It turns out that the letter Fermina wrote to Florentino wasn't full of love, but rather full of insults. She writes a lot of things that Florentino probably doesn't deserve, but she has a lot to get off her chest. She has to get used to her new situation as a widow, after all.
Fermina's a little angry with her husband for dying and leaving her all alone.
The sight of Dr. Urbino's possessions makes Fermina cry. She decides to empty the house of everything that would remind her of him so that she can go on living without him.
Fermina's children take some of the objects, but Fermina burns the rest in a bonfire beside the house (García Márquez loves bonfires). Fermina knows her husband would have approved, because he had always wanted to be cremated, even though the Catholic Church forbade it.
The bonfire doesn't really help her, however. Fermina continues to miss her husband.
As Fermina begins to feel a bit better about losing her husband, she becomes more aware of Florentino's annoying presence. She thinks of him as an "evil phantom […] who did not give her a moment's peace" (6.6). She's convinced that he seeks revenge for the slight she gave to him all those years ago and suspects that his declaration of love for her on the night of her husband's death is only part of a vindictive plot.
Fermina's first feeling towards the "evil phantom" is rage, but after a while she allows herself to be overcome by nostalgia. She tries to remember the setting of their love affair – the old house, and the little park where Florentino used to sit – because everything has changed now.
Here the narrative backtracks a little bit. A short time after Fermina's reunion with her husband, her cousin Hildebranda Sánchez had come to visit her, bringing her oldest son, a colonel in the army who was in disgrace because of his "contemptible behavior during the massacre of the banana workers in San Juan de la Ciénaga" (6.8). (Now we'd like to interrupt this plot summary to bring you a brief Historical Context Lesson: The "Banana Massacre," as it is known in English, really happened. On December 6, 1928, the Colombian government sent in military forces to end a strike of banana workers for the United Fruit Company. An unknown number of workers died, but estimates range from 47 to 2,000 casualties. García Márquez depicts a fictionalized version of this event in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, but here it receives only a passing mention.)
When Hildebranda visits, she brings with her a copy of the photograph that the two women dressed in old-fashioned clothes on the afternoon that Dr. Juvenal Urbino had given them a ride in his carriage. The youth and beauty of the young women in the photo is contrasted with their old age.
Hildebranda would always talk about Florentino with pity, which surprises Fermina because she no longer thinks of him as the same person with whom she had had a love affair in her teenage years.
On the night that she sees him at the movies, however, Fermina begins to feel more compassion for Florentino. She realizes that he's very well-preserved and that it is she who has changed and gotten old.
When Florentino shows up on the night of the vigil for Fermina's husband, it feels natural for him to be there. Fermina interprets his presence as an act of "forgiving and forgetting" (6.10).
Fermina is completely caught off guard by Florentino's declaration of love. She feels that she and Florentino are at an age where they can "expect nothing more from life" (6.10).
For several weeks Fermina feels a "mortal rage" towards Florentino. Eventually she grows so angry that she writes him a three-page letter full of the meanest insults she can think of.
García Márquez jumps back to Florentino's perspective again. Walking home from Fermina's house on the night of his declaration, he observes men and women frantically trying to rescue their belongings from the afternoon flood.
In his distress, Florentino wants to be soothed by the company of a woman. He wants his mommy, but, of course, she's unavailable (being dead), so instead he walks by the dormitory of the private school that América Vicuña attends. He can't carry her away at two in the morning, however. He considers going to see Leona Cassiani, but knows that he can't go crying to her without telling her the reason.
So Florentino thinks of an old girlfriend who he hasn't seen in years – Prudencia Pitre, the Widow of Two. Florentino grabs two bottles of port and a jar of pickles and goes to see her.
Florentino notices that Prudencia has aged and realizes that he has, too. The two sit and talk, eating pickles and drinking port, until late in the night.
Florentino tries to calm his nerves by talking. He asks Prudencia what she would do if someone proposed marriage to her at her age. Prudencia unnerves him by asking if he's talking about the Widow Urbino. Florentino denies it, but he can't keep conversing with Prudencia now that she has guessed his secret. He walks home, hiding his tears from the widows returning from the five o'clock Mass.
When Florentino wakes up, it's morning and he's in his mother's bed, where he still sleeps when he feels lonely. He hears the voice of América Vicuña playing in the courtyard.
Florentino tells América: "Today we are not going to do our things" and takes her instead to get ice cream. He tells her that he is going to marry. América doesn't believe him, because, she says, "Old men don't marry" (6.31-6.34).
Florentino drops América off at school after spending the day at the park and the circus. The next day he sends the car so that América and her friends can go for a ride, but he doesn't go with them. He has suddenly become conscious of the difference in their ages and no longer wants to continue their love affair.
Florentino decides to write a letter of apology to Fermina, but before he can do so he receives her letter.
In a state of excitement, Florentino takes off his wet clothes and carefully opens the letter. He realizes that a third person must be party to their secret, because someone must have delivered the letter.
Florentino reads the letter once, realizing that it is an insulting letter and not a love letter.
He makes himself comfortable and reads the letter five more times, lying on the bed as still as a dead man.
Florentino isn't insulted, but rather pleased that receiving a letter from Fermina gives him the opportunity to respond.
Five days after receiving Fermina's letter, Florentino goes to the office and borrows a typewriter. Leona Cassiani offers to give him typewriting lessons at home, but he is determined to teach himself. After twelve days, he is able to complete a six-page letter without errors. He mails it to Fermina in an envelope with mourning vignettes and no return address.
Florentino attempts to avoid the flowy, romantic style of his earlier letters. His letter takes the form of a dispassionate meditation on the relations between men and women, based on his own experience. Of course, we know that he doesn't want to tell Fermina about all of his other love affairs, so we wonder how he plans to pull this off.
Florentino, in his "patriarchal style of an old man's memories," is hoping that his letters will serve as a teaching tool. He wants his letters to teach Fermina to think of love as "not the means to anything but the alpha and omega, an end to itself" (6.46).
None of Florentino's letters are returned and this encourages him. He starts to send a letter every day. He begins to number them and include a brief synopsis of the previous letters in each one, so that Fermina won't get lost.
Florentino renovates his house in anticipation of a favorable reply from Fermina.
In order to stay in practice, he keeps visiting Prudencia Pitre and Andrea Varón.
Florentino's relationship with América Vicuña has changed. He no longer wants to be her lover and she is resentful. To América, Florentino seems to be behaving with "inexplicable evasiveness," like a little boy and not like a seventy-year-old man (6.50).
América makes one more attempt to seduce Florentino. She's no longer a little girl, but "a full-fledged woman, who like[s] to take the initiative" (6.51). At the last moment, though, Florentino stops her and reminds her that they don't have any condoms.
This incident prompts a new resolve in América – she's going to track down the new woman in Florentino's life. Florentino wrongly interprets her lack of tears as a sign that she plans to forget about him.
After six months, Florentino starts to worry about the fact that Fermina has yet to respond to a single one of his letters. He comes across her number in the phone book and decides to give her a call. When she answers, though, he hangs up, feeling even more discouraged.
Leona Cassiani gives a birthday party at which she notices that Florentino is starting to show his age.
On the one-year anniversary of Dr. Urbino's death, the family gives a memorial Mass at the Cathedral. Florentino attends, though he has not been invited, and makes sure to sit in a spot where Fermina will not be able to avoid seeing him. After the service, she moves through the crowd, thanking each one of her guests and finally greets Florentino with a sweet smile.
Fermina has received and read all of Florentino's letters. She is impressed by their content and reads them with growing interest. At first she destroyed them after reading, but when Florentino began to number them, she started to save them.
After a year of widowhood, Fermina regards the memory of her husband as a helpful presence that guides her. Sometimes he even appears to her in flesh and blood. Fermina feels she understands her husband better now than she did when he was alive.
On Fermina's many journeys around the world, she has collected many trinkets, souvenirs, and articles of elegant, European clothing. Often she would attempt to clear the house of all the clutter, but could never bring herself to burn the items. The house has long ago become disorderly and full of junk.
After burning her husband's possessions, Fermina decides to burn her own. She cuts back the mango tree, gives the parrot away, and feels very liberated.
Fermina has plenty of company – her daughter spends three months at home and her son's family comes to lunch at least once a week. She becomes closer to friends who come over to play cards, especially to Lucrecia del Real del Obispo, who consults with her regarding civic projects.
Two days after Dr. Urbino's memorial, Fermina receives a thank you note from Florentino for the courteous greeting she gave him at the Cathedral. Fermina asks Lucrecia what she knows about Florentino and Lucrecia repeats the rumors about Florentino seducing young boys. Fermina defends him passionately.
Two weeks go by without another letter from Florentino. Then Fermina is woken from her afternoon siesta with the announcement that Don Florentino is at the house. About time!
Florentino is shown into the drawing room to wait for Fermina, but he's so nervous that he has a sudden attack of diarrhea. He is terrified that he's going to embarrass himself, but manages to contain his bowels long enough to arrange to come again in two days and escapes to the car. In the car he just lets it all out – the driver has known him for a long time, and isn't surprised. Still, he does warn Florentino that his ailment "looks like cholera" (6.78). Eww.
It's not cholera, just Florentino's chronic constipation acting up again.
On Friday, Florentino returns to Fermina's house. They have an awkward conversation over coffee and tea. Fermina asks a lot of questions about riverboats to fill the uncomfortable silences.
Neither Florentino nor Fermina have traveled by river much – Florentino because he has always wanted to stay in the city to be close to his girl, and Fermina because her husband never wanted to.
Florentino describes the many advances in the riverboat trade, due primarily to the competition of other riverboat companies that Florentino had advocated for.
Fermina receives a letter in the middle of their conversation. Florentino explains that it's from him and begs her not to read it, as it contains a promise never to return that he had written while he was still embarrassed by what had happened on the first visit.
Florentino is ecstatic when Fermina comes right out and tells him that she's disappointed not to be able to read the current letter, since all of the others have helped her a great deal.
Florentino asks if he might return another day. Fermina tells him to come back whenever he likes.
Florentino returns four days later and makes a bold move – he reminds Fermina that they had used to call each other "tú," a form of address that is more informal and intimate than the respectful "usted."
The visit doesn't go well. Fermina is annoyed by his reference to their past, and lets him know how old she is (72). To make matters worse, she returns his letters and, when Florentino asks if he can come back, says she doesn't see what the point is.
Nevertheless, Florentino comes back the next Tuesday, and every Tuesday after that. It becomes a routine for them.
Florentino regularly brings gifts of cookies and snacks. One week he risks giving Fermina a rose from his garden. He agonizes over the color of the flower, since the color of a rose is significant. He rejects a passionate red rose and a yellow rose, which can express jealousy, in favor of a white rose, which "[does] not say anything" (6.103).
Florentino keeps trying to hit on Fermina, and she keeps shooting him down. One day, though, he realizes that he has finally affected her, because she blushes. She tries to hide it, but he knows, and she knows that he knows, and he knows that she knows that he knows…OK, you get the point. Anyway, this makes her mad. Then the idea of two old people having a lovers' quarrel makes her laugh. The next week, all is forgotten.
Sometimes Fermina's son Dr. Urbino Daza and his wife will show up, and the four of them will play cards. The gathering starts to resemble a family affair…
One night after cards, Dr. Urbino Daza invites Florentino to have lunch with him at the Social Club. This makes Florentino nervous – the Social Club won't allow guests who are of illegitimate birth, and Florentino has already been kicked out on a previous occasion.
At lunch, Dr. Urbino Daza talks to Florentino about his mother. It becomes obvious that Fermina has spoken to her son about him, and that she's fabricated an innocent-sounding story about how they became friends.
Dr. Urbino Daza spews some offensive theories about how old people should be relegated to special "marginal cities" so that they wouldn't impede the progress of the young, then thanks Florentino for keeping his old mother company in her senility. Florentino is offended. He reminds the doctor that he's four years older than Fermina and has been since before he was born (6.114).
Dr. Urbino Daza tries to apologize, awkwardly. Florentino forgives him, knowing that he would eventually repeat this meeting with Fermina's son in order to make a formal request for her hand in marriage.
Florentino falls down the stairs to his office and hurts his leg. He has to wear a cast and can't walk, but he's thankful that the accident didn't kill him.
Bummed that he can't attend their regular Tuesday meetings, Florentino sends Fermina two letters…and she actually responds!
Feeling encouraged, Florentino has a telephone installed next to his bed and gives Fermina a call. She's distant on the phone and later writes him a letter begging him not to call again. There are so few telephones in the city that all communication takes place through the operator, who listens in on everyone's conversations.
Furthermore, a new evening newspaper called Justice (think: tabloid) has come out whose sole purpose is to trash the oldest and most venerable families in town. Fermina doesn't want anyone to start gossiping about her relationship with Florentino.
Fermina and Florentino keep up a correspondence via letter while he's stuck in bed. It's just like the good old days, and they start calling each other "tú" again.
Despite their growing familiarity, Fermina has to keep reprimanding Florentino for taking things too far. She thinks his attempts at romance are childish.
Leona Cassiani and América Vicuña act as Florentino's nurses. Remember América? The girl sixty years younger than Florentino who he's supposed to be looking out for? The one he slept with and then dumped? Yeah, things are understandably awkward between the two of them.
América isn't doing well in school anymore. She's depressed, and doesn't know how to talk to Florentino about it.
Florentino plans to send América to study in Alabama, in part to make himself feel less guilty about what he's done to her.
Florentino's two nurses can't believe how much he's aged. Why, only ten years ago he had the strength to assault one of his maids and get her pregnant. Just a few months ago he'd had the hots for both of these women, and now they massage his entire body without him exhibiting the slightest sign of passion.
Three weeks go by, and Fermina starts to miss Florentino's visits.
Lucrecia del Real del Obispo visits Fermina more and more frequently because she's gone nearly deaf. Fermina is the only one who's willing to be patient with her.
Fermina compares the "feverish excitement" of her love affair at twenty with her present feelings towards Florentino. The past seems cheap and sentimental compared to the comfort he currently provides her.
Fermina starts listening to soap operas on the radio to pass the time. One day she hears the news that an elderly couple, who for forty years have been repeating their honeymoon, have been murdered by the skipper of the boat they were riding in. Lucrecia del Real del Obispo later informs her that the couple were secret lovers, who each had a stable marriage, and who always took their vacations together. The story makes Fermina very sad.
The new tabloid publishes an article that the late Dr. Urbino had been having an affair with Lucrecia del Real del Obispo. The story isn't true, but Lucrecia stops visiting, which Fermina interprets as an admission of guilt.
Next the tabloid publishes an article about Lorenzo Daza's shady dealings. According to the publication, Lorenzo was involved in counterfeiting bills, extortion of government funds, and the illegal smuggling of Chinese immigrants into the country, among other things.
When Florentino finally recovers and goes to visit Fermina, he finds that the rage over the two stories published in Justice has destroyed her will to live – she looks terrible. Still, Florentino thinks she's cute when she's angry.
Fermina is grateful to Florentino because he wrote a letter to the editors of Justice about the ethical responsibilities of the press. He also sends a copy to a more reputable and conservative paper, which publishes it on the front page. Though the letter is signed with a pseudonym, Fermina recognizes the style.
At this time, América discovers the copies of the letters that Florentino has been writing to Fermina.
Ofelia Daza, Fermina's daughter, hears about the relationship going on between her mother and Florentino and comes from New Orleans to put a stop to it. When she tells her mother to her face that Florentino is a pervert and that associating with him will damage the family's reputation, Fermina kicks Ofelia out of the house and tells her never to come back.
Fermina confides in her daughter-in-law, saying that everyone who criticizes her relationship with Florentino can go to h-e-double hockey sticks. The nice thing about being a widow, she says, is that no one is the boss of her.
Florentino repeats an invitation that he had made to Fermina earlier to take a riverboat cruise and see the national capital (which we know to be Bogotá, but which García Márquez only mentions by its colonial name of Santa Fe). Fermina hadn't been interested before, but under the current circumstances – her anger towards her daughter, her former best friend, and her dead husband – she changes her mind.
When the day comes to board the boat – a luxurious new riverboat called the New Fidelity after the first steamboat to sail the Magdalena River – Dr. Urbino Daza is surprised to discover that Florentino will be accompanying his mother on the journey. His wife reprimands him for acting just like his sister, and Dr. Urbino Daza resigns himself to the fact that his mother will be taking a trip with a man she's not married to.
Fermina and Florentino have dinner with the Captain before embarking. Fermina is lost in thought, but she sits on the deck with Florentino as they sail upriver. Here's where they start acting like a really adorable old couple. Florentino rolls cigarettes for Fermina and passes them to her, already lit. The text gets kind of mushy, saying that "two hearts, alone in the shadows on the deck, were beating in time to the breathing of the ship" (6.160).
Florentino notices that Fermina is crying, and he panics a little bit. Then…here it comes, the moment we've all been waiting for…he takes her hand.
Fermina talks about her dead husband for a while, and Florentino realizes she has reached the point where she is deciding whether to move on and fall in love with him. When Fermina finishes talking, she tells Florentino to go. He tries to kiss her on the cheek, but she refuses with the excuse that she "smell[s] like an old woman" (6.165).
After Florentino leaves, Fermina sees her former husband Dr. Juvenal Urbino tip his hat to her in a gesture of farewell.
When Fermina wakes up the next day there is a vase of white roses by her bed, accompanied by a long letter from Florentino that she reads with a racing heart.
After breakfast, Fermina meets Florentino on the deck for a tour of the boat. He looks different – instead of the funereal black clothes that he's worn all his life, he's wearing a brand new outfit, complete with a snazzy white cap.
The two of them get super-embarrassed, as if they were teenagers on a first date. The captain kindly rescues them from their embarrassment by giving them a tour of the ship.
Florentino is surprised to see how the river has changed. In the last fifty years, the banks have been deforested and the animals have disappeared due to overhunting.
The captain is particularly fond of manatees and tells the story of how, when a passenger from North Carolina killed a manatee, he took the orphaned calf on board and left the passenger stranded next to the corpse of the mother.
The story moves Fermina, and she starts to feel fondly towards the captain.
The boat passes a ruined port called Calamar, where a woman in white stands waving a handkerchief at them. Fermina doesn't understand why they don't stop to pick her up, but the captain explains that she's a ghost who is trying to lure them off course.
Fermina doesn't sleep well during the siesta because of a pain in her ear.
Florentino sleeps and has a really surreal dream about Rosalba.
After the siesta, there's dinner and dancing. It's starting to sound like a routine.
Fermina doesn't eat because of the pain in her ear. It's really hot out, and the port towns that they pass by are deserted.
Fermina had spent the entire day waiting for Florentino to get in touch with her, and finally gets sick of waiting. She leaves her cabin and bumps into him in the hallway – they both pretend to be surprised.
Fermina and Florentino are strolling on the deck and drinking sodas like young sweethearts when Fermina suddenly thinks of the old couple that was murdered.
At night, while the music plays, Florentino and Fermina sit on the observation deck and talk. Fermina's ear is hurting her. Florentino tells Fermina about the crush he's had on her for decades and how he would attend all of the public events just to see her.
Fermina asks Florentino why he never entered the Poetic Festival and says he surely would have won. WE know about Florentino's attempts to win the festival, but Florentino lies and says he had never entered because all of his writing was for Fermina alone.
Fermina surprises Florentino by taking his hand.
Fermina thinks about the old couple that was murdered again, but this time the thought is more bearable. She knows that "the image would always pursue her," but right now she feels calm and blameless (6.185).
Fermina wants to sit with Florentino all night long, but her earache is getting worse. She doesn't tell Florentino about it because she doesn't want to worry him.
When Florentino makes his departure, he tries to kiss Fermina goodnight. She flirts with him, offering first one cheek and then the other. He insists, and finally she lets him kiss her on the lips. He's a little grossed out because he realizes that she was right – she does smell like an old woman. He reminds himself, though, that he must smell the same way.
Florentino compares Fermina's smell of old age with América Vicuña's youthful, almost baby-like smell. With América, he had always been disturbed by the idea that his own elderly man smell had bothered her.
Florentino realizes that, despite the smell of Fermina's old age, he hasn't been this happy since the day that Aunt Escolástica had delivered Fermina's first letter to him.
At five in the morning, Florentino receives an urgent telegram from Leona Cassiani, reporting that América Vicuña had died the day before.
At eleven o'clock, Florentino manages to conference with Leona via telegraph to learn the details of América's death. She had committed suicide after failing her final exams.
Florentino knows "in the depths of his soul" that there's more to the story, and he fears that América has left behind a note or some sort of evidence that would reveal the truth of their affair. He's in luck, though – there's no suicide note.
The funeral is at five o'clock that afternoon. Florentino takes a deep breath and decides to erase the whole event from his mind. The narrator lets us know that every once in a while, in the remaining years of Florentino's life, he would feel a pang of anguish for América.
The news of América's death is only a minor disruption in Florentino and Fermina's love cruise. It's sort of like this: vacation, vacation, vacation…Oh no, that girl I was babysitting committed suicide!...vacation, vacation, vacation.
Admittedly, the landscape is no longer very vacation-y. Instead of the lush forests and manatee songs that Florentino remembers, the scenery is mostly comprised of deforested wastelands and rotting corpses.
Why all the floating dead bodies, you might ask? Well, it's not war, or plague. All we know is that the Captain has orders "to tell the passengers that they are accidental drowning victims" (6.190). Lots and lots of accidental drowning victims. Very odd.
Since pretty much all of the trees have been cut down, the New Fidelity has trouble finding places to get wood for fuel. On the fourth day of the trip, the ship is stranded for a week while the crew searches for trees to cut down.
The bored passengers hold swimming contests in the corpse-infested waters (fortunately, none of them drown accidentally) and hunt iguanas for sport. A parade of prostitutes from the nearby villages makes camp near the boat.
Florentino had heard reports about the devastation of the river, but he had generally ignored them. He'd never taken the time to think about the damage, because his mind had been clouded by his passion for Fermina Daza.
So now the trip upriver is really, really miserable – no more butterflies, manatees, or villagers, just alligators, wasteland, and dead bodies.
Fermina's earache gets worse and worse, until one morning it stops suddenly. Fermina realizes that night that she's lost all hearing in that ear. She doesn't tell anyone – it's just another part of old age, she thinks.
The delay of the ship is certainly annoying. Still, Florentino read somewhere that "Love becomes greater and nobler in calamity," and being stranded with Fermina on a boat in the middle of nowhere is kind of awesome.
One night Fermina brings a bottle of anisette to their midnight rendezvous. Florentino interprets this as a sign that she wants to go all the way, so he starts to get a little more frisky.
Fermina finds Florentino's pawing a bit juvenile. She says, "If we're going to do it, let's do it…but let's do it like grownups" (6.196).
Fermina takes Florentino to the bedroom and gets undressed with the lights on. She's not shy, but she warns Florentino that if he looks at her body, he's not going to like what he sees.
Florentino looks at Fermina and her body is old and withered.
Florentino gets undressed in the dark, and the couple lie next to each other and talk for a long time.
Florentino tells Fermina he's remained a virgin for her. She knows he's lying, but she likes the way he says it. She feels the same way about all of the pick-up lines in his letters – she knows they're not really true, but their "meaning mattered less than their brilliance" (6.202).
Florentino wonders for the first time whether Fermina ever had any other lovers besides her husband. He doesn't ask, though.
Fermina caresses Florentino, but he's too nervous to have sex. He's embarrassed about his impotence and, to make matters worse, Fermina teases him. Florentino goes back to his own cabin.
Fermina's afraid Florentino will never return, but he comes back the next morning and makes hurried love to her. Fermina is disappointed – he's clumsy, and it's over too quickly.
The Captain figures out that there's something going on between the two of them (once they start spending the night together, it becomes pretty obvious) and he starts doing romantic stuff like sending them roses and having them serenaded with waltzes.
Fermina and Florentino don't try to make love again – they're happy just hanging out together.
The boat reaches its last port on the eleven-day journey, the city of La Dorada. From far away, the city looks as golden as its name implies, but up close it's dirty and hot. The boat docks across the river from the city, at the terminal of the Santa Fe Railroad.
Fermina and Florentino watch the train passengers remove their luggage from the cars. They're all wearing warm clothes for the Andean weather, and look as if they had just come from Europe.
Fermina becomes absorbed in watching an elderly man take baby chicks out of his pockets on the dock. She doesn't notice when the passengers begin to board the boat and is embarrassed to see several people she knows. She takes refuge in her cabin. She's upset to have been caught on a pleasure cruise so soon after the death of her husband. Florentino promises to think of a way to protect her from scandal.
Florentino asks the Captain whether it would be possible to make a trip down the river without stopping and without any cargo or passengers. The Captain says that it is only possible in the case of cholera on board. The ship would be quarantined and would sail down the river in a state of emergency, with the yellow flag hoisted.
The Captain informs Florentino that, in the history of the river, the yellow plague flag had been hoisted in order to evade taxes, avoid picking up an undesirable passenger, or elude inspections.
Florentino gives written orders for the Captain to declare a state of emergency. They unload all the cargo and send the passengers on another boat. The Captain is happy to go along with the plan, provided they can stop in Puerto Nare to pick up his secret girlfriend, Zenaida Neves.
Zenaida Neves is even bigger than the Captain, and he refers to her as his "wild woman" (6.217).
The scenery is seriously depressing – the narrator calls it a "sad place of death" (6.217). It rains almost ceaselessly until the end of the journey. The passengers are in a party mood, though. Fermina gets a little wild and cooks up an eggplant dish in the galley.
All of the rain makes the trip go by a little more quickly.
There's a curious line where the narrator tells us that, in the town of Manangué, "where Mercedes was born," the boat takes on enough wood to fuel the rest of the journey. If you're confused because you don't remember a Mercedes in the rest of the novel, don't worry – you're not alone. Interestingly, the book is dedicated "to Mercedes, of course," and Mercedes is the name of the author's wife. Seems like she got a brief shout-out in the novel, too (6.218).
Things start to sound, look, and smell better to Fermina. Her hearing improves in her bad ear. The cry of a manatee wakes her up one morning. The Captain changes the boat's course so that they can go look at the manatee mother with its baby. Aw…how adorable.
Fermina and Florentino get along really well. She helps him with his old man's ailments by helping him take his enemas (gross) and brushing his false teeth in the morning. He lends her his glasses and gives her back rubs.
Florentino takes up the violin again and plays the waltz that he used to serenade Fermina when they were young.
For the first time in her life, Fermina awakens crying – she's remembering the old couple who was beaten to death by the boatman.
Fermina starts to dream of other "mad voyages" with Florentino Ariza, with no commitments, luggage, or obligations (6.220).
The night before they arrive home, the passengers have a big party on the boat. The Captain and Zenaida dance boleros, and Fermina gets drunk on anisette.
That night, Florentino and Fermina make "the tranquil, wholesome love of experienced grandparents" (6.221). It's not awkward, like the last time. The two are completely comfortable with one another at this point, and they're so much in love that it's like they've "gone straight to the heart of love" (6.221).
When they wake up the next morning, Fermina has an anisette hangover, and the vision of her husband, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, has come back. She realizes that going home is "going to be like dying" (6.223).
Florentino feels the same way. Neither one of them can imagine a different life than the one they have had for the past few weeks, on board the boat.
Florentino is suddenly struck by pangs of grief for América Vicuña and locks himself in the bathroom to cry. He admits to himself that he had loved her.
They go on deck and look out at the beautiful sunrise over the city of the Viceroys, but it seems unattractive to them. Fermina can't bear "the horror of real life" (2.225).
They go to have breakfast with the Captain, who is disheveled from the late night of partying.
A motor launch from the Health Department approaches and orders them to stop the ship. The Captain answers all sorts of questions: there are three passengers aboard, all with "cholera," and no one has had contact with them. The patrol orders them to go back to Las Mercedes Marsh to wait for the quarantine forms to be filled out.
The Captain realizes he's in a pickle. He finishes his breakfast in a bad mood and then starts swearing because he can't see a way to get out of the trap they've set for themselves with the cholera flag.
Florentino suggests that they turn around and keep going all the way back to La Dorada.
Fermina shivers because she recognizes that Florentino is speaking with the same authority of "the grace of the Holy Spirit" that he's used on other significant occasions. She looks at the Captain and sees him as "their destiny" (6.233).
The Captain is stunned by Florentino's words and asks him if he means it. Um, yeah, he means it.
The Captain looks at Fermina and sees "the first glimmer of wintry frost" on her eyelashes. In other words, she's giving off death-vibes. On the other hand, Florentino is full of "invincible power" that makes the Captain think that life, rather than death, is limitless (6.236).
Asked how long he thinks they can keep up the coming-and-going up and down the river, Florentino responds, "Forever" (6.239).