Sarita greeted Jane with solemn politeness. She looked ridiculously like Daniel. Jane gave her the present of the book she had brought and she leaned against the sofa and tore the wrapping paper off carefully. Her face glowed with a dozen different expressions, as delight and curiosity coursed through her, their nuances were so subtle yet so clear that they were fascinating to watch.
“What a lucky girl you are,” Soledad said fondly. “Isn’t that a lovely book Jane has just given you? You know, she looked after you when you were a baby. I’ll get a photograph to show you.”
She fetched a large album and leafed through it until she found the desired picture and then held the album so that Sarita could look at it. The child studied the photograph and then looked at Jane. Returning her gaze to the photograph she said, “I was just a baby, and that’s Javier and that’s Lucio.” She paused and her eyes flicked up to meet Soledad’s for a second before she went on “… and that’s papá.”
“So she too is aware that Lucio is in disgrace and shouldn’t be mentioned,” Jane thought, as Sarita returned to her new book which had the double fascination of coloured pictures and all sorts of doors and cupboards and curtains which could be opened revealing hidden surprises.
“Read it to me, mamá,” she demanded.
“Why don’t you let Jane read it to you while I go and order tea?” Soledad suggested.
“Bueno,” Sarita acquiesced and handed the book to Jane shyly.
“What a good idea to come and see us Jane, I’m so glad I was in,” Soledad said warmly as she stood up.
Jane smiled. “My glimpse of Sarita the other night made it imperative,” she said. “I had sort of continued thinking of her as a baby all the time.”
“I know, one does, doesn’t one?”
Soledad left the room as Jane helped Sarita to settle down close beside her. Later, they ate tea in the sitting room, with Sarita, as a great treat, accompanying them.
“I’m going to take my book to show Miss Rena,” she informed Jane importantly.
“I’m going to show her page by page.”
“Miss Rena is her teacher,” Soledad explained
“Can you read it to me again?” Sarita asked and Jane complied while Soledad looked on, smiling indulgently.
A maid appeared and announced that the Señora Violeta was on her way up to the apartment. Jane’s heart missed a beat as Soledad said, “Oooh Sarita. Aunt Violet is just coming upstairs now, so, if Bobby is with her, you’ll be able to show him your book.”
Sarita grabbed the book from Jane’s hands and ran into the hall while Jane, feeling a little faint, wished she were a thousand miles away from Santa Laura. If Bobby looked like her or like Kevin or even Brian, what would she do? She closed her eyes, steeling herself to face what she knew would be tantamount to an earthquake in her life should her obsessive ideas have been correct.
“Look Bobby, look,” she heard Sarita shouting in the hall. “Look at my book! It has doors which open, look!”
“There they are,” Soledad said moving to welcome them, and Jane opened her eyes just as Bobby and Sarita ran into the room. He had bright red hair, brown eyes and a freckled nose. Feeling as if she had just returned from a trip to the moon and was still wearing her space suit, Jane laughed aloud as she opened her arms to welcome him. Relief flooded her. Bobby was not her child. He was just a dear, little, four-year-old boy and all her wild notions had, thank God, been totally unfounded. Soledad and Violet followed the children into the room and Jane stood up to greet Violet.
“Well, so we meet again!” Violet said. “This is Bobby, my little boy.” She ran her hand over his carroty head. “My grandfather had red hair just like this.”
“At least he’ll always be easy to pick out in a crowd,” Jane smiled and added “Hi, Bobby, I’m Jane.”
“I have a book too,” he informed her. “At home. It has lots of things you can wiggle. It’s called Mr. Bwice and his Mice.”
“Really? What fun, I love those sort of books, don’t you?”
“Jane, can you read it to us,” Sarita said, hopping up and down.
“Yes, Bobby doesn’t know it. Can you? Please?”
“All right. We’ll go and sit in that arm chair over there so that Mummy and Violet can chat without being disturbed, shall we?”
The maid brought in another cup, some freshly made tea and a new plate of cucumber sandwiches.
“Oh, good!” Violet said complacently. “I hoped I’d be in time for a cup of tea. I’m exhausted. I had my legs waxed this morning and then I spent hours trying to get something for Robert for the car but the only shop that seems to have it is shut, on holidays. So boring! This afternoon I went and played tennis and I’ve come to see if you’d accompany me, Soledad, to buy something to wear at the Polodniks’ party next week. Are you going? Paquita was saying that ‘Emilios’ has some really terrific clothes so I thought I’d go and have a look. What are you going to wear?”
“Oh, I don’t know. One of my black outfits as usual, I expect.”
“Be daring. With that dark gold hair of yours and your tan you’d look terrific in red or emerald. Why don’t you come along?”
Soledad laughed and poured Violet another cup of tea.
“Daniel likes me in black,” she said. “Have another sandwich.”
“Lovely. They’re delicious. Who made them? Your cook? You always have so much luck with your servants. Mine never seem to last. If it weren’t for Albertina I don’t know what I’d do.”
Jane finished reading and the two children slid to the floor to go through the book together opening and shutting the intriguing doors and cupboards.
“How’s Robert?” Soledad asked.
“He may have to go to Europe next month. Three weeks. Paris and Rome. Think! I’m planning to get a whole new wardrobe there.”
“Will you be going too, then?”
“Wild horses couldn’t hold me back!”
“What will you do with Bobby? Will you take him with you?”
“To Paris? No! He’s much too small. That’s the problem, I’ve got to convince Robert, you know how he is about Bobby. But I’ll do it. I bought myself some new black underwear yesterday … very sexy. You’ll see, it always works.”
“She’s forgotten all about me and the children,” Jane thought, glancing down at them.
“Tangas?” Soledad asked, laughing.
“More or less. It’ll drive him wild. You should get some, shake Daniel up a bit.”
“Daniel would hoof me out of the window if I appeared in something like that,” Soledad grinned. “He’d say I was in the hands of the devil.”
Violet became aware of Jane watching her with interest and turned towards her a little condescendingly. “You’re a nurse or something now, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Are you going to stay here in Santa Laura?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Will you be working as a nanny?”
“No, I don’t think I want to do that. I shall work as a private nurse, so many hours a day. One is freer and much better paid.”
“Ah,” Violet turned back to Soledad. “When do the children have that parents’ day affair at the school, can you remember?”
“Next month I think.”
“We won’t be here, then. I must remember to hide the announcement from Robert. He’d be apt to say ‘No, you can’t come,’ simply because of a little ‘do’ like that at the school.”
Jane rose. “Soledad. I must be off,” she said. “Thank you very much for the tea, and, again, for inviting me to your party the other night. Give my love to Daniel. Goodbye Violet.”
Soledad and Violet bade her goodbye and the children ran up to kiss her and give her a hug. “Thank you for the book,” Sarita whispered sedately.
“Daddy’s going to bwing me a bus station from Pawis, a bus station with lots of buses,” Bobby informed her excitedly
Soledad accompanied her to the front door. “Don’t get lost again, Jane,” she scolded.
Jane grinned. “Don’t worry, I won’t,” she replied.
As the lift swept her down to the ground floor she examined her feelings. Relief, mainly, as if a heavy burden had been lifted off her heart. How silly to have entertained the idea even for a minute that the Gregories had adopted her child! But all the same her child was the same age as Bobby, it had a shape and a size now. She would never be able to see Bobby without thinking about that other little boy, or girl, running about somewhere, going to playschool, and having other parents at its ‘parents’ day’ festivities. Was it happy? Were the parents loving and generous, or were they something like Violet and Robert? Only interested in clothes and trips abroad and things like that? Well, not Robert apparently, but Violet?
She left the building and walked slowly down the street, surprised to find that the somewhat sultry day had turned dark, obscured by heavy storm clouds. A flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder warned of rain. She hastened to the bus stop but realized that the storm would break before the bus arrived. More flashes of lightning were followed by crashes of thunder and the rain began, thudding down as if some invisible giant had decided to empty a gigantic bucket right over Santa Laura. The streets quickly turned into rivers, as traffic hissed past spraying water onto the sidewalks.
Jane took cover under the awning of a shop and watched the rain pouring down in long, slanting rods. A few figures dashed across the street or along the sidewalks but most pedestrians huddled under awnings and in shop entrances waiting for the worst of the downpour to lessen.
Jane thought about Violet’s new black underwear and wondered if it would have the desired effect. She also wondered who would look after Bobby. She remembered his round freckled face and bright red hair and smiled. Anyway, he seemed a confident, happy little boy.
Once it was possible to reach the bus stop without getting soaked she returned home and sat on the sofa for a long time contemplating her life. It looked dangerously like a grey, dull, pointless tunnel at that moment, something she recognized only too well. How many times had she looked down that tunnel in the last few years and fought off the depression which always accompanied it? Too many. What she had to do was to find a job, fill her time with plenty of occupation, make new friends. Re-join the club, perhaps, and take up hockey again. And Bettina? Well, sooner or later she’d meet Bettina she supposed and that bridge would have to be crossed once she came to it. She liked Santa Laura. It was home to her and near to her dear friends the Michaelsons where she knew she would always be welcome. Yes. The best thing would be to ring them up and tell them that she had decided to start work right away. Sitting around moping about the past wasn’t going to get her anywhere. At least she had one problem less and that was Bobby. It would have been unbearable if he had turned out to be a baby version of Kevin.
The telephone rang and she picked up the receiver. It was Javier.
“How are you?” he asked.
“O.K. thanks. Drying off. I got caught in the rain.”
“How about my buying a bring-home supper and joining you in your apartment?”
“Sure. But what about María Paulina?”
“You’ve got a one track mind! Actually I have a surprise for you.”
“O.K. What time do I expect you and your surprise?”
“In about half an hour.”
She cut off and looked around the flat a little anxiously. It was a mess! Jumping to her feet she tidied the room, washed up the dirty plates in the kitchen set out glasses on a tray and rushed to the bedroom to make the bed and change. She was stuffing everything that was lying about into the cupboards when the electronic buzzer rang. Brushing her, she answered, and Javier informed her that he had arrived. She pushed the button to let him into the building, took a coke out of the fridge and placed it on the tray with the glasses and returned to the bedroom to put away her hair brush.
The door bell rang and she hurried across the room to open the door.
Javier, holding various cartons and looking smug, said, “Close your eyes.”
Jane closed her eyes obediently and became aware that someone else was there too. Almost certainly María Paulina. She heard the door close.
“Now.” Javier said triumphantly and Jane found herself looking into the eyes of a tall, bronzed, young man. He had long, curly brown hair, plenty of beard, an earing in one ear, and was wearing a damp T shirt, blue jeans and sandals.
“Hello Jane,” he said and she realized that she was standing in front of Lucio.
“Well, hello! You’ve changed more than I could ever have imagined. How terrific! Javier, what a wild surprise. Here, let me take those cartons. Make yourselves comfortable. This is great. I thought you were in Buenos Aires, Lucio.”
“Everything is nice and hot, so shall we eat right away?” Javier suggested. “Chinese food. O.K.?”
In no time Jane had set the table and they sat down, opening the various cartons and helping themselves as they talked and laughed remembering the month spent in Santucho and filling in the intervening years.
Jane observed Lucio closely, noting his manly physique despite the fact that he was only twenty. His lively expression and cheerful disposition had not changed and his father`s displeasure didn’t seem to worry him very much. He seemed older than Javier, partly because of his beard, partly because he was not a student any more and appeared more wordly. Javier was tall and thin and still a bit gangly, but Lucio, who was the taller of the two now, moved with grace and self-confidence. Of course, as an actor, the way one moved, one’s gestures, were very important.
“Have you started at the Dramatic Art School yet?” she asked him.
“No.” His voice was deep and attractive. “We start in May. But I’ve got a job as an assistant director. Well… so called… for a fellow who does publicity for T.V. and the cinema, and that, I think, is going to be an invaluable experience. It’s hard work, and of course my assistance often just means going to buy cigarrettes or more lavatory paper or whatever, but I’m there and I’m learning the trade. It’s good.”
“D’you really think you’ll make it though, Lucio?” Javier asked. “I mean, there are so many aspiring actors, aren’t there?”
“Listen Javier, if I want to be an actor there’s nothing to stop me. If I learn how to observe and use my coconut, why should I fail? I don’t depend on some eggheaded, prejudiced professor, suffering from hemorrhoids, at some dismal examination table, to succeed. I depend on my own self and my own will to excel.”
“Sounds great. But that goes for any profession. If I don’t study I fail. What I say is. Who puts the money into what you do? Business. Who runs the show? Business men. Certainly not nutty actors full of dreams.”
“And what makes you say that?”
“If you study accountancy as Dad wants, you’ld be in an excellent position to dominate from every point of view.”
“There speaks the true intellectual. I don’t want to be an accountant my dear brother, ever. I want to act. Even in commercials. If I need advice I’ll consult a successful accountant or find someone to administer my millions according to my wishes and needs. I might even employ you! And then you would be dependent on me, Javiercito, for your rent and your car and your daily dinner! Business is only a service. It’s not an end in itself. It can’t possibly give the same satisfaction which one can get out of art.”
“What artist is ever satisfied with his work, though?” Jane laughed.
“But that’s the beauty of it! One is always working at excelling one-self, improving one’s craft … ”
“A service is also something that one can improve,” Jane said.
“True. But only if it is treated artistically. Otherwise it merely turns into a ‘give-as-little-as-possible-for-the-most-you-can-get’ service, and that is what I reject!”
“How can one treat a service artistically?” Javier scoffed. “By getting a pop singer to … “
“Don’t be daft. Artistically means turning whatever one is doing into an end in itself, making it an Art with a capital A, whether it’s a letter to a client or a legal document or even a bill.”
“Where on earth do you dream up these ideas, Lucio? Or rather, how on earth …”
“It doesn’t really matter,” Lucio said quietly. “What I’ve come for is to see my father. I want to tell him I’m working and what I want from life.”
“But if you go like that, with long hair and one ear ring … even two ear rings … you know how he’ll react,” Javier objected.
“He must learn to take me as I am and not to judge me. In fact, to be a christian. I’ve been studying the Bible like mad in order to confront him with his own weapons. What right has he to judge me and force me to do what he wants?”
“You’ll end up being more religious than your father,” Jane murmured.
“There’s no fear of that,” Javier said. “I’ve never met a more fundamental atheist than Lucio.”
Jane looked at Lucio and saw that he was staring seriously into his glass of wine.
“What do you believe?” she asked Javier.
“I too am an atheist, my dear Jane,” Javier informed her, making a sweeping gesture with his hand. “For me, religion is all fantasy. A big illusion. Something one has to grow out of. It’s simply a power machine. When X says he knows the will of God and if you do this, or that, God will punish you, he is putting himself in a position in order to boss you around. Religions stuff you with warnings and fear. They use the invisible ‘spiritual’ world like a whip and when they have the faithful all shaking at the knees they say ‘Give us money, do what we say and you’ll be saved.’
“Oh, I agree about religions. But what do you believe?” Jane insisted.
Javier looked at her in surprise and then said, “That it’s all an illusion. I told you.”
“God is an illusion, you mean?”
“Of course. God, angels, the so-called spiritual world, Jesus Christ. The lot.”
“But … that makes us into nothing but animals!”
“Well… thinking animals if you want to express it that way.”
“I don’t. I feel that because I can think, because I can remember and foresee, that makes me human and I put that down to something spiritual, something superior to animals. How does one explain compassion for instance?”
“Hormones. That was clarified years ago by science. We have hormones and all sorts of chemical reactions which trigger our feelings. The chemical basis for our feelings has been known for years, Jane, you must know that, being a nurse!”
“But hormones don’t explain the fact that I think, Javier. Hormones and chemical reactions explain instinctive animal behaviour, but they do not explain why I do something I don’t like doing, or that I don’t want to do, because I see that it is something that has to be done, or should be done. No animal does that. An animal acts instinctively, but a human being shows, over and over again, that something in him is superior to his instincts. I’ve seen that in the Hospital ever so many times. We had patients who became more and more instinctive and animal-like as it were, and others who simply turned into saints and who were a real example to all of us, nursing staff and patients.”
“Chemical make-up Jane. There’s no other answer. And, of course, the sum of experiences received from conception onwards. Every separate experience marks and affects one, that’s obvious.”
“Sure. It causes a different chemical reaction. A drop more adrenaline, a drop less of some acid … “
“I don’t agree,” Lucio interposed. “I know I’m not a machine, a computer for instance, or an animal for that matter. And you’re not going to tell me that a computer, or a dog, knows it’s a computer or a dog in the same way that I know I am a human being, that I am conscious of my self, I mean.”
“But I never said that we were machines, Lucio.”
“If you reduce everything to chemical reactions, what else are you saying?”
“Plants produce chlorophyl through chemical reactions and thus they are able to transform their sap into something which makes it possible for them to grow and reproduce. All living things experience chemical reactions. In men they are just that much more refined… ”
“Are you going to tell me that a chemical reaction is going to worry about beauty or truth, Javier? What on earth would a chemical reaction have to do with that?” Jane inquired.
“That’s a good point,” Lucio remarked. “Truth and beauty… ! It seems to me, dear brother, that chemical reactions only get to produce shit, whereas truth and beauty belong to quite another region, a non-material region which, you must admit, is as tangible to man as this shitty world we live in.”
“Oh! Shut up Lucio!” Javier snapped. “If you’re going to worry about anything, there is a chemical reaction involved, isn’t there?”
“But that’s different,” Jane exclaimed.
“Because if I want to wash my hands, I need water in which to wash them.”
“Or wine,” Lucio murmured.
“But because there is water available,” Jane went on. “That doesn’t make me automatically want to wash my hands! What I mean is, obviously my spirit, the non-material part of me, the conscious, thinking part, has to use chemical reactions in my body to make it function, but those reactions are never going to produce what I call my spirit.”
“Listen, Jane, you’re a nurse, you know perfectly well that truth drugs exist and all sorts of others which can quite simply change a saint into an animal or a sinner into a saint, and don’t you deny it!”
“I don’t deny that a drug can change a saint into a sinner, but I defy you to name a drug which can turn a sinner into a saint!”
“Anyway,” Javier shrugged. “Truth and beauty are entirely relative. What’s true for you is not necessarily so for me and that goes for beauty too.”
“Let’s agree to differ shall we?” Lucio said cheerfully. “What happened to the ice cream?”
“It’s in the fridge, I’ll get it.”
“So,” he said, as Jane served the ice cream. “What are you going to do with your life?”
“What do you suggest?”
“Come and study acting. If life’s all an illusion, acting at least makes illusion a reality!”
“Oh blah!” Jane laughed.
“So? You’re waiting for a chemical reaction then?”
“Or a nudge for my destiny.”
“Now, that’s a dirty word in my dictionary,” Lucio exclaimed.
“I can’t stand people who put everything down to their Destiny, with a capital D, mind you, and wash their hands of all responsability, doing things which no decent-minded person would dream of doing. If I do something, I consider myself responsible.”
“Javier will tell you you’re not responsible at all, Lucio,” Jane said with a twinkle. “Because what you did was due to your chemical reactions, and what can one do about that?”
“I never said that!” Javier snapped.
“But you just said the self is governed by chemicals, didn’t you? If Lucio considers himself responsible for his actions, what does he mean by his self?”
“True, dear brother of mine. To be or not to be, that is the question. Who saw Ema Kent in “Moles Apart”? It’s the funniest film I’ve seen in ages. Let’s talk about films, shall we? Have some more wine, Jane. Drink, eat and be merry sweet maid, for tomorrow we die.”
“Violet Gregory has bought herself some sexy, black underwear in order to seduce her husband into taking her to Paris and Rome when he goes next month,” Jane giggled, pushing her glass towards Lucio.
“Has she indeed? Violet’s a card. She’s always wanting something she hasn’t got.”
“I saw Bobby today. I mean I met him. What red hair!”
“He’s cute, isn’t he? The freckles are what melt my heart, if I may say that Javier?”
“You can say anything you bloody well like!”
“Ah, don’t get aggressive! It’s only a chemical reaction between brothers. Jane insists that your Self can modify that and who is to say she’s not right any more than all those dry old scientists who never get an erection anyway, and put it all down to their mother’s milk being sour. What melts your business heart, Javier? Or have you administered it into never melting again?”
Jane and Lucio looked at Javier with kindly amusement as the thought flashed up in him. “I want Mamá.”
“Let’s talk about Violet’s underwear,” he said with an effort, keeping his voice suave. “It sounds promising.”
“There speaks a true gentleman!” Lucio laughed. “Let’s drink to Violet’s new black underwear!”
Destiny gave Jane a nudge the very next afternoon, when Dr. Michaelson telephoned her to tell her that her mother had fallen during the morning and broken her leg.
“Where is she?” Jane asked with a rush of anxiety.
“At the Clinica Posadas. Dr. Ficado works there and he is the best bone specialist there is in Santa Laura, and in the Argentine for that matter.”
“Won’t she be going to the British Hospital, then ?”
Jane stared unseeingly at the telephone for a moment and then she said, “I’ll have to go and see her. Did you tell her that I’m in Santa Laura?”
“Is she in great pain.”
“I’m afraid so. But she’s under sedation, of course.”
“He was with her.”
“How do you think he’ll react, if I appear suddenly at the clinic, I mean?”
“I’ve no idea, Jane. But it’s a long time since you saw each other, perhaps he has reflected a little and changed his attitude.”
“Hardly, knowing my father. Still…”
They spoke for a few minutes more. Dr. Michaelson explained the type of fracture her mother had suffered and they discussed the different measures which Dr. Ficado might take. At last Jane hung up thoughtfully.
Since she had arrived in Santa Laura the idea of her parents living their daily round, unaware of her presence, had caused her continual discomfort. It seemed so unnatural not to make any contact what-so-ever. Pride, anxiety and fear had all played their part. Fear, too, of what her father might do to her mother, should she make secret contact with her.
The terrible experience of her last meeting with her father was as clear in her memory as if it had happened the week before, and her feelings of hurt and rejection were still very near the surface although she had learned to handle them.
“I’ll have to go and see her,” she thought. “At least if Mummy is in hospital, he can’t do anything to her for seeing me and then maybe he’ll get used to the idea.”
She shuddered slightly and ran her fingers over her mouth. It occured to her that at some other level her mother, and her father for that matter, might be perfectly well aware that she was back in Santa Laura.
“Perhaps my mother provoked this accident unconsciously on purpose,” she thought, smiling at the inconsistency of her logic. “In order to make it possible for us to see eachother. I wonder.”
At last, straightening her shoulders, she returned to the kitchen where she had been making a stew. She decided that she would get that finished while she collected her thoughts and tried to sort out her feelings with regard to this new contingency. At least an unresolved situation would be faced and that was good; and the circumstances, although unpleasant, would make the meeting much easier to handle, even with her father.
Two hours later she walked up the steps of the Clínica Posadas and headed towards the lifts. Before leaving the flat she had stood for a long time staring out of the window trying to calm her nerves and invoking her guardian angel and those of her mother and father that they might help bestow an atmosphere in which they could meet in peace. It took all her courage to step into the lift, together with the crowd of other visitors, and feel herself being swept up towards she knew not what. In her hand she held a bunch of flowers which she protected from the crush of bodies with fierce concentration. It was quite possible that she would come face to face with her father in the hall or passage before even seeing her mother…
“Segundo piso.” The elevator attendant intoned and the lift slowed to a halt at the second floor. The doors slid open and the occupants made space for Jane to step into the hall. She glanced round nervously but there was no one that she recognized, and with a sigh of relief she headed for the passage which had a neon indicator over it giving the numbers of the rooms to which it led.
Familiar smells assailed her nostrils reminding her sharply of her student days at the British Hospital. A male nurse pushing a wheel chair with an old man wrapped in a blanket propped up in it, appeared out of one of the rooms. It almost seemed as if she had come full circle in the week she had been in Santa Laura, and hospital life rose about her once more with all its hushed details, linoleum floors and rubber-soled shoes.
Room number 9. The door was, mercifully, slightly ajar. For a few seconds Jane stood as if paralized, her heart hammering and the words ‘Help me, help me’ repeating themselves over and over in her mind. With a great effort of will she pushed the door gently and stepped into the room. It was dim inside, for the blinds had been lowered slightly. Her mother lay in the high white bed, her eyes closed, her face pale and drawn. By her side, holding her hand, sat her father.
Looking up, Eric did not, for a moment, recognize the dark haired, large eyed young woman standing in the gloom, holding a bunch of flowers. When he realized that it was Jane he gave a gasp and his hand tightened over Dora’s. Dora opened her eyes. Recognizing Jane at once she pulled her hand free and flung out her arms.
“Jane … Jane darling,” she cried weakly. “Who told you I was here? Oh, Jane dear, when did you arrive?”
Jane stepped quickly over to the bed and bent down as Dora wound her arms around her neck. Time telescoped, and the many moons which had waxed and waned since they had last seen eachother faded, forgotten. Jane felt her heart expand with love and tenderness. Dora swept Eric and all her fears out of her mind. Her pain and discomfort effaced, she felt that she had been delivered from the prison into which Eric had forced her, and she clung to her daughter and wept.
Eric rose and left the room abruptly. Jane disentangled herself and sat in the chair he had vacated.
“What happened Mummy? How did you fall?”
“In the street. Such a silly thing! But Jane, my darling, how did you find out? Who told you? How did you get here so quickly? I understood that you were working at the British Hospital.”
“I came back here a week ago. A friend of mine has lent me her flat for a month.”
“A week? You’ve been in Santa Laura for a whole week?”
“I didn’t ring you for obvious reasons, but I felt sure that we would meet by chance sooner or later. Dr.Michaelson told me. I was a bit afraid to come at first, but then, well… here I am.”
“You’re so changed! So grown-up. Oh, darling I’m so glad to see you. So desperately glad! I’m to be operated tomorrow morning, by Dr. Ficado. And you’re a full blown nurse now, aren’t you? I wanted to go to the end-of-year reception they give when they hand out the lamps and the prizes, and you won a medal, and your name was in the Buenos Aires Herald and everything, but Daddy wouldn’t hear of it!”
“What will he say about my reappearing like this?”
“I don’t care.”
“Won’t he get cross with you for greeting me?”
“With me in this condition? How could he! Oh, Jane, it’s been a terrible time, this, for me. Just terrible. At first he checked on me continually, where ever I went. He’d phone the hairdresser, my friends’ houses, once he even phoned the butcher! Then when he knew that you were working at the British Hospital he calmed down, but he changed our health insurance to a local one. That’s why I came here, and also because Dr. Ficado is supposed to be so good. And now you can be my nurse! I couldn’t ask for anything better! You are free, aren’t you?”
“Yes, of course I’m free.”
“I’ll tell Daddy to make all the arrangements, then, so that you can start tomorrow.”
“Poor old Mummy. Are you in great pain?”
“It’s quite awful. Luckily they give me injections to kill the pain.” Reminded of her leg, Dora’s face became white and drawn once more. Jane noticed and felt angry with herself for mentioning it. All these years of experience and she had to do a thing like that! No wonder doctors did not operate on their relatives, it was incredible how emotions played havoc with one’s objectivity.
A nurse appeared with an injection and Jane had to go and stand in the passage. Her father was walking slowly up and down, smoking a cigarrette. Unconsciously Jane touched her mouth with her right hand. Seeing her, Eric straightened a little and approached her. She stared at him, suddenly very frightened, and again, in her mind, the words “Help me.” repeated themselves over and over again.
Not looking straight at her but over her shoulder, Eric said stiffly, “My opinion and feelings where you are concerned have not changed. However, under the circumstances, I shall consider you as if you were a friend of Dora’s. I feel that any other attitude may be harmful to her recovery.”
“Very well,” Jane said, surprised at how calm her voice sounded. “I am a qualified nurse now. My mother would like me to nurse her, here, after the operation.”
“Let me know the hours that you will be on duty,” he said curtly, and turned away, lighting another cigarrette as he did so. She knew that he only smoked like that when he was very tense and anxious.
“He’s just as nervous as I am,” she thought wonderingly. “What a crazy situation.”
She wanted to run up to him, to touch him and say “Daddy, let’s be friends.” But his stiff, unbending back and hard, cold expression made her give up the idea. When the nurse left the room he said, “I shall leave now. There is no point in both of us being here.” Jane bowed slightly and he went into the room and said goodbye to Dora.
She heard Dora telling him to see about Jane nursing her and to find out who was to be advised, and she heard him agreeing and calming her agitation. At last he kissed her goodbye and left without looking at Jane. Trying not to feel hurt, she went in to her mother and sat down beside her.
“Did he say anything to you?” Dora asked.
“Armed truce,” Jane shrugged. “You and I can be friends!”
Dora closed her eyes and tears slid down her cheeks. “It’s been such a long time,” she whispered.
Jane took her hand in hers and kissed it gently. “Well, it’s over now,” she said. “He won’t be able to separate us again after this.”
Dora gave her a watery smile and said, “Tell me all about yourself, all about your experiences in the Hospital. Do you really like nursing?”
Jane nodded and smiled, looking down at her and thinking,“I love her, despite all her weakness and her faults and everything, I love her. How much I’ve missed her. Oh, God, how much I’ve missed them both!”