a past's landscape that remained both very close and very far: as soon as he closed his eyes he would see Emilia trailing a bit behind, agitated from the run, and he believed that in this face he could feel the freshness of her skin. But nothing out of the ordinary occurred until Friday morning, when he arrived at the cemetery with a bouquet of white roses. On her grave he found, hardly wilted, as if they had been lying there since the previous evening, a bouquet of red roses. This surprised him for two reasons: that they, her sisters, could have anticipated his offering and that, in defiance of all convention, they had chosen roses of color. He believed chance was capable of everything. Seven days passed and he forgot the matter. The next Friday he arrived at the grave with his white roses. And there, of course, he found a new posy of red roses.
Although he resolved to think nothing more of it, it weighed heavily upon his mind for several days – until Thursday morning, to be exact, when he had a sort of inspiration. He made haste to a kiosk where he bought flowers, then, at Rivadavia, he got into a cab. Soon thereafter, his offering made, he was at a loss and a little perplexed. The minutes passed in marked slowness as he roamed the cemetery. Disheartened, he crossed the portico and stopped a minute upon the sun-lit stairs. He turned to give destiny another opportunity, and at the end of the oblique boulevard he looked on, stupefied, at the scene he had foreseen and expected the whole morning: the man placing red roses on the grave.
His somewhat neurotic and obsessive repugnance towards matters of death had made him mistake the man circling Emilia's house in a black car for a employee of the funeral home. Now he remembered a photograph of Araujo which he had absent-mindedly considered years before. The man was Araujo.
If he hadn't wanted someone to find him here, he should have left long ago. Still he stayed a little longer. He left later, walking slowly. He waited the whole day; he waited without worry like someone who was safe and secure. At ten o'clock at night, someone rang his doorbell. He knew full well whom he would encounter before he even opened the door. Araujo said to him:
"Much better to walk around as we chat, especially at night. Do you want to take a walk?"
Through Bacacay and Avellaneda they went down towards Donato Alvarez; they walked around the Irish square; then they headed west towards Neuquén. They walked for hours speaking peacefully about the woman both of them had loved. Araujo explained:
"I do not bring her flowers for the dead because this strikes me as an affront to Emilia. In her, life was so abundant!" After a pause he added: "Nevertheless, she had something of the supernatural."
He thought: "I hadn't noticed it, but it's true." Although it seemed to contradict several prior statements, he found another observation by Araujo no less true:
"Because she was supernatural, let us now accept it. Perhaps she never was of this world."
At that moment it bothered him that someone knew her better than he did, and he was no stranger to jealousy. Araujo must have sensed this, because he said:
"We cannot judge her as we might judge other women. Emilia was on a different level. She was of light and of air."
They bid farewell. He saw Araujo drive off in a black car; he entered the house, turned on the heater, and prepared some maté. He wanted to ponder this night's discovery, because another had loved her, he was not the only one. The memory of Emilia was broadened, and beyond the grave continued the miracle of life.