When Melquíades came to town with the gypsies, smiling and youthful and restored, José Arcadio Buendía was entranced by the transformation before him. Truly, he said to Ursula, this was the knowledge of the gods, the power over life and death, better than even the secrets of alchemy. Ursula saw how his eyes lit up and remembered the blackened remains of her inheritance, charred to nothing in the crucible of her husband’s enthusiasm.
Though she begged him not to go when Melquíades offered to show him, and him alone, the workings of his false teeth, she knew he would not listen. The lure of gypsy knowledge would always call to José Arcadio Buendía. It was the way it had always been.
José Arcadio Buendía could not believe the transformation, and Melquíades had had to demonstrate the teeth for him again and again, showing him how they were molded to his palate, how they slipped easily into his mouth. Out - old Melquíades, ruined face, ancient eyes. In - young Melquíades, shiny smile, laughing eyes. “Do they work as well as the old teeth did?” he had asked Melquíades, and Melquíades smiled slyly and leaned in close and bit José Arcadio Buendía lightly on the neck.
“Yes,” was his only reply, breathed warm on José Arcadio Buendía’s skin. The next day, the gypsies left, and Melquíades left with them.
When the reports of Melquíades' death from the fever came, years later, José Arcadio Buendía mourned him alone in his study, surrounded by the remnants of the pursuits the gypsy had inspired. Even ice, the cold, ephemeral diamond that was surely the greatest invention of our time, could not eclipse the memory of Melquíades' warm breath on his neck, and his improbably bright smile.
José Arcadio Buendía finished writing the thirteen thousand, eight hundred and fifty-seventh entry for his memory machine, numbered it, and leaned back in his chair with a sigh. Even he, in all his optimism, could not deny the knowledge that he would not finish the machine before it was too late. Slowly but inexorably, he was losing things. He was living in a strange town, in a house that felt less familiar each day, with women whose names he could hardly remember. He thought perhaps he had once known them, or loved them, but he could not remember, and the fortuneteller's cards were no help either, with their vague words of disappearing gold, impossible quests for forbidden knowledge, and a tall, dark, mysterious man who might have been his father, or his friend, or death come to take him at last.
Even the entries he had written two days before were now just slips of paper with words on them, rather than the reminders of true memories they had been at the time. Slips of paper like all the slips of paper that surrounded the house and town, from the sign on the main road declaring "GOD EXISTS" to the note on his study door that he read each morning, telling him that the woman who brought his coffee was Ursula, his wife, that his clothing was in the chest by the foot of the bed, that he was making a memory machine. Slips of paper that were losing meaning, as first the knowledge and memories they evoked were lost, then the meanings of the words, then the letters themselves.
The light from the lamp at his elbow guttered and burned out, and José Arcadio Buendía could not remember how to light it again, so he sat alone in the dark, awake and despairing of purpose, until the sun rose.
The woman Ursula brought him coffee, which he drank because it smelled good and went down warm. This was what the note on the kitchen door told her to do, so she did it; he knew, he read the note, and the directions for making the coffee, and he assumed that she had done this yesterday. He assumed that she had always done this, and he looked up and tried to remember — not just assumption-memory, but visceral-memory — this woman, this cup of coffee. He might as well have been examining a stranger. She looked back, a little puzzled, mainly indifferent, and he knew that she could not really remember who he was either, or what they meant to one another, or why she brought him coffee each morning. When she turned to go, he did not stop her.
Later that day, or possibly the next, nobody kept track anymore, a strange-looking old man with the sad sleepers’ bell appeared at José Arcadio Buendía's door. When a dull-eyed woman let him in, he thanked her and went straight to the study, as though he knew the house, as though the path were familiar. José Arcadio Buendía looked up at the change in the light, and saw the tall, dark shape silhouetted in his doorway. For a moment he felt a pull toward this ruined old man, as though he knew him. And then it was gone, and he put on his brightest smile, and rose to embrace the visitor, saying how good it was to see him, and apologized for not being able to offer him anything, and tried not to let it show that the forgetfulness of insomnia had eclipsed all knowledge he had ever had of the man.
But the visitor was not fooled. He closed the door and - wonder of wonders - drew out from his bulging, battered suitcase a pair of false teeth. And when he put them in, and smiled, José Arcadio Buendía felt that pull again, and he almost remembered something, something cold and ephemeral, or warm and close, and then it was gone. He shook his head to dispel the feeling. "You don't remember me," his visitor said, and it was not a question.
José Arcadio Buendía heard the regret in the man's voice and spread his hands helplessly. "No," he agreed, "I don't remember you. I don't remember myself, or my son, or my wife, or anything beyond a few hours past anymore."
The visitor nodded, and it was clear that he understood, that he had seen insomnia before and knew how close to the edge of complete forgetfulness the whole town lay. He reached down for his suitcase again and took out a set of flasks and set them on the desk. "I can give you back your memories," he said, and something in his voice, in the way he held himself, made José Arcadio Buendía believe him. "I am a gypsy, however, and as is the custom of my people, I will require payment in exchange for my help."
José Arcadio Buendía nodded, gravely. "We have some money, and no doubt the town can put up more, if you will share this cure with us."
The stranger smiled, that dazzling false smile that made his old face look young. "Not money, José Arcadio Buendía. I want a memory from you. Can you give me that? One memory, and then on the next morning you and all the town may have a drink of the elixir that will cure you." He drew a sheet of paper toward him and wrote down the promise, the next day's date, and signed the paper. "I will keep my word - you may have this as my surety."
José Arcadio Buendía took the paper and placed it on the desk. "Agreed. But how can I give you a memory? I have so few left, and I'm not sure how to go about getting them out." He gestured to the stacks of entries on his desk. "You may have all the memories I've written down for the machine, if you like."
His visitor smiled. "No, not one of your memories, though I thank you for your generosity. I want a memory of my own. Come with me." He held out his hand, and José Arcadio Buendía took it, and together they left the study, and the stacks of paper, and the little flasks, and the forgotten cup of coffee, cooling on the desk.
The stranger — who was clearly not a stranger, but who had been so wholly forgotten that he had been reborn as one — led José Arcadio Buendía to the bedroom, where the bed was smooth and cool and showed no signs of use. He shut the door and turned to José Arcadio Buendía and said, "This is the memory I want," and bit him, lightly, on the neck, and José Arcadio Buendía felt the man's warm breath and the pressure of his teeth and that pull of almost-memory and he shuddered and felt himself grow hard.
"Can you give me this?" asked his visitor.
And all José Arcadio Buendía said was "Yes," and the visitor was kissing him, wet and with the unfamiliar slick texture of those false teeth against his tongue. "Yes," said José Arcadio Buendía again, and returned the kiss as hands began to work on his buttons, as he undid the other man's belt and trousers and let them fall, as he was stripped of his own clothing and stood naked in the cool bedroom with the dark stranger in his arms.
The man's touch did not feel familiar, but nothing felt familiar anymore, and there were no notes telling him how to do this, or not to do this, or with whom he might be permitted to do this, and so José Arcadio Buendía followed the call of the hands on his skin, of the stranger's responsive mouth and the heat of his swollen erection. He gave himself over to the slow burn of sensation, which was not unlike the raw stuff of memory, and which filled some need in him that he had not known or remembered to exist. Between kisses they crawled into the bed and José Arcadio Buendía pushed his hips up into the stranger's, a low whine in the back of his throat as he ground against him, straining for more of this man, of this feeling, of this sensation that would become a memory that would recapture his past.
His cock was aching already as he pushed harder, wanting more, and he gasped with disappointment when the stranger broke the kiss and pulled away. "Please," he heard himself say, clutching at the other man's shoulders to pull him back, but a low chuckle was his only answer as the man evaded him and moved downward, and when José Arcadio Buendía felt the first lick of the stranger's tongue up his shaft he said "Please," again, meaning something entirely different.
The stranger's mouth took him in entirely, impossibly hot on his skin, and when he began to suck José Arcadio Buendía thought that surely this was beyond memory, this feeling of raw want building inside him as the stranger took him deep back into his throat. And the stranger's hand was on his balls, and slipping downward, and he raised his head again just as his fingers started to push in, push in there and his dark eyes glittered as he asked again, "Can you give me this?"
"Take it," José Arcadio Buendía hissed, and pushed down against the fingers, warm and firm and wet with spit. "Just take it," and the stranger smiled and moved up and kissed him. Then the stranger was leaning off the bed, fumbling with another little flask, and returning with fingers that were slick and slippery and oh god so good inside him, and José Arcadio Buendía opened his legs further, wanting more of all of this.
And the stranger gave more kisses, more of the crook and press of those clever fingers, until José Arcadio Buendía cried out, and then something much larger was pushing in and he gritted his teeth against the pain and felt the stranger bite his neck again, not lightly this time, but hard, and breathe "Mine," warm against his skin.
"This is mine," the stranger said again, looking into José Arcadio Buendía's eyes as he paused to give his body time to adjust to the intrusion, "this memory, this moment." And he began to move, long slow thrusts that pulled (like almost-memory) and pushed (like drowning in pure sensation) inside José Arcadio Buendía, who was no longer listening, or begging, or thinking, but was lost in the feel of the stranger's body on his, in his, over his, the rest of the world forgotten.
He could feel the stranger's cock moving inside him, unfamiliar (as everything was unfamiliar) but somehow more real than anything else. And it hurt, but José Arcadio Buendía wanted it to hurt, so that he would remember this. And it felt good, beneath and through the pain, and José Arcadio Buendía grew hard again, and he wanted it to feel good, wanted more despite the pain. And then the stranger shifted a bit and pushed José Arcadio Buendía's knee up higher and it was even better, the hurt had gone (like all the things he had forgotten) and nothing but pleasure and the present remained.
José Arcadio Buendía could feel his own arousal building with each stroke, each firm brush of his own hardness against the stranger's stomach, each slap of hips meeting hips. He reached down and curled his fingers around his own erection, moving his hand in rhythm with that deep push-pull, and the need built faster and he tilted his hips up, wordlessly asking for more. The stranger understood, and thrust in harder, deeper, and José Arcadio Buendía felt something break inside him, like a dam or a jar or a heart and he was coming, coming helplessly over his fist and his stomach, sticky and briny and warm. The stranger froze when he felt it, for a long moment, and then pushed in again, his eyes locked on José Arcadio Buendía's ecstatic face, and again, and came hard, silently, deep within him.
After a minute, he rolled off José Arcadio Buendía and they lay panting, side by side, for a while. Their breathing calmed, and a companionable silence filled the room. They studied the cracks on the ceiling, in the late afternoon light, and just as the stranger was starting to breathe even more slowly, fading off into sleep, he heard José Arcadio Buendía ask, "Do I love you?"
His eyes snapped open again, and he sat up in the bed, looking with his ancient dark eyes at the man spread before him, who regarded him only with curiosity. He rose, still thinking, and began to dress. When he was fully clothed, he turned back to the bed, and said, "I think you might, in your own way, José Arcadio Buendía." And he left, and José Arcadio Buendía stayed on the bed, sated and sore, and tried very, very hard not to forget.
The next morning, a strange-looking old man with the sad sleepers’ bell appeared at José Arcadio Buendía's door. José Arcadio Buendía opened the door, coffee in hand, and saw the tall, dark shape silhouetted in his doorway. For a moment he felt a pull toward this ruined old man, as though he knew him. And then it was gone, and he put on his brightest smile, and rose to embrace the visitor, saying how good it was to see him, and apologized for not being able to offer him anything, and tried not to let it show that the forgetfulness of insomnia had eclipsed all knowledge he had ever had of the man.
But the stranger was not fooled, and he immediately went to the study and fetched a piece of paper which stated who he was and what he had come to do. And when José Arcadio Buendía had read it, the stranger pulled from his battered old suitcase a set of flasks, and chose one of a translucent, gentle color, and gave him a small sip.
The effect was instantaneous, as though the sun had risen on his memory, like the veil of insomnia's apathy and forgetfulness lifted suddenly away, and his eyes shone as he looked at the man before him. "Melquíades!" he exclaimed, joy in his face as he recognized his oldest friend. "You're alive!"