“Well,” cried Aunt Georgina happily, throwing her hat onto the dining table and sinking down onto the sofa. “My feet are killing me. I should never have worn these shoes, but they were so expensive I refuse to give them away.”
“How about a cup of tea?” Jane suggested.
“Key? What key?”
“Oh! Yes, lovely. You know where everything is, don’t you?”
Both Jane and Aunt Georgina kicked off their shoes and Jane went to put the kettle on.
“Nelly looked very elegant I thought,” the old lady chatted on. “That lilac colour suited her very well, don’t you agree? But Violet being there quite ruined everything for me. I know she’s Nelly’s cousin and her lover is Nelly’s brother, but really… ”
“I did tell you they’d be there.”
“At the WEDDING.”
“Yes, I know. I went because I wanted Bobby to have both sides of his family represented. He held the bunch of flowers very sensibly while Nelly was signing, didn’t he? Violet was entirely over-dressed, and that fuchsia colour doesn’t suit her at all. Nelly’s new house is quite nice, isn’t it? Not much bigger than this flat, but having a garden, of course… ”
Jane brought in the tea and cups on a tray and laid them on the coffee table.
“Mmmm, good. Weren’t there any biscuits in the tin?”
“Are you hungry?”
“Well, I like biscuits with my tea!”
Jane fetched some biscuits on a saucer and Aunt Georgina continued, “What’s the latest on the law suit?”
“I don’t know, but Violet has decided to sell the house, and most of the furniture too, I understand.”
“Good gracious. Do you mean to say she has that much faith in that lover of hers?”
“I think she wants to buy a flat. Houses are so easily broken into these days, especially when it gets around that they’re not lived in. Albertina’s a dear old soul, but
“She’ll get a lot of money for that house. Have a biscuit.”
“Is Bobby living with Violet now?”
“No, she fetches him from the kindergarten and then Robert goes and collects him from the hotel at eight.”
“Can’t think what she wants to start this law suit for, she’ll never win it… living in Brazil. Where’s Robert, by the way; didn’t he say he’d be dropping in?”
Jane looked at her watch. “Yes, but it’s early still. More tea?”
“No, thank you, no more.”
“I’ll take the tray out, then.”
Jane washed up the cups and set them on the rack to dry, thinking about Violet and Diego. It was true, Diego seemed to be very much in love with Violet. How strange that he should fallen for her like that! Hopefully he would continue to have a restraining influence on her, but Violet was a strange person. It would not be surprising if she suddenly decided to leave him and return to Santa Laura.
She returned to the sitting room and found that Aunt Georgina had dropped off to sleep. Picking up her shoes and purse, she left the room quietly and went upstairs to her own apartment.
An hour later Robert rang the door bell and Jane opened the door for him. He looked tired and strained, and held an unopened bottle of whisky in his hand.
“Hello,” he said, smiling wearily. “I’ve brought you a present. How was the wedding?” He handed her the bottle of whisky.
“Very nice. Thank you for this very timely present.”
“Bobby behave all right?”
“Oh, yes. Fine. He played in the garden with one of Leandro’s granddaughters most of the time.”
“Let’s hope Violet and Diego go, now that the wedding is over. Got any ice? I think I’ll have a dram or two.”
“Help yourself, good sir.”
Robert smiled crookedly and, picking up the bottle from where Jane had placed it, he went a little unsteadily into the kitchen. Jane looked after him reflectively. His new lifestyle, and Violet and Diego’s presence, the law suit, and his new job were proving difficult tests.
“How’s the new flat?” she asked. Robert shrugged and sat down carefully.
“Noisier than the little one, but bearable. The new maid seems a nice woman. At least she cooks quite well. Six days isn’t really long enough to be able to give a very in-depth assessment. Bobby’s still having nightmares. He wakes up crying and says he has bad thoughts. Poor mite, he gets back from spending the afternoon with Violet so wrought up that it takes him ages to calm down enough to go to sleep. It seems to me she’s trying to brain-wash him, you know, from the things he says or the odd questions he asks. Dr. Michaelson has suggested he take the Bach flower solutions, so I’m going on Monday to get them. In fact, I think I’ll have to ask for some myself. I’m feeling really whacked.”
Three thumps under their feet advised them that Aunt Georgina had woken up. Robert sighed mightily as Jane went to her bedroom balcony and called down.
“Yes, what is it?”
“Robert hasn’t come yet.” Aunt Georgina boomed.
“Yes, he has. He’s up HERE.”
“Well, tell him I’m awake.”
“Your aunt is awake and awaits your majesty’s presence,” Jane smiled, on returning to the living room.
“May we take our glass of whisky with us?”
“Certainly, your Majesty.”
Robert stood up and stepped close to her, looking down into her eyes. He ran a finger down her forehead and nose and round her mouth.
“Bear with me, Cinderella,” he said. “I’m finding it a bit difficult to cope.” And then he closed his eyes and laid his forehead against hers.
Jane felt as if the floodgates of some enormous dam had been opened within her. Her body began trembling and her thoughts turned into a cloud of butterflies. Paralysed by the depths of her feelings, she stood absolutely still. Robert straightened up and walked out of the flat, and she thought wildly, “Why didn’t I react? Why didn’t I show him what I felt?”
She gripped the back of the sofa. “I’m crazy. I’m crazy,” she repeated to herself over and over again. “I’m just a little girl to him. Cinderella. What did Violet mean? This? That I’ve been after him? Oh, God… it’s impossible!”
“Well, Jane. When are you going to decide to give Robert the green light? One can see a mile off that you’re hopelessly in love with him; at least, I can. What’s the matter, girl? You’ll lose him if you’re not careful. Robert is head over heels in love with you, too, whether he realizes it or not. Don’t let the grass grow under your feet, child!” Her bracelets tinkling, Aunt Georgina wagged a finger warningly, a couple of weeks later. “That Brazilian man may get tired of his mistress and send her packing and then where will she be? Robert is so silly, he might even take her back!”
“You let me manage my own life and don’t interfere,” Jane flared.
“I said DON’T INTERFERE, Aunt Georgina, let me RUN my OWN LIFE!”
“You mark my words, you’ll be sorry yet! Anyway I had lunch with Robert today and I told him. I said, ‘Jane is just the most perfect partner for you. Violet may be very exhilarating and all that, but what you need for a life-long relationship is someone very different to Violet.”
“Aunt Georgina! How could you POSSIBLY have SAID THAT to him? I’m …”
“Just a minute, my hearing aid doesn’t seem to be working.”
“You’ve turned it off, you mean. I’m GOING!”
“Are you going?”
“Well, if you’re going shopping, could you get me a couple of bottles of white wine?”
Jane slammed her front door shut and stormed into her sitting room. She was so upset and angry she even had difficulty in breathing.
“How dare she? HOW DARE SHE?” she exploded aloud. “The meddling old busy-body. It’s time I left here and went to live somewhere else. The presumption! Everything is ruined now. I shall never be able to look at Robert in the face again. How did the old devil realize…? What must Robert have thought…? And then pretending her hearing aid wasn’t working! Wine indeed! The devil. The unbelievable old devil!”
The evening stretched emptily in front of her and emptiness flowed on into the future. She turned on the radio and turned it off again. She watered her plants, despite the fact that they did not need watering. She considered going to see her parents; Nelly; Antonia; going to the Paddle Tennis Club; the cinema. No sooner did she think of something than she rejected it. Her indignation was so enormous that she couldn’t handle it. Finally she had a very long, hot shower, put on her pyjamas and went to bed. Her head ached violently.
After about an hour, tossing and turning, she got up and went to the kitchen, opened the fridge and stared into it for a long time with unseeing eyes as she went over for a hundredth time Aunt Georgina’s wagging finger and shattering words. Shaking herself into the present, she grabbed the pot of dulce-de-leche, picked up a tea-spoon and wandered into the living room, where she collapsed miserably onto the sofa.
Robert would laugh himself sick… what else had Aunt Georgina said to him? The whole situation was impossible… She sucked a heaped teaspoonful of dulce-de-leche off the spoon and let its sweetness fill her mouth as it melted on her tongue. Looking round the room she remembered the fun she and Tonia had had decorating it. She had been so happy here and now everything had been ruined. Why had that stupid, interfering, old woman started poking around like that? One had some rights, didn’t one? Impatient old fool… ‘Robert is head over heels in love with you…’ She’s crazy… he’s not in love with me or with anyone…
Jane helped herself to another spoonful of dulce-de-leche and began to lick it reflectively.
“Why are you so angry, if that’s just what you want… to marry Robert?” she asked herself at last. “We see each other regularly, we have been out to the cinema with Bobby, and to dinner. And here and there. I’d die if he fell for someone else. If he came along one day and said… “
But there, always, just beside Robert, a figure stood. The blurred outline of a child. If their relationship… changed, she would have to tell him and how would he react? Fear restrained her. Fear of his reaction, of his judgement; fear that he would reject her. She sighed and thought of Dr. Michaelson. ‘You must respect what the higher self of your child wants,’ he had said. What did her child want?
“Whatever he wants,” she thought. “Has nothing to do with me anymore.”
The realization jolted her. Her child was growing and developing and receiving the experiences he had chosen, and needed nothing material from her. He had his parents and his life, his family and friends (or hers). She, Jane, had simply been the vehicle he had used to be born. Her thoughts turned to Robert and she thought warily, “If the fact that I had a child upsets him, then he’s not the man I want to marry. I can’t keep all that part of my life a secret. It would be like a curtain between us, like I said to Nelly. I shall just have to tell whoever I marry everything… even Robert.”
She helped herself to more dulce-de-leche and thought with a wry grimace, “Am I one sort of fool! He probably doesn’t care for me at all, and here I am, building up huge problems and getting myself all fussed for nothing!”
Aunt Georgina’s words – ‘When are you going to give Robert the green light?’ echoed in her mind. That was the point. Either she continued acting towards Robert in a cool distant manner or she… didn’t. And that would mean having to tell him, and she didn’t want to tell him, or any one. But she had told Nelly, after all. Nelly knew and Nelly hadn’t rejected her.
A soft knock on the front door startled her. It could only be Robert, for he had the key to the door onto the street. Her heart began to hammer uncomfortably.
“Who is it?” she asked.
Panic-struck, she realized she was wearing pyjamas.
“Just a second,” she told him through the door, and dashed to her bedroom. Dragging on slacks and a polo-necked pullover over her pyjamas she thought, “Give him the green light indeed, what am I doing this for?”
She went back to the front door and opened it. Robert walked over to the sofa, saw the pot of dulce-de-leche on the floor and picked it up.
“So,” he said teasingly. “A secret vice.”
Jane shrugged and tried to smile. Her face felt stiff. “Want some?” she asked and proffered him the spoon, feeling ridiculously self-conscious.
“No, thank you.”
“Asleep. I left him with Hermelinda.”
….. give him the green light… here? Now? Hardly …
“Would you like something to drink? Your present is there if you’d like some.”
“My ….? Ah, the whisky? Good idea.”
“Make yourself at home,” Jane said. “I’ll get it for you.”
“Thanks,” Robert sank onto the sofa and looked round the room.
“That’s new, isn’t it?” he asked, nodding towards a picture in batik hanging on the wall.
“Yes. Tonia made it. I love the colours, don’t you? She’s really got a future there, if she goes on with it. I think she’s tremendously gifted. She’s preparing an exhibition in- between exams, tests, architectural drawings and so on.”
Jane brought back a small tray with ice in a glass, soda water and the bottle of whisky. “Help yourself,” she said, and sat down in the arm chair. The distance between them yawned like an abyss.
“Give him the green light… sit on the sofa!” Jane thought, but she didn’t move and remained silent.
Robert helped himself to a whisky and soda and leaned back against the sofa cushions, looking at her. “Well?” he said.
Jane glanced at him fleetingly, and felt her face begin to burn as she fiddled with the cover of the arm chair.
“I had lunch with Aunt Georgina today.”
“Did she tell you why?”
“And what… do you think about her opinion?”
The silence between them stretched into a terrifying vacuum. “I must say something,” Jane thought frantically. “I’ll have to tell him now, right away. I can’t… I’ll have to …” At last she looked up and whispered. “I think it’s… wild!”
“I’m not too old?”
She shook her head.
“But you have some reserves, don’t you?”
Again she shook her head, and with a great effort drew in her breath and said in a low voice, “Not about you. About me. I…”
“Come,” Robert said gently and patted the sofa beside him.
Jane shook her head and looked across at him with large, anxious eyes. “No,” she said. “No. First I want to tell you something.”
He leaned forward and murmured, “All right.”
Again the silence stretched out about them like a borderless desert. Robert said nothing. He just waited. At last Jane, who had been sitting motionless staring at the carpet, took a deep breath and found the courage to speak.
“When you met me, in Santucho, when I was looking after Sarita …”
“M m m?”
“I… I was pregnant.”
Robert remained sitting quietly, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, his glass of whisky in his hands, his eyes watching her intently. “Tell me…,” he said at last.
“My boyfriend wanted me to have an abortion, and… and when I refused he threatened to tell everyone that I had been sleeping… sleeping around. That he’d… pay other boys to say that they’d… had sex with me. I told my mother… but I said I didn’t know who the father was. I don’t know why. I was so scared, I suppose I lost my capacity to think straight. Also, I was frightened of my father, how he’d react. Anyway, my mother wanted me to have an abortion, too, and then she told my father and… and he beat me up and threw me out of the house.”
Robert frowned incredulously, stretching out his hand he took Jane’s and drew her to his side on the sofa.
“Where did you go?” he asked in a low, shocked voice.
“To Ana’s house. She was our maid in those days. In a shanty town. I lived with her and her family for five months, nearly six. Finally I decided the best thing was to give the baby away in adoption, so I went to a doctor and it was all arranged and… and after I had had it, at a private… clinic, I went to the British Hospital and studied to be a nurse.”
“Jane, darling. What a terrible experience to have had to bear all these years! But didn’t your mother…?”
“My mother agreed with my father. I never saw her again until I came back to Santa Laura, and that only because she fell and broke her hip, so I went to see her.”
“And your father had this floosy here on the 4th floor all the time! He must have been mad!”
“How could you ever forgive him?”
“I have, though. At least I think so. When I saw how terribly disillusioned he was over Estela, and what a weak person he really was, – is – always hiding behind a mask of, well… the faithful, hardworking husband, and demanding us kids be so truthful – he used to get mad at us if he discovered we had said an untruth – as a sort of cover up for his own guilt or something. I… well, I felt sorry for him. The hate I’d been carrying around in me sort of dissipated. It was hard, though. But, you know, despite everything, I love him. I can’t understand it really.”
“Has he apologised?”
“Yes, he did, and he gave me the car, and all that.”
“And your mother just washed her hands of you, too. What sort of people are they, for God’s sake?”
“Don’t judge them, Robert.”
“I shall find it very hard not to! Jane, thank you for telling me. I can imagine how much courage it must have needed.”
He drew her to him, stroking her face and running his fingers through her hair, and began to kiss her. His tenderness and understanding melted Jane’s last reserves. Later, much later, he said, “Let’s talk about us now. Will you marry me?”
“That will make my parents your in-laws, you know.”
“I’ll cope. My one fear is that… well, that I’m a bit too old.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“When you’re fifty I shall be sixty two.”
“Perfect! Oh, Robert, I … can’t really believe this. Am I dreaming?”
“A wonderful dream! A dream which hangs together in a dream of itself. Sweetheart, I’d like to have lots of children.”
“Would you? Really?”
“Yes, of course. To make up for your little one. How many shall we have? A baker’s dozen?”
“Robert, you’re crazy! Thirteen?”
“I’m only joking. I love you, Cinderella. I love you. I thought you found me too old, and that was why you were always keeping me at a distance. You’re not getting too much in the way of a prince, but if you teach me, I’ll do my best to learn how to wear my crown.”
“When shall we tell Bobby?”
“Tomorrow. Today. As soon as possible.”
“He may reject the idea. Violet…”
“I suppose we’ll have to consult the psychologist first, and advise my lawyer and so on. But don’t worry, it’ll all work out. You’ll see. Oh, Jane I don’t think I’ve felt so utterly ‘whole’ for years. You’re so very special to me!”
Later, alone, sitting by her bedroom window listening to the sparrows noisily ushering in the morning, Jane thought wonderingly. “It didn’t worry him at all about my having had a child. In fact it seemed to make him extra especially tender towards me. I’m going to get married! I’m going to marry Robert. I, ‘Jane, take thee, Robert to be my lawfully wedded…’ and he wants children… and Bobby…”
Jane clasped her hands and bowed her head, too joyful to think very coherently. At nine-thirty she went downstairs to see Aunt Georgina, who was sitting on the sofa, still in her dressing gown.
“How are you this morning?” she asked, a little surprised that the old lady had still not dressed.
“HOW ARE YOU?”
“Why do you ask?”
Aunt Georgina flapped her hand and then looked at Jane more closely. “How are you?” she asked, fiddling with her hearing aid.
“Robert and I are going to get married,” Jane replied, speaking very softly on purpose.
“You are?” Aunt Georgina cried, her lined old face lighting up with delight. “At last. I didn’t think you’d ever come to the point! Darling, give me a kiss. I couldn’t be happier!”
Jane leaned down and Aunt Georgina hugged her fiercely. “Where’s Ana?” she said. “We must tell her. This is the best news you could have given me.”
The sound of the key in the lock heralded Ana’s arrival.
“Ana,” Aunt Georgina called out, even before Ana had shut the front door behind her. “Los chicos se van a casar. Por fin! The kids are going to get married, at last!”
Ana, in her turn, hugged Jane and congratulated her. “We have been longing for this,” she admitted. “The Señor Robert will get a treasure for a wife!”
“Let’s hope so,” Jane laughed shyly. “How are Anita and the baby and everybody?”
“Ah, they are very well, thank you, and they will be so happy with this news, Niña Jane.”
“I… .” Aunt Georgina gasped, raised her hands to her chest and began to cough violently.
Somehow Jane and Ana managed to get the old lady back to her bed. Jane called the emergency Unit, Dr. Michaelson and Robert. Later, looking very old and shrunken, she murmured to Jane, “It’s my heart, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“I want to be at your wedding.”
“You will be. Just keep quiet now.”
“Did Robert come?”
“He’ll be here any minute. He was out at a very important meeting.”
“Will you be able to look after me?”
Aunt Georgina nodded and closed her eyes.
“How is she?”
“Not too well, she’s sleeping just now.”
“Will she pull through?”
“I don’t know Robert.”
“She was so well… so full of life!”
Jane put her arms around Robert’s neck and he drew her to him and rested his forehead against hers. “Thank God I’ve got you,” he whispered holding her close. “May I see her?”
“Sure. You can sit beside her and hold her hand if you like.”
Robert nodded and walked softly into his great aunt’s bedroom.
Jane let Nelly into the flat and hugged her. “How lovely to see you. Come in and sit down, I must have known you were coming because I’ve just brewed some fresh coffee, or does one only brew tea?”
“It sounds perfect darling, right or wrong. But tell me, how’s Aunt Georgina? I was so upset when I heard.”
“Well, she seems to be stabilizing. But it’s too early to tell yet. We’ve decided to keep her at home because sometimes, at that age, old people get very confused mentally when they find themselves in strange surroundings. Dr. Michaelson comes twice a day. It’s just a matter of waiting now to see if she has enough life energies to repair her heart.”
Jane went to fetch the coffee while Nelly took off her coat and scarf. As she poured out the coffee Nelly exclaimed, “Jane, are you wearing an engagement ring?”
Jane glanced down at her left hand and blushed. “Yes, I am. Robert asked me to marry him once the divorce is through.”
“How divine! Darling, I’m so happy for you, and he’ll make you a lovely husband. What a tremendous surprise! Well, it’s not, really, you’re made for each other, you too. Actually I hoped it would happen, after Violet went off with Diego like that. Congratulations, darling; I’m sure you’ll be very happy.”
“Thank you Nelly. I told him, you know, about… well… that I had had a baby which was adopted and all that, and he was so kind and understanding. I’m only sorry Aunt Georgina isn’t well enough to enjoy our happiness.”
“But perhaps she is, on another level, darling. You taught me that! Do you know, Leandro has also read the little book which you lent me by Bernardo Rivas. Isn’t it amazing? And it helped him tremendously, too. A taxi driver gave it to him, once, when he took a taxi years ago, after his wife died. You know how one is apt to tell a taxi driver all one’s troubles? He said someone had left it in his taxi and that he had read it and found it very helpful, and he gave it to Leandro. I was so astonished. Shall we pray for Aunt Georgina? Now? Don’t faint, darling, but I’ve begun to pray in earnest lately. I’ve received so much in the last year, I just don’t want to fail to give thanks. I feel I’m on course now, you see. Leandro is such a wonderful companion too. I just don’t deserve all my blessings. I lost my darling Bettina, but, well, we were wonderfully close while she was alive. We were real friends. It’s very comforting for me to remember that.”
Jane nodded. Was it really only two years since Bettina had died in the fire?
“So,” Nelly went on firmly. “Let’s pray for Aunt Georgina, shall we?”
“Sure, I’d like to do that,” Jane said, feeling a little shy. They sat on the sofa and held hands, and Nelly began to speak softly. “Lord, we are asking you very specially now to bestow on Aunt Georgina all the forces of strength and vitality that she needs to recover. We ask you to bless the doctors and nurses who are looking after her, and to bless Robert and Jane and Bobby in these difficult moments. Help them to be serene and confident. Please, Lord, wrap Aunt Georgina around with your loving presence, that she may not suffer, and, if it be your will, restore her to perfect health. We ask this in Jesus Christ’s name, Lord. Amen.”
Jane opened her eyes and felt warm tears sliding down her cheeks. “Thank you, Nelly,” she whispered, searching for a handkerchief and blowing her nose. “It’s crazy, isn’t it? One just doesn’t want to lose a person one loves, even though it may be the best for them.” She glanced at her watch. “I have to give her an injection now.”
“May I see her?”
“No, I’m afraid not. Strict orders from Dr. Michaelson. But I’ll tell her you’ve been and that we prayed for her. She’ll like that.”
Nelly nodded. “Give her a kiss from me, darling.”
“Sure. Love to Leandro. Come again, Nelly. I’m pretty tied here. Another nurse comes three times a week in the afternoons and a night nurse comes from ten until six in the morning. But what with one thing and another I don’t seem to have a minute for my friends.”
“Tell Robert how glad I am about your engagement! Oh, these roses are for Aunt Georgina. I nearly forgot to give them to you.”
“How lovely! Are they from your garden?”
“The last ones. You’ve no idea how I enjoy my garden. I can’t keep away from it. There’s always seems to be something to do. ‘Bye darling, I’ll drop by again soon. Look after yourself.”
Nelly hugged Jane warmly and left. Jane stood staring at the piano, closed and mute now despite the sheets of music scattered over its top, and thinking of Aunt Georgina, and of Nelly, and the days they had all spent in Violet’s house.
“Jane? Robert here. How’s Aunty?”
“Better. Dr. Michaelson looked much more hopeful.”
“Darling. Hermelinda’s daughter’s cousin’s aunt’s big toe is hurting her or something, so she’s gone off in a big hurry. Would it be alright if I come along with Bobby? We’ve eaten and we’ve had a bath, but we want to see you.”
“Well, come then, but no wild romping about, unless you go up to my flat.”
“I’ve told him we must be very quiet.”
“Great. Yes, do bring him.”
“I love you.”
“I know. And I love you too. It’s Bobby I’m ….”
“Do you know the poem that starts : ‘If you think you’re beaten, you are.’?”
“Bobby loves you, Jane, whatever poison Violet has been feeding him. Deep inside he knows that all she’s been insinuating and accusing you of is not true, and that is causing most of his conflict.”
“I hope so. He always behaves so dreadfully when I’m around nowadays. How does the rest of the poem go?”
“’If you think you dare not, you don’t. La la la la, tum tiddle um tum. It’s all in the state of the mind.’ I’m sorry I seem to have forgotten it rather.”
Jane laughed. “Sounds great,” she said. “I love you, both of you. Come soon.”
They arrived twenty minutes later, looking very clean and carefully combed. Bobby’s carroty hair even sported a parting. Jane kissed them both and took Bobby to the kitchen to see how the bean he had planted in a jam jar filled with damp cotton wool a few days earlier, had grown.
“It’s enormous,” he exulted. “It’s been growing furiously, hasn’t it? Can I show Daddy?”
“He’s with Aunt Georgina. You can show it to him in a little while.”
“Can I show it to Aunt Georgina?”
“Not today, pet. She’s very tired. Her heart is still ticking and tacking all over the place and she needs to be very quiet.”
“Won’t she play the piano, then?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Mummy lives in Brazil now.”
“Yes, I know.”.”
“She’s very pretty.”
Bobby picked up a glass from the draining board and let it drop on the tile floor. It exploded into a shower of splinters. Jane gave a startled gasp, but managed to control the exclamation of anger which almost escaped her lips. With an equanimity she did not feel, she said, “We must collect all the pieces. They’re dangerous if one has no shoes on.”
Bobby turned to pick up another glass, but Jane was too quick for him and whipped away the glasses, cups and saucers before he could reach them. Robert came in while she was brushing up the broken fragments.
“What happened?” he asked.
“We dropped a glass by mistake,” Jane said.
“I dwopped it on perps,” Bobby said loudly, staring up at his father defiantly.
“We’re being tested,” Jane said. “You can show Daddy your bean now, Bobby.”
“Look, Daddy, look. It’s grown all that since I planted it. I planted it, didn’t I, Jane?”
Robert picked up the jam jar and studied the bean carefully. “It’s a miracle,” he said at last.
They returned to the living room, Bobby skipping ahead. “What’s this?” he asked, pointing to a parcel which Jane had laid on the coffee table.
“Open it and see,” she said.
“Is it for me?”
“Yes, it’s for you.”
Bobby picked it up and felt it carefully. “It’s not the Ninja turtles,” he said.
“So, a clear case of bribery and corruption if ever there was one,” Robert remarked, putting his arm around Jane’s shoulders.
Jane grinned. “One has to defend one-self,” she murmured.
Bobby tore open the parcel untidily, disclosing two scarlet racing cars.
“Racing cars,” he shouted. “Look, Daddy. Like the one in my book. An’ look Daddy, look. The doors open an’ the boot opens an’ everything!”
“Hush, Bobby. Not so loud. What do you say?”
“Thank you, Jane.”
Bobby was already on his knees pushing the cars along the designs of the carpet. Jane went to the bedroom and checked on Aunt Georgina, taking her pulse lightly and controlling her breathing. She bent and kissed her softly on the cheek and returned to the sitting room. Robert, who was sitting on the sofa, held out his arm and she sank down beside him.
“Bobby,” he said.
“Yes? Look, Daddy, this will be the garage, an´ here under the table is the service station.”
“Jane loves us both very much. Don’t you think it would be nice if we came to live with her one day?”
Bobby paused in his game and regarded them silently, then he returned to his game, making both the cars collide noisily and tipple over. “My Mummy’s going to bring me a BIG Ninja turtle sword when she comes next time,” he said and returned to his cars, setting them back on their wheels and driving them off down the edge of the carpet.
“I think I’ll make some coffee,” Jane said quickly.
Robert raised her hand to his lips. “Good idea,” he agreed.
Bobby jumped up and ran after Jane. “May I have my bean, please?” he asked.
Jane handed it to him and he carried it back to the sitting room and set on the coffee table. “It’s growing furiously, isn’t it, Daddy?” he said.
“I should say so,” Robert agreed heartily.
The days glided past, and gradually Aunt Georgina began to recover. She was
allowed to sit up every day for a little while, her face began to fill out, and her skin to lose the waxy look it had had.
Nelly and Soledad kept her supplied with flowers and magazines, and Bobby was allowed to visit her and show her his bean. She would nod lovingly and touch his red head lightly with her thin, blue-veined hand.
“Any news of the law suit?” she asked Jane one day.
“It’s dragging on. The psychologist has been given three months in which to report with an option to three months more if necessary, but we don’t expect a decision before next year. Are you cold? Would you like your other bed-jacket?”
“No, no. It’s quite warm here. A year? I hope I’ll still be around by then.”
“Of course you will be, Aunt Georgina. Look how much better you are already.”
Aunt Georgina smiled and said, “I have a very powerful motivation. Have you told Bobby that you and Robert are going to get married?”
“Ages ago, but he doesn’t seem to want to register the fact. The psychologist says to be patient, that he’s working over the idea.”
Aunt Georgina fiddled with her hearing aid and said contemptuously. “These silly psychologists! It’s more than likely that he’s forgotten all about it.”
“She does see him twice a week, I expect he circles round the subject or something.”
“Has she told you?”
“You see, you’re just assuming. I’d tell the child again. How’s his behavior at school?”
“Still very aggressive, but better – much better. Poor Candy’s Kindergarten, having to cope with such a mixed-up little boy.”
“All his stupid mother’s fault, too.”
Argentina floundered towards her second democratic presidential elections with much rhetoric, and mudslinging. Most of the primary schools and all the primary-school teachers were employed on the Sunday selected – a clear, warm day with little of late autumn about it. Long queues of either men or women stood patiently in the school playgrounds, or halls, awaiting their turn to hand over their identity document, receive an envelope, enter a class room, choose their candidate, stuff the paper with his name printed on it into the envelope and shuffle back to the desk, push the sealed envelope into the waiting urn, retrieve their document and set off home. The teachers and representatives of the different political parties sat wearily behind the desks in the hall, eating biscuits and drinking matè, while they checked the names of each voter and ticked them off on their lists. There was no violence, and few people expected either the Radicals or the U.C.D. to win.
Jane reminded Aunt Georgina on the Sunday morning, that she was going to vote in the afternoon.
“What do you want to go and vote for?” the old lady demanded testily.
“I have to. Voting is compulsory.”
“Who are you going to vote for, that whiskery Mr. Menem?”
“No, for the Radicals.”
“Wouldn’t waste your time. They’ll never win.”
“Anyway, I have to vote near my home, so I shall go and see my parents since I’m there. I’ll pop in late this evening when I get home. Celina will be looking after you until Mariana arrives.”
“Well, if it has to be. How I hate being so dependent!”
“You could try playing the piano for a little while.”
“Och, I don’t feel like doing that. Isn’t it time for my pill?”
“Not for another hour. What about reading these magazines which Nelly sent you?”
“I’ve read them all… let me see… where are my glasses? Yes, I’ve looked through this one, it’s not very interesting.”
“How about T.V.?”
“There’s nothing on at this hour of the morning.”
“Cablevision, I mean.”
“Well, put it on if you like.”
Jane turned on the T.V. and handed the old lady the selector. She often became bad tempered when Jane warned that she would be going out. The screen sprang into coloured life and a nasal American twang informed them that they were about to watch a procession in the town of Tulsa.
“Hello, Jane. Have you voted?”
“Hello Dad, I have. Have you?”
“Just done it. No queue at all, thank goodness. Who did you vote for?”
“It’s a secret. The Radicals.”
Eric shrugged. “They’ve made a total botch up of their term in office. I voted for the U.C.D. The country is in a mess, it’s inconceivable! And when one thinks how popular the Radicals were when they won the elections. Alfonsín simply foozled about and did nothing when he should have acted forcefully and really made some changes.”
“At least he clipped the army’s wings and remained in power for his six years. And he will be handing over to another democratically elected government. That’s quite something after practically forty years of military dictatorship,” Jane protested.
Eric waved away her defense of the Radicals. “Who did you vote for, Dora?” he asked.
“The U.C.D. Wasn’t that what you told me?”
“Ma! What a terrible admission!”
“Well, dear, I don’t know anything at all about politics.”
“I didn’t see your car outside,” Eric grunted. “What’s the matter with it?”
“Routine check-up, that’s all.”
“What about a drink, Dora? Both of you sitting there on the sofa, gassing away. I’m parched.”
Dora jumped to her feet. “Sorry,” she exclaimed.
“I’ll go up and wash my hands, I think,” Eric said and followed Dora out of the room.
Jane wondered what she and Robert would be like in thirty odd years’ time and what their little foibles and habits would be. She glanced down at her engagement ring, an emerald surrounded by diamonds, and felt a rush of loving warmth as she thought of Robert. How long would it be before the exhausting, time-consuming battle for Bobby’s custody was finally resolved? With a little sigh she rose to her feet and went to look at the photograph of her brother.
Two hours later, standing shivering by the bus stop and wishing that she had accepted her father’s offer of a lift, she saw Daniel and Soledad walking past. Soledad and Jane recognized each other at the same instant.
“Jane, what are you doing, waiting for a bus? Where’s your car?” Soledad cried.
“It’s at the mechanic’s. I’ve been visiting my parents as I had to vote near here.”
“But, my dear, let us drive you home,” Daniel offered at once. Jane accepted with alacrity.
In the end they dropped Soledad off first. “I must pick Sarita up before it gets too late,” she explained. “She’s with a little friend on the first floor and there’s no one at home.”
Jane and Daniel discussed the political situation and the likely-hood of Carlos Menem winning the elections, as they drove through the narrowing streets approaching the district where she lived. When they arrived outside the apartment building, he kissed her lightly and waved before driving off. Wearily she unlocked the front door into the foyer.
“And what are you doing driving around with my father, I’d like to know?” a familiar voice demanded behind her. Jane jumped, startled.
“Lucio, hey, what are you doing here?”
“Waiting for a girl called Jane.”
“Come on up. How are things?”
“Thanks. Mustn’t forget the champagne.”
“Champagne? Things are looking up!”
“Matè actually, but it’ll do.”
Lucio picked up a canvas hold-all and followed Jane into the building. “This is nice,” he declared when they entered her flat. “It looks very lived in and comfortable. This is a lovely batik here.”
“Tonia did it. Did you ever meet her?”
“Not that I know of.”
“She’s studying architecture and she’s a gifted artist. Lucio, tell me, what are you doing here?”
“I went home and no one was there to let me in, so what did I do? I said, ‘Lucio old chap, you have a wonderful friend called Jane, why don’t you go and see her?”
“Did you vote?”
“No, the bus broke down, so I arrived after six p.m. which meant going to the local police station and so on.”
“Being very organized, he advised the powers-that-be of his change of address as soon as he got to B.A., so he voted near our flat. I failed to do so, hence my presence here this evening. Tell me, are you really having an affair with my father or did I read it all wrong?”
“Lucio! Are you nuts? Of course I’m not having an affair with your father. In fact, I’m engaged to Robert Gregory, Bobby’s father. Look.”
Jane held out her left hand and flashed her ring at Lucio.
“Engaged? But Jane, how wonderful! How on earth did Robert break down your reserve?”
“Och. Shut up. Have you eaten?”
“Yes thank you. But we could have some maté maybe. Has his divorce come through yet?”
“No. He and Violet are battling over Bobby’s custody. Robert’s lawyer is quite sure that Robert will win, and that it’s just a question of time. Another six months or so. I’ll put the kettle on; make yourself at home. You did hear about his great aunt, didn’t you?”
“She had a heart attack a couple of months ago. I’ve been looking after her. She’s better now. It’s amazing what stamina she’s got.”
“That’s Aunt Georgina, isn’t it? The one downstairs?”
“May I use your phone?”
“Sure, unless it’s a long-distance call.”
“No, no. I just want to check on my father.”
They drank maté, passing the gourd back and forth as they chatted, catching up on all their personal news.
“I’ve got a small part in a film called ‘Cowards Choice’”, Lucio confided shyly. “Nothing very big, but it’s a speaking part. Hopefully we start filming next month.”
“Lucio, how super. Tell me about it!”
When he finally left, Jane went downstairs to see Aunt Georgina. The night nurse, Mariana, smiled a welcome. “She’s been waiting for you.”
Jane slipped into the bedroom and Aunt Georgina opened her eyes and said grumpily, “Oh, it’s you, is it? Well, did you vote?”
“Yes. And my parents send you lots of love, and they’re glad you are so much better.”
Aunt Georgina stretched out her hand and patted Jane’s. “I played the piano this afternoon, after all,” she said triumphantly. “While Celina was here.”
“Wonderful. Great. You’ll be dancing a jig soon.”
“Robert and Bobby came.”
“How was Bobby?”
“Impossible, because you weren’t here. They left almost at once.”
“Oh, dear. Poor little boy.”
“To my mind he needs more discipline and not so much compassion,” Aunt Georgina muttered.
“He’s only six,” Jane remonstrated. She stood up. “You must be tired and it’s quite late. Go to sleep now and have a good rest. Mariana will bring you your pill.”
She bent and kissed the old lady. “Be good,” she whispered.
“I said, be good.”
“Nothing much else I can be with so many people invigilating me all the time. Good night. See you in the morning, God willing.”
Jane smiled. “Goodnight, God bless,” she said, and left the room.
Within twenty four hours it was clear that Carlos Menem had won the elections. In July, after another brief flurry of hyperinflation, President Alfonsín handed over the reins of government six months early.