“Jane, dear! How brown are you! How well you’re looking! You’ve put on weight too! How did it all go?”
Jane kissed her mother’s cheek as the month she had been away turned into a self-contained sphere behind her. Even with her suitcase still at her feet in the
hall, her home, with all its familiar emotional currents and rituals, closed about her. Once again she became the daughter of the house with all that role implied.
“Hello, Mummy, how are you?”
“Very well, thank you. Leave your suitcase, it’s so heavy. Daddy will take it up when he comes. Now, come and tell me all about how you got on.”
Strange, strange to be in this hall again with its window by the front door, its potted plants, the anoraks and umbrellas hanging on the coat rack, the untidy little pile of papers still on the table; to be sitting at the kitchen table drinking cold coffee, looking at the familiar disorder of plates drying in the plate rack, and a vase with half dead flowers which had not yet been emptied. Strange to be back in this oh-so-familiar world and feel that one had never left it, that all the experiences lived during the last month had lost their reality, and transformed themselves into a dream.
Strange to be looking at one’s daughter and to feel that one was looking at a complete stranger. Was it possible… Dora’s eyes devoured Jane’s face and figure with maternal intensity… was it possible that she could have changed so much in one month? The air of self-sufficiency, the relaxed way in which she accepted being served without raising a finger to help. Of course, that would be because of all the servants she had become used to. Her luminous beauty, her tan which made her green eyes glow so, her dark hair tied up in a knot at the back giving the impression it was cut short. Dora felt the urge to banish this stranger, to do something to bring her Jane back again.
“I see you got very used to being served,” she said acidly, noting Jane’s reaction, and guilt, with satisfaction.
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” Jane said automatically, unconsciously re-establishing the mother-daughter relationship.
“Well, tell me, how did it all go?” Dora repeated, easier now, on surer ground, her position affirmed and acknowledged.
Jane looked at her and then through her. There were no words which could tell her mother how it had all really gone. All she had lived through and learned and grown and out-grown.
That first morning when we arrived at the Estancia just after sunrise it was wild, just wild! I travelled in the car with Soledad, and Sarita slept in her carry-cot on the back seat. Soledad drives like a man, very fast and very well. She doesn’t talk so I dozed most of the way, but I woke up just as sky was beginning to grow light and she said.
“Keep awake. Dawn near Santucho is something very special, always.”
And she was so right! The sky turned from pearly greys to aquamarine to lilac and pink, and then, as the sun was about to rise everything became bathed in gold. Meanwhile the wide, undulating landscape appeared slowly out of the darkness. The recent rains had made everything very green and lush. Cows, spread out across the fields, were grazing quietly, and the fairytale colours of the sky were reflected over and over again in the puddles and ditches we passed. Dark, mysterious-looking pine woods filled the air with their special scent and the road, straight as a ruler, dipped and rose over the waves of hills unfolding in front of us.
And then we came to the coast, and there was the Atlantic Ocean with its huge crashing waves creaming up the beaches and sliding back again in their endless, timeless, rhythmic flux.
Just as the sun unstuck itself from the horizon we turned off the tarmac onto a bumpy earth road and reached the Estancia ten minutes later. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the house, set in a huge garden, all lawn and trees, was mag! It was low, old and sprawling; and its verandas were covered with shawls of Santa Rita all in bloom, all different tones in pink, puce and deep red. Banks of hydrangeas stood on either side of the front door, echoing the colours of the Santa Rita, but much paler, of course. It was all so big and gracious and yet casual at the same time, that I fell in love with it at first sight. Three large dogs ran up to greet us, barking joyfully.
“Good morning.” The voice belonged to a short, fair-haired young man with very blue eyes. He was so deeply tanned his eyes impressed one. He spoke in Spanish.
“Good morning, Fede; this is Jane Rowan who has come along to help me with Sarita. Jane, this is Federico Poussè, our manager. How are Jeannette and Jean Paul?” Soledad asked, as we climbed out of the car. She picked Sarita out of her carry-cot, showing her off proudly.
“Very well, thank you. Jeannette will be along immediately. How was the trip?”
“No problems, luckily,”
“She’s grown, eh?” Federico laughed, poking the baby’s tummy gently with his forefinger. “Que tal, Sarita? How’s life treating you, eh?”
Sarita bounced in Soledad’s arms and leaned over to be able to see the dogs better as they weaved about our legs, their tales waving frantically.
Federico turned his attention to me and his glance wrapped me around, sizing me up and making me feel very much a woman. Soledad leaned into the car and grabbed her handbag.
“Will you bring in the luggage, Fede?” she said. “Come Jane, I’ll show you over the house.”
I became aware of the lowing of many cows intermingled with the sound of the early morning breeze sighing through the eucalyptus trees nearby, and glanced in the direction from where it came. Noticing my gesture, Soledad said.
“Those are our cows mooing away. They’re just about to be milked, aren’t they, Fede?”
“Yes, we’ve just started.”
“We’ve got sixty cows,” Soledad said as she led the way into the house. “And we make cheeses and dulce de leche which we sell in Santucho. In fact our products are very sought after there. Look, I thought you could share this room with Sarita here. Our bed-room is just across this hall; your bathroom is through that door over there. This door, here, leads to the garden, and that passage to the rest of the house. Right to the kitchen, left to the living room and the other bedrooms.”
We were still standing in the little hall between our bedrooms when Federico arrived with our luggage, followed by a dark-haired young woman. She was not pretty but friendly and animated, and hurried forward to kiss Soledad, Sarita and then myself.
“Ah, Jeannette,” Soledad greeted her. “Meet Jane, Jane Rowan.”
“Good morning,” Jeannette smiled at me, adding nervously, “I prepared the rooms as you asked me, Señora. The señorita and la petite Sara in here.”
“Yes, that’s perfect. That suitcase and that and that go into Sarita’s room. The Señor and the boys will be arriving tomorrow. How is Jean Paul, Jeannette?”
“Oh, he is splendid, thank you. He has just started walking. Tránsito, the cook, will be here at any moment. Her niece will be accompanying her. Mercedes. She came when you were here in November.”
“Mercedes! What happened to Frutosa?”
“She had to go to Baradero to look after her daughter, Pili. The one that got married in September.”
“Oh, yes. Well, I hope Mercedes will be able to manage.”
Sarita, suddenly remembering her sore gums, began to cry. Soledad handed her to me and said, “She’s probably hungry. I’ll show you how to prepare a bottle.”
As I sat feeding the baby, it seemed crazy to me that she should be having powdered milk when sixty cows were being milked, at the very moment, in the milking shed.
Tránsito, elderly and plump, followed by her niece, arrived while I was still sitting in the kitchen with Sarita. They greeted me shyly, cooed over the baby, put on their aprons, then busied themselves lighting the wood stove and preparing breakfast. Mercedes was about my age with long black hair tied tightly into a pony-tail and large, rather mournful, black eyes. I noticed that she was wearing a wedding ring, and felt a sudden quiver of envy.
During breakfast Soledad produced pen and paper; she wrote down a time-table for Sarita and a list of all my duties.
Plucking up my courage, I said, “I suppose I’ll be able to have one half day off a week, will I?”
Soledad looked at me with surprise. “Well,” she said a little grudgingly, fiddling with the pen and staring at her neatly drawn-up lists. “Perhaps we could manage it.”
“Would Tuesdays suit you?” I persisted, staring at her and trying not to feel offended at her reluctance.
“I don’t see why not.”
Many of my mother’s friends treated their servants with very little consideration, but I was surprised that Soledad, who was after all, only thirty six, seemed to be like them. I was not a servant either, and felt I had every right to at least half a day off a week. I was simply longing to go into Santucho to explore all the places which Brian and I had discovered on that wonderful, long-ago holiday.
Soledad looked up, smiled and said, “Well, that`s settled then. I shall unpack now. Sarita may sleep a bit outside in her pram, you’ll find it in the bedroom, but if she’s fretful just push her about the garden. She’ll like that.”
It was wonderful in the garden, the breeze had died down and it was beginning to get hot. We wandered about over the beautifully cut lawns past clumps of dahlias, more hydrangeas, and ferns. Flower beds blazing with nasturtiums and snapdragons, and a pergola with wisteria all in bloom, were already buzzing with bees. Beyond a huge plumbago bush, beautifully attired in its pale blue flowers, I came upon a swimming pool, its crystal clear water dimpling in the sunlight. Dragonflies skimmed over its surface; at one end a pile of rocks and ferns hid the pump and filters.
I felt incredibly happy. Liberated somehow. It was all so beautiful, simple but beautiful. Beyond a cluster of citrus trees there was a narrow gate which led into the entrance drive. Pushing the pram, I walked slowly up the drive and into the wide dusty compound, it was surrounded by barns, garages, the milking shed or tambo, cottages, and at the end of a long narrow garden, Federico and Jeannette’s bungalow. I could see a toddler, stark naked, staggering about between the shady porch and a little plastic swimming-pool. Tall eucalyptus trees growing here and there in the compound provided shade. I wandered over to the pens by the tambo where the cows which had already been milked were waiting to return to the green fields beyond. They had their calves with them, and there was a lot of mooing and baaing and jostling. Sarita began to kick her legs and wave her arms about excitedly; I lifted her up so that she could see the cows and calves better. Together we watched the gentle scene before us, drawing its strength and comfort into our hearts, each of us in our own particular way.
Floating in the swimming pool while Sarita had her morning nap, I thought about the great stretch of beaches I had caught a glimpse of that morning and the thundering sound of the waves; I felt an urge to be diving into them and under them, my eyes stinging from the salt water, remembering the holidays with Mum, Dad and Brian. I hoped we could go to the beach that afternoon.
Resolutely, I tried to keep my mind off Kevin, but I couldn’t dissolve the pain in my heart. Memories of our happy times together all mixed up with those of his furious, distorted face and terrible threats kept surfacing inside me. I still found it hard to believe that he could have been capable of saying such things to me.
“What will I do if he suddenly turns up here and asks me to forgive him?” I wondered. “Would I believe him? Could I ever trust him again? I don’t know, I just don`t know. Do I still love him? I don’t know that either! I feel I can’t ever trust anyone again. Not completely. It’s crazy to depend so much on one person and trust him as much as I depended on, and trusted, Kevin. One only gets hurt, just terribly hurt!”
I began to cry, my tears trickling into the water. I turned over and swam to the bottom of the pool, looking into its shimmering translucence, wondering what it would be like to drown. Later, sitting by the pool with my legs dangling into the water, I thought about Bettina.
I wondered why she was so… so sort of cold-sounding. Could I have said or done anything to offend her? she had acted so strangely. I decided to send her a post card, maybe she’d like that.
That afternoon we went into Santucho taking Sarita with us. While Soledad inquired about the price of a pair of espadrilles I stood on the sidewalk and stared at the central Plaza across the street, remembering its once dusty earth paths, and green wooden benches, straggly flowerbeds and towering trees. The trees were still there, but the paths had been paved, the benches were sleek cement ones, and the flower beds were carefully tended, blazing with flowers. I remembered playing tag with Brian. What fun we had had! We’d left our bicycles lying over there in front of the church. The church still looked the same and the Municipality opposite, but the old ramshackle hotel had been demolished and a modern one with lots of plate-glass windows on the ground floor, towered in its place. The shops all around the plaza were attractive and modern now, and crowds of people filled the sidewalks.
“Can I have a quick swim, I mean, may I?” I begged when Soledad re-appeared.
“Now?” she exclaimed with a slight frown.
I nodded eagerly.
“Well… I want to go and visit my friend Inez… ”
“I won’t be long, I promise. Please.”
“All right then, off you go. I’ll have an ice-cream.”
The water was glorious, shivery cold despite the heat, exquisitely salty! I flung myself into the waves, diving and dancing and splashing like a baby. I felt like a little girl again, free to be just what I was, not having to be polite and dutiful and quiet or anything. Too soon I heard a call and saw Soledad waving at me; I trailed out of the water, rubbed myself dry and forced myself back into my submissive role of nursemaid.
Inez had rented a rather ugly chalet in the un-spoilt outskirts of the town. She welcomed us with loud cries of pleasure and much flashing of rings and bracelets, waving her cigarette in a mother-of-pearl and silver cigarette holder. She was already so tanned one might almost have said she was coloured.
Soledad introduced me and Inez kissed me warmly and cried, “Come in, queridas. Thank the Lord you’ve arrived at last, Soledad. And look at Sarita, how big she is! Just divine! Like Daniel, no? Those big brown eyes! The last time I saw her she was, how old? One month? Six weeks? Come and sit down, I’ll go and get some drinks. Isn’t this garden a dream? The house isn’t much from the outside but it’s very comfortable as far as we are concerned, my niece came with me, she just went out to do some shopping. Violet and Robert are here, you know; they’re not going to Brazil this year, after all, Paquita and Ernesto have taken the same house as last year, so Daniel will have his chess partner! And then I expect a lot of last year’s crowd will turn up again. Sit down, sit down I won’t be a moment.”
She dashed off, her silver bracelets tinkling and returned after a little while with soft drinks, ice, peanuts, and cheese cut in squares. We settled ourselves on the garden chairs, and Inez had just launched into an amusing description of their trip to Santucho when Sarita began to whimper and then to cry. Nothing would calm her, so at last I just had to go and sit in the car with her, while Soledad and Inez caught up on all the news. Through the trees, as I joggled the baby in my arms, I watched the evening turning golden, then the sky became a deep glowing red. When Sarita finally dropped off to sleep I remained where I was, afraid of disturbing her, and listened to the birds twittering excitedly as they settled in for the night on the branches of the surrounding trees. It was my first evening in Santucho and here I was sitting in the car, not even able to go for a walk and enjoy the gorgeous sunset. I had a feeling that my holidays were going to be very different from what I had imagined. At least I had had a bit of a swim and enjoyed the waves! I ran my fingers through my damp sticky hair. So much for my stylish hair cut! Well, I’d wash my hair when I got back. Around me the world grew gradually dark.
Daniel Torres Hidalgo arrived the following day, by ‘plane, with Lucio and Javier. Daniel shook my hand in a very dignified manner, bending over to do so because he was so tall.
“Jane. How do you do? Welcome to our household. This is my son Javier; he is eighteen. And Lucio, who will soon be sixteen. They are the children of my first marriage. My first wife, Lucía, died eight years ago, I don’t know if Soledad told you. And how has our little Sarita been behaving herself?”
He took Sara into his arms and kissed her while I shook hands with Javier and Lucio. I was fascinated by Daniel’s delicate, handsome face, burning black eyes and dark hair greying at the temples. He was very thin which made him look even taller. I wondered how old he was and felt Soledad had been very lucky to have such an eligible husband. I thought fleetingly of Kevin, but pushed the memory away from me.
Javier was a youthful replica of his father, although not so tall, Lucio was fairer and probably looked like his mother.
At lunch I sat between Javier and Lucio. Soledad sat beside Daniel. Everyone sat silently and then Daniel bowed his head and said grace. His deep voice seemed to vibrate in all the cells of my body. I had never been in a house where grace was said and I felt confused.
“Did Papá tell you about the fat lady on the ‘plane, Soledad?” Lucio laughed.
“Now then, Lucio,” Daniel admonished him sternly.
“But, Papá you should have seen her! I was sitting next to her, Soledad. She’d say a prayer cross herself and then she’d drink some whisky from a flask she had, then she’d shay another prayer, crosh hershelf and ship another little ship of whisky.”
His impersonation was so funny we all laughed.
“But we must not laugh at the poor woman,” Daniel exclaimed. “She is our sister, a daughter of God.”
“I expect her idea of heaven is an ocean of whisky,” Lucio said.
After lunch Daniel and Soledad went to have their siesta while Sarita and I joined the boys by the pool. Sarita was fretful and whining, biting the teething ring and the piece of hard biscuit I had brought with me.
“Isn’t she ghastly?” Javier groaned, “One can’t have a moment’s peace when she’s around. I can’t think why Papá and Soledad are so dotty over her.”
“Now, now, Javier, she’s our sister and a daughter of God,” Lucio said gravely, imitating his father and fingering the small silver cross which hung from a chain round his neck. Javier had an identical one.
“Shut up, you idiot,” he snapped.
“I’m only fooling. Where’d you go to school, Jane?”
“Newlands. I finished this year.”
“Are you going to study for a profession?”
“Public translator, may be,” I said. “And you?”
“Papá wants me to study economics, can you imagine? I can’t think of anything more boring! Javier is doing business administration.”
“Well, I’m starting this year,” Javier said hurriedly, and added, “Lucio wants to be a mountain climber.”
“We went to Bariloche two years ago. Have you been? It’s fantastic! Those huge mountains, all snow capped, defying you to climb them!” Lucio enthused.
“Are you catholic?” Javier asked me.
“No,” I replied. “I’m not religious at all. In fact, I’m not even baptized. I don’t believe in God.”
Both boys glanced round quickly and then leaned towards me with round, incredulous eyes.
“You don’t believe in God?” Javier repeated in a hushed voice.
“Not at all. My father says religion is an outdated fable.”
I suddenly felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. If one of them told their father I’d be packed off home within the hour. I should have pretended I believed.
“Don’t let my father find out,” Lucio said. “He’ll send you home on the next bus.”
“Haven’t you ever been to church?”
Javier let out a long groan. “Are you ever lucky,” he said.
“Oh! I believe in God,” Javier assured Lucio. “But I’m sick of priests and prayers and confession and church services. Our school is a priest’s school , San Hilario. And now I’m starting at the Catholic University. My father is such a devout catholic, I expect Soledad told him you’re catholic, just not to have any bother.”
“You’ ll have to come to church with us on Sunday – and confess!” Lucio said with a wicked grin.
I looked at him in alarm and he burst out laughing.
“We three can go to the 12 o´clock mass,” Javier said. “Jeannette and Fede go to that one. We’ll tell you what to do. My father and Soledad go to the afternoon mass at five.”
“But I don’t want to go to any mass,” I protested.
“Well, you can accompany us and sit outside or go for a walk,” Lucio suggested.
The family drove into town after tea and left me with Sarita. I wandered about the house peeping into the other bedrooms with their high ceilings and tall, narrow windows behind wrought iron bars, similar to the bedroom I was in. Then I searched the bookcases for interesting books to read and tried out the piano, playing chopsticks for a while to entertain Sarita. A cool wind had risen so I didn’t feel like going to the pool. I washed Sarita’s dirty clothes, then we went for a long walk, exploring the garden and vegetable garden in more detail. At six Tránsito and Mercedes left, setting off down the drive into the wide countryside on their way home, an hour’s walk away.
I gave Sarita her supper, bathed her, changed her and settled her in her cot to sleep. She began to howl and it look me over an hour to get her to drop off. When I checked my list of instructions, I found I had done everything back to front that I should have bathed her first; I hoped it wouldn’t give her colic. When I went back into the garden, the last rays of light were fading out of the sky. A Tero tero flew over, filling the garden with its plaintive cry. ´Tero, tero, tero´.
The twittering birds in the trees gradually fell silent. The stars began to glow in the darkening sky. Suddenly, I felt very frightened. The house around me was dark and empty, the garden dark. Federico had turned on a motor which chugged comfortingly in the distance; one or two lights lit up the compound, but they only served to make the darkness darker. Trembling, I went into the kitchen and bolted the door behind me. Any little sound made my hair stand on end. I lit all the lights in the living-room and checked the doors, making sure they were bolted. I inspected Daniel and Soledad’s bedroom and bathroom to make sure there was no door or window unbolted. Over their bed was a large crucifix. I stared at the sagging figure of Christ on the cross and shivered. How could people sleep in rooms with such awful images hanging on the walls? I went back to the living-room and then to the kitchen. There I noticed that Tránsito had left me a tray with my supper on it. I stood by the counter eating the cold chicken with my fingers, staring out of the window towards the end of the drive, willing the lights of the car to flash into view. I must have stood there for over two hours.
The chug of the motor stopped and the lights dimmed: Fede and Jeanette were going to bed. I knew I should turn off most of the lights because Soledad had put it on my list of instructions. When the motor was not working one had to be careful not to waste electricity. I could not move. My heart thumped so loudly I could almost hear it. I wanted to go home. I felt sure there were men trying to get in through one of the windows, and strained to hear the sound of a saw cutting through the wrought iron bars. At last my need to go to the bathroom overcame my need to watch for the car lights.
Sarita began to cry as I came out of the bathroom; I rushed about, putting out some of the lights, and made a dash for the bedroom, locking the door behind me. The baby’s howls were a relief after the weird silence of the old house with its sighs and creaks and the wind whining about the eaves. Almost immediately I heard the car arrive, the car doors slam, and the family’s voices as they approached the house. A loud hammering on the front door reminded me that I had bolted it. I went to open it with Sarita in my arms.
“What happened?” they asked.
I shrugged and said, “We always lock all the doors at night at home, I didn’t know what to do.”
“Hasn’t Sarita slept yet?” Soledad asked.
“She’s just woken up. I was going to give her a bottle.”
That night I cried myself to sleep.
After two days Sarita decided that she did not like going to the beach at all. What with the sun, the sand, the noisy chatter of all Daniel and Soledad’s friends, plus the shrill little voices of their several children, she found the stress of it all too much for her and made her displeasure quite clear. Finally, as nothing would calm her howls, Soledad drove us both back to the Estancia.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But she’ll get a hernia or something if she goes on crying like that. We’ll try again next week. I feel she needs a very regular routine, perhaps that’ll help her settle down.”
I watched the car drive off and felt a mantle of loneliness fall over me. Tránsito and Mercedes were busy cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing. Jeannette was busy doing the same in her home. Sarita, worn out, had fallen asleep and lunch was hours away. I wrote a card to Bettina, washed my hair, washed my clothes, then went to lie by the pool. The morning dragged by so slowly I felt I could scream with boredom.
“How was Sarita?” Soledad asked when they finally returned for lunch.
“O.K.,” I admitted reluctantly. “She went to sleep until she woke up for her lunch, then she went to sleep again.”
Soledad nodded happily. “I knew it, she needs her routine, you see,” she said.
That afternoon they all left again for Santucho and I found myself alone once more, facing the long lonely evening. It had been decided to lock the front door and that they should take the key, in that way, once I had bolted the doors I could go to sleep when I wanted.
I searched for suitable paper in order to start a diary, but couldn’t find any, so I listened to my walkman lying in bed, locked into the bedroom. Gradually I got used to the new routine. Twice a day Sarita and I would visit the cows waiting to be milked, and I carried her into the spotless milking shed, gleaming with white tiles. We would watch how the cows entered, walked to their stall, were attached to the milking machine and given some feed to keep them happy. Outside, the rest of the cows remained in line mooing and jostling, each one in her accustomed place, allowing no young upstart to get uppity and jump the queue! I loved their warm, friendly smell, their gentle expressions, the sound of their lowing and the charm of their calves. Sarita did too. She always began to bounce in my arms as she looked intently at everything going on, giving little crows of excitement.
The dogs became personalities with names : Sheba, Negro and Enchufe.
Sheba adopted us and became our shadow, waiting patiently for us to appear outside the kitchen door in the mornings and giving me a goodnight lick before settling down nearby at night. It gave me a deep feeling of comfort and protection to know that she was just outside. Two other sentinels who patrolled the garden night and day were the tero-teros. In their neat grey and white uniforms and black ties they broke into their loud warning cries whenever anything or anyone disturbed them. Tero – tero – tero…
I made friends with Jeannette and she taught me to make bread. Sometimes she would come and join me at the swimming pool with Jean Paul. Fede seemed to be a very hard worker, always busy either with the cows or the machines and crops, or travelling back and forth to Santucho in the pick-up. He often went riding in the morning, I left Sara with Jeannette twice and accompanied him. It was wonderful to be on horseback, away from the house and the baby, enjoying the fresh salt winds which blew off the ocean and the burning heat of the summer sunshine. However, I was afraid that Tránsito or Mercedes might tell Soledad and make her angry, so I decided not to make a habit of it.
Sometimes, the family remained at home in the afternoon, as friends came to visit them, but it was not often, because the boys wanted to be with their friends, and Daniel felt it was only fair that it should be so.
On the morning of my first afternoon off I announced that I had arranged to go into Santucho with Federico, as he had business to do there, and that I would return on the local bus. Soledad looked at me as if I had lost my wits.
“It’s my afternoon off, we arranged it together. Don’t you remember?” I said, my heart plummeting.
“Oh, Dios mío, of course. I had forgotten all about it, what a stupid thing,” she said. “But I’m afraid it’s quite impossible to let you go out today. We are going to the Gregories, and then to Inez. And tomorrow… no… tomorrow won’t suit either.”
I turned away, trying not to show how disappointed and angry I was. We had talked about it and she had agreed. How could she pretend to have forgotten so conveniently? Even Tránsito and Mercedes had the whole day off on Sundays. And I had only asked for half a day! It was just too unfair.
“Look,” Soledad said in a conciliatory tone. “Let’s say you take the whole day off next Tuesday. I’m sorry Jane. It just slipped my memory.”
I shrugged and nodded, trying to smile.
“O.K.” was all I could manage politely.
Jeannette shook her head when I told her at tea that afternoon.
“I’m not surprised, I’m afraid,” she said. “Soledad is a bit like that, she remembers only what suits her.”
“D’you think she’ll let me go out next week as she promised?” I asked.
“May be,” Jeannette replied, a little dubiously.
One afternoon Javier came home early with a group of friends in a jeep. They swam and played football on the lawn, ate an enormous tea and, after inspecting the establishment, piled back into the jeep and left. Javier came back to the pool to join me. Sarita was lying on a sheet on the grass in the shade near me.
“You don’t get much fun, do you?” He said moodily, sitting down by me and dangling his legs in the water.
“Well, I’m working,” I replied.
“ Do you have a boy friend?” he asked.
“Why?” I asked, cautiously.
He must have noticed the shadow in my heart for he said, “I don’t know. You always seem a little… sort of sad, somehow.”
I felt my heart contract and bit my lip. “I had a big row with my boyfriend just before I came here,” I murmured.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
We sat in silence for a little while and then Javier burst out angrily, “I’ve never had a steady girl friend, every time I like a girl my father interferes. Somehow he gets in between. I hate my father!”
The thought of hating one’s father shocked me, and I thought of my own. Javier turned towards me abruptly and said. “He castrates one. He’s always going on and on about purity of soul and spirit and about the evils of sex and I don’t know what. I tried to… you know… go to bed with one of the maids, but then… well… when it came to the moment I just went cold, I got so terrified. After all the things my father keeps repeating I just couldn’t… you know… function. It was terrible. The maid just laughed at me.”
Javier covered his face with his hands. “And the worst of it is that Lucio has no problems and he’s only fifteen! Sometimes I feel like killing myself, I feel such a failure. I can’t stand it any more.”
“But can’t you talk to some-one, a doctor or some-one like that?”
“A doctor might tell my father and he’d be mad at me for, well, even thinking about such evil things, and the priests at school… I’d rather not even talk about them!”
Tránsito appeared and told me that she and Mercedes were leaving. We said good bye and waved them off.
“Did you break up with your boy friend?” Javier asked.
“No,” I lied. “When I go back we’re going to decide whether we’re going to carry on or not.”
“Have you been to bed with him?”
I considered telling a lie, but I felt it was silly.
“Sure,” I said at last.
“Did you feel wicked?”
“Wicked? No! Why? Oh, because of what your father and the priests say?”
I stared at the bushes and trees surrounding the pool. I had never thought of my relationship with Kevin as wicked, or wrong even, it had all come about so naturally, somehow. Now, suddenly remembering that I was pregnant, I saw in a flash how our need to be together had had repercussions which went far beyond the narrow circle of ourselves and our needs, that we had certainly been a bit immature and selfish, and not very aware of what the consequences might be.
“And I’m the one that’s paying for it,” I thought. “How could I have been such a fool?”
“It’s terrific, isn’t it? Having sex I mean.”
I frowned, irritated by Javier’s question.
“If you had been able to function with the maid and she had become pregnant, would you have married her?” I asked, acidly.
“Married her?” Javier repeated in astonishment.
“Well, isn’t that what sex is for? Having children?”
“That would have been her look out,” he said carelessly.
I was swept with an almost ungovernable anger. Were all men like that, then? Uncaring, utterly selfish, concerned only with their own pleasure, using their charm to seduce, making a thousand promises just to get their way but with no intention of keeping them? I clenched my hands.
“Are you angry?” Javier asked.
“Yes,” I replied shortly, “but it doesn’t matter.”
After a short silence I said, “I think true friendship is more important than sex. You know, trust first and foremost, respect, understanding, not being mean and selfish. I think that’s much more important in any relationship. Sex is O.K., but if that’s all there is to it, it’s for the birds, that’s all I can say.”
“I wanted to ask you to be my girl friend,” he said.
I glanced at him and remembered when Kevin had asked me to be his girl. I had been so happy, so in love, swept off my feet and floating on a pink cloud. So sure of his sincerity, of his love for me. All the songs I had listened to in those days had seemed to be written especially for me – Don’t ever leave me… I’ll love you forever… you’re my girl… I can’t do without you… None of it true, none of it. “If you say the baby is mine I’ll say you’ve been fucking around with other fellows. I’ll get proof, even if I have to pay for it. I’ll destroy you Jane, I promise you, I’ll destroy you…”
I shook my head and said with difficulty, “I can only offer to be your friend, Javier, a really true friend, one that you can trust, I mean.”
Javier looked at me and we stared at each other for a long time, our thoughts weaving about our own problems, rather than the other’s, but for all that there was a sense of closeness. At last he smiled, took my hand and squeezed it.
“Thank you,” he murmured.
Sheba got up and stretched, Sarita began to cry, the tero-teros ran away over the grass shouting ´tero, tero, tero…
“What’s the time?” I asked, alarmed. “It must be Sarita’s bed time.”
“I’ll help you,” Javier offered.
He bathed her while I prepared her fresh clothes and her supper.
“Look, she’s cut a tooth,” he said when I returned. I investigated unbelievingly, but he was right; a pin-point of white enamel announced the long-awaited moment.
“May-be she’ll stop crying so much now,” I breathed hopefully, thinking about the beach.
Once Sarita was finally asleep, we heated up our supper and went to eat it in the garden. The air was warm, full of scents and the sounds of insects. The stars studded the sky in a breathtaking array of brilliance, as fireflies danced about over the lawn and the bushes as if trying to imitate them.
We began to discuss our parents and to compare them. I told Javier about how rigid my father was, and how my mother always seemed to be thinking of Brian. Javier told me about his mother, what he could remember of her.
“I was only ten when she died,” he said. “She was so beautiful! She used to read to us a lot, I remember; I think that’s so important for children don’t you? Being read to, I mean. But she was often sick. She died of leukaemia, you know, so she had to lie down a lot; she was very pale and sort of listless lots of the time. Soledad is quite different.”
“D’you like her?” I asked.
“She’s O.K. She’s just crazy about my father and, as you see, my father about her. Everybody says he seems younger now than when he married her.”
This distant chug of the motor stopped and the lights dimmed. The surrounding darkness seemed to grow darker in the ensuing silence.
“Don’t you get afraid here, alone?” Javier asked suddenly.
“I was at first, I’ve never been alone in a house before. But Sheba is a terrific watch dog, and the tero-teros are always around, so I’ve got used to it now. I usually lock myself into the bedroom and hope for the best!” I grinned a little sheepishly.
“You must get bored here, too. Alone all day, you can’t even come to the beach with us because of that little brat!”
“ Poor Sarita, It’s not her fault she’s cutting teeth.”
“It’s not very fair, though,” Javier insisted.
“Tuesday I’m supposed to get the whole day off,” I said. “Remind Soledad for me, will you? She forgot last Tuesday, and that I do think unfair.”
“Hey… lets plan something with Lucio. My father will make a long face otherwise.”
“That’d be wild !”
We began to make plans, and were still at it when the lights of the car in the distance announced the rest of the family’s return. We were in the kitchen making Sarita’s late-late bottle when Soledad walked in. She looked at us inquiringly and we knew we looked dreadfully guilty simply because we were there alone. Daniel followed her and said to Javier, looking at each of us with his burning gaze.
“What time did you return, Javier?”
“Oh, early,” Javier replied, trying to sound careless and not succeeding. “I came with my friends. I wanted to show them the tambo and everything, then we played football and swam.”
“I thought you were going to the cinema.”
“Yeah. But in the end I remained here.”
In the silence that followed I felt Daniel trying to discover the relationship between us. I considered saying something but I felt sure, anything I said would be considered evidence of guilt. It was horrible.
Then I remembered Sarita’s tooth and said brightly, “Soledad, Sarita’s cut a tooth.”
The effect was wonderful. Soledad was delighted, and Daniel at once distracted.
“Her first step towards her firtht thet of falth teeth,” Lucio said cheerfully, imitating a toothless hag hobbling along, by draping his bathing towel over his head and clutching it at his throat.
“Lucio, will you please keep your black humor for your friends,” Daniel exclaimed, aiming a blow at Lucio’s swiftly ducking head. We all laughed, and the difficult moment passed.
At breakfast the next morning Daniel served himself his usual abstemious cup of black coffee and said with studied casualness.
“Jane, I feel it is not wise for you to become too friendly with Javier; he may misunderstand you. You are both very young. I demand from my sons perfect purity in thought, word and deed, of course, but please don’t behave in such a way that he may misunderstand you. That is all I ask. I represent your father and I’m sure he demands no less of you. I hope you understand what I mean.”
“Yes,” I answered, feeling my face turning a fiery red under my tan. “But I can’t help it if Javier decides to come home at six in the afternoon.”
I was furious. He seemed to expect us to behave like rutting goats, and what was more he words implied that if we were caught doing anything ‘wrong’ I would be considered the one responsible.
“No, of course not,” Daniel agreed calmly and turned his attention to Sara, stroking her cheek gently.
“I have no intention whatsoever of seducing Javier or any-one else,” I went on hotly. “Do I seem to be that sort of a person?”
Daniel turned to me quickly.
“No, Jane,” he said placatingly. “Not at all. Please don’t be offended. I was just trying to warn you; I wasn’t accusing you of anything.”
I felt tears beginning to rise and they spilled over before I could make a decent get-away. Daniel was shaken.
“Jane, dear, please don’t be so upset. I honestly didn’t mean you to feel I was accusing you of improper behavior or anything like that,” he exclaimed.
“But you were warning me that if anything ‘happened’ it would be considered my fault,” I said, scrubbing the tears away from my eyes. “It’s always the girl’s fault, isn’t it?”
Daniel sat looking me in silence for a little while, and at last he said quietly,
“No, dear. I understand how you feel. I’m sorry.”
I nodded and stood up.
“It’s O.K.,” I mumbled. “Will you excuse me?”
I went back to my room and flung myself on my bed, staring up at the ceiling and thinking about Kevin, my parents, and the mess I was in.
A few days later Soledad decided to hold a barbecue party and the whole house was plunged into the schizoid chaos of preparations. The house was cleaned until it shone, the garden pruned and clipped and mown, the water in the pool changed. Meat, sausages, and chickens were bought for the barbecue. Salads and puddings were prepared.
Fede was sent into Santucho to hire tables and chairs. One of the workmen was detailed to prepare the fire and cook the meat on the day of the party, while all the rest of us laid the tables and did whatever Soledad told us to do.
In the end almost forty people were invited. Some arrived at about eight and took advantage of the pool. Most began to arrive at about 9.30, parking their cars in the compound. When it got dark the coloured lights which Fede and Lucio had been stringing all over the garden were turned on and everything looked very festive. The bustle and tension in the house had made Sarita very nervous; she cried and cried and wouldn’t settle so I held her in my arms and watched all the festivities from the living room window. Soledad was wearing a pretty, white outfit with lots of drapes, and behaved as if she hadn’t been rushing around organizing everything up to the very last moment. I really admired her. The party was soon under way, and obviously a great success.
I was alone in the kitchen preparing Sarita’s late-late bottle when Robert Gregory appeared in search of ice. Of all Soledad and Daniel’s friends, I considered him one of the nicest. He had fairish wavy hair, kind grey eyes, and a smiling expression. He must have been about thirty.
“Hello,” he exclaimed in English. “What are you up to all alone in here?”
“I’m preparing Sarita’s bottle.”
“But you haven’t been outside yet, have you? Or have I just been suffering from total myopia?”
“No, Sarita was all upset because of the party. She took ages to drop off to sleep.”
“But is she sleeping now?”
I nodded and grinned. “At last!”
“Then come along and join us all.”
“I don`t know.” I glanced towards the gaiety outside. “I won’t hear her if she wakes up and starts crying again.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be all right for a little while. It would be a pity to miss the party. It’s a very good one. How are you enjoying your days here? We don’t ever see you at the beach any more.”
“Soledad feels it’s better for Sarita to stay here and keep to a very regular routine.”
“How sad! But I suppose she’ll grow out of this stage in time,” Robert said with a commiserating smile. “We have no children yet, but Violet is determined to have one, come what way!”
“What’s the problem?” I asked remembering my own condition poignantly.
“She keeps losing them during the first few months of pregnancy. It’s pretty depressing.”
“Do you want a child?” I asked, thinking of Kevin.
“Of course. I love children. They have their drawbacks, I suppose. One’s freedom is severely curtailed, if not done for entirely, and they demand constant attention for years, but they do give meaning to one’s life, don’t you think?”
“I guess so,” I replied with a grin.
“They are also the perfect antidote for selfishness, or should be.”
“Should be,” I said. “But I know plenty of parents who are very selfish. They think their children are there to do things for them and also to do everything they tell them to do, whether they want to or not. They don’t ever try to find out what their children are really like, or what they really want.”
“You sound a tiny bit bitter. Is that how you feel about your parents?”
I shrugged, embarrassed, feeling I had let Mum and Dad down.
“Tell me,” Robert said gently.
“My father is all wrapped up in his work and doesn’t talk much, except to criticize. My mother has been suffering from depression ever since my brother died in a car accident, two years ago. I feel she’s always thinking about him and missing him.”
“How old are you? May I ask?”
“How nice! And all the world at your feet to do what you like with it. What are you planning to do with your future?”
“I’m going to study public translating, I think.”
“You only think! And what would you like to be, really?”
The desire to be nutty overcame me and I said, very seriously, “A light-house keeper, a helicopter pilot or a clown, whichever.”
We both burst out laughing. Soledad appeared at the kitchen door and said, “I thought you’d come to get more ice, Robert.”
“And so I had, but I found Cinderella here and remained to get to know her better. May she come and join the party?”
A slight shadow darkened Soledad’s expression for a moment, then she smiled and said, “You don`t have to sit in here, Jane. Come on out and join the party. Sarita is sleeping, isn’t she?”
I nodded. Robert picked up one of the fire irons and waved it over my head as Soledad turned away.
“Since there doesn`t seem to be any grandmother about, I shall be your fairy godfather,” he said. “Every-one will see you’re dressed in a gorgeous dress of silver and gold. Come along before the clock strikes the traditional twelve. Bring along a pumpkin full of ice, will you?”
Replacing the fire iron, he picked up a bag of cubes ice from the kitchen sink and led the way out to the crowd of guests. I followed happily, enjoying Soledad’s discomfort at his dig about me being Cinderella, and the picture of myself dressed in a flowing gown of silver and gold, carrying a pumpkin full of ice.
Having managed to produce her first tooth, Sara became more sociable and we were taken to the beach once more. At last I was able to enjoy swimming in those wonderful waves again and the depression which had been gathering about my heart lifted. On my day off, Javier introduced me to his friends and I joined them for a picnic on another beach further south; then we all went roller skating, which was wonderful. I realized that I hadn’t had so much fun since Brian had died. Thinking about my life, I saw that his death had turned us into a very quiet, withdrawn family and that, unconsciously perhaps, we were all still mourning him.
Apart from Bettina and Antonia I had no other real friends, and as my father considered more than one party a month almost immoral, I was not invited to many any more.
“When I’m eighteen”, I thought, I’ll get my driving license and go to all the parties I want and dress how I want, and be me!” Then I remembered that I was pregnant.
It was our last full day on the beach. A whole month had managed to slip by, the month during which I had thought I was going to plan my life carefully and reach important decisions was over; I had planned nothing, come to no decisions, and the urgent reality of my condition could not be ignored much longer.
“I’m going to have a baby,” I thought, looking at Sara. I’m going to have a baby and I’m not ready. I’M NOT READY!”
A terrible fear gripped me: for myself, for the child, for my parents’ reactions. The future hovered before me like a huge, menacing, black shadow and I began to tremble. First just my hands and feet, then my body, and then I fainted. When I came to, all the grow-ups were standing round me, Robert was sponging my face with water, and I heard Daniel say, “There, she’s coming round; her eyes opened and she’s got some colour in her cheeks at last.”
Laughing and joking, from relief I suppose, they helped me back onto my folding chair, offering me neat whisky, sugar, crackers, and I can’t remember what else. Soledad was really concerned.
“I hope it’s just a touch of the sun or something,” she said anxiously. “What will your parents say if we take you back sick?”
“I`ll be O.K.” I said, and realized I was almost whispering.
“I think l’ll take Jane to the Estancia right away,” Daniel decided firmly. “Inez, could you drive Soledad and the kids back later?”
“But of course, querido!” Inez cried. “Poor little Jane, what a shame on the last day! Let’s hope it’s nothing serious. Are you prone to fainting, chiquita?”
I shook my head as Daniel helped me to my feet and guided me across the hot sand to where the cars were parked under some trees. Once back at the Estancia, I thanked Daniel and turned to go to my room to lie down.
“Are you feeling better?” he asked worriedly.
“Yes, thank you,” I replied. “I don’t know why I fainted; it’s the first time ever. Perhaps I do have just a slight touch of sunstroke.”
“Well, don’t you worry. I shall be remaining here. Inez will bring the others back. I’ll tell Mercedes to take a cloth and some fresh water for you to put on your forehead. The best thing will be to lie down quietly.”
“I feel awful spoiling your last day at the beach like this,” I murmured.
“Please don’t let that worry you!” Daniel repeated with his usual charming gallantry, and I wished that my father were a bit like him.
I joined the family for lunch when they returned, eating a little, although my nerves were strained to their utmost, and I kept wanting to cry. I was now so frightened by what the future might hold that I could hardly concentrate on what I was doing. It was lucky that it was the last day, for I could not have coped with two or three more. It seemed incredible that I had been able to obliterate the fact of my condition so completely from my consciousness, and live through the days as if nothing were growing or changing within me.
“I can`t have this baby,” I kept whispering to myself. “I was crazy. I was crazy to say no to Kevin. What am I going to do? Oh, what am I going to do?”
My imagination ran loose as I envisaged accidents of all kinds which would in some way cause me to have a natural abortion. Somehow I packed Sarita’s clothes and my own, and got through the rest of the day.
We left very early in the morning, long before sunrise. Once again I travelled with Soledad and Sarita and part of the luggage; Daniel and the boys flew back later in the day.
“I’m sorry you were so unwell yesterday,” Soledad said. “You’re looking better today.”
“I feel fine now,” I said.
“Anyway, you’re returning with a good healthy tan, and so is Sarita. Have you noticed how tanned she is?”
Since I had changed her and bathed her every day and lathered her with protecting cream, it seemed rather a redundant question, but I just said, “Yes, she is, isn’t she?”
We hardly spoke again until we had nearly reached my home.
“Now don’t go and drop out of our lives, please, Jane,” Soledad admonished me firmly. “We all feel you’re a real friend of the family now.”
“Thanks,” I said, smiling a little wanly. “I’ll be in touch, I promise.”
Every moment that drew us nearer to home made me more and more nervous. I had my pay cheque, and I tried desperately to think of ways to escape, in order to avoid going home, but I realized that it was impossible. I couldn’t go on pretending any longer. I had to accept the situation I found myself in once and for all.