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from the December 2007 issue

Love Begets Love

The day, along with Ismael, was dying. Under the blanket his still young body shuddered, the body of a man whose life had not been very productive. At his side, his wife Isaura, also still young, attended him in his final moments. Ismael was dying. And Isaura was by his side. And, in the agony of death, Ismael confessed:

"Isaura, my love, I want to die with a clear conscience. In the grave and portentous hour in which I depart this world, I want to relieve my conscience so I may begin another existence without the heavy burden of this one. I confess that I erred greatly in my relationship with you. I was not always true, nor was I always faithful. But, so as not to forget the days and the times that I sinned or erred, I put a small bag in the closet, in the bottom where I keep my old shoes. In that bag you'll find as many silver coins as were my mistakes and sins.1 Don't open the bag until after my death. Only afterward, only afterward . . ."

With these words, Ismael lost consciousness. He fainted but revived. Death spared him, life beckoned him to new adventures, and he moved the bag in the closet to another location. And time went on.2

And then came the wife's turn to get sick, for fate always reserves for married couples alternation in illnesses so that they can share loyalties and sacrifices. The doctors examined Isaura carefully and concluded that it was nothing serious. Consequently (oh those doctors!), she began to show signs that she wasn't long for this world. Sensing death, she called her husband and said:

"Ismael, that time when you were gravely ill and had the courage to tell me you had strayed, I cried. You thought I was crying because I was hurt by your errors, but really I was crying over mine. Over my remorse at not being able to tell you of my own sins at the moment you were going away forever. If you couldn't take the weight of your mistakes to the next world, how could I tell you that I was a greater sinner than you and have that knowledge embitter still more the heart of such a noble dying man?3 But now, as I near the end, I can speak:

"If I die, as is almost certain, go look in that tin container in the kitchen that's labeled 'Corn.' I put one bean in it for each time I cheated on you. But don't open it until after rigor mortis has set in."

With these words Isaura approached the end. She closed her eyes and started to fade away. First, however, she had a flash, a sudden remembrance. She opened her eyes and said:

"Oh, Ismael, I almost forgot. There's a few beans missing from the tin because last week, for your birthday, the cook took out four cups to make the cassoulet."

And she died.

Moral: When sin is great one cassoulet more or less doesn't make any difference.

1The mysteries between husband and wife, the money not given, the thoughts not spoken, the secret codes in address books, the incomprehensible phone calls in the still of the night (or even in broad daylight, why not?), the little pieces of paper burned in an ashtray, that mass of displaced intentions, demand something beyond my feeble explanations. 2Time has a way of doing that. 3It's very common to conclude from a stated truth an absolutely sincere lie.

From 100 Fábulas Fabulosas (Rio de Janeiro: J. Álvaro Editor, 1964). Translation copyright 2007 by Clifford E. Landers. All rights reserved.

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