Chapter 2

After she had collected the results of the tests, Jane want to see Bettina, who lived with her mother in a small apartment much nearer the city centre. Bettina was at home and let her in, happy to have company. She was wearing a knotted cotton handkerchief over her small round breasts and the briefest of shorts. A large fan wafted the hot air back and forth round the living room and pop music thumped out its loud, insistent beat from the record player.
Bettina turned down the volume as Jane sank onto the sofa.
“What heat! How are you? Like a coke?”
“Mm great. If you think it’s hot in here, you should go onto the street for a few minutes. Is that the record you got for Christmas? It’s terrific, isn’t it?”
Once Bettina had fetched their cokes, loaded with ice, she curled up on the sofa and said, “How’s Kevin?”
“Fine thanks. He’s going to Chile in February with his parents, they’re going to drive all the way down to Puerto Montt and maybe to Punta Arenas if they have time.”
“How super,” Bettina breathed. Kevin, with his blond hair and pale blue eyes was the most attractive man on earth for her. She did not begrudge the fact that he should be Jane’s boy-friend, in fact she welcomed it, for in that way she could share his life vicariously through Jane. It was her closest kept secret however, for she was convinced that Kevin would find her thin, diminutive body anything but attractive. She made even Jane seem tall beside her.
“Are you going away somewhere these holidays?” Jane asked.
“Mum and I may go and stay with some friends of hers on their estancia, but that would be about the middle of February.”
“It’s funny, isn’t it, to think that we’ve finished school? I’m going to miss it tons. Have you decided yet what you’re going to study?”
“Yeah. I’m going to do a year’s secretarial course, and I’m going to try and get a job in some office to be getting practical experience at the same time. Administrative bilingual secretaries earn a heap.”
“Will you carry on playing hockey?”
Bettina on the hockey field was a pleasure to watch.
“But natch! Whatever happens I’m not ever going to give up hockey! And you, will you go on? They’re crying out for new hockey players at the club you know.”
Jane took a deep breath and felt her eyes fill with tears.
“Hey Jane. What’s the matter? Have you had a row with Kevin or something?”
Bettina leaned forward anxiously. Jane shook her head and began to sob. At last, when the first paroxysm of tears was over, she was able to control herself and, with a vast sense of relief, she opened her heart to her friend and described to her in detail all the events of the past few days. It came out in a slightly incoherent tumble of words and explanations, but Bettina listened in silence, her brown eyes wide, her heart beating fiercely with compassion and a fleeting and thoroughly unethical hope. When Jane had stumbled to a halt she flung her arms around her and gasped.
“How awful, what are you going to do?”
“I don`t know, I just don’t know, and my mother has migraine and … oh! Bettina, I can’t think any more!”
“Kevin wants you to have the abortion, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, I think so. He seemed to understand how I feel, and we were choosing names and all that but now I sort of feel he’s just been, you know, humouring me so as to get me to do everything he wants.”
“And is he going to pay for it all?”
“Yes. I don’t have any money.”
“And … you don’t want to’”
Bettina found it difficult to keep astonishment out of her voice. As far as she was concerned there would have been no second thoughts. Whatever Kevin wanted would have been fine by her!
“It’s a baby Bettina, a human being! Kevin keeps saying it’s only a bunch of cells, but that’s because he doesn’t want to feel guilty. But I do. I feel terrible.”
“Wait.” Bettina jumped up and went to the bookcase where, after a short search, she extracted a book and returned to the sofa. “Look, this is my mother’s. It shows how a baby develops from the very beginning, in colour photographs. I don’t know how they can do such things.”
The two girls pored over the book, studying each photograph in all its details. Jane was aware of a strange feeling of awe and veneration welling up within her as the miracle of the growing foetus was revealed step by step.
“I must be about here,” she said at last, indicating a photograph.
“But it’s almost formed already,” cried Bettina, shocked. “And it says here that the heart starts beating at twenty days!”
Jane stared at the picture in silence and felt a resolution beginning to form itself deep within her. Out of the jelly which her will and spirit had become, the decision to have her child, come what may, and to face the consequences, grew slowly.
“Thank you Bettina,” she said at last. “At least now, I know.”
Bettina closed the book and asked cautiously. “What do you know?”
“What Kevin is asking me to do. What the doctor is going to do.”
A stray snippet of conversation floated into Bettina’s mind. “And do you know what I heard the other day,” she said. “Those sort of doctors sell those… those embryos to laboratories where they make those creams and things for old ladies to look younger. To make creams and jellies and all that sort of guck women put on their faces when they’re old. Can you imagine?”
Jane stared at her in horror, appalled that it had not occurred to her to think about what happened to the little `bunch of cells’ after it had been extracted. What did Dr. Blechstein intend to do with the results of the operation? Was it possible that a doctor, any human being, would be capable of selling embryos for beauty creams? Did the people in the laboratories who made the creams, know? And the people who used them…? Did her mother…?
Her resolution crystallized and imperceptibly the soft rounded lines of her childish face took on the planes of adult-hood.
“I’m not going to abort this baby,” she said.
Bettina’s heart flipped.
“Bettina, please help me. What shall I do? Who shall I go to? I feel suddenly that I can’t trust anyone. Have you any ideas?”
Mutely, Bettina shook her head. The turmoil of feelings in her breast was so great she found she could not even think, much less say anything. Respect for Jane’s decision, shame at knowing she would never have been able to do the same, horror at realizing what corruption money could lead to, and excitement at the idea that Kevin might become available flashed through her, mixing and mingling.
Jane’s mind, free for the moment from the tangle of doubts and fears which had held it captive, raced forward, facing forthcoming situations and resolving them rapidly.
“My mother goes to a super doctor called Dr. Michaelson. Why didn’t I think of him before? I’ll go and see him. And Kevin …well if Kevin leaves me just too bad… I’ll get a job and bring up the baby by myself.”
She felt a rush of courage and joy fill her as she said these brave words out loud. She had come to a decision and she was sure that it was the right one. She felt noble and good, in harmony with herself at last, and with the world.
“Oh! Bettina, thank you for helping me so much,” she whispered. “I’m so glad I told you everything. Please keep it a secret though. Don’t tell anyone, please. Promise?”
Bettina nodded and hugged Jane fiercely, admiration and guilt struggling with each other in her heart.
“I think you’ve taken the right decision, Jane,” she said at last. “You look much happier.”
“I feel so much more at peace. I felt awful before, as if I were being pushed towards the edge of a precipice and there was nothing I could do!”
————————–
Filled with joy and courage which her decision had given her, Jane decided to go straight to the Plaths. The day-watchman let her into the garden and told her that Kevin had gone out with his mother.
“I don`t think they will be returning for some time,” he said.
Thinking of her own mother, Jane decided to return home at once.
“Please tell Kevin that I came to see him,” she smiled and, waving good-bye, she walked back along the quiet winding street with its high hedges and imposing houses beyond wrought-iron entrances where watchmen sat on guard and large Alsatians barked fiercely in the surrounding gardens. Many trees grew in these gardens and their overhanging foliage offered welcome shadow. The cicadas filled the air with their chirring. Birds sang. Butterflies hovered. The heat pressed fiercely upon the dry thirsty ground so that there was a startling difference between the brilliant green well-watered gardens and the one or two vacant plots where the wild grasses grew, parched and silver.
A tabby cat lying in the shade by the hedge looked up at Jane as she passed and mewed. Jane bent and stroked her gently, surprised that she would let her, and discovered that she was pregnant.
“Hello Tabby,” she said. “Hot isn’t it?”
She walked on thinking of the cat with her kittens growing inside her and felt a deep bond uniting her to the cat and to all nature growing so exuberantly all about her.
She was not to worry, somehow everything would work out. She did not think about her father, or Kevin, or his parents. For the moment the relief at having come to a clear decision was enough.
————————–
Kevin ‘phoned her shortly before supper. “Did you get the results?” he asked.
“I did.”
“All O.K?”
“Yes, I seem to be A.I. Kevin, can you come round, I want to talk.”
“I can’t tonight. We’ve got people coming for dinner, old friends of the family. I’ll come tomorrow morning. O.K.?”
“Sure. I love you, Kevin.”
“I love you too, Jane. Big kiss.”
“Chau, big kiss.”
Jane attended to her mother, ate her supper and left her father’s on the table in the living room as he was coming back late. Then she went to sit in the wicker arm chair on the patio. Her thoughts began to circle around Brian and she remembered their childhood games. The time she had broken the glass topped table in the garden and they had both insisted that a rubber ball had bounced on it and broken it. And the time Brian had made a scribble on the wall in the hall with a crayon and together they had created a fantastic mural. That, she remembered, had resulted in the most tremendous punishment, but the fun of doing that mural was something she had never forgotten!
She remembered the shock at hearing that Brian had had an accident, that he was in hospital together with the other boys who had been travelling in a friend`s jeep. It had been hit by a pick-up driven by drunken driver. Brian had died. The only one who had suffered fatal injuries. On that day part of her mother had died too. Jane sighed. Nothing she could do or say appeared to really reach her mother any more. They talked, discussed matters, she was polite and smiling when friends dropped in. On the surface she was pleasant and even amusing, but when there was no one around she relapsed into a faraway silence and her face took on a melancholy expression. She accepted Kevin pleasantly enough, mainly it seemed because he spoke good English which meant that he and Jane generally spoke English to each other, something which Dora and Eric both felt to be most important, but Jane often felt that Kevin’s presence reminded her mother too poignantly of Brian.
The light faded gradually and the myriad insect sounds, the croaking of frogs, the occasional twitters from birds settling for the night filled the hot heavy air. Jane thought of Kevin’s pool and all they had lived through since the evening she had told him. What would he say when she informed him that she had decided against the operation?
At that moment she heard her father arrive, drive the car into the garage, crash the doors to, they always stuck a little, and walk into the kitchen. She rose and went to meet him.
“Hello, Daddy.” She kissed him.
“Hello, how`s Mummy?”
“Better.”
“The devil this migraine. What’s for supper? I’m not really very hungry.”
“It’s all served in the living room.”
“Good, I’ll be right down.”
He went upstairs and returned twenty minutes later showered and fresh in shorts and a clean shirt.
“32 degrees today, the very devil. What time did you put the air-conditioner on? It’s not very cool in here.”
“At seven,” she lied, her heart jumping. She had forgotten and turned it on much later.
He fiddled with the buttons, reassuring himself that it was functioning correctly and came over and sat down at the table. Jane served him and sat down opposite him.
“What did you do today?” he asked as he drank his customary cup of iced soup.
“I went to visit Bettina, but just for a little while, because of Mum.”
“What’s this? Meat loaf – did you make it?”
“Yes.”
“Did you put some sort of herbs into it?”
“Yes, oregano.”
“Thought so – loathe the stuff. One would think that by now you’d know that! Anything else worth eating?”
“Cheese.”
“Is that all? Well, bring it to me if there’s nothing else. I can’t eat this potato salad by itself.”
Jane fetched the cheese and watched her father’s bony hands as he helped himself, cut off the rind and began to eat, chewing busily.
“You’re very quiet, what’s the matter?” he said at last.
“Nothing, this heat makes me tired that’s all.”
“Don’t you start getting sick, for God`s sake. Here… ” He shook some salt onto a biscuit and held it out to her. “Eat this, you’re probably dehydrated.”
“I don`t… ”
“Eat it I said. Won’t do you any harm and it may be just what you need. And keep taking salt tomorrow. You’ve been looking peaky these last few days.”
Startled that her father should have noticed, Jane felt a rush of alarm and, at the same time, pleasure that he should have done so at all.
“O.K. Daddy I will,” she said, taking the biscuit from him and eating it dutifully.
“That`s right. Dehydration is always the danger in this weather.”
She remembered that he said the same thing every year in January and wondered what he had been like when he was young. Had he always been thus, with habits so ingrained that they were almost mechanical? Habits of mind too, attitudes, opinions. They all seemed to have been formed far back in the past and remained unchanged and unchangeable ever since. New opinions were added now and again to the stockpile and at once became as rigid as the rest.
He ate some fruit, crumpled his napkin into a bundle by his plate, disregarding the silver ring into which it was always neatly rolled, rose and went to his arm chair. Opening his brief case he pulled out a sheaf of papers.
“Working, always working,” Jane thought. Evenings, weekends, holidays. Apart from his regular games of squash at the squash club near the office he seemed to be a slave to his job. “Does he love Mummy or is she just a sort of familiar body he hardly notices anymore? Will Kevin turn into someone like him?”
As she stacked the tray and carried it into the kitchen she thought about Mr. and Mrs. Plath. Nevil and Delyth were cheerful people who considered it very important to keep up the social round. They always seemed to be going out to parties or giving parties. Delyth died her hair ash blond and bought her clothes at the most expensive boutiques. Nevil was a shortish man with a protruding stomach. He was pleasant enough but the sort of person who always liked to be the centre of attention. He had a carrying voice and a very good fund of jokes. He did pay a lot of attention to both his children, however, and Kevin worshiped him.
She washed up slowly, thinking about what she had resolved to do and feeling her courage draining. Her father was so set in his ways and his ideas, how would he ever forgive her? She was sure that he took it as a matter of course that his daughter would remain a virgin until her wedding night. If only her mother would get over her wretched migraine. It seemed to be lasting longer than usual, this time. Tomorrow she would tell Kevin and she would also ask for an appointment with Dr. Michaelson.
She mustn’t be afraid. She must cling to that feeling of relief her resolution had given her, to the memory of the photographs she had seen in Bettina’s mother’s book.
——————-
Kevin phoned at ten to invite her to lunch.
“Then we can take advantage of the pool,” he said. “My mother is going out so we’ll be alone. Can you leave yours? How is she?”
Since Ana, the char, was there for the day Jane agreed, fetched her bathing suit, kissed her mother goodbye and left. SantaLaura’s mini-busses, similar to those in Buenos Aires and other big towns in Argentina, belonged to private companies and each company painted its buses with combinations of distinctive colours, red and yellow, pale blue and white, brown and green… their names and numbers painted in ornate gothic lettering along their flanks. Some of the companies sported modern comfortable models, others, the poorer ones, could only offer old, ramshackle vehicles. All however, seemed to suffer from screeching breaks. They plied their way through the suburbs and city centre forming a multi-coloured network linking all the corners of the city for nearly twenty two hours a day. The drivers, who often worked two shifts a day in order to earn more, doled out the tickets, and gave change if necessary, at every stop. The laws concerning the number of passengers they were allowed to carry were never enforced and in rush hours the buses became so crammed it was often difficult to get to the exit door at the back in time to get off at one’s destination.
At ten in the morning, however, there were few passengers and Jane travelled seated. Once again she walked along the familiar winding streets with their hedges and shady trees. She could not think or prepare what she was going to say or foretell how the afternoon was going to end. She just walked, registering the sounds, the scents, the colours and the heat.
All of a sudden she caught sight of the cat she had stroked the day before. It lay in the same place, its legs stretched out stiff, its belly swollen hideously.
“It’s dead!” Jane cried loud, staring down at it in horror. “She died. She must have been sick yesterday. That’s why she mewed and let me stroke her. She called me. She asked me for help and I didn’t understand. I just walked on. Oh, God! How terrible! How terrible!”
She swung away covering her face with her hands, so stricken she could not even cry.
“We’re all so selfish, so wrapped up in our personal problems we’re not able to hear… The poor darling was asking me for help, lying there. They never let one stroke them, they always run away. How didn’t I realize?”
Her heart constricted with pain, Jane reached the Plath’s house in a cloud of depression. Forcing herself to breathe deeply and banish the picture of the dead cat from her mind, she rang the bell. The watchman let her into the grounds and Kevin himself opened the front door.
“Jane! Hi! I’ve been waiting and waiting for you. Hey what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, I just saw a dead cat.” Briefly she told him the sad little story.
He hugged her tightly and they walked into the T.V. room with their arms about each other.
“At least it’s not suffering anymore,” he said comfortingly. “How are you? How’s your mother?”
“Much better, thanks. Ana, the maid, is there today so she’s not alone. Kevin …”
Quickly, before she lost the last remnants of her courage; before the easy comfort of the cool house with its enormous reception rooms, elegant furniture and furnishings, antiques and oil paintings with the little brass name plaques on their frames, made her feel that her decision was an unnecessary and quite unreasonable sacrifice. Before Kevin had a chance to speak, she plunged into the future.
“Kevin, I’m not going to have the abortion. I’ve decided to have the baby.”
“Jane… .” Kevin stepped away from her, aghast, aware of the note of resolution in her voice.
“Could I have a coke ?” she asked. “It’s so hot outside and I’m dry through and through.”
She sat down and folded her hands on her lap.
“Sure.”
Kevin touched a bell and almost at once a uniformed maid appeared. He ordered iced cokes and she left. He flung himself down beside Jane and said bitterly, “I thought this was going to be a joint decision!”
“I saw some photographs yesterday, in a book about how a foetus develops, week by week. It’s not just a bunch of cells any more, Kevin. It’s already got a head and the sort of beginning of its body. I just realized quite clearly that… that convenience and all the rest of what we’ve… you’ve… been saying, simply has nothing to do with having a baby.”
Kevin felt a bleak sense of shame and then a wave of fury engulfed him.
“So that’s how you show how much you love me,” he cried, jumping up and pacing back and forth. “You get this idea into your pig head and nothing at all will budge it. You’re just inflamed with soppy religious ideas about motherhood and destiny and things you read in those asinine women’s magazines I’ve seen in your house. You don’t care a hoot for me, for my future, for my happiness. Oh! No! All you want is to net me, make me marry you! Use this ‘mistake’ to your own advantage! I’m just a figure to you now, a cheque-book in fact. I and my feelings don’t matter to you anymore. I tell you, Jane, if you insist on having this kid you’re on your own and I’ll see to it that you don’t get a penny out of my father. I never thought you’d be so egoistic, so selfish. I really thought you loved me, really loved me. That I mattered to you.”
Jane stared at him, shocked. She had never seen this livid, ugly side of Kevin or heard him speak in such a way. He turned away abruptly as the maid came in and laid a loaded tray on a small table. They remained silent until she had left.
“Kevin, please… please…”
“Please, please what?”
“All you’re saying is untrue. You know it is.”
“Then show me how much you love me. SHOW me. And don’t start asking me to do the same because we are in the exact position where, when I’m an accountant and have a decent job and we’re married, you can have all the kids you want, but right now all that goes down the drain if you dig your heels in and go ahead with this pregnancy.”
“Why?”
“I’ve told you. Are you deaf or something? Accountancy is one of the longest careers in this country and I’m going to start in April. START. Just because my parents are rich doesn’t mean you can blackmail them into looking after us. And anyway, let me tell you that I’ll deny it’s my child. I’ll say you`ve been fucking around with other fellows. And 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 was prepared to pay for everything. Help in every way. I found the doctor, didn`t I? I paid one hundred dollars for the consultation! And the operation costs a thousand and I was going to pay for that too, somehow. You can’t accuse me of being selfish. You can’t accuse me of being egoistic and selfish!! Oh! Gah!”
Kevin flung himself into an armchair and ran his hands through his hair. He was breathing heavily and trembling visibly. After a couple of moments he collected himself and said more quietly.
“I want the best for us both. Listen, Jane, forget what I said about destroying you. Please try and understand. I’m just upset. But… no, no, NO! I can’t be forced to be a father against my will. I’m only nineteen!”
He covered his face with his hands and said brokenly. “You can’t really want to do this to me, Jane? How can you ever say you love me and now do this? It’s so little I’m asking. So little. Just a tiny operation. You go home after a couple of hours. Why, even for tonsils and adenoids one has to spend a night in hospital. It’s nothing.”
Jane, tears streaming down her face, stared at Kevin in silence. Who was this person in front of her? Raging, threatening, begging. He was a stranger. Was this the real Kevin? How could she have been so mistaken? How could she have ever thought of him as a responsible, reliable person, tender, intelligent, wonderful? Very slowly she got to her feet and picked up her bag.
“It’s O.K.,” she said, her voice bitter. “It’s O.K. Stop sniveling. Keep your beastly money. Keep your stinking-rich home and pool and maids and watchmen and oh!-so-important career. Keep it all. You’re not worth a bean Kevin Plath. If it’s only a career and money which is important to you then O.K., have them, and I hope they make you rot!”
She turned and walked out of the room. Kevin jumped up, grabbed her by the arm and dragged her back.
“What are you going to do?”
“Leave. Let me go! I never want to see you again!”
“Your parents will sue mine. They’ll say I’m the father and that I have to support you. Have you told them?”
His eyes had a strange glitter in them and Jane felt suddenly afraid. What was he planning now? Desperately she pulled away from him. She wanted to get away, get home, feel safe.
“No. And anyway, why should they want to do that?”
“Because they will. My father always says ‘it`s very expensive to be rich.’ Other people are always envious, they want to get all they can out of the rich.”
“I told you, I don’t want anything to do with your beastly money.”
“You say so now, but when you start to… Anyway you’re under age. Your parents won’t even ask you! They’ll just come straight here.”
“Kevin, let me go. If you don’t I’ll scream.”
ugly grimace and she wasn’t sure whether he would hit her, or strangle her or do some other violence. At last he said in a long, slow hiss.
“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you bloody little bitch! You planned the whole thing, didn`t you? You ‘forgot’ to buy pills and then you egged me until I lost control. My father warned me about girls like you. Well, I’m not going to marry you, not now or ever. We’re through. And what I said earlier goes – even if I have to pay someone to say he knows you’ve been sleeping around. You’re the most selfish, egoistic person I’ve ever had the bad luck to meet!”
With that he pulled her to the hall and opened the front door, pushing her through it. She stumbled into the porch trembling with fear and shock as he slammed the door to behind her. Blinded with tears she straightened and walked as calmly as she could to the gate. She waved to the watchman who was sitting in the shade of an oak tree. He pressed the electronic lock in his hand and a buzzer sounded by the gate. Jane opened it, waved again and stepped out into the street. She felt so weak she could hardly walk. Her legs trembled and her head swam.
It was all over. She had got away and he hadn’t hit her.
Remembering the cat, she turned and walk in the other direction, deciding to go to another bus-stop despite her tiredness.
When she arrived home Ana was preparing lunch for her mother. The old woman looked at her with surprise and asked, “What’s the matter, niña Jane? You are so pale.”
Jane walked over the sink and vomited. Ana came to hold her firmly until the spasm was over and then helped her to a chair and sat her down gently.
“What`s the matter, niña Jane?” she asked again, but her voice did not sound concerned any more. It was just very serious and when Jane looked up, she met the old woman’s gaze and felt as if nothing could be hidden from her. They spoke in Spanish
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
Ana nodded and look grim.
“Didn’t either of you take any precautions?” she asked.
“I was taking the pill but I forgot to buy more and …”
“Does the father know?”
“Yes. He wanted me to have an abortion but I told him today that I couldn’t. That I want to have the baby. It’s a human being Ana, I couldn´t kill it!” Tears flowed down Jane’s face. “He got mad at me and told me I was the most selfish person he had ever known. He said he’d pay someone to say that I’d been going with other boys as well. But the baby is his Ana, the niño Kevin’s. He was horrible Ana, he was so mean. How can anyone seem so nice and be so mean?”
Jane began to cry and all the pent up fear and sorrow and tribulation spilled over in a bout of frenzied weeping. Ana stroked her hair gently with her work-worn hand and waited for the storm to pass. When Jane was quiet again she made her a cup of strong maté tea and added some herbs.
“Drink this,” she said, and when Jane had done so she asked, “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to speak to my mother’s doctor,” Jane said.
Ana nodded.
“That is well. Now go and rest. You will disturb your mother if she sees you looking like this.”
Obediently Jane rose, kissed Ana’s lined brown cheek lovingly and went noiselessly to her room. Although she had not expected to do so, she fell sound asleep.
*****************************

1 thought on “Chapter 2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s