It was twilight when Florencio brought the girl down to the cabin, following the path replete with loose stones and potholes that Mariano and Zulma alone found some amusement in crossing with the jeep. Zulma opened the door for them and her eyes gave Florencio the impression she had been peeling onions. Mariano emerged from the other room and told them to come in; but Florencio only wanted to ask them to watch the girl for the night because he had to to go to the coast for an urgent piece of business, and in the village there was no one of whom to ask such a favor. Of course, said Zulma, just leave her here and we'll set up a bed for her downstairs. Come have a drink, insisted Mariano, five minutes max, but Florencio had left the car in the town square and had to continue his trip immediately. He thanked them and gave a kiss to his daughter who had already discovered the pile of magazines on the banquette. When the door had been closed Zulma and Mariano looked at each other almost quizzically, as if everything had happened too quickly. Mariano shrugged his shoulders and returned to his workshop where he was in the midst of gluing together an old armchair. Zulma asked the girl whether she was hungry and suggested that she go ahead and busy herself with the magazines; in the pantry she could find a ball and a butterfly net. The girl said thank you and set to looking at the magazines; Zulma watched her for a moment while preparing the artichokes and decided that she could let her play by herself.
At this time of the year twilight already came early in the south. Barely a month remained before they would have to go back to the capital and enter another life, that of winter, which, in the end, was one and the same act of survival: being distantly together, amiably friends, and respecting and carrying out the innumerable delicate, conventional, and trivial ceremonies of a married couple. Like now when Mariano needed one of the burners to warm up the jar of glue, and Zulma took the potato casserole off the stove and said she would finish cooking it later, and Mariano thanked her because the armchair was almost finished and it was better to apply the glue only once, but of course, warm it up. While the girl was leafing through the magazines at the other end of the big room which served as both a kitchen and dining room, Mariano searched for some candy for her in the pantry. Now was the time they usually went out to have a drink in the garden and watch the sun set over the hills. There was never anyone on the path, with the first house from the town hardly visible at the highest spot and the slope descending before them into the heart of the valley, into the shadows. I just prepared everything, said Zulma, now I'm coming. Everything was completed cyclically, every item at its hour and one hour for every item, with the exception of the girl who, all of a sudden, had slightly adjusted the scheme. A stool and a glass of milk for her, a caress of her hair and words of praise for her behavior. Cigarettes and swallows gathered atop the cabin; everything was repeating itself, everything seemed to fit, the armchair was already almost dry, glued together this new day that had nothing new about it. The insignificant differences this evening involved the girl, just as sometimes, around noon, the postman would steal a moment of their solitude with a letter for Mariano or Zulma, which the addressee would receive and hold on to without saying a word. One more month of predictable repetitions like rehearsals, and the jeep loaded up to the roof would bring them back to the capital, to the life which was merely another one of those forms, Zulma's group, or Mariano's painter friends, her afternoons in the stores and his nights in the cafés, separate comings and goings although they would always meet to carry out those intermediary ceremonies, the morning kiss, for example, or watching neutral, agreed-upon television programs. Just as Mariano was now offering Zulma another drink, and just as Zulma was now accepting, her eyes lost in the most distant hills already tinged in deep violet.
What would you like to have for dinner, sweetie? Whatever you're having is fine with me, ma'am. She probably doesn't like artichokes, said Mariano. Yes, I do, said the girl, with oil and vinegar but not a lot of salt because that burns. They laughed: they would make a special vinaigrette. And what about soft-boiled eggs? With a spoon, said the girl. And not a lot of salt because that burns, joked Mariano. Salt burns a lot, said the girl, I give my doll mashed potatoes without salt. I didn't bring her today because my dad was in a hurry and he didn't let me. It's going to be a beautiful evening, said Zulma aloud, look how clear the air is toward the north. Yes, it's not too hot, said Mariano taking the chairs into the room downstairs and turning on the lamps next to the window gazing onto the valley. He also mechanically turned on the radio. Nixon was headed to Beijing. What are you talking about, said Mariano. There's no more religion, said Zulma, and they both roared with laughter at the same time. The girl had been devoting herself to the magazines, marking the comics pages in case she wanted to re-read them.
Between the insecticide Mariano sprayed in the upstairs bedroom and the scent of an onion Zulma was cutting as she sang a pop tune from the radio under her breath, night arrived. In the middle of dinner the girl began to nod off over her soft-boiled egg; they kidded her and encouraged her to finish; Mariano had prepared a cot for her with an inflated mattress in the corner farthest away from the kitchen so that it would not bother her if they stayed downstairs a little while longer reading or listening to records. The girl ate her peach and admitted that she was sleepy. Go to bed, honey, said Zulma, and remember, just come upstairs if you have to go to the bathroom. We'll leave on a light on the stairs. Wobbly from sleepiness, the girl kissed each of them on the cheek; yet before going to bed, she picked out a magazine and placed under her pillow. They are incredible, said Mariano, what an inaccessible world. And to think it was our world, everyone's world. Perhaps it's not all that different, said Zulma who was clearing off the table, you also have your manias, your eau de cologne on the left and your razor on the right, and we're not even going to talk about me. But, these weren't manias, Mariano thought, but rather a response to death and nothingness, to fix certain things and times, to establish rites and passages against disorder so laden with holes and stains; the only difference is that I didn't say them out loud. Each time it seemed less necessary to talk to Zulma; and Zulma, for her part, made no demand to change the subject. Bring the coffee pot, I already put the cups on the banquette of the fireplace. Can you see whether there's any sugar in the sugar bowl; there's a new packet in the pantry. I can't find the corkscrew, this bottle of liquor looks good, don't you think? Yes, a nice color. When you go upstairs, bring the cigarettes I left on the dresser. This liquor is really very good. Don't you find it warm out here? Yes, it's muggy, we'd better not open the windows, or we'll be swarmed with butterflies and mosquitoes.