The party was in full swing when Jane arrived. Soledad greeted her cheerfully and introduced her to the group of friends she was talking to.
“Meet Jane Rowan. She looked after Sarita in Santucho, you remember her, don’t you Inez? She’s a qualified nurse now.”
“Of course. How are you querida?” Inez held out a suntanned cheek and pursed her lips. Jane did the same. They touched cheeks and kissed the air. She noticed that Inez was sporting a wedding ring and a huge diamond engagement ring and wondered who the new husband was. The room seemed to be full of people, she remembered Paquita and Ernesto Claros, Violet and Robert Gregory, the Galianos and the Polodniks. Daniel came up to her and shook her hand warmly. He always reminded her of a sixteenth century knight for some reason.
“Jane, how nice to see you again,” he said graciously. “Soledad told me you met in the centre yesterday and that you are a qualified nurse now. You wouldn’t recognize Sarita. She’s quite a señorita already, growing like a little weed. Have you seen Javier? He’s over there attending the bar.”
Daniel waved to Javier, who’s face lit up when he recognized Jane. Leaving the bar, he came over quickly to welcome her. “Jane! Que tal? How good to see you again.” He looked as adolescent as ever, despite his mustache. “What will you have to drink?”
They moved back to the bar as Daniel’s attention was claimed by a fat young woman with short, straight hair dyed a platinum blond. Jane accepted a glass of cold white wine.
“What’s new?” she asked, looking around.
“Lucio has decided to be an actor.”
“Oh, yes. Soledad told me.”
“So don’t mention him to my father. I’ve nearly finished Business Administration. I have two more exams to go. But I’ve decided to study law now.”
“ Wow,” Jane grinned mockingly.
Javier coloured and said, “And what about you, what have you been doing since we last met?”
“Nursing. I know all about injections and how to make hospital corners when I make beds.”
“You look more like a model. You look terrific.” Javier dropped his voice a little.
Jane cocked an eye at him and said, “Thank you.” with mild irony.
Robert Gregory approached with two empty glasses and exclaimed, “Well, well. If it isn’t Cinderella! And how are you, my dear?”
Jane noticed that he had put on a little weight and there was an air of plenitude about him which had not been there five years ago. “Fine thank you, and how are you Godfather?” she replied with a twinkle.
“Older in years, younger at heart. How d’you like the touch of grey at the temples, adds distinction, don’t you think?”
“He spends hours powdering them four times a day,” Javier teased, handing over the full glasses.
“Robert, querido! How was Brazil?” Inez cried, handing her glass to Javier. “Wine, mi amor, it’s quite delicious.”
“Lovely as usual, except that Bobby got chicken pox and was really quite ill,” Robert said. “Very high temperature and all that, you know. However he recovered, as they usually do at that age. We’re the ones who are still convalescing from the experience!”
“Bobby?” Jane queried.
“Our son. He’s four and a half. Thanks Javier. You must come round and meet him, Jane. The apple of our eye he is.”
Holding the glasses at shoulder level, Robert weaved his way back to where Violet and Soledad were deep in conversation.
“So they had a child!” Jane said to Inez. “I seem to remember she had had a miscarriage or something.”
“One ? Several!”
“She must have been pregnant then, that time I was in Santucho.”
“In 84, wasn’t it? Yes, exactly. I expect that was why they didn’t go to Brazil that year. They have a place in Buzios you know. In fact she was in bed almost all the time I remember, and in the end she had to go to a special sanatorium in Buenos Aires. But it was worth it. She got her son. Sweet little boy, not like either of them at all.”
Seeing some late-comers, she waved and hurried away to greet them. Jane looked across the room at Violet. Tall and striking as ever, beautifully tanned, expensively dressed, she looked as if she might have been the hostess of the party. Feeling strangely agitated, Jane sipped her wine and decided to go and ask Soledad if she could see Sarita.
“Hello Violet,” she said when she joined them.
Seeing Violet’s surprised glance, Soledad said quickly. “You must remember Jane from Santucho, don’t you Vi? She looked after Sarita for me.”
“Oh, yes of course.” Violet smiled politely.
“I hear you have a son,” Jane said. “Congratulations.”
“Oh, thank you. Yes, isn’t it wonderful? We were just talking about him with Soledad. He goes to the same playschool as Sarita.”
“Do you think I could go and see Sarita?” Jane asked Soledad.
“Why of course, come along with me,” Soledad agreed at once, and led the way out of the living room.
“When was Violet`s little boy born?” Jane asked.
“September. The twentieth of September. Ah, shes gone to sleep but you can still see what she looks like. I`m Bobby`s godmother.”
Sarita’s bedroom was beautifully decorated in pink and white, with frilly curtains. It was stacked with toys. A rocking horse eyed them over an ironing board complete with toy iron. Sarita lay spreadeagled on her bed, angelically asleep with her dark hair tousled about her face. Jane stared down at her remembering the howling baby she had rocked day after day at the Estancia.
“How they change!” she murmured, and leaned closer to look at the child’s face, but her thoughts were centered on Violet and Robert Gregory’s son. As she followed Soledad back to the living room she was caught in the web of an agonizing fantasy.
“The twentieth of September, that’s four days after my baby was born. I remember Robert said she kept having miscarriages. That she didn’t seem to be able to have children. I’m sure she wasn’t pregnant that summer. She’s so friendly with Soledad she would have told her and Soledad would have mentioned it. Could they have adopted my baby? Could Bobby be my son? If I saw him I’d know at once. What if they adopted him and made all that up about the clinic in Buenos Aires, as a sort of smoke screen, and also the date of his birth? Four days after my baby. If I were able to see him I’d know. I’m sure I’d know. Can I just go and visit them out of the blue? I’ll have to have some sort of excuse. Or the school! Perhaps I could go and see him there. And if he looks just like me? Or Kevin?”
Her heart seemed to contract within her. She heard herself asking Soledad, “Which play-school did you choose in the end, Bunnyland?”
“No, we decided on Candy. A Mrs. Armitage runs it and she has young teachers and some very good methods. Sarita just loves it there.”
In the living room the atmosphere had become denser and the conversation louder. A knot of younger people, friends of Javier, were standing near the bar, Javier introduced her and she soon found that she knew sisters or cousins of one or two of the boys either from school or from the club.
“You’re very quiet,” Javier said. “Is anything the matter?”
Jane shook her head, “Of course not,” she said quickly. “I enjoy listening. I just went to see Sarita. I’m stunned at how much she’s changed, somehow I still had her looking like a baby in my mind’s eye. Silly of me.”
“Where are you living at the moment?” he asked. “At home?”
“No. I’ve been lent a flat by a friend for a month.”
“Has it got a ‘phone?”
“Would you give it to me?”
“Sure.” Jane dictated the number to him, and her address.
“That’s very near where Inez lives,” Javier commented.
“Pitty,” Jane thought. “It would have been wild if it had been the Gregories.”
In the end Inez and her rather insignificant-looking husband gave her a lift home in their Mercedes Benz.
Sitting on her bed listening to the roar of the traffic in the street below Jane thought wearily, “I’d do much better looking for a husband with a Mercedes Benz than wasting my time in stupid fantasies about poor little Bobby Gregory! I’m nuts, bananas. Fancy imagining that they adopted a baby, my baby in fact! Get a hold on yourself Jane my girl, those sort of day dreams can become dangerous!”
The telephone rang. It was Javier. “Did you get home alright?”
“Sure. Why? Are Inez and her husband in the white slave trade?”
“Of course not,” Javier laughed. “It was great seeing you again after all these years. May I ask if you have a boyfriend?”
“Why yes, many!”
“I mean, well, special.”
“All my friends are special, in one way or another. And you? Aren’t you dating some special girl?”
“Yes. She’s called Maria Paulina. I really want you to meet her. She’s away at present but she’ll be back in a week or so.”
“I’d like that.”
“Did you enjoy the party?”
“It was very nice. Tell me about Lucio, Javier.”
“What d’you want to know about him?”
“Since when did he want to be an actor?”
“Since June last year. He made friends with some one who makes a living taking part in crowd scenes in the U.S.A., when he was here on holiday, and met several directors and actors and he’s just wild about the whole thing. He’s in Buenos Aires just now trying to get into a dramatic art school which was recommended to him. My father is furious, really furious. He wanted Lucio to be an accountant.”
“I can see you as a lawyer, but I can’t see Lucio as an accountant. I think he’ll probably make a good actor.”
“Will you have dinner with me tomorrow?”
“I’d love to, as long as it won’t upset Maria Paulina.”
“Oh, no. Don’t worry about that. I’ll come and pick you up then. About nine?”
“Sure. Fine. Thankyou.”
They cut off and Jane lay back on her back on her bed and turned out the light. Tomorrow was Sunday. Dr. And Mrs. Michaelson had invited her over for lunch, and in the afternoon she’d go and see Ana and Anita. How old were Gonzalo and Ricardo now? Nine and eleven. She must remember to get plenty of ‘factura’ (sticky buns in different shapes) from the bakers, and she could buy a cake or a ‘rosca’ or something, too.
The five years that had changed Jane from a child into a woman lay heavily on Dr. Michaelson’s shoulders, and she was saddened to see that he had became a little bent and that the backs of his fine, sensitive hands were mottled with liver spots. He was thinner too, and had many new lines on his face. Mrs. Michaelson, however, looked exactly the same as ever, with her sparkling blue eyes, pink and white complexion and fine white hair which always seemed to be escaping from the pins she used to try and keep it under control.
They welcomed her joyfully, fussed about her, sat her on the sofa and brought her the soft drink she asked for. Dr. Michaelson then sank into his accustomed arm chair and said, “Now then, dear. Do tell us all about your experiences these last few years. Five isn’t it? My, how the time does fly!”
Unconsciously Jane touched her mouth with the fingers of her right hand.
“My training at the Hospital went wonderfully from the very beginning,” she said.
“I felt sure it would be like that!” Mrs. Michaelson exclaimed.
“Within a month I knew that I had a true vocation for nursing. I just love it!”
“Isn’t Destiny quite amazing?”
“True, no? But I was very, you know, mixed up, hurt and resentful still with regard to my parents and all that. Anyway I decided to go to a psychologist and he really helped me a great deal. Apart from that I got to know a very nice group of people, who also believe in re-incarnation, and who used to meet regularly once a week. I went when I could. One’s days off are rotated so I wasn’t a very regular member, but we discussed a lot of very interesting subjects. And then I was introduced to the Christian Community – in Olivos – and there, well I felt very welcome there. They have a lovely church and I used to go when I could, especially because I liked the service.”
“How good.” Dr. Michaelson nodded. He had not taken his eyes off her from the moment she had started speaking.
“Anyway, when I finished training I decided that, what with one thing and another, I wanted to work with terminally ill patients. So I worked in the ward where these patients are put and I took various courses which dealt with the psychological side of caring for such people, taking into account the needs of all the different age groups, children, adolescents, young adults, old people… That’s very important you see, and also the spiritual side; what to say, when, how, all that.”
“How very good,” Dr. Michaelson repeated.
“And now you’ve returned to Santa Laura,” Mrs. Michaelson said happily.
“A little bit as a therapy,” Jane smiled diffidently. “I felt that the only way I would be able to get over my aversion for Santa Laura, and the problem of my parents and all that, was by taking the bull by the horns, as they say, and coming back.”
“How very brave of you, my dear,” Mrs. Michaelson murmured. “I can just imagine how much courage it took.”
“I’ve always told you, Hetty, Jane is a very special person. And so you are here, my child, and looking for work?”
“Not yet. I’ve been lent this flat I’m in and I have a little money saved so I thought I’d sort of look up old school friends and see how I can remake my life here, and if I can.”
“Did you do any nursing outside the Hospital?”
“Yes. I worked all through the summer looking after a little boy with leukemia. He died at the end of February. It was terribly sad, but his parents are Anthroposophists and they believe in reincarnation you know. Well, they were incredible. A real example.”
The Michaelsons nodded in unison.
“So it was fantastic working for them and Christopher was such a very very special boy. He was eight. He taught me so much. When I think of it now, that job was like a gift from heaven, or a sign rather. ‘This is as it should be. Death is not an enemy. Death is a true friend.’ It was a very special experience for me.”
“Ah, yes, it must have been.”
“I realize that I have to overcome all my negative feelings about living here. I can’t let the past overshadow my whole life. Santa Laura must be big enough to hold me as well as my parents. But you know, I only began to feel strong enough to do this after Christopher died.”
After a short silence Mrs. Michaelson glanced at her watch and exclaimed. “Look at the time! I must serve lunch!”
“Let me help you,” Jane said, jumping to her feet.
The meal was a simple one and they were soon sitting at the table eating cold chicken and potato salad.
“I met Soledad Torres Hidalgo the other morning and we had a coffee together,” Jane said. “She invited me to a party at her flat last night. Unfortunately little Sarita, whom I looked after for a month when she was just a baby, was already asleep, but I met all the Torres Hidalgo’s friends, and Daniel`s eldest son from his first marriage, Javier. He’s a year older than I am. The eternal student. He’s just finished business administration and now he’s going to study law.”
“Well, he’ll be a useful man to know when he finally finishes!”
“Violet Gregory was there and her husband Robert. Do you know them?”
“Why yes. Very well. Violet is a patient of mine, and so is their small son, Bobby. Fine little fellow.”
Jane forced back the insane question which invaded her. Is he mine? They had made an arrangement, hadn’t they? After the 16th of September Jane had never had a child and Dr. Michaelson knew nothing about it. It had become the property of someone else.
“Have you any news of my mother?” she asked instead.
“None, I’m afraid, dear. She hasn’t been to see me for … oh …more than a year, which means that either she is very well or that she now goes to another doctor, which wouldn’t surprise me.”
“D’you think I should contact her or just leave it up to fate?” she asked.
“I think perhaps you should leave it to fate,” Mrs. Michaelson said thoughtfully. “In that way you will know that it is supposed to happen and not just provoked by your own will.”
“And then you will be able to act accordingly,” Dr. Michaelson agreed.
“I suppose so,” Jane said. “It’s strange, isn`t it, that I should have chosen such weird parents? I mean if, if what happened had been in 1938, one could have understood, but in 1984. I just can’t understand it, really, I can’t. I’ve tried to look at it from all sorts of points of view but well, it’s all an enigma for me.”
“One can only say that it was what you yourself wanted to experience,” Mrs. Michaelson said. “A … a sacrifice you demanded of yourself?”
Jane nodded with a wry smile. “May be,” she said. “But why?”
“One day,” Dr. Michaelson said gently. “It will be clear to you. But to my mind, your decision to work with terminally ill people has a lot to do with it. You are very young but I feel you are eminently suitable, because of all your experiences, to help these people. You can understand, not just with your mind but with every nerve and fibre of your body and soul, what they are going through, and what their dear ones are going through too. I feel you will always be a real help, you will always know just what to say.”
Jane sat in silence for a while, then she said, “I hope so. I really do. Such experiences must bear fruit or it would be just the most terrible waste of a whole life!”
At last, after she had helped to wash up, Jane bade her hosts goodbye, and promised to come and see them again soon.
After what seemed like more than an aeon standing on the corner of the mainstreet near the Michaelsons’ Jane managed to flag down a taxi. Anxiously she asked the driver if he were willing to take her out to the shanty town where Ana lived, wait for her and bring her back. After a moment’s hesitation, the driver suggested a price, Jane agreed, he covered the metre with a cloth and she settled back with a sigh of relief.
On the spur of the moment she aked him to take her first to her parents’ home. Once there she told him to stop on the opposite side of the street and sat looking at the familiar façade for several long minutes. The garage door had been painted. She wondered if it still stuck a little when one opened it. Everything else was exactly as it had been when she had left that Saturday morning five years ago. Her parent’s window was open and the curtains, the same curtains, moved gently in the afternoon breeze. The living room windows were closed, as usual, although the shutters were open. She could almost see her father sitting in his arm-chair reading reports while her mother lay on the sofa dozing, both of them quite unaware that she was sitting out here in a taxi, right across the street from them.
For a moment Jane was tempted to go and ring the door-bell and say, “ Hello, I’ve come to say I forgive you for all the terrible things you both did to me.” She did not, however. Instead she repeated Ana’s address and the driver started up his taxi and they moved away leaving Jane’s childhood home and her parents behind them.
“This time I’m leaving because I choose to,” Jane thought. “That’s good. I’m repeating part of the experience consciously. I’m glad I went there first.”
Before they reached the shanty town they stopped at a baker’s shop and Jane bought ‘factura’ and a large, gummy-looking cake.
Ana, Anita, Duarte and the boys were overwhelmed with joy at her unexpected arrival. Gonzalo and Ricardo had grown into fine young lads with bright, intelligent faces. They kissed her shyly and looked on with beaming faces as she hugged and kissed Ana and Anita who was heavy with child.
“Anita,” Jane exclaimed with delight. “What a surprise! It will have to be a girl this time!”
“It will be welcome whatever it is,” Anita smiled. “All I pray is that it is an easy birth and that it is born a healthy baby.”
Jane remembered her own clumsy shape and thought. “This was how I was when I left. Another experience relived. How strange.”
As soon as the family realized that the taxi would be waiting for Jane, they invited the taxi-driver to join them. With cheerful goodwill he climbed out off the car and helped Duarte bring chairs from the kitchen so that they could sit under the soulangiana and enjoy the warm afternoon. Matching chairs Jane noticed, and smiled inwardly. She opened her carrier-bag and produced presents for all of them: books for the boys, a handsome sweater for Ana, a blouse for Anita and a warm llama wool scarf for Duarte. With cries of delight they opened their parcels and examined each other’s presents noting every detail about them with eager enthusiasm. For a second, as she received the hugs and kisses of thanks from her effusive ‘family’, Jane had a picture of Violet receiving a present and heard her saying coolly, ‘How nice, thank you very much’.
Soon they were making fast work of the buns and the cake as the matè gourd passed back and forth between them. Jane sipped the infusion through the metal straw when it came to her turn and thought with amusement of all her training in hygiene. What, after all, could be more social than this communal sipping from the one matè gourd?
Ana was greyer and a little slower in her movements, but apart from that she was the same as ever. Jane felt her heart fill with love as she looked at her familiar lined face and remembered the months she had lived here, in the old lady’s bedroom, while her savage wounds gradually healed in the warmth and love which this dear family had bestowed on her.
“I have seen the hand of God many times, niña Jane …” Yes, it had certainly been the hand of God which had brought her shipwreck to this strange unknown island. And where was her child now? Far away in some unknown home surrounded by love and toys and all else that love could give.
Ricardo and Gonzalo brought her their copy books and she leafed through them slowly, commenting on their tidyness and the good marks. Later she was taken to see the improvements in the house while Duarte and the taxi driver talked about football. A new stove, albeit second hand, and a brand new washing machine, pretty curtains on the windows, bunk beds for the boys. A bedroom had been added on at the back of the house where Anita and Duarte now slept, their cramped quarters given over entirely to the kiosk. It had meant sacrificing the chicken run, but the vegetable garden was as cared for as ever.
At last Jane was able to say her final goodbyes and climb back into the taxi, but not before one or two neighbours had recognized her and come to greet her. They did not mention the baby so Jane felt that Ana must have spread the word that it had been adopted. She was vastly relieved.
“My strange island,” she thought, waving energetically through the window as the taxi bumped over the familiar ruts in the road. She remembered the evening she had left with Dr. Michaelson, her hands full of the small, last-minute gifts which she had been given. It had all happened five years ago and it seemed as if it had only been yesterday.
“Have I changed, really, deep down inside me?” she wondered.
The taxi-driver thanked her for the enjoyable afternoon he had spent, and brought down the price they had arranged.
“One doesn’t often have such luck,” he said, and offered her his card in case she should need his services at some future date. As he drove away Jane realized that she didn’t have very much time to get herself bathed and ready before Javier came to fetch her.
The restaurant was quiet, elegant and expensive.
“Wow,” Jane exclaimed as the waiter showed them to a table. “Can you afford a place like this? I was expecting a pizzeria or something similar!”
Javier grinned. “My father helps me out, although I am working. I have a job in a firm, and my father is one of the directors. It doesn’t affect my salary, but it will, I hope, affect my advancement. Anyway he seems to be delighted that I want to study law for he raised my allowance.”
Jane laughed. “Wonderful! I shall now be able to choose without feeling awful about the expense!”
She picked up the menu the waiter had left at her elbow and began to peruse it with interest. Once she had decided and they had given their order, she said, “I went to see an old maid of ours today.”
She decided it would be easier not to mention that it was the same Ana who had worked for Soledad until recently, and, changing her name to Rosa, described her afternoon in detail.
“What on earth made you go all the way out there for?” Javier asked in amazement. “Didn’t you feel strange being in their house and drinking matè with them? When I sometimes go and join the peons at the Estancia and have a matè with them, I’m never sure if it’s me or them or all of us, but I never really feel comfortable. They think and react so differently always.”
“I don’t know,” Jane said reflectively. “Once one cuts through all one’s own prejudices and tries to see them as they really are, what one can learn from them is just as valid as what they can learn from us. I find Rosa has a very clear and pure view of life. She’s not envious of the ladies she works for, because she sees herself as just as good as them or better sometimes. I remember she told me that one of her señoras was an alcoholic. It doesn’t upset her to receive their cast off clothes or whatever. What she likes and what fits she keeps, the rest she gives to her grand-daughter or to neighbours who are in need.”
“Well, O.K. But they don’t read anything except for the daily rag, and they only listen to tangos. Classical music is just a queer noise to them, and however true what you say is, one can’t really make contact with them, the differences are too big. I mean, even the things which make them roar with laughter are so … so stupid somehow.”
Jane shrugged. “It’s fun listening to them, the way they express themselves I mean, especially the men. Duarte, the son-in-law, uses such odd expressions that I often have to ask what he means. I’d like to write down what he said, because the words or the phrases he uses are so funny. One day when I write a book I’ll try and remember them all!”
“Sure. But that’s fine for an afternoon once a year. Imagine living with them.”
Jane looked across the room, remembered, and fell silent.
“Are you going to go on working as a nurse or are you tired of always being with sick people?” Javier asked after a little while.
Jane focused him again and said seriously, as the waiter arrived with the food they had ordered. “I love nursing. I have decided to specialize in terminally ill people.”
Javier stared at her in astonishment. “You mean people who are going to die?” he exclaimed.
He shivered and shook his head. “Well, fine if that is what you want,” he said at last. “But won’t you need psychological treatment after a few cases?”
“We’ll see. I’ve been doing it for a year now and it doesn’t seem to have affected me too much.”
“A year?” Javier wagged his head and fell silent. He could not conceive of anyone making such a decision of their own free will. Jane took pity on him and steered the conversation into lighter channels.
They spoke of Business Administration and how it could be applied to hospitals, of Lucio and his acting career, of Sarita, and of Maria Paulina.
“What does she look like?” Jane asked, and Javier took out his wallet and produced several snapshots of a sweet-looking girl with lots of fair curly hair.
“D’you remember that night on the Estancia?” he asked, looking at one of the snaps fondly. “I’m not afraid of women any more now. In fact I can relate to them quite naturally. I even have a good relationship with my father.”
“You hated him. D’you remember?”
“I was jealous I suppose. Where were you in Brazil by the way? Maria Paulina used to live there.”
“Er…” Jane`s mind darted about organizing her answer. “Well we moved about a lot. The longest place we stayed at was near Sao Paulo.”
“And what were you doing?”
“Looking after a baby.”
“They… went back to England, and… I went to the British Hospital.”
“Did you like it there?”
Jane shook her head. She had decided long ago to say she had disliked living in Brazil. “No,” she said. “I was miserable all the time I was there. I’d had this terrific row with my father and, well, I’ve never seen my parents since.”
“You haven’t seen your parents for years? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Jane. You amaze me. You simply amaze me.”
“That’s good,” Jane said cheerfully. “You gave me the impression of being a little, weeny bit blasè.”
There was a slight bustle near the entrance of the restaurant and she glanced at the small group of people entering. She recognized them and froze.
Leading the way was Mrs. Plath, her platinum blond hair brushed into the latest fashion and wearing a sky blue dress. She was followed by none other than Bettina in white and looking very tanned. Behind them came Mr. Plath and Kevin. Even from where she was sitting, Jane could see the engagement ring flashing on Bettina’s left hand and the mystery of Bettina’s off-hand manner when she had ‘phoned her all those years ago became instantly clear.
She remembered Kevin’s anger, his distorted face as his furious words and dreadful threats poured out of him and she began to shiver, unable to tear her eyes away from him.
“What’s the matter, Jane?” Javier asked, alarmed. “Do you know those people?”
With an effort Jane stopped staring at them before they became aware of her gaze, and nodded, looking down into the wine in her glass, as she twisted it round and round with trembling fingers, quite unable to speak.
The waiter brought their dessert, which afforded a slight diversion and Jane managed to recover her composure. “When the past suddenly slaps you in the face it sort of takes your breath away,” she murmured with a twisted smile.
“What happened?” Javier asked, glancing at the Plaths with interest.
They were seated at the other end of the restaurant, but he could just see Kevin between the other patrons.
“The usual story. A boy friend, a fight, a separation and one’s best girl-friend steps in and makes the most of it. I was going to ‘phone her but I don’t need to now, I know all her news.”
“When did all that happen?”
“Five years ago.”
“And it can still affect you so deeply after five years,” Javier said softly.
Jane nodded. “The thing is I haven’t seen them since then. I went away and I never came back. I’ve had years of therapy but my nerves still seem to be raw.”
“Poor old Jane. ’84 doesn`t seem to have been your year at all, does it? Is that why you’re so careful and distant? You haven’t been able to forgive him yet.”
“I’ll never forgive him,” Jane said flatly. “Let’s talk about something else. The Gregories.”
“The Gregories? What d’you want to know about the Gregories?”
“ D’you know Bobby?”
“Their son. Sorry, I’ve had too much wine. I’m not used to alcohol. I think I’m getting a bit tiddly.”
“Oh, Bobby. Yes. He goes to play with Sarita sometimes. What’s behind the question may I ask?”
“Everything. Nothing. Just something to say. You sounded just like a lawyer, by the way. I’ve been lent a flat for a month. Did I tell you?”
“Last night at the party.”
“Oh, yes. I remember. Could we go? I can’t think straight any more.”
Javier called the waiter and asked for the bill. They sat in silence until he returned.
“I’m sorry our dinner had to end like this,” Jane said as she rose, smiling lobsidedly. “But it was delicious and I really did enjoy it.”
She walked out nonchalantly not looking at the Plaths. Javier, behind her, watched Kevin covertly. He saw him glance at Jane and stiffen, staring hard. But all he could see by then was Jane’s back. Javier raised his eyebrows. So, apparently the cord between these two was still intact. He glanced at Bettina and wondered what Kevin had seen in her after having been with Jane. Much too skimpy! Well they weren’t married yet, so perhaps … he shrugged and followed Jane out onto the sidewalk. A row with her parents, another with her boy friend, was she after all quite a little tigress beneath that gentle exterior? But it had all happened five years ago when he had known her and she had been no tigress then. He remembered the night they had talked so intimately and how much it had helped him. No, Jane was no tigress. She must have been the victim, and she had been suffering ever since. He wondered if she would ever tell him about those astonishing fights, which had left such tremendous aftermaths. His curiosity was piqued and he would have loved to have gone on talking and finding out… but Jane was obviously very upset. She had begun to shiver again.
“Sure you’ll be alright?” he asked anxiously as he drove back to her flat.
“Sure. Thanks Javier. I… I’m sorry.”
“Look, don’t apologize. I can understand how you feel. I’ll keep in touch. O.K.?”
“Yeah. Do that.”
When they arrived, Jane kissed him lightly on the cheek, jumped out of the car and ran to the entrance door of the building, the key already in her hand. She entered the vestibule, waved briefly and was gone. He let in the clutch and drove slowly home wondering what a girl of seventeen could possibly have to fight about which would lead her to break entirely with her parents. He wondered if Kevin had anything to do with it.
Jane let herself into her apartment with a pounding heart. Why? Why, in such a short space of time was she going through everything she had suffered so much from, all over again? How was it possible that the Plaths should have chosen to go to that very same restaurant? How could Bettina want to marry Kevin, knowing what an egoistic monster he was? How long had they been engaged? Could he have changed? Five years. It had all happened five years ago and here she was, completely unnerved. What had seemed buried and almost totally forgotten turned out to be as raw and as painfull as if it had only happened yesterday. Why did she have to give up her child? What was her destiny then? Just to suffer and suffer? Why had she come back to this god-forsaken town? She was a fool. A fool. It held nothing but pain and suffering for her.
Flinging herself fully dressed onto her bed Jane wept as she had not wept since the first days that she had spent at Ana’s house, battered and bruised and so terribly alone.