When they began their courtship, they began reading together. They started with soft Protestant theology and soon progressed to the romantic surrealism of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.
In less than a month, Jennifer Ditlevson had finished the book and would ask him about it; but somewhere in the midst of unnecessary details and wit, Timothy Haglund claimed to have fallen in love for a second time. He had grown to savor the ludicrous and brilliant descriptions of minute things in the text. Jennifer Ditlevson feared that he was displaying noncommittal tendencies. Yet what she did not know was that for as careless as he had been as a young man, Timothy Haglund had become increasingly aware of his mortality, and hence, the potential fatality of their love the closer they crouched toward marriage.
After three years, wedding bells, and three apartments, he had read less than half the novel.
“Finishing it,” he said, “would only bring us one step closer to death. We began this when we started dating, and if I finish it, it will be like committing hari-kari.”
So he refused to read more than a page at a time over steamed vegetables and biryani—until one night when they heard the news that the author had been taken to the hospital due to complications related to lymphatic cancer.
Upon his wife’s urging, they began to read the novel aloud at dinner and bed times. Sometimes they even read in the middle of getting ready for work. At times, she wondered which was of greater need: to read their daily devotions in the Holy Word, or to sneak just one more page beyond the day’s ration of novel reading. Her urgency implied that the story of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza would disappear as soon as the author’s soul passed into its final night. Although Jennifer Ditlevson did not fear her own death, or even the death of her love or lover, she could not bear the thought of losing a good story.
“It’s Marquez, after all,” she said, after he questioned the sudden uptick in reading sessions. “We can risk nothing.”
And they read.