“Is this where you’re going to live?” Antonia stared about her in astonishment.
“Isn’t it wild?”
“And you don’t even have to pay any rent?”
“No, just the rates and expenses.”
Antonia, with Jane following her, wandered through the apartment inspecting the rooms, opening the cupboards and examining the woodwork in a thoroughly professional manner.
“Robert says I’m to furnish it as I like, so long as it’s simple and cottagey,” Jane said. “I haven’t much of a clue so I thought of you. D’you think you could help me Tonia? It’s much more fun shopping with someone, anyway.”
Antonia swung round, her eyes shining. “I’d love to, Jane. How absolutely terrific! How much is he prepared to spend?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t want to, you know, just fling money about. I thought we could go to those second-hand shops and get the bigger furniture and so on and then get new covers and curtains and things. You must know where those places are. I hope so, because I don’t.”
“Second hand? O.K. What fun! We can start there anyway, one can get very good bargains sometimes. Have you any special colour scheme in mind?”
“Yellow for my bedroom, that’s all. This is the room I’ve chosen. The other two don’t need furniture for the moment. I’ll do yoga in that one and meditate in the other or something.”
“It’s the wrong colour for meditating.”
“I was only joking. What do you know about that, anyway?”
“I was reading about colours and their relationship to the different activities which are performed in the rooms of a house, or an office, or a school and all that. It was really interesting. It suggested lilac for a room dedicated to meditation.”
“I can have lilac curtains! What I do want are heaps of plants, here in the living room near the door onto the balcony.”
“When do you have to move?”
“Robert hasn’t put any time limit, but I’m just dying to move in. It shouldn’t take long should it? Three rooms.”
“I calculate two weeks if you want it all really nice. Maybe a little less.”
“My mother doesn’t really need me all day any more, so we can take advantage of your holidays and start right away.”
“Oh, Jane. How super! I really am glad for you, but won’t you be lonely living here alone?”
“When I get tired of my own company I can always decide what to do. At the moment the thought of living here and not having to share anything is about the most fantastic thing I can imagine!”
Antonia laughed. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Well, let’s get going. I’ll measure and you jot everything down, will you?”
Jane and Antonia spent the next few days haunting second-hand furniture shops and choosing fabrics for curtains and loose covers. In the end they found an enormous sofa, big enough to double as a bed in case of need, and a winged arm chair badly in need of upholstering.
“My mother knows a man who can do up the arm chair beautifully,” Jane said, “And Mum says that he can make the loose covers, too. I hope Robert will think them cottagey enough!”
Men came and spent two days laying the fitted carpets all through the apartment as soon as the painters had finished. Dora offered Jane her bedroom furniture but Jane refused.
“It’ll leave a sort of hole in your home and I’m having so much fun choosing the things I want,” she said. “But I will take one or two pictures if you don’t mind.”
Javier appeared one evening. He looked thin and pale. Jane and Antonia were just about to hang the curtains in the living room when he arrived, so they welcomed him enthusiastically and put him to work.
“Hey, doesn’t it look wild?” Jane exclaimed once they were in place. “The whole room seems more furnished at once.”
Javier glanced round the almost empty room a little wonderingly. Noticing, Jane said. “I’m waiting for the sofa and arm chairs to come. What d’you think of the dining room furniture, Javier?” she waved a hand towards the alcove “It’s a bit old-fashioned but I love it. Robert liked it too, thank goodness. It’s so hard to furnish a place when it’s as if it were one’s own, and in reality it isn’t. Let’s have a coffee.”
Javier followed Antonia and Jane into the kitchen and looked around with surprise. It was the only room which was entirely ready. White curtains covered the lower half of the window. A new white table had three blue stools tucked under it. The kitchen cupboards had been painted white with blue frames and the window frame had also been painted blue. The twenty-year-old frigidaire had been given a fresh coat of paint and it shuddered noisily into action as they entered the kitchen almost as if to show how willing it was to go on working for another twenty years! Robert had insisted that Jane should buy a pretty set of pots and pans decorated with blue flowers with a kettle to match. She filled the latter with an uprush of pleasure, and placed it on the stove.
“Make yourselves at home, I must have known you were coming, Javier, because I bought some ‘factura buns’!”
She laid the table quickly with blue china mugs, the sugar bowl, tea spoons and the fresh buns she had bought on the way to the flat.
“Only instant coffee I’m afraid,” she apologized,
“Oh, then I’m going!” Javier exclaimed, pretending to get to his feet.
They laughed, glad that Javier was in a better mood.
“You know,” Antonia mused, munching a bun. “This is almost like getting married, but better.”
“Why do you say that?” Javier asked.
“Oh, you know. No arguments, no hassles over the cost of things, no criticisms. You should hear how some couples who have asked my boss to suggest improvements for their houses, carry on.”
“How’s María Paulina?” Jane asked as she turned off the gas and placed the kettle on the table.
“We’ve broken up,” Javier replied gloomily, helping himself to three spoonfuls of sugar.
“Oh, Javier, I am sorry.” Both girls looked at him commiseratingly.
“We’d begun to argue about everything,” Javier said. “So in the end we decided it wasn’t worth going on seeing eachother.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Jane said. “I really liked María Paulina.”
Javier shrugged. “I’ve decided to go and live in Buenos Aires,” he said. “And study law there. I’ve also been offered a job, so it seems a good idea.”
“Where will you live?” Antonia asked, taking the words out of Jane’s mouth.
“My father is going to give me the money to rent a flat. I’m going down on Monday to see to everything.”
“So soon!” Jane exclaimed.
“Once one has come to a decision one may as well not waste any more time,” Javier said with a slight shrug.
“Will Lucio live with you?”
“That’ll depend on him. I’ve no idea.”
“There’ll be heaps of gorgeous women there for you to go out with,” Antonia said consolingly.
Javier shrugged again. “The Faculty of Law is much better than the one here,” he said. “At least my father recognizes that.”
The bell rang and it was Eusebio to say that the sofa and arm chair had arrived and as they were too big to fit in the lift, the transport men wished to haul them up from the bedroom balcony. Two huge young men stood behind him holding thick ropes. Jane nodded mutely, glad that Antonia and Javier were with her, and the men followed Eusebio into the apartment bobbing their heads shyly and murmuring “Con permiso” and “Buenas tardes,” politely, Eusebio led them to the bedroom in question and after a few shouted instructions to their colleague on the street they began to haul up the sofa, accompanying their efforts with lusty grunts.
“I hope it gets through the door,” Jane murmured anxiously, but she need not have worried.
A little while later both pieces of furniture had been installed in their allotted places, the slip cover for the sofa, neatly wrapped in yards of brown paper, delivered, and the receipt signed. Jane and Antonia pulled the slip cover onto the sofa while Javier struggled to get the seat cushions into their respective covers. Once the sofa was ready and Antonia had moved a coffee table infront of it, they stood back to observe their efforts.
“It’s terrific,” Javier exclaimed, galvanized into enthusiasnm by the sudden change. “May I see the rest of the apartment?”
Laughing, the two girls led the way to the bedrooms. “There’s not much to see,” Jane warned.
Jane’s bedroom, the only one with furniture in it, was missing the chest of drawers, which was being made to measure.
“Please imagine,” Jane said, with a sweep of her right arm. “A yellow bedspread on the bed, curtains with huge yellow flowers, and that bench with a skirt of the same material and a yellow seat.”
“Sounds O.K.” Javier grinned, looking at the bare mattress on the bed, the night table still partially wrapped in brown paper, and the bench, scuffed and tatty, standing forlornly in one corner.
“This room will be my gym room,” Jane continued. “And this smaller one will be the, or rather my, meditation room. Please disregard the crumpled heaps of paper, cardboard boxes and so on and imagine lilac curtains. Oh, and another thing,” she added as they returned to the living room, “Plants. Lots and lots of plants everywhere. In pots.”
“You should have a plant inauguration party,” Javier said.
“Jane! What a super idea, like a shower tea but plants instead,” Antonia exclaimed.
“Wild, we must choose a date when Javier is here. You are coming back to Santa Laura before you leave definitely, aren’t you Javier?”
“Oh, yes. I’ll let you know.”
Jane sat on the sofa and bounced up and down gently. “They’re nice, aren’t they? D’you think they’re cottagey enough?”
Both Antonia and Javier hastened to reasure her.
“Very comfortable. I’m sure Robert will approve.”
“And we got the curtains up, too,” Jane said, looking round with satisfaction. “It really looks very different now, doesn’t it? The plant party sounds wild. But everything must be ready before I have it. The chest of drawers will take another week, and I’ve got to make the curtains and the cover for the little bench. Yes, maybe ten days more, but I think I shall move in right away now. Poor Nelly will be a bit upset, but she’s got a boyfriend, did I tell you, Antonia? Somebody who is a widower and who works at her office.”
“Really? I am glad for her.”
“Caramba! Look at the time,” Javier exclaimed. “I must go. Thankyou for your hospitality, Jane, (despite being instant coffee and not the real thing!) and I think your flat is going to be very cosy.”
Jane let him out, then returned and surveyed the room critically. “Plants, pictures and a few other sort of decorative oddments, that’s all that’s missing, but I’m going to be happy here, Antonia, really happy. I’m sure of that.”
“How’s the new flat getting on?” Dora asked.
“Practically ready. I’m waiting for the chest of drawers for my bedroom to be installed. Did I tell you that the sofa and the armchair have been delivered already?”
“Yes, about three times actually. So you were pleased with the new upholstery and the slip cover for the sofa?”
“Wild. Very well made. Oh, Mummy, it’s all so much fun, with everything new and painted and clean, too. I am lucky, aren’t I? Once everything is really ready I’m going to give a plant inauguration party. Everybody who comes must bring me a plant.”
“Goodness. What on earth gave you that idea?”
“Who, not what. It was Javier Torres Hidalgo. He dropped in just as we were hanging the curtains, which was very handy. He gave me the idea. He’s going to go and study law in Buenos Aires.”
“Really?” Dora said absently, fiddling nervously with the T.V. and then turning it off. “Jane … I was wondering … Why don’t you stay for supper tonight?”
“Isn’t Daddy coming back?”
“He said something about inviting you a couple of days ago… so I thought…”
“Yes. That’s why. Let’s make it tonight. A surprise. Something quite informal and… well… simple.”
Jane’s fingers slid lightly over her lips as she considered her mother’s invitation.
“He’s changed so much since the street fight, you know,” Dora went on. “What on earth happened really? He just refuses to talk about it. And anyway, an art exhibition. Whose was it?”
“Three young artists got together and put on an exhibition of their work. I heard about it at Aunt Georgina’s.”
“But Eric is not in the least bit interested in paintings, and exhibitions. Did he tell you why he was there?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“But this fight? In the street, did you say?”
“I, er, can’t remember very clearly. There was a… a scuffle in the… er… street when I was leaving and… and there was Daddy and he… beat up a young man and someone else too. Anyway, we left before the police arrived, and as he was very… worked up… you know… I decided to take him to Aunt Georgina’s, which was not too far away.”
“How extraordinary! What luck you were there! It might have turned into a really nasty situation.”
“In what way has Dad changed?”
“He’s… I can’t quite explain it, but he often just sits and stares into space and he often seems very depressed. You know, dispirited. I think it would probably cheer him up to find you here unexpectedly.”
“Well… O.K. I’ll stay then. Is there food?”
“Oh, yes. Plenty.”
When Jane, standing in the kitchen preparing the salad, heard the garage doors being opened – they still stuck a little – she felt her heart begin to beat violently. Dropping the knife she was using, she clenched her fists and then relaxed consciously, breathing deeply to calm her nerves.
All the familiar sounds reaching back into her childhood enfolded her. The sound of the motor as her father drove the car into the garage, the car door slamming, the gritty crunch as he closed the garage doors, and then his footsteps coming up the stairs.
They stood looking at each other in silence, as memories of all that had occured five years earlier and in Estela’s flat flashed between them. At last Jane moved. She walked over to him and put her arms around his neck. For a moment he stood still and stiff and then, convulsively, his arms embraced her and he drew her close murmuring brokenly.
“Jane! Oh, Jane. I’m sorry… I’m so terribly sorry.”
“It’s O.K., Dad,” Jane whispered, feeling suddenly as if she were the mother and he the son. They embraced in silence, too deeply moved to say anything more. Dora called from the sitting room.
“Jane, tell Daddy to bring some wine from the garage when he comes up, will you? White, because we’re having chicken.”
Jane and Eric stepped apart. Rubbing the tears from her eyes, Jane called, “O.K. Mum. I’ll tell him.”
She gave him a slightly wobbly smile as he nodded and turned to go and get the wine. Going to the sink she splashed cold water onto her face and dried it with a tea towal. She could cry her heart out when she got back to Nelly’s, but not now, not tonight.”
Jane did not return to Nelly’s flat after all. She went back to her own, lit the gas heater and phoned Nelly instead.
“I’ve decided to sleep in my flat tonight. I just phoned to let you know.”
“All right, darling. Thanks for calling.”
“I had dinner with my parents tonight. Both of them.”
“I’ve made up with my father. It was a strange dinner. On the one hand we were all genuinely happy and on the other we all seemed to be acting… acting at being warm and friendly and jolly because we’ve had so little experience. Isn’t it ridiculous? We drank a whole bottle of wine, polished off most of the chicken and a tin of peaches for dessert and we talked of the past, when Brian was alive. I brought the subject up purposely, as a sort of test. We talked about our holiday in Santucho when we were little, and all the naughty things we did which they never knew about. You should have seen their faces! It’s the first time we’ve ever talked about Brian and laughed. Can you imagine? All these years! And it’s the first time, since Brian died, that I had the sensation of being a ‘family’ again. I feel as if I’d been living in a desert ever since he died. Our lives seem to have been clouded and dismal, and we were just three people living under the same roof. But tonight it was different. It was real, Nelly. I don’t know how to explain it. We can cry about him now, because we can also laugh and remember him in all the fun moments we lived together.”
“Darling, that’s the loveliest news. And I know just what you mean, because of Bettina. One must always remember the happy moments, and there were so many.”
“And my father’s changed. He’s changed so much! As if all that hard crust which he surrounded himself with, has all crumbled away. He apologized! Of course, he’s a tremendous creature of habit, so it’s not easy for him. But all the same, he’s a different person.”
They chatted on for a little while and then Jane hung up. The room had become cosy as the warmth of the gas heater began to have an effect. At last she kicked off her shoes, turned out the light and curled up on the sofa. Pulling her anorak over her she fell fast asleep.
“Soledad! Daniel! How lovely that you could come. And Sarita! What are you doing hiding behind your papá? Come in, come in.”
Jane’s plant party was at its height. She had decided to invite friends and acquaintances regardless of age, and the result seemed to be turning into a great success. Aunt Georgina sat on the sofa entertaining Antonia and several of Jane’s school friends. Javier was acting as bar-man. Violet and Robert were talking to Dr. Michaelson, and Hetty and Dora were chatting to Nelly and Leandro, her new friend from the office. Eric had not come, using a heavy cold as an excuse. Ana, looking very neat with a crisp white apron over her blue dress, served the delicious savoury sandwiches and other tidbits she had been preparing all afternoon. Her loving heart overflowed with joy at the knowledge that Jane and her parents had made their peace.
She greeted Soledad with a shy smile and Soledad cried, “Ana! How good to see you! How is all your family?”
“Very well, thankyou, Señora. My grand-daughter, Anita, has just had a daughter. A beautiful little girl. She weighed four kilos at birth. Anita is going to call her Juana and she wants the niña Jane to be her godmother.”
“What wonderful news! Please congratulate her for me. Did you make all these delicious eats? Lucky Jane!”
Turning to Sarita she said, “Have you given Jane her plant, Sarita? Oh, good, I see you have. What an amusing idea, Jane. By the looks of it you’ll have your time cut out watering them all!”
Jane took Soledad and Daniel on a quick tour of the flat and laid their coats on top of the pile in her room. The latter, with the new chest of drawers installed, the curtains hung, and the bedspread just the colour which Jane had wanted, looked bright and attractive.
“It’s all looking really nice, Jane,” Soledad said enthusiastically. “You must be feeling very pleased with the result. How are you getting on with Aunt Georgina?”
“Oh, fine. Just fine. She’s very independent but we communicate by thumps. She thumps the ceiling with a broom handle and I thump the floor with my hair brush. It’s beginning to work very well. She calls it our brush telegraph.”
Daniel laughed out loud and shook his head. “I hope you don’t get to rue the day you ever accepted Robert’s proposal,” he said.
“I doubt it,” Jane smiled.
“Now, where has Sarita got to?” Soledad asked, looking round.
“She must have got together with Bobby in the kitchen,” Jane said.
“Ah, is Bobby here?” Soledad asked, surprised.
“Guest number one, as far as I’m concerned. Come and have a drink and something to eat. Javier is bar-man.”
It was all over much too soon it seemed to Jane, as she closed the front door behind Nelly and Leandro and went to join Antonia and Javier in the kitchen.
“Super party, Jane. Delicious eats.”
“Ana made them all. Her grand-daughter Anita has asked me to be godmother to her baby girl. My first godchild.”
She took a potus off one of the blue stools and sat down. “I’m pooped,” she said with surprise. “But it was fun, wasn’t it?”
“Would you like some coffee?” Antonia asked.
“Real coffee. I brought it myself. As a gift.” Javier added.
“Javier, how nice of you. Sure, I’d love some. Didn’t you bring me a plant then?”
“Yes, a fern. It’s somewhere around. You’ve got enough plants to open a shop!”
“Aren’t they wild? I’m thrilled. It’s just what I wanted.”
“My idea, too.”
“Yeah, you’re right!”
“But you’ll see,” Antonia said as she placed a cup of coffee in front of Jane. “When she’s distributed them all over the flat they’ll hardly show.”
“Don’t you feel a bit like a single pea in a pan here when you’re on your own?” Javier asked quizzically.
“Well, just a wee bit,” Jane admitted with a grin. “But once I start working I’ll be too busy to notice. I really gloat over my freedom, though. And another thing, it’s wonderful not to be smelling stale cigarette smoke all the time. Nelly’s a darling, but she’s a chain smoker, and the smell seems to get into everything, including one’s hair.”
“You’ll have to put up a notice on your front door ‘NO SMOKING’,” Javier said.
“Did you find an apartment in B.A., Javier?” Antonia asked.
“Yes. Much smaller than this one, but it’ll do. It’s got two very small bedrooms. And I’ve got my new job all lined up. I start next month.”
“We’ll miss you!”
“Not as much as I’ll miss you.”
Jane cocked an eye at him and said, “Chemical reaction?”
Javier stuck his tongue out at her and said, “Yes, of course.”
“What are you two talking about?” Antonia asked.
“Nothing important,” Jane laughed. “Just a silly joke.”