Meme’s last vacations home occur while Colonel Aureliano Buendía is still being mourned. Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo have given birth to a new daughter named Amaranta Úrsula. Meme receives her diploma as a clavichordist, and her dedicated skill in this regard is a surprising counterpoint to her otherwise frivolous nature. Her passionless playing is focused on antiquated melodies that put audiences to sleep, and though her mother invites all the town’s newcomers to hear Meme play in the hopes of attracting her a suitor, no match is found. Only when Amaranta dies as Meme able to stop playing the clavichord.
Despite Aureliano Segundo living primarily with Petra Cotes now, he and Fernanda still apparently have sex because another daughter is born. Meme’s skills as a clavichordist show how the family has moved on from the player piano to this new instrument, though the new instrument is used primarily in churches. Though Meme has a talent for playing, the solemn nature of the music makes it a bore to listen to. The story jumps ahead to allude to Amaranta’s death, suggesting again that characters’ fates are sealed in advance.
Meme’s real joy lives in being social: gossiping and partying and seeing movies with her father. After her second vacation home she had realized that her father staying at home was only a ruse played out for her benefit. Meme returns home one night, drunk and ready to tell off her mother and Amaranta, but instead she lies, telling them how much she loves them, a lie that Amaranta sees through, but Fernanda falls for. When Meme wakes later, sick with a hangover, Fernanda calls the doctor and makes Meme stay in bed for close to a week, though Úrsula is wise to Meme’s true ailment. Aureliano Segundo can also tell what Meme is suffering from and he recommits to spending more time with her.
Fernanda worries over her daughter, enlisting the help of modern medicine, something that hasn’t been used before in Macondo. Fernanda’s sheltered nature continues to be revealed in new ways, including her inability to recognize Meme’s hangover. Seeing the trouble his daughter might get into, Aureliano Segundo realizes he might need to increase his presence in his daughter’s life, continuing the growth of the relationship that has grown between them in fits and starts on her visits home.
Meme, similar to Amaranta, is not beautiful, but she is friendly and fun. Aureliano Segundo spoils Meme, redecorating her bedroom and giving her as much spending money as she wants, though she takes even more out of his wallet herself. Fernanda busies herself caring for the new baby and corresponding with “invisible physicians.” She only cares that Aureliano Segundo never take Meme to Petra Cotes’ house. Petra Cotes, however, wants nothing to do with the girl, threatened by Aureliano Segundo’s affection for her.
Meme follows in the paths of the José Arcadios, living a free-spirited life in which she is careless with money. Fernanda’s interest in the benefits of modern medicine cause her to correspond with invisible doctors who attempt to diagnose and treat her telepathically, calling into question whether Fernanda is truly sick or just a hypochondriac, and suggesting a more magical interpretation of a person’s relationship with doctors, further confusing the line between truth and magic.
Among Meme’s friends are three American girls, from the other side of the tracks, one of whom is the daughter of Mr. Brown. Meme is invited to the Saturday dances, the only ones where natives and Americans mingle. Fernanda is appalled that her daughter goes to these dances, but Úrsula sees no issue. Meme is invited to play the clavichord for the Americans, and after that she is also invited to the Sunday pool parties and lunch once a week. She takes to the interests of the Americans, even learning English.
Meme befriending white people from the banana company is seen as a betrayal of sorts, because they’re seen as a blight on Macondo. Meme’s sociability and musical talents are embraced by the more modern Americans, though Fernanda worries her daughter is behaving improperly.
Aureliano Segundo, proud, buys Meme a six-volume English encyclopedia. She spends the time she once spent gossiping, poring over the encyclopedia, seeing her former ways as juvenile and regaling Aureliano Segundo with the story of her drunken night. She tells him she liked a redheaded American boy visiting on vacation who had already returned home with his family. Aureliano Segundo returns to Petra Cotes. Amaranta continues to sew her shroud. The invisible doctors diagnose Fernanda with a tumor in her large intestine and schedule a “telepathic operation.”
The official facts in the encyclopedia contrast the history and science that José Arcadio Buendía used to make up for his own children. Aureliano Segundo, believing that he is close enough to Meme that she will tell him about her first love affair, shows that he is misguided; he believes he can control his daughter when she already makes her own rules.
The death of Amaranta causes new upheaval. No one in the family has had any idea as to Amaranta’s true personality. She has deprived herself of romance and happiness, suppressing her desires until she nearly acts out on them with her nephews. The way that Colonel Aureliano Buendía thought about his war until his death is the way that Amaranta thinks of her adopted sister Rebeca. She prays that she will not die before Rebeca, and one afternoon, years ahead of time, she is warned that she should begin sewing her shroud on the sixth of the following April and that she will die on the day it is completed.
The family’s sense of confusion around Amaranta’s reasons for depriving herself of pleasure and companionship over the years call back her being born watery and slippery as a newt—they’ve always found her internal life slippery and difficult to understand. She believes she receives premonitions about her future, similar to the ways others in the family receive visions about how to protect themselves and their family.
Several years later, a week ahead of time, she calculates that she will take the last stitch on the night of February fourth, but a power outage prevents her from finishing. She completes her work on the morning of the fifth and announces that she will die at dusk. She offers to take letters to the dead for everyone in town. She calls for a carpenter so she can be measured for a coffin and asks that the letters be buried with her. Father Antonio Isabel arrives to deliver last rites to Amaranta, who still seems perfectly well. He asks Amaranta to confess, but she says that her conscience is clean. Fernanda asks what sin could be so bad that she declines to admit it even now, but Amaranta only makes Úrsula sweat to her virginity.
Something as simple as a power outage is capable of tacking a few extra days onto Amaranta’s life, showing the way that magic and everyday life exist side by side. Amaranta is the second character, after Arcadio, to claim that she has nothing to confess upon her death. Amaranta’s belief that she is pure, despite her cruel actions, is based in her belief that remaining a virgin has absolved her of all other guilt. This echoes other characters who believe that following specific social rules matters more than the spirit of goodness.
Meme plays a concert that night and, in the middle of her piece, someone interrupts her to tell her aunt has died and the show is ended. After the nine nights of mourning, Úrsula goes to bed and does not get up again. Santa Sofia de la Piedad takes care of her. From bed, Úrsula teaches little Amaranta Úrsula to read. With all of her time to silently observe and meditate, Úrsula senses that Meme is upset and asks what is wrong, but Meme laughs off the question.
Úrsula, who has remained active up until this point, shows the power of her grief by taking to bed for what everyone assumes to be the rest of her life. Though Santa Sofia de la Piedad is also elderly at this point, and has gone mostly unmentioned for this time, the saintly woman appears to care for Úrsula, showing how even characters who are not said to be forgotten have faded to the background.
One night Meme says that she is going to the movies with Aureliano Segundo, but Fernanda hears him playing the accordion. Fernanda goes to the theater and sees Meme kissing a man. Fernanda escorts Meme home and the following day, a young mechanic for the banana company appears, trailed by yellow butterflies, to inquire about Meme. His name is Mauricio Babilonia. In flashback, we learn that Meme was made aware of the young man sometime before. She is bothered by him enough that he shows up in her dreams. The dream causes her to take an interest in him, and when she sees him next, she is nervous to talk to him at the movies. She looks for an excuse to go visit him at work, and he can tell she is interested. She is mortified at the transparency of her efforts. She recognizes that the yellow butterflies always precede his appearance.
Meme must lie to her mother to go to the movies where she meets the mechanic Mauricio Babilonia. After they have kissed and Meme has fallen in love, his presence is indicated by the presence of yellow butterflies, similar to the way Pilar Ternera smelled like smoke or José Arcadio’s body smelled of gunsmoke, and building the use of the color yellow (the yellow flowers appeared when José Arcadio Buendía died, for instance). When Meme had first met Mauricio Babilonia, she had been uncertain if she liked or disliked him, similar to the way in which many characters before have oscillated between love and hate of others. The love between the pair is apparent to all, as they all see the yellow butterflies that surround Mauricio Babilonia.
When Mauricio Babilonia visits the house to deliver a package from Meme’s friend, Fernanda notes only that she can tell by his face he is going to die. When Meme opens the package inside, she finds a note from Mauricio Babilonia saying they’ll meet at the movies on Saturday. That night, he sits down beside her at the theater. She becomes obsessed and will do anything to spend time with him. She visits Pilar Ternera to have her fortune told, not knowing the woman is her great-grandmother. Pilar offers Meme the use of her bed so that she might be united with Mauricio. Amaranta’s death postpones this possibility. On the first evening she is able, she arranges to meet Mauricio Babilonia at Pilar Ternera’s.
Fernanda believes she has a premonition about the destiny of Meme’s paramour in the same way the Buendías believe they can sometimes see people’s futures. As Ampara Moscote delivered a package to Rebeca secretly from Pietro Crespi earlier, here that trickery is subverted in Mauricio Babilonia saying it’s from one of Meme’s friends, when it’s actually from him. Pilar Ternera, impossibly old, still lives in this town, but Meme doesn’t realize she is her ancestor. Pilar has told so many fortunes for Buendías that she can just follow the patterns of their lives to predict someone’s future instead of referencing her cards.
Meme and Mauricio Babilonia make love twice a week for three months. On the night Fernanda catches the young couple kissing in the theater, Aureliano Segundo asks Meme to tell him what’s going on, but she refuses. He believes their bond has been severed. For two months, Meme is confined to her room, seemingly unaffected. Úrsula notes, though, that Meme takes a bath at night now. At night, the yellow butterflies arrive to the house. Fernanda tries to kill them, claiming butterflies at night are bad luck. Fernanda discovers the mustard plasters Meme has been using as a contraceptive one night and requests a guard be stationed outside her daughter’s window the next day. The guards shoot Mauricio Babilonia as he tries to crawl through the bathroom roof, paralyzing him. He dies of old age, alone, many years later.
Meme is able to keep her secret relationship with Mauricio Babilonia a secret for a significant amount of time, and their being caught kissing shows the way they had begun to grow careless, marking one more instance where people are ultimately incapable of keeping their romance a secret. Only wise Úrsula, who tracks the comings and goings of all those in the house is wise enough to recognize the reason Meme would take baths at night now instead of in the morning. Fernanda believes nighttime butterflies are a bad omen, and she is not incorrect, though she doesn’t realize what this actually means.