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98 the ship catrineta i awoke to the sound of aunt olympia declaiming“The Ship Catrineta” in her grave and powerful contralto voice. My soul I deny thee, O demon, Thou serpent of land and of sea. To God and His hosts it looks upward, From body and torment to flee. An angel descended from Heaven, Delivered him safe to the lee. The demon was rent by his fury And peace again ruled o’er the sea. Come ev’ning the ship Catrineta Had landed, from Satan set free. ThenIrememberedthattodaywasmytwenty-firstbirthday.Allmyaunts must be in the hall, waiting for me to wake up. “I’m awake,” I shouted. They came into my room. Aunt Helena was carrying an old, dusty book with a leather cover and gilded clasps. Aunt Regina was bringing a tray with my breakfast, and Aunt Julieta a basket with fresh fruit gathered 99 | The Ship Catrineta from our orchard. Aunt Olympia had on the dress she wore in Molière’s École des Femmes. “It’s all a lie,” Aunt Helena said. “The demon didn’t explode, and no angel saved the captain; the truth is all in the old ‘Ship’s Log’, written by our ancestor Manuel de Matos, which thou hast already read, and in this other book, ‘The Secret Decalogue of Uncle Jacinto’, which thou art to read for the first time today.” In “The Secret Decalogue” my mission was defined. I was the only male in a family reduced, besides myself, to four unmarried and implacable women. The sun was coming through the window, and I could hear the birds singing in the garden. It was a beautiful morning. My aunts asked anxiously if I had chosen the girl. I answered yes. “We’ll have a birthday party tonight. Bring her here, so we can meet her,” said Aunt Regina. My aunts have taken care of me since I was born. My mother died in childbirth and my father, my mother’s first cousin, committed suicide a month later. I told my aunts that they would meet sweet Ermelinda Balsemão that night.Theirfacesbeamedwithsatisfaction.AuntReginahandedme“The Secret Decalogue of Uncle Jacinto” and they all solemnly left the room. Before beginning to read the Decalogue, I telephoned Ermê, as I called her, and asked if she’d like to have dinner with my aunts and me. She was happytoaccept.ThenIopened“TheSecretDecalogue”andbegantoread the commandments of my mission: Itistheinescapableobligationofevery first-bornmaleofourFamily,abovethelawsofsociety,religion,andethics... My aunts dug their most extravagant formal dresses out of trunks and closets. Aunt Olympia was wearing her favorite clothing, which she saved for very special occasions, the dress she had worn the last time she played Phaedra.DonaMariaNunes,ourhousekeeper,constructedenormousand elaborate hairdos for each of them; as was the custom in our family, none of the women had ever cut her hair. I stayed in my room, after reading the Decalogue, getting up from the bed now and then to look at the garden andthewoods.Itwasahardmission,onewhichmyfatherhadcarriedout, and my grandfather and great-grandfather and all the rest. I got my father 100 | Rubem Fonseca out of my head right away. This wasn’t the right moment to think about him. I thought about my grandmother, who had been an anarchist and manufactured bombs in her basement without anyone suspecting. Aunt Reginalikedtosaythateverybombthatexplodedinthecitybetween1920 and 1960 had been made and thrown by Grandma. “Mom,” Aunt Julieta would say, “could not tolerate injustice, and that was her way of showing her disapproval; the ones who died were for the most part guilty, and the few innocents sacrificed were martyrs in a good cause.” From my window, by the light of the full moon, I could see Ermê’s car, its top down, as it came slowly through the stone gate, climbed the hydrangea -lined road, and stopped in front of the beefwood tree that stood in the middle of the lawn. The cool evening breeze of May tossed her fine blondehair.Foraninstant,Ermê seemedtohearthesoundofthewindin the tree; then she looked toward the house, as if she knew I was observing her,anddrewherscarfaroundherthroat,piercedbyacoldnessthatdidn’t exist, except within herself. With an abrupt gesture she accelerated the carand, now resolute, drove toward thehouse. Iwent downto receive her. “I’m afraid,” Ermê said. “I don’t know why, but I am. I think it’s this house, it’s very pretty but so gloomy!” “What you’re afraid of is my aunts,” I said. I took Ermê to the Small Parlor, where my aunts were waiting. They...


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