A livid flash of lightening heralded a monstrous crack of thunder. Jane sat up abruptly on her bed and stared out of the window at the lowering sky. The air was suffocating, still and close. Bathed in perspiration, she felt heavy and dull. More lightening and more thunder and then came the wind and the first huge drops of rain which soon became a downpour.
Shutters and doors seemed to be banging all over the house. Closing her window Jane ran down stairs to find her mother hurrying about shutting up the house against the storm.
“Hello, darling,” she said.” How are you feeling?”
Surprised, Jane replied, “O.K. thanks, and you?”
“It’s gone, thanks heavens. The migrain I mean. It must have had something to do with the weather, I’m sure. The change in air pressure or something. It’s been working up to this. Would you like a cup of tea?”
Intrigued by her solicitous manner, Jane nodded and followed her mother into the kitchen. While Dora bustled about filling the kettle and lighting the gas burner Jane stood by the window and stared out at the deluge through which, dimly, she could see how the wind lashed the garden into a frenzy of swaying trees, bushes and plants. The lawn was fast becoming a lake.
“Tea’s ready, dear. Do you want anything to eat?”
Jane started and turned. Her mother’s thin face surrounded by a halo of soft brown hair seemed suddenly to be that of a stranger. The tired blue eyes, the straight nose, the full lipped, sensitive mouth; who was the person who lived inside that familiar body? Who, indeed was her mother? Filled with an unexpected loneliness, Jane forced herself to smile and sit at the kitchen table where Dora had spread a pretty table cloth and laid the tea things for them both.
“It’s nice to have you well again,” she said, as her mother poured the tea.
“But you did splendidly while I was ill,” Dora asserted watching her daughter covertly and noting the dark circles under her eyes, the drooping corners to her mouth and the lack lustre look of her hair. They sipped their tea in silence until Dora said, gently.
“Ana told me that you broke up with Kevin today.”
Jane stared at her. She was not used to talking intimately with her parents and she was not quite sure what tack her mother would take… a good riddance… or … you fool, fancy letting a rich man slip through your fingers…
“Yes,” she said at last. “We’ve been quarrelling a lot lately and this morning he was really mean to me.” Her eyes filled with tears at the memory.
Dora stretched out a tentative hand and touched Jane`s arm.
“Better to find out now, and not when it’s too late,” she said. Jane nodded mutely, and Dora continued. “Ana told me that one of her ladies, as she calls them, whom she works for, is looking for someone to go on holiday with the family and help look after the baby. Ana suggested that I should let you go. Under the circumstances, would you like to?”
Jane gazed at her mother in astonishment, not quite able to take in what she was saying.
“What will Daddy say?” she ventured at last.
“I feel he’ll be quite pleased at the idea of your taking a job for the month of February. He’s always complaining about young people and how little they work.”
Jane nodded as she contemplated the new paths branching out before her. With a shock she remembered once again that her school life was over, that summer holidays from now on would last only two or three weeks and not December January and February as they had up to now, and that she would be expected to earn money to help pay for her expenses.
Everything had changed. She was not a child any more, a school girl. She had reached the age where other people could use her, pay her for working for them. She had baby-sat often enough but that had been different. It had always seemed like an exciting incursion into playing at being ‘grown up’. With numbing clarity, she realized that from now on she would be treated as a grown up, not a school girl to be protected and looked after, but an adult of whom much would be required.
Fear gripped her and she turned large anxious eyes towards her mother.
“Do you think I’d be able to?” she asked, her pregnancy forgotten.
“Of course, darling. You’ve baby-sat often enough, and I have complete confidence in Ana’s judgement. She says the lady is very nice and will treat you very well. Admittedly the baby is a little fretful and cries a lot, but it’s teething which is probably the reason.”
“Oh, Mum … yes. It sounds a good idea. At least, if I get the job, I won’t be moping around here thinking of Kevin all the time!”
Suddenly hungry, Jane cut herself a slice of bread and spread it thickly with butter and jam.
“When can I go and see the lady?” she asked as the idea became ever more attractive.
“Ana will phone from her house tomorrow and you might be able to go directly for an interview, while she is there.”
“Wild! Hey, Mum, that sounds just great, you know. I’m beginning to like the idea a lot. D’you know where the farm is?”
“Oh, yes, I forgot to mention it. It’s near Santucho.”
“Santucho? But how fantastic, the sea side! Farm life and beach all in one, could anything be better? And Santucho is gorgeous too, d’you remember the time we went?”
Pleased at the change in Jane’s attitude, Dora thought fondly how easily young people’s troubles could often be solved and how their heartbreaks, so deep and poignant today, could be shed so easily tomorrow, or through a change of circumstances. Jane’s face wore a completely new expression. Her own pain did not yield so easily.
Brian would have been twenty and two months already. Would he have been working? Very probably, and he would certainly have been a brilliant student at the university. Law. He always said he wanted to be a lawyer. He would very likely have become a judge eventually. How could fate have been so cruel as to take him away at such an early age? The same as Jane now. She glanced at Jane, remembering Brian’s narrow face and blue eye’s so like her own: Jane looked like her father.
So she had broken up with Kevin. What had been the cause of that? He was so mean. What did a seventeen-year-old have in mind when they called someone mean, someone of their own age? Seventeen already, incredible! She had been a little girl of fifteen when Brian died. She remembered the funeral had taken place in the morning and Jane had gone off to play hockey in the afternoon, stating that she couldn’t let her team down. ‘Let her go,’ Eric had said. ‘It’s her way of getting over her loss.’ She hadn`t understood at the time, horrified by Jane`s apparent indifference, but later she had come to understand. The hockey must have been a way of coping with the pain and the feeling of impotence which must have filled the child. And now here she was, about, perhaps, to embark on her first job. School days over, a career to choose, her first love already a shattered illusion. One couldn’t help. Each one had to go through their lives alone. When Brian had died she had realized that no one understood her suffering, the terrible suffering and loss, the feeling that nothing would ever really matter again in her life, and in a sense it had been so, in a sense she was simply marking time until they could be together again. Thank God, of that she was certain. Brian lived, in another dimension to be sure, but he was alive. His presence was often almost a tangible experience for her.
Eric of course had got cross when she mentioned it once and told her to stop hallucinating, that Brian was dead and that was that. She had never spoken about her experiences with regard to Brian again, in fact she hardly ever even mentioned his name, but that didn’t mean she did not continue to have them. Why, only the other day his photograph had fallen to the floor just when she had been enveloped in that feeling of his presence. It had fallen with a crash from where it had hung for years, but the glass hadn’t broken. It had just needed a new cord at the back that was all. Oh, yes! She knew Brian lived. Well, if Jane got this job it would be a good thing, get her out of the house, help her not to mope over Kevin. Pity about that, seemed such a nice boy too, and English speaking. The young people all seemed to speak Spanish these days or Spanglish. So many mixed marriages. In the old days the English-speaking girls married the English-speaking boys and they continued to keep the language and the customs alive that way, now… well, there was nothing that could be done really, whatever Eric said. But Eric would be pleased about the job, and Santucho was a lovely place. They had gone there when the children were small. How Brian had loved it!
“Someone told me that the roads in Santucho have been paved and that the town centre is quite built up,” she said aloud. “You’ll be able to tell me all about it when you return.”
“Really? Sad in a way. The earth roads with all the grass verges and the tall pine trees were so terrific, weren’t they? We used to go all over the place on bikes, d’you remember?”
Brian’s name hovered between them, unspoken. Outside the wind died down but the rain continued unabated and every now and again a flash of lightening followed by a crash of thunder shook the house.
“What a storm,” Jane said. “It looks as if it’s going to rain for hours. At least we won’t have to water the garden!”
Bettina ‘phoned the following afternoon, her voice fluttery with curiosity.
“What did Kevin say, Jane?”
“He threw me out. He’s mean Bettina, really mean. I thought he was going to, I don’t know… kill me, for a moment. I don’t know how I never realized how mean he is!”
Bettina thought of Kevin’s blond wavy hair, pale blue eyes, and tall lithe body and felt her innards melt. Hope flared. If he was really free, if he and Jane had really broken up then…
“Jane how terrible! He really never wanted the baby at all!”
“No, and he pretended to me and said, yes, he understood how I felt and all that. We even fooled around choosing names! I thought he meant it, I really did and it wasn’t true. He’d been pretending all along. He got so ugly, so mad, when he realized I was serious.”
“And all the same you’re going to go through with it all alone?”
“Have you told your parents?”
“No. I’ve got a job. I went this morning for an interview. I’m going to help look after a baby all February while the family stays on their farm near Santucho. Imagine! Right near, we’ll go to the beach every day, but we’ll live on the farm.”
“You’re going to look after a baby?”
“Yes, four months old. It’s like a funny twist of fate isn’t it? And another thing is that the husband is someone rather important in my father’s firm so Dad should be pleased too!”
“Have you been to the doctor yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Daddy, I went for an interview this morning about a job.”
“Ah, yes. Mummy mentioned something last night. Well?”
“I got it.”
“ What will you be expected to do?”
“Help look after Mrs. Torres Hidalgo’s four month old baby. Her husband is Daniel Torres Hidalgo.”
“Torres Hidalgo? Is that so? And what are they going to pay you?”
Anxiously, Jane mentioned the sum she had agreed upon and waited for her father’s reaction.
“Not much, considering they’ll have you at their beck and call twenty four hours a day. But at least it will be an experience. By the way have you gone to register at the University yet?”
“I’ve reminded you any number of times. What have you got in your head? Wool? Torres Hidalgo will kick you out on the second day if they can’t rely on you. He is an important man and an impatient man. I don’t want my daughter behaving as if I’d never expected anything from her or taught her to be reliable. You haven’t only yourself to think of when you go to work for them, you’ll have me to think of too.”
“Yes, Daddy. I’m going tomorrow. To the University I mean.”
“Good. Well, at the Torres Hidalgo’s you just obey orders and don’t stick your neck out giving opinions. Just do what they tell you, quickly and efficiently. When do you go?”
“We’re leaving on the 31st in the evening. They’re coming to pick me up.”
“Well, don’t forget what I said.”
The last few days of January passed in a rush. Jane dutifully registered herself at the University to study to be a public translator, and went on a shopping spree with her mother.
“Your father is very impressed at your getting a job with Mr. Torres Hidalgo,” Dora said. “He gave me money to buy you enough clothes so that you will fit in well with the family.”
Jane thought of the sumptuous apartment she had gone to for her interview and how glad she had been of her months as Kevin’s girl-friend where she had got used to uniformed maids and all the rituals of moneyed living. She pushed the knowledge that she was pregnant right out of her mind and fully enjoyed the preparations for her first job. ‘I’ll go and see Mummy’s doctor when I come back,’ she decided and closed a mental door on her condition.
Bettina did not ‘phone again, and when Jane ‘phoned her she was evasive and vague.
“I just called to say good ‘bye. I’m leaving tomorrow night.”
“Great. Have a nice time.”
“My mother bought me a whole pile of new clothes. They’re wild. She let me choose them all.”
“What’s the matter Bettina. You O.K.?”
“Sure. Well, thanks for ‘phoning Jane. Have a super time.”
They cut off and Jane stood staring at the telephone wondering what had happened to Bettina, she was so cool, so off-hand. It was not like her at all. She glanced at her watch and remembered she had an appointment at the hairdresser. Pushing her concern to the back of her mind, she picked up her bag and hurried out.
That night Dora came into her bedroom and stood at the end of her bed a little awkwardly.
“Well,” she said at last, “How do you feel?”
“Excited, and a bit nervous. I hope I don’t drop the baby!”
“Why should you? You’ve had a plenty of experience baby-sitting.”
“I know, I was only joking. D’you like my hair?”
Jane was sitting up in bed filing her nails. Her new hair style made her look so different Dora could hardly recognize her. Instead of the familiar childish face surrounded by its usual untidy abundance of dark curls, the new hair style revealed an attractive young woman. Here was no child. Here was her seventeen year old daughter, on the eve of her first job, glowing with health, her anguished expression replaced by one of anticipation and pleasure. Apart from a perfect complexion, her face was beginning to show the planes and angles which intimated true beauty. Jane was certainly not a little girl any more. A faint shadow of disquiet fluttered in Dora’s breast.
“You must remember to be… er… proper, you know? To behave nicely. Don’t, well, laugh a lot, or very loudly and make people look at you and all that. Just remain your sweet, little self and remember that Mr. Torres Hidalgo is a director of Daddy`s firm and we… er… want him and his wife to have a good impression of you.”
“I will Mummy, I promise.”
“I mean you’re grown up now, nearly, not a child any more.”
At breakfast the following morning Eric, disturbed too by the gracious young woman who seemed, like a butterfly, to have suddenly emerged from the chrysalis of her childhood, said sternly.
“Now then, Jane. You’re going to be working, you will have a job to perform and I want to be quite sure that you will perform it with utmost responsibility. No larking around, or accepting invitations to go out on drives or to dances or whatever. You have all your life to do that. You just do your job and stick to that. Is that quite clear? Remember, you’ll be representing your family!”
“Good. Well, I have a meeting tonight so I shall arrive a little late. I’ll say goodbye now, then. Enjoy yourself and remember what I have just said.”
He drew her to him and kissed her, feeling a subtle excitement as her supple body yielded to his embrace. His ‘meeting’ this evening, however, would take care of that. Dora was a good woman but not much fun in bed, never had been. Estela was a splendid companion from that point of view and their rendezvous permitted Eric to conduct his home life within the unswerving norms which he considered correct. Jane, half consciously aware of his excitement, drew away instinctively. He patted her shoulder, kissed Dora goodbye on the cheek, picked up his brief-case and strode into the garage. Jane followed him, opened the metal doors and closed them again once he had backed the car out. As usual they stuck and crashed to when she gave them the extra shove they always needed. She walked slowly up to her room and sat staring at her half packed suitcase.
How would it go? It was the first time she would be living in the bosom of an Argentine family. Would their habits be very different? Speaking Spanish all the time would be no problem. Soledad Torres Hidalgo seemed a nice, spontaneous person, Ana knew her and liked her. The baby was cute; Sara. Would she be able to go riding? She enjoyed riding. Would there be guests? What did her father and mother think, going on and on about doing her job well and not going out and behaving properly and all that, as if she were a ten-year-old? Parents never let one grow up! What was the matter with Bettina? Why had she seemed so cold and off-hand on the ‘phone? Was she mad at her for something? Something she had said or Bettina had misunderstood? What was Kevin doing? Did he miss her? How was it possible that he could have said such terrible things to her, that he’d pay some guy to say he… had slept with her? As if she were some sort of animal! Jane shuddered. What had her mother said? That it was better to have found out now and not when it was too late. Well, Kevin was history now. He could go and fry in hell, with all his money and his career.
Jumping up and catching sight of herself in the mirror of her dressing table, Jane stopped to admire the new Jane she saw reflected there. She pulled her hair down into a fringe, fluffed it up over the crown of her head, held it in a knot at the nape of her neck and decided it was wild. Slipping a cassette into her tape recorder she turned up the volume and danced about gathering the cassettes she wanted to take with her, changing the battery of her walkman, and going through her closet to see what other clothes she might need.