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Fermina's suspicious search of Dr. Urbino's office to Florentino's discovery of Fermina's letter
Fermina looks through Dr. Urbino's medical records, but finds no evidence that he is having an affair. One night, she awakens to see Urbino staring at her with hatred, though he insists her vision is a dream. That weekend, Fermina notices that Urbino does not take communion, and has not been taking it for weeks. When she first confronts him, he gives an evasive answer. When Fermina confronts Urbino again, she asks, without harshness, what is going on. The Doctor replies that Fermina knows better than he, which marks the end of the confrontation, and the end of his affair with Miss Barbara Lynch, a beautiful, twenty-seven year-old mulatta. She will not allow the Doctor to take off her clothes, though she will allow him all of the "ethical violations" he desires during his daily examinations of her. During the affair, Urbino suffers in anguish; he rushes in and out of Barbara's house, burdened by remorse and wishing that his desire for her would end.
After Fermina confronts him, he never visits Barbara again. On the night Fermina confronts Urbino, he confesses that he thinks he is going to die. Fermina replies that it would be for the best, cries tears of rage as she lies in bed. She tells Urbino that she has a right to know the identity of the woman, and he confesses all. When he tells Fermina that he had confessed such intimacies to a priest, she is enraged, for since her days at the Academy, she has been convinced that those who are associated with the Church lack virtue inspired by God.
Days after her husband's confession, Fermina sails to another village to stay with Hildebranda. Beforehand, she visits her birthplace and finds it defiled by poverty, prostitution, and cholera. When the Bishop reports that Fermina will not return from Hildebranda's ranch because she is unable to overcome her pride, Urbino goes to retrieve his wife without first telling her, though he corresponds with Hildebranda, who does not forewarn Fermina either, to let her know of his visit. Fermina is overjoyed by the sound of her husband's voice, and returns home with him, though she resigns to make him pay for the pain he has caused her.
Florentino and Leona Cassiani sit in front of Fermina and Urbino at a movie. Afterwards, the Doctor greets them with a handshake, and Fermina gives a courteous smile. Florentino is shocked by the sight of Fermina, for she now looks very old; she trips as she exits. Having seen Fermina in such a state, Florentino knows he will have to renounce his love for her. Later, he asks Leona to invite him in for brandy. Leona warns Florentino when he tries to seduce her, and reveals that she has known for a long time that he is not the man she is looking for. Florentino leaves at three in the morning and announces victoriously that he and his "lionlady," Leona, have "killed the tiger."
It occurs to fifty-six year-old Florentino that Fermina may die before he does. Florentino himself has crossed the line into old age; he is both bald and toothless. Six months after Uncle Leo is ordered by his physician to leave work, Florentino is named President and Manager of the company, and during his inauguration party, recalls the women he has been with. He believes that one can love many at once, without betraying one of them. Presently, Florentino is with Andrea Varon, a prostitute with whom he breaks his vow never to pay for love, though they agree on a symbolic fee of one peso, which he does not offer and she does not accept.
However, on the day of Urbino's death, Florentino has but one lover: fourteen year-old América Vicuña who is sent to Florentino, her guardian and blood relative, by her parents. Florentino hears the funeral bells, and asks his driver for whom they toll. When he learns they are for Urbino, he does not feel triumphant, as he had imagined, but is terrified because he realizes that he could have been the one to die. Florentino goes directly to Urbino's house, and repeats to Fermina his vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love. For the following two weeks, during which there is an incessant downpour of rain, Florentino suffers from insomnia and constipation. But just when he has assured himself that Fermina will not respond, he discovers a letter from her floating in a puddle in his doorway.
Once more, in this section, a character—in this case, Dr. Urbino—is physically, mentally, and emotionally made sick by love. The Doctor suffers for his romantic desires, much like Florentino suffers from his passion for Fermina. Dr. Urbino seems almost grateful to Fermina for confronting him about his affair with Barbara Lynch, for in Fermina's discovery of her husband's infidelity, she has lifted from his shoulders his most pressing, most unbearable burden. The Doctor feels intense remorse for his indiscretions with Barbara because he poses a threat to the stability of their mediocre, but solid marriage, and also because he is a Catholic who is committing the cardinal sin of adultery. Dr. Urbino covets his neighbor's wife. Dr. Urbino is exhausted by the deceit he must commit, and his exasperation, combined with his terrible guilt, prevent him from taking pleasure in his relationship with Barbara.
Leona is the one woman in Florentino's life who is trustworthy and reliable, the one woman who he truly loves. Since Florentino first met Leona Cassiani, there has been an enduring sexual tension between them, particularly because Florentino had initially mistaken Leona for a whore. When Florentino is in a desperate state after having realized both his and Fermina's old age and limited life span, he renounces his lifetime of love and longing for Fermina and seeks refuge in the home and comfort of Leona Cassiani, for it is with and in Leona that Florentino is thoroughly at ease; only Leona knows how to soothe Florentino when he is hurt. However, the current of sexual electricity that runs between Leona and Florentino has lessened in the many years since their first meeting, and they now act more as mother and son, or sister and brother, loving one another wholly in their hearts, though not with their bodies.
Florentino refers to Leona as the "lionlady of [his] soul" because he loves her deeply, and because, consciously or not, he aches to be with her. His longing for Fermina is far more impassioned than his longing for Leona, though it seems that Florentino possesses a more genuine love for Leona; Fermina may be everywhere else, but Leona is in his soul, at his deepest, most inner core. When, upon leaving her house, Florentino announces that he and Leona have "killed the tiger," he implies that they have overcome any remaining sexual tension between them, the tiger representing that tension. Together, Florentino and Leona overcome this tension with honest communication, specifically when Leona tells Florentino, with the utmost sincerity, that she has known for a long time that he is not the man she is looking for.
In recalling the many women he has been with, Florentino maintains that he has not betrayed Fermina, despite his countless sexual liaisons. Consistently throughout the novel, Florentino abides by the belief that each of his sexual encounters is merely a method of coping with the absence of his true love, Fermina. He can never feel for these many women what he feels for Fermina, and in this belief, somehow feels as though he is still a virgin, and will remain so until he makes love to Fermina. None of the women Florentino sleeps with can make him feel what he anticipates he will feel with Fermina, nor can he ever love any one of them the way he loves Fermina. Thus, Florentino considers himself crystalline pure, eager and prepared to share his love with Fermina as a man who has saved himself solely for her.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Love in the Time of Cholera!