Senator Onesimo Sanchez is not a nice man. If he was, he wouldn’t be a senator. Because he is a senator, you know exactly what kind of nice man he isn’t. In the first sentence of his short story, “Death Constant Beyond Love”, Gabriel García Márquez tells us that Onesimo Sanchez has six months to live. Onesimo Sanchez doesn’t tell anyone, including his wife. The story ends:
Six months and eleven days later he would die in that same position, debased and repudiated because of the public scandal with Laura Farina and weeping with rage at dying without her.
It’s hard to write a convincing love in a few pages, and Onesimo Sanchez’ with Laura Farina remains a mystery, but perhaps that’s the point. The story describes a politics so superficial that when Onesimo Sanchez visits Laura Farina’s town (“an illusory village which by night was the furtive wharf for smugglers’ ships”) to give a speech, he comes with shiny, paper facades of brick buildings with glass windows that his underlings attach to the town’s actual buildings. Devoid of principles and cynical despite living in a world of apparent magic, Onesimo Sanchez sees love in anything that isn’t just a facade, including in Laura Farina, the daughter of a man who wants a favour from the senator and who dealt with his own first wife by drawing and quartering her, then using her remains to fertilize a cauliflower patch. When the father sends the daughter to convince the senator to agree to his favour, he makes sure she’s wearing a padlock where it counts.
My favourite part of the story occurs when Laura Farina comes to meet the senator. She’s standing in a room away from the political commotion, watching quietly as he makes a butterfly out of a sheet of paper. The butterfly flies from his room to hers, where it gets stuck to a wall. As Laura Farina tries to peel it off, a dozing soldier wakes up and tells her it’s impossible because the butterfly is painted on. It’s moments like these that define magical realism.