Chapter 16

Jane was pulling on her new cardigan when three thumps below her feet advised her that Aunt Georgina was ready, picking up her hair brush she hammered an answering three bangs and finished dressing. She touched some lipstick to her lips, wrapped herself in a ruana and hastened downstairs. Aunt Georgina was standing in her open front door.

“Come on,” she fussed. “We’re going to be late. I’ve got this damned sciatica again, so I can’t get about quickly.”

“Why don’t you take your stick?”

“And look like some ancient old hag?” Aunt Georgina exclaimed indignantly. She took three steps, winced and changed her mind grudgingly.

“Well, go and get it for me, then,” she growled, and waited, holding the door jamb while Jane fetched her walking stick.

“We’ve got the presents, I suppose,” she said, as they waited for the lift.

Jane held up a bulging nylon bag and opened the lift door. Aunt Georgina stepped in with a slight grimace, but Jane abstained from helping her, knowing it would only annoy her more.

It was Bobby’s birthday and they were especially invited guests to his party. He had learned to use the telephone and ‘phoned Jane five or six times a day, whenever he could get away from his nursemaid’s vigilant eye. It was a little trying, but Jane felt it meant a lot to him and did not complain.

When they reached Candy’s Kindergarten, where the party was to take place, Jane helped Aunt Georgina to alight from the taxi, collected the bag with the presents, paid off the fare and followed the old lady into the school. Bobby rushed to greet them.

“I seed you from the window,” he shouted. “It’s Aunty Georgina an’ Jane, Mummy,” he added to Violet, who was just behind him.

“I’ve told you over and over again Bobby, don’t shout. I’m not deaf,” Violet scolded. “Hello, Aunt Georgina; hello, Jane. Give Aunt Georgina a kiss, Bobby.”

Bobby raised a flushed little face to receive their kisses, information bubbling from him like a frothing fountain. “I seed you from the window, in the taxi. Two of my fwends can’t come ‘cos they’re sick, and a magishun is coming and Daddy isn’t here yet but the clowns are, and on my cake there’s a wed bus an’ it’s all in icing- sugar an’ I’ve got lots and lots of pesents alwedy, an’ did you bing me a pesent?”

“Yes, we did,” Jane laughed, handing him Aunt Georgina’s present first. He tore off the wrapping paper and cried gleefully. “Four buses! Oh, thank you, Aunty!”

“And here is mine,” Jane said.

It was large and bulky, and his hands trembled a little as he pulled away one corner of the wrapping paper. Violet ushered them into the classroom, which was full of small girls and boys. It had been decorated with garlands and pictures of clowns, two waitresses, dressed in blouses, blue miniskirts and minute white aprons were serving drinks. Two other girls dressed as clowns were already entertaining some of the children. One had a guitar.

Several little boys clustered around Bobby as he pulled off the rest of the wrapping paper from Jane’s parcel, revealing a two-floor service station, complete with ramp, lift, and two petrol pumps.

“Ooooh,” the children gasped in unison.

“Come along, Bobby,” Violet said. “Some more of your friends have arrived.”

Loath to leave, Bobby let himself be led off, as Aunt Georgina and Jane found a table and two chairs where they could sit and watch the fun. The low tables used during school hours, covered with gaily coloured paper cloths and pushed against one wall, were loaded with plates of sandwiches and cookies. The little chairs had been set in a circle, and most of the guests were playing a noisy game around them, guided by one of the clowns.

One of the waitresses brought tea on a tray and a plate of sandwiches.

“Good,” boomed Aunt Georgina. “I’m glad Violet remembered that I like my tea at this hour. I’d put that lovely bus station out of harm’s way if I were you, Jane. You don’t want it… ”

Bobby returned with the two newly arrived guests and pointed at the service station proudly. “You see,” he said. “It’s got a lift, too. Look, I’ll show you.”

They squatted down and began to play happily, oblivious of the noisy games, the shrill voices of the clowns, and the general hubbub.

Soledad appeared with Sarita. She was wearing a maternity outfit, and Jane jumped to her feet to offer her her chair.

“Sit down, Soledad. I had no idea that you were expecting!”

“I’m just over three months, but I don’t seem to fit anything, so I decided, well, what the heck. Daniel doesn’t mind. In fact he’s delighted. We’re hoping that it’ll be another girl.”

“Are you feeling all right?”

“Fine. Just a bit of a backache, that’s all.”

“Well, look after yourself,” Jane smiled.

Sarita leaned against Jane, who had found another chair, and said solemnly, “I’m going to be six soon. Next year I shall be going to first grade.”

“I know, and to think, I’ve known you since you were a little baby,” Jane nodded, smiling.

“My mummy has a baby in her tummy.”

“That’s right!”

“I hope it’s a girl. I’ve got two brothers already.”

“Look, Sarita,” Bobby shouted, registering her arrival. “A service stashun. A weal one, look, with petwol pumps an’ all. An’ Aunty gave me four buses. Look Sa’ita, look!”

He was beside himself with joy. Jane watched him lovingly and thought of her own child. He had had his birthday four days ago. Was he happy? Had he received lots of presents? Had he had a wonderful party like this? Were his parents kind and loving? Had they adopted other children, or had one of their own?

The memory of her patient, Christopher, rose in her mind. He had said, only a few days before he had died, ‘Mummy says heaven is a lovely place, like a birthday party because everybody is happy. She says we go there every night when we go to sleep.’ And he had slipped away just so, in his sleep, his face pressed against his teddy bear.

“A penny for your thoughts, Cinderella.”

Jane snapped back into the present and received Robert’s kiss as he bent to greet them all warmly. Violet hurried up, looking at her watch and frowning. “You said you’d be here at five,” she scolded sharply.

“Sorry, dear, I couldn’t make it before,” Robert replied calmly. “How’s everything going? Very well, from the looks of it. Hey Bobby, who gave you that wonderful service station?”

“Jane. Look Daddy, look, the bus is going up the wamp.”

“The magician hasn’t come yet,” Violet fretted.

“He’ll appear, he won’t want to miss his fee.”

“Did you get the authorization?”

“No, I didn’t have time.”

“For goodness sake! I told you I can’t get the passages without that authorization.”

“One day more or less, Violet. It isn’t so important.”

“It is to me!”

Violet turned away angrily as a bustle at the entrance heralded the magician’s arrival. Robert went to find another chair and sat down beside Aunt Georgina. A waitress brought him coffee and another plate of cookies. Aunt Georgina helped herself to several and nodded. “These are good,” she said, munching vigorously.

“Isn’t this your STICK, Aunt Georgina?” Robert asked, picking it up off the floor.

“It is. Jane insisted that I bring it because I have a touch of sciatica again.”

“Why don’t you GO to a DOCTOR?”

“Eh? They’re all useless.”

“What about Dr. MICHAELSON?” Jane asked, joining the conversation.

“Is he good?” Soledad asked. “We met him at your party.”

“Excellent.”

“Who?”

“Dr. MICHAELSON.”

“Oh, him. Yes, I might go to see him. Ah, there’s the magician at last. Come on, Bobby. Robert, move my chair a little closer, will you?”

Robert complied amiably and then returned to sit by Jane. “How are you getting on?” he asked. “The old lady isn’t driving you bonkers, is she?”

“No! We’re getting on fine, really!” Jane laughed.

Once the magician had finished, the birthday cake was brought in. A big, red, double-decker bus made out of icing sugar was parked on top of it, with a row of people about to board it. All the little boys were most impressed. Bobby blew out his candles with tremendous energy, only to find that they burst into flame again after a few seconds. In the end most of his guests had had a turn at blowing.

“Five years old,” Jane thought. “They’re both five now, and next year six, with big school just round the corner.”

While the children were eating their helpings of cake, the clowns set up a screen and a projector, and everybody watched cartoons until it was time to go home. Aunt Georgina enjoyed them almost as much as Bobby and Sarita.

Daniel appeared, tall and slim and even more handsome, Jane thought, than when she had first met him. “Well, Robert,” he smiled. “Our children are growing up, aren’t they?”

“They are indeed. I see you and Soledad are to become parents once again. You’re a courageous man, my friend!”

“God willing,” Daniel said, unable to keep a hint of pride out of his voice.

When the last little guest had departed, clutching his packet of sweets and a story book which the clowns had distributed as a last touch to an afternoon packed with entertainment, Robert stretched and said, “Come home and have some supper, girls.”

“I haven’t ordered enough food,” Violet said.

“We’ll get a pizza at La Romana.”

“They make ghastly pizza there!”

“Never mind. We’ve eaten so many sandwiches and cookies here anyway. Who’s in charge of tidying up here?”

“The maid’s coming tomorrow morning.”

“Right. I’ll pay off the clowns while you get yourselves ready. Don’t forget your walking stick, Aunty.”

Bobby’s presents were packed into the boot of the car; the service station and the buses, however, travelled on his lap. Jane felt a little embarassed by the fact that she and Aunt Georgina were going, despite Violet’s obvious disinclination, but Robert was quite firm and nothing more was said.

As they sat in the dining room a little while later eating pizza with salad and hard boiled eggs, Jane remembered the pizza party in the sitting room when she had been in charge of the house. She hoped that Violet had never noticed the small stain on the blue velvet upholstery of the sofa. Bobby, as a special treat, had been allowed to stay up and was playing quietly with his buses and the service station.

“Bobby and I are going to Brazil as soon as Robert gets around to getting the authorization for me to take him with me out of the country,” Violet announced.

“What’s that?” Aunt Georgina demanded.

“I’m going to BUZZIOS with BOBBY.”

“When?” Aunt Georgina asked, fiddling with her hearing aid.

“Robert has to go to TUCUMAN for his FIRM,” Violet explained loudly. “So I’m
going to BRAZIL while he’s AWAY.”

“You don’t need to shout. Why are you going?”

There was a tiny silence while they all looked at Violet. Colouring slightly she laughed and said, “I want to see to things in our house there for the SUMMER, Aunt Georgina.”

“But it’s months before the holidays,” the old lady objected.

“That’s why. It’ll need painting and all that.”

“I thought that there was an administrator who attended to all that sort of thing,” Aunt Georgina remarked, shaking her head.

“There is,” Robert said. “But Violet feels it’s better if one shows up personally.”

“How long are you going for?” Jane asked.

Violet glanced at her and looked away. “Oh, a couple of weeks. Just while Robert is away, you know.”

“She’s lying,” Jane thought. “Why?”

“I don’t know why you insisted on buying this awful pizza, Robert,” Violet exclaimed peevishly. “Just because it was handy.”

“Don’t eat it, dear,” he replied equably. “I find it quite good.”

“Well, I’m exhausted. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed,” Violet said, standing up. “Come on, Bobby, bed time.”

“No, please, Mummy,” Bobby cried. “The buses need more petwol.”

“No, it’s very late. Nearly ten o’clock. Come on, pick everything up.”

Violet went into the hall to call the nurse maid to come and take Bobby to bed, while he began to drive his buses slowly towards the service station. Jane braced herself for the inevitable explosion.

“Come ON, Bobby, I said,” Violet’s voice rose angrily.

“Wait, Mummy, wait. Bjjjm, bjjjm.”

Robert stood up quickly and knelt on the floor beside Bobby. “I’ll help you, shall I?” he asked quietly. “Let him park them all, Violet.”

“NO!” Violet shouted. “Why do you always veto all my orders? Why don’t you back me for a change? Nothing I say is important, is it? That foul pizza, and now this! Bobby can stay up, Bobby can do this, Bobby can do that, just what he wants always, as far as you are concerned. Isn’t that so? You just spoil him sick. He won’t obey me anymore because the message he always gets from you is that he can do what he likes!”

She bent down and yanked Bobby roughly to his feet. He began to howl and she slapped him on the cheek. “Stop crying,” she shouted.

“Violet,” Robert exclaimed, rising and catching her wrist.

“Leave me alone. I’m sick of having no authority in my own home. You always side with the child! Well, I say – now – that he’s to go to bed, and he’s going to bed right away!”

Violet kicked the remaining bus into the service station with her toe and shoved Bobby towards the nurse maid, who was waiting passively by the door. “Now, go,” she ordered.

The girl picked Bobby up and carried the weeping child away.

“It’s Bobby’s birthday,” Robert exclaimed angrily. “Not a very pleasant way for him to end the day. How can you treat him like that?”

“He’s my child and I’ll treat him as I think fit,” Violet snapped, her breast heaving. “You’re altogether too lenient.”

“He sees little enough of either of us at the best of times,” Robert said acidly.

Violet glared at him and flung out of the room angrily. Little shock waves of emotion ricocheted round about them as Robert returned to his chair and sat down.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said with a sigh, crumbling a piece of bread between his fingers to calm his nerves.

Jane and Aunt Georgina glanced at each other and ate their pudding in silence. Violet’s outbreaks were always difficult to handle. Tomorrow, they both knew, she would probably be all sweetness and light, spoiling Bobby herself and letting him do exactly what he wanted.

“Why don’t you take Bobby his service station?” Aunt Georgina suggested.

“Good idea.”

Robert jumped to his feet, picked up the service station together with the buses and went upstairs to comfort his small son. Violet had already gone to their room so there was little danger of her having anything more to do with him. When Robert returned he was smiling. “Three buses parked neatly in the station and one under his pillow. I’ll take you home, girls. Wrap up. Don’t forget your stick, Aunty.”

Jane smiled. She was sure that Bobby had been allowed out of bed to park the buses himself. “When are you going to Tucuman?” she asked.

“In ten days time.”

“You travel too much,” Aunt Georgina said. “Violet’s on her own far too often.”

“It’s my job, Aunt Georgina. If we want to keep up this life style it’s either that or I resign and get – or try to find – better said, another. Not so easy these days.”

“It’s tough, isn’t it?” Jane said

“Especially when I’d far rather stay in one place and sleep in my own bed three hundred and sixty five days – I mean nights – in the year!”
——————————-

At three o`clock in the morning the telephone rang and when Jane answered groggily, Daniel Torres Hidalgo said urgently, “I’m sorry to disturb you at this dreadful hour, Jane, but Soledad is hemorrhaging and she keeps asking for you.”

“Have you called the emergency ambulance?”

“Yes, they’ll be here any minute. Would you come at once? Take a call-taxi. I’ll pay for it.”

“You may have to take her to a clinic, Daniel. She might need a blood transfusion.”

In the Clinica Posadas Soledad was rushed to intensive care, where Jane was permitted to attend to her because Daniel’s cousin was one of the directors of the Institution, and her references as a nurse were such good ones. All through what was left of the night Soledad drifted on the borderline of death. Doctors came and went; she was given transfusions and every possible treatment to save her life, but the gradual withdrawal of her life-forces flickered on every screen and clock of the instruments to which she was attached.

Just before she was put into an oxygen tent Jane found herself alone in the room. Taking Soledad’s cold, flaccid hand she leaned close and said in a low, firm voice. “Come back, Soledad. Come back. Fight. Don’t give up. Daniel and Sarita need you. Come back.”

She began to massage Soledad’s hand waiting for a sign, a reaction, certain that it would come. The oxygen tent was wheeled in and placed over Soledad’s inert form. The oxygen was turned on and its soft hiss sounded very loud in the quiet room. Daniel tiptoed in, his face haggard. Jane did not stop massaging Soledad’s hand very gently or leave her side.

“How… is she?” Daniel whispered.

“Very low.”

“Will… she recover?”

“Yes.”

Even Jane did not know from where the quiet assurance of her voice had sprung. In fact, she was hardly aware that she had spoken until she saw Daniel’s startled expression. Sinking into a chair, he clasped his hands and appeared to be praying. Jane just waited, stroking Soledad’s hand. A nurse came in and motioned to Daniel that he must leave. He rose, leaned over the bed and looked deep and long at Soledad, he touched her other hand with one of his fingers and then turned and left the room.

The nurse came back to check the different instruments. The peep-peep-peep of the monitor was slowing down; Soledad’s blood pressure was falling; her heart beat was becoming very fluttery and faint. Jane watched her friend dying and waited.

The nurse, desperately, began to check everything again. Three doctors hurried in. They spoke quietly, and Jane was aware that they were helpless, unable to think of anything more which they could do. They left after a moment or two. The nurse shook her head suddenly and said, “She’s gone.”

Jane laid her fingers on Soledad’s wrist, her pulse had stopped. For Jane, sitting tensely by the bed, the nurse’s words filled her with despair. It was not possible, first Bettina and now Soledad, her two closest friends slipping away before her very eyes and there had been nothing that she could do. At that moment Soledad gave a deep shudder and then her pulse began to beat again, faltering and very faint.

“No, she hasn’t,” Jane said urgently. “Call the doctors.”

She began to massage Soledad’s heart. The peep-peep of the monitor started up once more, and all the vital signs began to quiver into renewed life.

“Good girl,” Jane murmured softly. “Well done, Soledad.”

Three hours later she left the intensive care unit and joined Daniel. Soledad was sleeping. She had recovered consciousness for a few seconds and had recognized Jane before drifting off again into the healing kingdom of sleep.

“I’m going to go and have a coffee,” Jane said. “Will you join me?”

“How did you know?” Daniel asked as they sat at a small table in the cafeterìa waiting to be served. “How did you know?”

Jane shook her head slightly. “It was as if someone, some being, spoke through me. I don’t know; I can’t explain it.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was not I who spoke… who said ‘yes’ like that. It… just came out.”

“But she died. The doctors told me that clinically she died, and then she revived.”

“Yes.”

“How can that be? It’s a miracle, Jane. A miracle.”

“Daniel.”

“Yes?”

“You know that when people nearly drown they often speak of having seen all their lives in a sort of flash, like a movie. Others, people who have had accidents, remember seeing everything as if they were spectators, their body, people gathered around. If Soledad… well, what I mean is… if she tells you anything… believe her… don’t just say ‘yes,yes’. Believe her.”

Daniel sat stirring his coffee and staring into the dark liquid thoughtfully.

“Why do you say this?” he asked at last.

“Because nothing could be worse for some one who has had a true spiritual experience, than not to be believed. Everybody says they believe in God and this and that, but when a person has a genuine experience on the other side and tries to talk about it they’re accused of being a bit round the bend, hallucinating, and no one takes them seriously. The spiritual world exists. Angels exist. Those who have crossed before, exist. In another dimension, of course. Everything consists of levels of consciousness. There is so much more to reality than our physical eyes can ever see.”

“Why are you saying this?” Daniel asked again.

“Because you have your ideas about everything very clear, very orderly, very precise. But if Soledad tries to tell you something which, you know, isn’t in accordance with what you believe, I feel you may reject it, that you may not be flexible enough to accept… what she’s telling you.”

Jane finished her coffee in silence. Daniel continued to stir his thoughtfully. At last he said, “All I know is that I nearly lost her and that she seems to have been returned to me and that I don’t… I don’t feel very worthy of such a miracle. I couldn’t… you know… I couldn’t have borne another such loss. I just couldn’t have borne it.”

“Perhaps your first wife gave her the strength to return,” Jane said, standing up. “I’ll go back now, I think.”

Daniel looked up at her with astonishment as he considered what she had just said. He nodded silently.

When Soledad was well enough to leave the intensive care unit she was moved to a private room and had private nursing twenty-four hours a day. Jane attended to her from ten at night until six in the morning.

One night Soledad said softly, “What happened,Jane? I nearly died, didn’t I?”

“Clinically you did, yes.”

“I had such a strange dream… but it seemed so real somehow.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Well, I was standing beside you and you leaned over the bed and said ‘Come back, Soledad. Fight. Come back’ and then I saw I was lying in the bed too. It was so strange. There you were sitting on a chair beside the bed holding my hand, and there I was standing beside you but you weren’t looking at me, you were looking at… well, at me in the bed. It’s too difficult to explain… ”

“But Soledad. I did do that. I was sitting beside you and massaging your hand. And I leaned over you and said exactly those words.”

“What… what sort of a dream was that, then?”

“You must have been in another level of consciousness.”

“I felt wonderful. So light.”

“What happened after that?”

“I can’t remember.”

“That was a true experience, Soledad. An out-of-body experience. Many people have had them.”

“Is it possible?”

“Absolutely.”

“Have you had one?”

“No.”

“You don’t think it was a… a hallucination?”

“No, because it really happened. I did do exactly that.”

“But then that means that I was alive and conscious. I wasn’t dead at all.”

“But Soledad. Only the body dies. One remains oneself but in another dimension.”

“D’you really believe in angels and life after death, and reincarnation, and all that?”

“Yes.”

Soledad nodded. “You know, I think I do too, now. I used to laugh at people who believed in being born again and karma and all that, but it’s as if… something inside me has changed.”

“Go to sleep now, Soledad. You must get your strength back. There’s heaps of time to talk about these things.”

“Going to sleep is like a little death, isn’t it?”

“True.”

“And no one is afraid of going to sleep. Strange.”
————————————–

Robert left for Tucuman and two days later Violet and Bobby departed for Brazil.

“How’s Soledad?” Aunt Georgina asked one afternoon, while Jane was having tea with her.

“Much better. Convalescing at home. When she’s stronger they’re going up to the Cordoba hills for a couple of weeks.”

“Extraordinary, a healthy young woman like that nearly dying from one minute to the next. She lost the baby, I suppose.”

“Yes.”

“Just as well. She needs all her strength for herself just now.”

The door-bell rang.

“I’ll go,” Jane said and went to open the front door. Robert, looking white and strained, stood in the passage outside.

“Hello,” he said.

“Robert! We didn’t expect you so soon!”

“Is that Robert?” Aunt Georgina called.

“Quite right,” Robert said, walking into the sitting room.

“How nice, you’re just in time for a cup of tea.”

Robert kissed his aunt and sank into an armchair as Jane went to get another cup and make some fresh tea. Wordlessly he handed her an envelope.

“What`s this?” the old lady asked, fiddling with her hearing aid.

“Read it”.

Aunt Georgina put on her spectacles, drew out the note inside the envelope and read it in silence. Jane returned from the kitchen and Aunt Georgina handed her the note, without consulting Robert, as she said, “Violet’s skedaddled off to Brazil with that brother of Nelly’s, Diego whatever-his-name-is.”

Jane read the note slowly, unbelieveingly: ‘It`s impossible to live with you any longer. Am going to remain in Brazil, with Diego. Violet.’

“She took Bobby,” Robert said brokenly. “Without even discussing anything. And I got the authorization for her to take him and every thing. God, what a fool!”

There was nothing to say. Everything that occured to her seemed so banal. Jane handed him back the note and poured out the tea. “Would you prefer coffee?” she asked.

“No, tea’s fine,” Robert said wanly.

“Bobby is your son,” Aunt Georgina exclaimed. “You must fight for him!”

“What kind of a life would he have here without his mother?”

“Hardly any different from the one he’s been living up to now. Nursemaids, Albertina, T.V. and in very small doses, yourselves,” Aunt Georgina growled sarcastically.

Robert shrugged and ran his hands over his face and through his hair, his elbows on his knees.

“Go to Brazil and bring the child back,” Aunt Georgina cried. “Kidnap him!”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Aunty,” he said wearily.

“Much of a life he’ll have,” the old lady persisted. “With all Violet’s attention directed towards this Diego fellow. Surely, there’s something legal you can do?”

“Not for a moment. The permission was for a year.”

“Are you going to remain in that museum of a house?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything yet. I only arrived an hour ago.”

Jane sensed the utter desolation behind his words and felt his pain as if it had been hers. They were all silent for several minutes.

“It’s Bobby,” Robert said at last. “He is such a lovely little fellow. Always… always so cheerful and… and forgiving. Violet often treats him… well, you saw the other night. She’s so highly strung, her nerves get the better of her. And I’m away so much. You were quite right, Aunt Georgina, I should have realized my job… I tried to make it up to Bobby when I was at home, but our lifestyle didn’t make it very easy. Such a little kid, only five. Oh, God. Why – why do these things have to happen?”

Aunt Georgina, about to launch into a sermon, was silenced by a slight gesture from Jane. They remained still, giving Robert the space to talk. He sipped his tea and shook his head.

“Violet’s not very easy to live with,” he mumbled. “But we’ve had some lovely times together. I tried so hard to give her everything she really wanted. I never thought she’d leave me. We’ve had our disagreements, but then, what couple doesn’t have them? How did I fail her? Why am I impossible to live with? What did I do? I haven’t even been unfaithful to her… ever, despite enough temptations! Oh, God!”

Tears filled his eyes and he pulled out a handkerchief, wiped them away and blew his nose. “It`s all over,” he said. “Except for some interminable law-suit, and they’re both hundreds of kilometres away. I can’t even see Bobby on weekends. How could she have done this?”

Jane longed to sit by him and hold his hand, or try and comfort him in some other way. She refilled his cup of tea and struggled with the lump in her throat.

“Well,” Aunt Georgina said abruptly. “I’m going to play the piano.”

She stood up stiffly and stumped over to the piano. After shuffling through her sheet music she found the Chopin prelude she was looking for and began to thump it out, using it as a valve for her pent up emotions. Robert leaned back and rested his head, closing his eyes. Jane curled up on the sofa and, despite herself, her thoughts returned to the moments when her father had ordered her to leave the house, all those years ago. And now, the wounds had healed. Their relationship, too, was different, deeper, based at last on realities, on truth. And it had blossomed from something artificial, rigid and lifeless, through pain, of course. Could all beauty only come about through pain? Perhaps Violet would realize how mistaken she had been and come back soon, changed, chastened perhaps, after living with Diego, who was not a person ready to make many sacrifices, even for a woman as attractive as Violet.

“So many little deaths,” she thought sadly. “Soledad really did die for a few minutes, but everyone seems to go through little deaths during their lives, and perhaps those are the worst.”

She said quietly, “Don’t try to avoid the pain, Robert. If you do, it will become stagnant and make you ill.”

Robert opened his eyes slightly and looked at her.

“Let it flow,” she went on. “Cry, swear, rave, but let it out. Pretending, to yourself, that you’re strong and that this is not going to affect you, will turn it into a poison.”

“And what if I can’t handle the flow?”

“Pray. Repeat the Lord’s prayer over and over again.”

Robert closed his eyes and shrugged faintly. “I’m not that sort of a person,” he said.

“Well, it costs nothing, it can’t hurt you, and possibly, it might help you a great deal.”

“One always rushes to God when one has a problem, as if the idea of a Father God sitting up in heaven listening in to all our silly little requests is going to make any difference.”

“But He really does exist. He’s not just an idea. The sun shines on the blind a well as those that can see. God is there, wether you believe in Him or not, and He’s not proud.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty three.”

“You’re too young to know about all these things.”

“No, I’m not. I’ve experienced them in my flesh and bones, as well as in my heart.”

“I just feel like blubbing. What a fool! I keep remembering when my mother died.”

Robert rose, snapping into an upright position like a spring which had been extended to its limit. “Well, I’m off,” he said briskly. “Good bye, Aunty, and thank you for Chopin, it was just what I needed.”

The old lady hugged him closely.

“You can always come and stay here,” she said.

“I know; thank you, my love.”

He kissed them both and left rapidly, but not before looking into Jane’s eyes and saying, “Maybe I’ll try. One day we must talk more. Thank you, Cinderella.”

Aunt Georgina went to the sideboard and fished out a bottle of whisky from behind a pile of plates, and two glasses.

“Now that he’s gone…,” she said. “His father drank himself to death when his mother died. I didn’t want to be the one to make history repeat itself, but if I need anything, I need a whisky!”

She served two stiff whiskies and gave one to Jane.

“It’s too MUCH for me!” Jane protested.

“Well, I’ll finish it,” Aunt Georgina shrugged. “That two-timing little wretch. She’s been planning this, you mark my words. Spoilt brat. She doesn’t deserve to have a husband as good as Robert! Fancy taking the boy, too, and what does she expect to get out of this affair, anyway? As if a play-boy like that will remain interested in her for very long! Not a brain in her head, just one word: sex. Can’t stand her. Never could!”