Nelly’s flat felt cramped and stuffy after Violet’s home. Jane deposited her things in Bettina’s bedroom, which was still full of her clothes and belongings and felt she was barging into Bettina’s private life. Nelly had taken away all the snapshots of Kevin but it was still a disturbing feeling and Jane, unable to refrain from a little shiver, wondered if Bettina was there beside her. Nelly’s bedroom was the smaller of the two and the rest of the apartment consisted of the living room, the kitchen and beyond it a very small ‘servants’ room which was used as a closet.
Nelly, after letting Jane in, had gone back to lie on her bed, staring at the ceiling and smoking incessantly. Jane left her there and went to the local supermarket to buy some provisions and ask for large cardboard boxes. When she returned to the flat Nelly was still lying on her bed.
“I’ve brought some sandwiches, would you like one?” Jane asked.
“No thanks,” Nelly replied.
Jane shook her head and went into what was to be her bedroom and began to pack Bettina’s clothes into the boxes she had brought. The clothes were all so small, so narrow. Bettina had been such a slight person! As she worked, Jane began to remember their schooldays. Fat old Miss Lark, anxious little Mrs.Truft always apologizing gently about something, bossy Miss Farren, friendly Miss Hunt. Bettina giving a history lesson with great enthusiasm but few creditable facts; sleeping through Mrs. Truft’s classes; grappling with the intricacies of astronomy and philosophy in fifth year in Spanish.
But Bettina on the hockey field, in gym class or in the swimming pool, was another person, for there she made up, and more, for whatever she lacked in academic capacities. Jane could still see her sprinting up the hockey field like quick-silver, dribbling the ball on her stick and passing with perfect accuracy just in the nick of time before she was tackled. On the hockey field at school there had not been a better player than Bettina.
With a heavy heart, Jane packed everything away and left the wardrobe bare and empty. She cleaned it methodically, lined the shelves with fresh paper and then laid her own clothes on them. She turned out the contents of Bettina’s night-table drawers into a shoe-box without inspecting them. Closing it she placed it on top of the other boxes and covered them all with a rug. On the night table she placed an enlarged snapshot she had taken of Bobby, in a silver frame, which her mother had given her. At once the room seemed far less Bettina’s, and Jane’s spirits rose. She had emptied the two shelves on which Bettina had had knick knacks displayed, and on these she placed her books, and at last, with a firm hand, she took down the pictures over the bed and stuck her two new prints up on the wall in their stead. Standing back to look at them with pleasure she thought of Robert. What a nice person he was! It seemed a pity that he should not have as nice a companion as he was himself. What had Aunt Georgina said? That Violet was a selfish little brat. Well, perhaps that was exaggerating a bit, but anyway, Robert seemed happy enough. Nelly appeared at the door and looked round the room bleakly. Her clothes were crumpled, her hair unkempt.
“You’ve changed everything,” she said.
Jane felt panic rise within her. What had she done? Should she have left the room exactly as it had always been? Would this be the last straw for Nelly in her fragile state of nerves? What should she do?
“Robert just gave me these prints,” she said quickly. “I wanted to see what they looked like on the wall.”
“Oh,” Nelly’s eyes strayed over them. “Very nice. But you’ll put the pictures back again, won’t you?”
“Of course,” Jane assured her.
“What’s here?” Nelly asked, stretching out her hand and touching the rug.
“Bettina’s clothes, in cardboard boxes. I needed room to put my things.”
“Her desk was here. She’d taken it to the house. I suppose it got burned.” Nelly turned and looked at Jane with hollow eyes. “She’s dead. She’s dead, Jane. She’s never going to come back. She’s dead.”
“D’you believe in God?”
“A priest talked to me in the hospital. He said so many things to me. I suppose they made sense to him. I don’t believe in God. No God would do a thing like that. Let a wonderful girl like Bettina die in a fire like that. No God of love would do that.”
“Perhaps He had to.”
“What do you mean?”
“Perhaps it was what Bettina, at some higher level, of course, unconsciously wanted and as God has given us free will, well, He had to let it happen.”
“Wanted to? Wanted to leave me and lose her life at twenty two? How can you say that?”
“If one believes, as some people do, that everything that happens to us is part of what we ourselves, our essential selves, want or need for our development, then Bettina wanted, or needed, to die like that.”
Nelly stared at Jane for a moment, frowning a little, then she said coldly, “That’s ridiculous!”
She turned and left the room. Jane rose to follow her, uncertain and anxious. She hesitated and then turned and took down her prints. She put the pictures back on their hooks and went in search of Nelly, whom she found sitting on the sofa in the living room.
“Did Bettina ever play hockey after leaving school?” she asked. “I remember she was planning to join the Club Las Plantas.”
“No,” Nelly replied. “She studied shorthand and typing and then she got a job and began going out with Kevin and I don’t think he wanted her to play hockey. What a terrible life she would have had with him. What a terrible person she fell in love with! Kevin is rotten, just rotten. He’s made that up about thinking Bettina was outside the house when the fire started. He’s made it up so as not to appear the coward he really is. He’s a coward, Jane. He’s the one who should have been burned alive! Not my Bettina!”
“Bettina worked at Candy Kindergarten, didn’t she?”
“Yes. She worked in an office before. She had a good job, responsible, you know. Her boss was always sending her out to do this and that for him and she loved that. Sitting in an office all day tied her up in knots though, she never really got used to it. I used to give her massage.”
They talked on about Bettina as the afternoon waned and darkness gathered, turning Santa Laura into fairyland of lights strung out into the distance. Nelly ate a little supper and seemed a trifle less depressed; that night Jane prayed urgently that she should find the strength to overcome her grief.
At Jane’s suggestion, they invited Dr. And Mrs. Michaelson to supper. Nelly made an effort, and was nicely dressed and combed for the occasion. While Hetty and Jane chatted in the kitchen, Dr. Michaelson held as long, quiet conversation with her in the living room, checked her pulse and breathing, and finally filled out two prescriptions.
“All this?” Nelly said. “Am I ill, then?”
“No,” Dr. Michaelson smiled. “But you need vitamins, and this is for a combination of Bach flower dilutions to help you get over your depression. If you want to.”
“Want to what?”
“Get over your depression.”
“Oh! And why shouldn’t I?”
“At this moment it seems to be the only thing that has any reality or meaning in your life, but you will have to sacrifice it if you want to recover. Depression can lead to a complete chemical imbalance if it becomes too deep, you know. It’s a normal reaction, of course, but one must always try and overcome it by turning one’s attention outwards, away from the inner pain and out towards the needs of others. You have your job, you tell me they are waiting for you to go back, and there are many, many people in need of comfort and encouragement, just as you are at this moment, people who are also waiting for you, because, after this experience, your understanding and capacity to help will be almost boundless.”
Nelly looked away from the old man’s kindly gaze and fiddled with the hem of her handkerchief. It was true; her suffering was the only trace of colour in her life; everything else seemed grey and pointless.
“I intended to commit suicide as soon as I got back here,” she said in a low voice. “And then Jane asked if she could come and stay here till she finds a place to live, and I remembered that her father won’t speak to her and that she can’t live in her own home, so I said yes.”
“That is what I mean, turning your focus of attention outwards, using your pain to help others.”
Nelly nodded. “I understand you now.”
“That’s the spirit! And back to work, even if it’s only half day at first, as soon as possible. Tomorrow in fact. Now, shall we join Jane and my better half? We don’t want the supper to get spoilt!”
As Jane had hoped, Dr. Michaelson’s visit proved a turning point in Nelly’s life. With the help of the Bach flower dilutions and the vitamins she began to recover slowly. She returned to work and the dark emptiness of her life began to take on shapes and contours once again, a daily routine, obligations and, to her surprise, an unexpected flow of warmth and understanding from her colleagues in the office. The weeks passed, and winter crept up over Argentina as the sun rose later and later and set earlier each day.
Violet dropped in occasionally but always when Jane was out. She had taken a new nurse-maid, about whom she complained continually, and was leading an extraordinarily active social life, showing off the fashionable clothes she had bought in Paris.
Jane, after waiting for an invitation which was not forthcoming, went to visit the Gregory household about three weeks after she had moved in with Nelly. Bobby was overjoyed to see her and would not let her out of his sight.
Piqued, Violet said. “I found Bobby terribly spoilt when we returned. In fact, that’s why I haven’t called you. I wanted him to harmonize with our manner of running things before he saw you again.”
“It was probably a reaction from being separated from you,” Jane replied. “Small children depend so much on their parents and to the usual routines of their lives. When you got back I expect he was afraid you’d disappear again, and became very possessive.”
Violet assumed a solemn expression and said, “Yes, I expect you’re right.”
They talked about the latest concerts and charity fashion-shows Violet had attended, ballet at the Opera, cocktail parties and weekend parties at friends’ country houses…
“It’s been just one thing after another since we came back, such fun. Jane dear, I’m afraid… I promised a friend of mine… ” Violet glanced at her watch. Jane rose to her feet at once as she continued. “I’m so sorry; it’s been lovely seeing you; do come again, Bobby often talks about you.”
Picking Bobby up, Jane kissed him and said, “Bye, Bobbins, I have to go now.”
“When can I go to your house an’ see Aunty Dowa ‘gain an’ see her leg?” he asked.
“One of these days. O.K.?”
“ ‘es, but soon. When can I go, Mummy? When can I go to Jane’s house like I used to? Mummy…?”
“That’s enough, Bobby. I heard you the first time.”
“But when can I…?”
“One of these days. We’ll fix it up, my lamb. Kiss Jane goodbye because she has to go now.”
Jane left feeling a little dejected, thinking about Bobby and feeling once again his firm little body against hers. Violet’s active life made her realize that she herself had been slipping into a very dull routine. Her mother all day, and Nelly at night.
“Nelly’s much better now,” she thought. “We could go to the cine and to some concerts and things. I think I’ll ‘phone Javier and María Paulina and see what they’re up to.”
“Come on, let’s go and see Aunt Georgina.”
“But she’s not expecting us.”
“I don’t suppose she’s gone out, it’s too cold!”
“Shouldn’t we ‘phone first?”
“Och, let’s give her a surprise!” Jane flashed Nelly a grin.
They wrapped themselves into their scarves, gloves, and anoraks, and set off for Aunt Georgina’s. It was a very cold Friday evening and there were few people on the streets. Aunt Georgina lived in the older part of Santa Laura. The apartments boasted only five or six stories and ancient, noisy lifts enclosed in what looked like wire cages. Their doors were metal grills which opened and shut and gave one the comforting feeling that if the lift should stop between floors, at least one could shout and be heard and rescued.
Jane had never been to Aunt Georgina’s flat and she was curious to see it, for she knew that the old lady had decided to have it all freshly painted once the plumber had finished with the bathroom. Aunt Georgina had left the matter in Robert’s hands and gone to stay with a friend on a farm. She was overjoyed to see them.
“What a wonderful surprise!” she cried, adjusting her hearing aid and waving towards the sitting room. “Come on in, make yourselves comfortable. Just pile your things on this chair.”
The sitting room was comfortably furnished in a very English style.
“I’ll show you round first,” Aunt Georgina decided. “It’s all just been painted so it’s looking splendid. Then we’ll have a drink. Red wine, what about that? This is the bathroom which was leaking; dreadful mess. It’s nice now, isn’t it? I bought a new shower curtain. This is my bedroom and this is the other bedroom; it’s rather untidy just now, but never mind. I love these old flats; nice high ceilings, lot of wasted space, of course, but so much more human than those modern boxes they build nowadays. This is the kitchen, maid’s quarters over there, but I don’t have a living-in maid, of course. Far too expensive. Manage perfectly well by myself, though. Daily comes twice a week. I have my piano, as you see.”
The piano was in an alcove off the sitting room which was, in fact, meant to be the dining area. Sheets of music covered the piano and were scattered over a table, attesting to the fact that Aunt Georgina was as keen a pianist at home as she had been at the Gregory’s.
“It’s looking splendid, isn’t it?” Aunt Georgina exclaimed once more. “So nice and clean. I decided on very light cream all through and white woodwork, not very adventurous, but at my age… the painters are working upstairs now. The Douglas’s lived there but they left and took everything, even the light bulbs. It’s Robert’s flat, did you know? He let them have it for a song. They didn’t do a thing in the way of upkeep. The kitchen was a disgrace; you should have seen it, about an inch of grease on the walls and all round the stove, and everything so dirty. Well, Robert is getting it all cleaned and nicely painted and fixed up and then I suppose he’ll rent it again. It’s bigger than this flat, extra bedroom. Hope I don’t get a squad of kids tearing about, must remember to tell Robert. Now then… drinks. Here’s the wine, here are the glasses and there’s plenty of cheese and biscuits in the kitchen. What a good idea to come and visit; we’ll have some music right away, to celebrate! Are you both warm enough?”
Reassured on that score she sailed off to the kitchen and came back with a tray piled with biscuits and several different cheeses. The evening passed quickly. They sang, finished two bottles of red wine, and ate their biscuits and cheese. Aunt Georgina played numerous Chopin études and sonatas with great verve, and at last it was time to go home.
Jane and Nelly wrapped themselves up again for their return trip while Aunt Georgina enthused over the idea of making their visit a regular event. Out in the narrow, faintly-lit hall, they heard the lift crank into action below. It rose slowly with many rattles and passed their floor, carrying a man and a young woman standing close together. Jane noted the woman’s mane of black curly hair, full mouth, and flashy clothes. She looked at the man, and found herself looking straight into her father’s eyes!
Friday! On Friday evenings her father always had an important meeting which he seldom missed… could this…? The lift rose out of sight and stopped on the fourth floor. The gates crashed. Nelly pressed the button and it began its groaning trip down again.
“Darling, what’s the matter?” Nelly asked, noting Jane’s expression.
“Nothing, just too much wine may-be.”
Outside on the side walk Jane vomited. Nelly flagged down a taxi and hurriedly took command of the situation. Once back at the flat she sent Jane to bed and prepared her a cup of weak tea with lots of lemon. She found Jane, still fully dressed, sitting on the edge of her bed staring at the floor with a hard, set expression on her face.
“Jane!” she exclaimed gently. “Why don’t you go to bed?”
“Did you see the people in the lift when we left Aunt Georgina’s just now?” Jane snapped.
“The man was my father.”
All through the weekend Jane nursed her fury, trying to control it and come to terms with this new facet of her family life. In vain she tried to remember, and put into practice, all she had read and studied, to say ‘judge not’, to forgive, but her sense of betrayal was so enormous it overshadowed all other feelings and scattered her thoughts, making all efforts at rational thinking impossible.
That this man, this monument of virtue who had expected Brian and herself to be absolutely honest and who had an uncanny capacity to weasel out of them the admission to the smallest of fibs and punish them, that this… person, who was her father, had been double-crossing her mother all these years. YEARS! That this man had beaten her so brutally for having had a relationship and become pregnant, had forced her to give up her child, when all the time he had been ‘carrying-on’ with another woman. That her father was a fraud, a liar, a monster… Ana had been right… there was no other word for him. He was a monster and he was her father.
Hate washed through her together with the longing for revenge. Her one desire was to hurt him as profoundly as he had hurt her. There were moments when she felt as if her mind were a spring which had been stretched too far. She knew that if it broke she would go mad. In her calmer moments she couldn’t believe that she was capable of such violent and bitter emotions.
Nelly, her habitual preoccupation with her own loss and problems forgotten, watched Jane’s suffering with an aching heart, understanding only too well the hell she was going through. She remembered Dr. Michaelson’s words. “After this, your understanding and capacity to help will be almost boundless.”
Realizing that Jane needed time to work through this shattering experience, she held her peace and only on Sunday evening did she venture to say, “Don’t try to be valiant and bottle everything up, darling. It’s better to explode, you know.”
“I know,” Jane agreed grimly. “But it must be a controlled explosion. I feel I’m going mad, Nelly.”
She turned blazing eyes towards Nelly and said, “What you don’t know is that when I was seventeen I got pregnant and he beat me up and threw me out of the house. He told me he wished I had died instead of my brother, to go and be a whore to earn my living. I had the baby. I never went to Brazil. I lived with our maid in her house, miles away in a shanty town, until it was born, and then it was adopted. What else could I do? I never saw my baby. I don’t even know its sex! And that was all my father’s fault, and my mother’s. She backed him up. She let me go. My own mother! And she never did anything to get in touch with me, write to me, nothing. Those are my parents! Monsters! Both of them! And what’s more, it was my birthday on Friday!”
Jane glared out of the window at the darkness, as Nelly’s mind reeled at what she had just heard. Jane turned to her once more. “You said once I couldn’t know what you’ve been through. But I do. What’s worse, though, is that I have a child, somewhere in the world I have a child who is going to be five and I don’t know him… I always feel it was a boy… I shall never know him, or her. You at least had Bettina for twenty two years, but I look at every little kid and I ask myself, ‘Is this my child?’ It’s crazy, I know, but I can’t help it. Why d’you think I can’t bear the thought of having a steady boyfriend? Anybody who cares for me would have to know, and how can I tell them? “Oh, by the way I have a child. I had it when I was eighteen. And if you say ‘Why mention it?’ why indeed? But then there would be that which would hang like a… like a curtain between us, always. Oh, Nelly, and now I find out that my father has been… Oh, God. I want to kill him… but slowly, very slowly so that he suffers. Suffers and suffers and suffers.”
Jane covered her face with her fists. Nelly flung her arms about her and held her close. There was nothing she could say but Oh! how well she understood. After a while she murmured, “Why don’t you go and see Dr. Michaelson? He helped me so much, I’m sure he could help you.”
Jane nodded. “Yeah. I suppose so. The worst of it is I’m still nursing my mother. She has to go to therapy three times a week now her plaster is off and she’s still a bit wobbly on her feet. She has to have someone around. But how will I be able to carry on? The house, the furniture, everything reminds me of that morning when my father bashed me and bashed me with all his might. I hate him, Nelly, I detest him. I’ve tried and tried to forgive him. I said to myself that I was too much of a disappointment for him, as he was so honest and so on, and now… ”
“I’ll make some coffee. Come and tell me all about it, darling. I know it’ll do you good. Keeping quiet about such a terrible pain, such a deep secret has been an awful burden for you. Sharing it will help, I’m sure. I’ll never tell anyone. Please trust me.”
They sat in the kitchen for hours while Jane talked and talked. The floodgates once opened, she found she couldn’t stop. She described her life with Ana, how she had touched her baby’s head and hand. The long lonely years in the hospital. The impossible dream of recognising her child. Her fear that he or she might be dead and how a nurse had ‘phoned her and told her that her child was well and healthy.
“It was just wonderful to know that, you know. It made all the difference.”
Gradually she began to relax a little. “Anita found a book by a man called Bernardo Rivas, in the bus I think, and gave it to me. It was about re-incarnation. My father didn’t even believe in God, let alone the spiritual worlds. He said it was all humbug. This book was like a revelation for me. Repeated lives makes sense. Our higher selves, (we have two selves, the higher self or ego, and the lower) our higher selves don’t incarnate yet, but they need our experiences and trials here on earth in order to develop. To perfect themselves. They even provoke situations if necessary. All trials are tests, are a blessing in fact, although the lower self doesn’t see it like that.
I decided having to give up my baby was a test, for me, and that perhaps the baby used me in order to be born and to reach his real parents, who couldn’t have had him otherwise.
It’s a wonderful book. I’ll lend it to you if you like. The author must be such a special person. It explained how the soul has to be purified, that we have to transform our emotions and learn to live tranquil, kind, loving lives, knowing that all that happens to us is what we really need and want.”
Jane lapsed into silence. At last she said. “And look at me. I thought I had developed spiritually and instead I’m back in square one. Instead of wanting to try and… and be forgiving, all I want to do is hurt my father.”
“But darling, that’s understandable.”
Jane ran her fingers through her hair. “I suppose I should go and see Dr. Michaelson,” she said at last. “He’s such a wise person, isn’t he? But what shall I say to my mother?”
“Nothing? She’ll notice at once that something’s wrong.”
Nelly shrugged. “Tell her you’ve had an argument with me!”
“Oh, yes! And add more lies to the pile! Our family has been living on lies for too long already.”
“Well, you’ll think of something.”
“You’re very quiet today.”
Jane looked at her mother and bit back the longing to tell her everything she knew. Instead she said, “I’m feeling depressed. I miss Bobby and my life at the Gregories. Did Dad go to his meeting on Friday?”
“I don’t know. He missed while you were in plaster, didn’t he?”
“Yes, it was very good of him because he’s expected to go, you know, by the company. But of course they quite understood under the circumstances.”
Jane busied herself tidying some magazines so that Dora should not see her face and her trembling hands.
“Do you love him, Mummy?” she asked.
Dora, startled, looked up sharply. It was a question she had not asked herself for a long time. “It’s not a question of loving,” she replied at last, inadequately. “We’re married – for better or for worse.”
“But, do you?”
“It’s a silly question,” Dora said angrily. “We’ve been married for nearly thirty years, you don’t expect one to be all fluttery and ‘in love’ after thirty years, do you? We’re… we’re very fond of one another.”
“Of course. What’s got into you, Jane? What is the matter?”
“I don’t know. I just think about you both and I wonder what ticks. I’m twenty three. You’re my mother and yet I realize that I hardly know you. There seems to be only superficial communications between us. Do you love me?”
“Love you? What an extraordinary thing to ask! Of course I do.”
“Or are you just fond of me?”
“Jane, this conversation isn’t getting anywhere!”
“No, you’re right. Sorry.”
Jane went to see Dr. Michaelson.
“I want to kill him,” she said, once she had told her good friend the reason for her visit. “All I want to do is to confront him in front of my mother and hurt him, hurt him as much as he hurt me. I want all their friends and acquaintances to know what a piece of dirt he is. I want to crush him into a pulp, that’s all I want to do!”
Dr. Michaelson said nothing, and Jane went on. “Because of him, because of his falseness and hypocrisy I gave up my child. He beat me up… you saw me … and he was going every week to a ‘meeting’, a company ‘meeting’ to which he was ‘expected to go’. Some meeting! He’s a liar, a cheat. He’s cheating my mother, he doesn’t have a heart in him. Nothing. He’s got a stone for a heart. He’s the most egoistic person possible. I feel like buying a gun and shooting him. Then my mother would be free of him.”
Dr. Michaelson touched the tips of the fingers of his right hand with those of his left.
“I think of my child every day, every day Dr. Michaelson,” Jane rushed on. “And I don’t even know what sex it is. Nearly five years. I can’t forget. I can’t say it never happened, I was never pregnant, I never had a child. Everything I do, I’ve done for him or for her. All through those years at the Hospital I was working for the baby, to be worthy of him or her, to help other people for his or her sake, to become the best sort of person possible so that he or she would never be ashamed of me. And now my father, after hitting me like that, after calling me all those names and telling me he wished I had died instead of Brian, now he turns out to be a piece of scum, just a piece of scum!”
“Why,” Dr. Michaelson murmured, “did you tell your mother that you didn’t know whose child it was?”
Jane looked up abruptly through her tears and met his serious, unwavering gaze. Time telescoped and she remembered Kevin’s fury and threats, her paralyzing fear. The fear of her parent’s reaction, of Kevin’s parents’ reaction, her fear of the social implications, her fear of facing life alone and with a baby. She saw her own egoism rise before her like an ugly little creature hiding behind her fear, pushing her towards the easy solution, adoption, and making her feel brave because she had refused to abort. She saw that deep down she had not wanted to assume the responsibility of the child any more than Kevin or her mother and father. That she was, in fact, just as guilty as they were. Hiding her face in her hands she tried for a moment to rationalize the admission of her own guilt, but then she faced it with defiant courage. That she did not have her child with her at that moment was due to her own decision, to herself. She had not wanted it. For four years she had been blaming Kevin, her mother and her father; even, deep down in her heart, Dr. Michaelson. How many times had she asked herself why he had suggested she give the baby up for adoption, why he hadn’t insisted that she should keep it. Anita would never have given up her child, in fact she had urged her to keep her baby. Now she understood. She had not wanted the child. If Dr. Michaelson had pressured her into keeping it, it would have been against her will. She had accepted the idea of adoption, and felt noble. But ever since she had touched the warm, soft head and heard the thin, sad wail she had suffered. And why she had suffered? Because in that way she could cover up the admission of her guilt, of not wanting her baby, of having, with an unconscious sigh of relief, handed it over to another woman to bring up, and gone off to be a nurse at the British Hospital, ostensibly having been in Brazil for seven months. A quiet, friendly, decent girl, dedicated to her career as a nurse. No one suspected the secret which she nursed in her heart. Was she, in fact, so very different from her father? People took her for what she apparently was, in good faith, for an honest person with nothing to hide. Who was she to judge others? What right had she to judge her father? To explode his life and marriage, the whole fabric of his life and her mother’s? Did her mother want to be free of him? Obviously not. She was very fond of him, used to him, safe with him. If she had felt otherwise she would have behaved differently, stood up to him, remained in touch with her daughter, helping and supporting her. She had done nothing in all those years, except for the maternity clothes. Not a letter even. She had agreed wholeheartedly with the punishment imposed.
They had accepted her back into their circle because of the circumstances, and because she had taken the initiative and it had suited them. And she? What had made her feel she should go and see her mother at the hospital and not just send her flowers, as Lucio had said? Had she been motivated by love, or something else?
Wearily, Jane raised her anguished face and looked at Dr. Michaelson for a long time in silence. At last she said. “I didn’t want my child either. Poor little thing, I washed my hands of him just as Kevin and my parents did. I’m no better than they are.”
“Ah, but there is a difference,” Dr. Michaelson said gently.
“First, you genuinely wanted the best for your child when you made the decision, I can attest to that. Second, you’ve spent four years working on yourself, trying to become the best sort of person possible in heart and soul in order to be worthy of your child, so that he or she would never be ashamed of you. Do you think that is without worth?”
“At another level, far above this physical one, nothing that we do in order to become of more use for the Grand Scheme can be lost – or unknown. Our attitude is what counts most, in fact it is by our attitudes that we are judged by the higher worlds.”
“D’you think that my baby knows, at some other level of course, that everything I do, I do for him or for her to be proud of me?”
“And for you to be proud of yourself too, my dear. To feel guilty and less-than-par about oneself is not good at any level. We are what we are. We must accept ourselves. Once we can do that then we can build, improve. But on rock, not on sand. God, the higher beings in the spiritual world if you prefer, forgives us, always, and expects us to try again, harder. Just as we do with little children. However, if all we think about ourselves are illusions, then all we do is to remain immersed in illusions, isn’t that so?”
“There is no need for you to go about now, telling people you once had a child and gave it away in adoption. But neither is there any need for you to feel that it is an ugly secret. Simply accept the fact, recognize why you did it, from every point of view, and build from there, with humility.”
Again Jane nodded. She sighed deeply. “What does it say in the Bible about judging?” she asked.
“Judge not least ye be judged?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“Lest you be judged by your higher self in whom the spirit dwells.”
“How can one be sure of that?”
“If the higher self, the higher mind, the Christ mind in fact, is the one with which we wish to deal with our problems in life, then the soul will absorb the qualities of Christ. Compassion, purity and peacefulness. God forgives all our iniquities as the Bible puts it. Our earthly mind is full of doubts, fears and questions. It is always trying to refute and confuse our higher mind, to destroy the Christ in us. We must learn equilibrium, the balancing of opposites.”
Jane sighed again. “Part of me knows that all you are saying is absolutely right,” she said. “But my heart hurts so. I… I just can’t forgive my father.”
“There is no such word as can’t, my dear. Substitute it for won’t and you’ll be nearer the truth.”
His words caused Jane to flush with anger.
“Everything is my fault, then,” she snapped, “that I don’t want to forgive my father? It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I can’t. I can NOT!”
“Well, be that as it may. But think about our conversation today, let it grow in you. Don’t reject it.”
“What do you know about hate?”
“A lot. One day we’ll talk about it. But what we both know is that it hurts the one who hates far more than the one hated.”
“My brother Diego ‘phoned,” Nelly said. “He’s coming to Argentina.”
“Will he be expecting to stay here?” Jane asked apprehensively.
“Who, Diego? Heaven’s no. He’ll stay at the Ambassador Hotel. You should see his apartment in Sao Paulo. Just enormous, full of servants and luxury. He’s tremendously rich but as mean as anything, too, and pretty selfish on the whole. That’s really why I don’t want to go and stay with him. He means well, but his life style seems to be based on effects. He must always have the best, clothes, servants, parties, clubs. Regular trips to Europe and the States – oh, you know the sort of people. I would feel like a grubby stain ruining all that perfection if I went.”
“Is he married?”
“And divorced. He has two children who live with their mother. He’s a play-boy now. He picks up a woman for a while and then drops her when he gets tired of her, or she gets tired of him. They’re all rather of a feather, I would say.”
“He’s very good looking,” Jane grinned, remembering him.
“Too good looking really, he can make anyone fall for him. Even you if he decided to!” Nelly winked and suddenly looked younger.
“How old is he?”
“Forty six or forty seven; I can’t remember exactly. Let’s see, I’m forty four so he must be… yes, forty seven. My father married again quite soon after he separated from Diego’s mother. Diego always lived with her but he used to spend part of his holidays with us and he sometimes came on weekends. I always adored him, of course, and it was only years later that I realized how he capitalized on that to get anything he wanted out of my father.”
Jane shivered. She was still feeling hurt and annoyed from her conversation with Dr. Michaelson. Her heart felt like a hard knot and waves of anger and guilt washed through her every time she thought of her father with that woman.
To take her mind off her own problems she said, “Let’s give Diego a gourmet meal to welcome him.”
“Sure, one just makes sauces full of wine and everything tastes gorgeous.”
Nelly laughed. “Let’s,” she said. “I took a course in haute cuisine once. It may come in handy.”
“So your father has been visiting that sexy, young woman on the 4th floor, has he?” Aunt Georgina whooped, the juicy little bit of scandal which Jane had just recounted making her eyes sparkle and her hearing-aid function perfectly. “Ema, the porter’s wife, works for her and has told me all sorts of tid bits. Wait a minute, we’ll call her up here and I’ll get her to tell you whatever you want to know.”
Ema, a true gossip, needed no more than a prod or two to divulge enough information for Jane to know without a doubt that her eyes had not betrayed her. Out of earshot from her husband and faced with Aunt Georgina and Jane’s rapt attention, Ema’s tongue loosened rapidly. Yes, the señor rented the apartment and paid all the bills. That Estela Rodrigues was tired of him after nine years and much preferred Augusto. But she had no intention of giving up her comfortable life for such an insignificant reason, especially as the señor’s habits were very regular. Mondays and Wednesdays at mid day and Friday nights. Jane remembered that on Mondays and Wednesdays her father could never be reached at his office before four o’clock. She had understood that it had had something to do with banking hours. With so much spare time on her hands, Ema continued, Estela had plenty of time to enjoy the company of Augusto, who was a struggling young artist. During the day she worked at a fur shop. Augusto was about to give an exhibition of his work, if the Señora was interested Ema had a catalogue which Estela had given her…
“What a pity Robert is in Buenos Aires,” Nelly said, squeezing a last little blob of mayonnaise onto the entrèe which she had been decorating, and licking her fingers. “There, what do you think of that?”
“Thanks to that course in haute cuisine. One learns a few tricks. What time did Violet say she was coming?”
“She said about eight thirty.”
“Good, we’re well ahead of time. What else is there to do?”
“You’d better check the table. I don’t think I have forgotten anything.”
Nelly and Jane, both wearing aprons, went into the living room to make sure that all their preparations for their festive dinner to welcome Diego to Santa Laura were in order and that they had not forgotten anything. Satisfied, they went to dress themselves for the event.
Violet arrived first, looking very attractive in a slim black wool dress with a long slit up one side. Her hair had changed colour again and was now fair, her face was carefully made up and Jane, as always, envied the flawless beauty of her skin.
Diego, bearing a large bunch of dark red roses, arrived some fifteen minutes later. He handed them to Nelly with a flourish, kissed them all, and then produced a box of chocolates and a bottle of brandy. Jane contemplated him with interest. His hands were long and elegant, his clothes impeccable, his shoes narrow and gleaming. Ah! He was a beautiful person to have as a brother! And as a lover?
Nelly fetched a vase and arranged the roses and set them on the bookcase. Their heavy scent filled the room and Jane smiled inwardly, for they were exotic and as out of place in this humble little apartment as Diego and Violet were.
The dinner was a great success. Diego praised everything and even Violet had a few words of approval. She laughed a lot and acted as a gay foil to Diego’s teasing, easy manner. Nelly and Jane, who were by nature quiet, expanded like timid flowers in the warm sunshine of his charm.
At last Violet rose and said she had to be going. “I have the car,” she said. “Can I give you a lift, Diego?”
Jane looked at her sharply, something, some overt vibration in her voice had said something quite different to her casual, friendly words.
“Ah… thanks very much, Violet,” Diego replied. “But I can get a taxi. Don’t you worry about me.”
Violet shrugged, kissed Nelly and Jane goodbye, and thanked them for the invitation.
“Will it be open downstairs?” she asked.
“Oh!” Nelly exclaimed. “The keys… it must be locked by now.”
“I’ll go,” Diego said. “Here, give me the keys, Nelly.”
When he returned from letting Violet out into the street and locking up behind her he settled himself on the sofa after helping himself to a glass of brandy, and said, “I’m very glad to see you looking so well, Nelly. I was really worried about you, you know. In fact that’s why I’m here.”
Nelly was obviously touched. She was looking tired and there were circles under her eyes, but Diego’s words made her face glow with pleasure.
“I’m feeling much better now,” she smiled.
“When do you get your holidays? The children will be with me in January and we’re going to be in Buzios. It would be lovely if you could join us. Now, don’t go talking about expenses. You know I’ll pay for your passage and you won’t need money once you’re there. What about it, eh?”
“Well…” Nelly murmured; she was never able to make her mind up quickly.
“You haven’t seen Jao and Catalina for years. They’re quite lovely teenagers now, great fun to have around.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Nelly said. “When did you say? January? Well yes, I suppose I could take my holidays in January. But not for a whole month!”
“Three weeks then, who cares?”
“I’d like to see Jao and Catalina again, but… I don’t know, Diego.”
“Think it over. I’m here for a week and then I’m going to Buenos Aires for a few days before going back to Sao Paulo. We’d be very happy to have you. Don’t you think it would be a good idea, Jane? Buzios is a very simple place, just right for someone like Nelly.”
“Violet and Robert have a house there,” Nelly said.
“All the more reason then, my dear. You’ll even have your cousin for company. Persuade her, Jane.”
“That’s a nice tie you have on,” Nelly said, sensing that he was about to take his leave and loth to see him go.
“Do you like it? It was a gift. From a beautiful woman in Paris!”
“Paris! When were you in Paris?”
“A couple of months ago. Well, girls, I must be off now. Don’t overdo the chocolates, or the brandy for that matter. Be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful. Where’s my coat, Nell?”
He slid into his overcoat, kissed Jane goodbye, smiling into her eyes with a warm, intimate expression, and took Nelly’s arm.
“Come and let me out, and don’t forget I want ‘yes’ for an answer. May I come to tea tomorrow?”
Jane collected the ashtrays and emptied them and then busied herself with the washing up. A beautiful woman he had said, in Paris, two months ago…
“What a good mood Diego was in this evening,” Nelly exclaimed when she returned. “Want a chocolate, darling?”
“No thanks. Are you going to go to Buzios?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ve got no clothes. I mean, the sort people wear there for their ‘simple’ lives in Buzios.”
“Ah, Nelly, you’re looking for excuses!”
Jane found an opportunity the following day of dropping a hint to Diego and he understood immediately. “What a fool! It never occurred to me,” he exclaimed. “Of course, clothes… ”
“Let the idea seem to have come from you if you can, Diego, “Jane cautioned him. “I really don’t want Nelly to think that I told you. But I think she spent all her savings on Bettina’s trousseau and doesn’t have anything left for herself.”
A few days later Jane arrived home and found Nelly sitting sipping a brandy in the living room, and hardly recognized her. She had on a pair of slim, dark green trousers, a white shirt and a thick knit pullover in a design of different greens.
“You went shopping!” she cried.
“Oh, darling, come and look!”
While Nelly showed Jane the blouses, dresses, skirts, shorts, trousers underwear and jerseys she told her how Diego had broached the subject.
“He talked about Bettina and then about the expenses of weddings and trousseaus and all that, and then he asked me directly if the reason for my not wanting to go to Buzios was because I couldn’t afford to get myself some suitable clothes. So what could I say? And then he said he wanted to get me all I needed, that he was my only brother after all and he could easily afford it and so on…
It was simply impossible to say no. And then I suddenly felt well, all right, if you really mean it – and off we went and I don’t know which of us enjoyed ourselves more. He insisted on only the best and he spent a fortune, Jane. A fortune. But he seemed so happy about it! He told me the women he knows buy clothes which are the latest fashion, to shine or to shock, and then throw them away. He was amazed at how I tried to choose classical things which look wonderful but which I can go on wearing for years. I told him I come from the ranks of those who knit their own sweaters and after ten years undo them and knit them up again in a more fashionable pattern! And look!”
Nelly drew out a really beautiful camel hair overcoat from the cupboard. “And a new watch strap!” She stretched out her wrist to show it off. “Isn’t it all wonderful, darling? I can’t believe it. I feel I’m dreaming.”
“Wild,” Jane breathed, touching the clothes almost reverently. She had never been in the presence of so much top quality in the way of clothes, and each garment was a pleasure to touch as well as to look at. She thought of Bettina’s modest little trousseau chosen with such care so that it would be up to scratch, even though it had not cost so very much.
“Didn’t you say he was very mean? ” she teased.
“I told him. I said, ‘I’ve always considered you to be a rather mean person where money’s concerned.’ And he said. ‘I’m careful. I don’t like to throw good money down the drain, but in this case you’re my one and only sister and I really feel you deserve it.’ He also said that while we were at it to get everything new and to give away all my old clothes.”
“Are you going to Buzios?”
“Yes, of course. I want to show off all my lovely clothes! No, I’m joking. But Diego really wants me to go; he made it quite clear. It’s the first time I’ve felt so close to him in years!”
“You look so different, so… so kempt somehow!”
Nelly laughed, “And I feel it too. Isn’t it incredible what new clothes can do for one’s morale?” she quipped
“May I speak to Mr. Rowan, please?”
“Who is speaking?”
“Just one moment, please.”
Jane felt her heart thumping as she listened to the soft music which automatically filled the moments she had to wait. She took a deep breath, expecting to be told that her father was at a meeting, or busy. His voice in her ear startled her.
“This is Jane speaking. I’d like to meet you this afternoon when you leave the office. Mummy has a bridge game which will last at least until seven thirty, as you know. We could meet at Tonino’s at five thirty.”
After a pause her father replied. “Very well.”
“See you later then. Goodbye.”
Jane replaced the receiver and sat staring at it, thinking, “What shall I say? I’m crazy! What shall I say to him when we meet?”
Arriving early at Tonino’s, Jane chose a table carefully and told the waiter she was expecting a friend and would wait. She sat quite still, staring at the large ceramic ash tray and tried to think about what she was going to say.
‘I want to talk to you about your Friday ‘meetings’ ‘What about them?’ … Will he pretend that he didn’t see me? He can’t… No, that won`t work. ‘I want to talk about Estela Rodiguez’… that’ll shake him… I’ll mention the address … ‘You saw me the other Friday through the lift door. You can’t deny it.’ … and if he does? … ‘Even if you pretend you didn’t I certainly saw you! That’s why I know her name and how you’ve been keeping her for the last nine years. Fancy a relationship like that lasting so long? Well, it hasn’t really, because she’s two-timing him, just as he’s been deceiving my mother all these years.
He’s just a liar and a fraud and a bully! He beat me up and all the time he had his whore on the other side of town. He hasn’t said more than twenty words to me in six years because I’m supposed to be such a dreadful person, such a stain to the honour of the family, and he… he’s no more than a dung heap. What am I going to say? I’m shaking.
I’m terrified. Why? Of him? He’s the one who should be terrified, because I’m the one who’s in the right. I mustn’t forget that. I’m not a little girl any more. I’m twenty three and I don’t intend to let all this dribble meekly past. I’m damned if I’m going to just sit still and say ‘he’ll suffer in kama-loka’, and let him go on like this. Oh, no, Eric Rowan, you’re not going to get away with all this… “
“Hello, Jane. Have you been waiting long?”
Completely taken aback by her father’s friendly tone, Jane started and looked up into his pale grey eyes, wary behind his spectacles.
“Have you ordered?”
Eric hung up his overcoat and scarf and sat down in front of her.
“So you’re trying to be all kind and friendly now that you’re in a spot,” she thought acidly. Aloud she said. “No. I was waiting for you.”
“What’ll you have?”
“A coke please.”
He ordered her coke and a whisky for himself and said conversationally, “Mummy’s so much better. She’s beginning to get about quite well now, don’t you think?”
Jane felt as if she were dissolving inside. Her father had never spoken to her like this. All the longing she had felt to be loved and accepted by him, to be forgiven, to be a friend, to have a true, warm relationship with him rose within her. What if he did have a mistress? If their relationship could be healed through this… who was she to… ‘I wish you had died in the car crash instead of Brian… if you want to be a whore go and make a living that way… I disown you and any god-damn progeny you produce from now on …’
The waiter brought their drinks and a bowl of peanuts. Eric helped himself to some and pushed the bowl towards Jane.
“Why?” she whispered.
“What did you say?”
“Why? Why did you beat me up like that?”
“You know perfectly well why.” Eric’s tone was clipped. He was very nervous.
“And all the time, all this time, you have had a mistress. Oh yes. Don’t pretend. You saw me through the door of the lift. I always thought you were so honest, so truthful, so… so upright and you’re not, are you? You’re just a … a bit of a dung heap, aren’t you?”
“I certainly didn’t come here to be insulted by you. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Eric’s voice was icy. He drank down his whisky and signaled to the waiter to bring another.
“I’m talking about Estela Rodriguez, as you very well know, who lives on the fourth floor of San Martin de Porres street one six one, Flat A. Estela, whom you visit on Mondays and Wednesdays at midday and Friday evenings. Some ‘meeting’ that. Nine whole years the Company has ‘expected’ you to go! I’m asking you, why did you beat me up and say all those beastly things to me when all the time you were… whoring it up three times a week your very own self? Why? That’s what I’m asking – why?”
Jane’s eyes blazed. Her voice was low but clear. All her anger and bitterness which she had tried to overcome, to subdue and transform, flooded her. To pretend, to go on pretending, that he did not know what she was talking about was too much. Here was no friend. Here was a crafty louse pretending to be all warm and kindly in order to avoid a confrontation…
“You’re a fraud, a sham, a hollow shell. If you had been a real person you would have admitted your guilt just now. If you had been a true father I would have been able to keep my child with me. What was so terrible in my having a baby? What was so shameful? Just an idea of yours. Part of your mask! I’ve spent all these years trying to understand you, and what for? To find that you’re just a nasty fraud of a man who has been deceiving my mother for nine years if not for many, many more, punishing Brian and myself for even the tiniest of fibs, and living a shitty lie yourself. Somewhere you have a grandchild. You’ll never know him or her and I promise you that if I ever have any more children you’ll never get to know them either! I can’t think what my mother ever saw in you, or Estela either for that matter. Money I suppose …”
Jane stood up, looking down at Eric with so much bitterness that her lovely young face looked drawn and haggard. Pulling the catalogue out of her handbag, she flung it on the table between them.
“Augusto Velasco is a poor struggling artist who’s opening an exhibition of pictures together with two friends at the Galería Sixto. I’m sure Estela would be so happy for Augusto if you bought a couple of his pictures.”
Turning away, she pulled her anorak off the back of her chair and walked blindly out of the cafè. Eric half rose to stop her but changed his mind and sank back into his chair. He finished his second whisky with a trembling hand and picked up the catalogue.
Jane stopped a cruising taxi and managed to get back to Nelly’s flat without breaking down, but once there she flung herself onto her bed and wept. Part of her was appalled at all she had said, that she had mentioned Augusto, that she could have been capable of spewing out so much venom.
“But I had to… I had to do it!” she sobbed.