- The Fantastic Island Chapter 2
I still very much remember Auntie Júlia's burial, the first that I was permitted to attend. I was led hand to hand by Uncle Tone, who not only never missed a burial but also asserted that from an early age we should become familiar with the idea of death because it was the only thing that we were guaranteed in this world. My grandmother, already more than eighty years old, rebelled against those fools who allowed themselves to die so ingloriously and also against the mania of an offspring who accompanied any drowned cat to the cemetery as if he or she had nothing else to do. Since her father's death, some fifty years ago, she had not strolled through Pedra Alta because she detested that abandoned and sad place where she had buried her husband and three offspring, and she declared that, if she could depend on her own wishes, she would never again set foot there. However, in the case of Auntie Júlia the matter changed its configuration, because it was almost a close family member who was to be buried. She therefore authorized that all of us accompany her to that final dwelling, and that we do so looking ahead. Making the sign of the cross granny declared that God was accompanying the group and was laying Auntie Júlia to rest under the cold stone.
When we arrived at Auntie Júlia's house we found her already in a coffin, an enormous one for such a tiny woman. Uncle Sidónio had made some mistakes in the measurements and had added some twenty centimeters to the length so that when he arrived with the casket many people immediately noted that it looked to be much too large for Auntie Júlia. But Uncle Sidónio, who at that time was just beginning his career as a coffin builder, did not pay any attention to the people's observations. He said, laconically, that reckoning is reckoning and math is math, so there could be no mistake because he personally had taken the measurements, of width and height, as well as length. So, he would say, showing the notes he had taken, the numbers do not delude anyone. But he noted that when Auntie Júlia was placed in the coffin he himself had to agree that there was a great excess of space, almost enough to accommodate another person. It was thus necessary to place some cushions under the feet and over the top of the head so that Auntie Júlia did not arrive [End Page 36] at the cemetery moving up and down along with her army of saints who, at João Manco's opportune recommendation, also took their places in the enormous tomb, which is what he called the coffin made by Uncle Sidónio. In no way would anyone else know how to lead this band of old folks, he declared as Mr. Djonga eyed him reprovingly. In line with his quality as a sacristan Mr. Djonga could not tolerate a lack of respect for the saints. But in the cemetery the men had to take off their jackets and pick up a spade and pickaxe in order to enlarge the grave because Babe of Chalau also had gotten his measurements for Auntie Júlia's size from Uncle Sidónio, and after he refused to do any more work. Protesting and almost in tears because he already had blisters on his hands, Babe of Chalau was a civil servant, responsible for keeping the town hall clean, and not a grave digger. No one paid him for that extraordinary task, he who did not even demand that there be a grave ready for him when he passed away. This because he preferred that he be left above ground to rot in the sun light. He also feared that he would suffocate below the earth's surface.
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João Manco, Auntie J...