The heat, which had been playing hide and seek with the cold south winds off the southern Atlantic Ocean, tired of the game and remained relaxed, spread out over the wide undulating Pampas. The sky began to flatten out into a distant pale blue as the days grew longer and the sun gained in strength.
The parrots started their noisy courtships and to inhabit and add to the large department-house nests they built in the taller caldén trees, and the birdlife in general became more and more active and full of song.
Now that she was certain that Peter was free and safe, Juli felt a great weight had been lifted from her heart, something which surprised her, for she had not realised how deeply concerned she had been. Rita had written back immediately to say that she had given the letter they had received from ‘Isabel’ to Arthur and that no more letters had arrived.
Pamela wrote to say that her mother had clearly begun to recover once they had convinced her that the letter was genuine and really from Peter. Joanie Trale had gone home and just came every afternoon to see to things. Tony had become insufferable, criticizing everyone as if he were the only responsible person in the house. His target was usually María but no one in the family was exempt, even Arthur. She, Pamela, had been spending at least one night a week with her friend Monica and Marion had agreed, since the habit had been established while she had been so unwell. Dino was studying like mad … Juli read her long cheerful letter with relief for she felt that Pamela was maturing and learning how to cope with her problems.
At Los Alamos the quiet pattern of the days unfolded smoothly. Meals and riding marked the fixed points while the different activities which Juli had planned for each day filled in the spaces and life with the two little girls was gay and busy. But Juli often missed more adult company. Lena spent a lot of time resting and Dereck, because she didn’t want him to go very far afield, had decided to use the time spent at home to overhaul the motor of the diesel generator which provided electricity for the whole estancia. It meant hours spent taking it to bits and cleaning each little segment, his hands black with oil and grease. However, despite this absorbing activity he didn’t enjoy spending so much time on the estancia and behaved rather like a caged bear at times.
Once or twice he joined Juli when she went riding with the children. Marina, astride her little pony, her short fat legs sticking out almost horizontally over the thick sheepskin saddle-pad, had learned to keep her balance very quickly and rode without fear, cantering, trotting, always as fast as she could make her lazy pony go. Tishy sat in front of Juli who held her firmly, comfortable on the sheepskin which Juli also used, but when her father rode with them then she sat in front of him and it was very clear how much she enjoyed those rides.
They went farther afield when Dereck was with them but Juli made sure that the rides were never too long or too tiring for the little girls. She then left them resting with Marta in charge and went out again on Mariposa for an hour or so. While riding she felt free and less hungry for adult companionship. Her feelings for Dereck had settled into a dark quiet ache which, usually, she was able to ignore. In fact at times she felt she had even managed to get over him, but then a smile or a gesture on his part would flood her with emotions and her fantasies would rise, fluttering like a flock of birds disturbed by some unexpected sound. And then there was nothing to do but wait until they had all settled again and her heart was once more beating rhythmically.
The fact that Peter had not written again or shown any sign of life disturbed her. It was such an anticlimax. All the excitement caused by the discovery of the meaning of that first letter and then nothing more. No news from Arthur either, apart from a short note thanking them for their letters and help. The days slipped by with their gentle time-absorbing routine and brought nothing, no news or further developments. Why didn’t Peter write again? Could it be possible that some secret information was hidden in the short simple wording of the letter? As requested, Rita had sent a photocopy of it, but even though they had all read and re-read it they could find no clue. Clearly he had chosen a simple innocuous name like Isabel after what, for him, must have been a glaringly obvious juxtaposition of letters and use of Spanish. The letter had been posted in Buenos Aires. What worried Dereck was the fact the Peter had no documents.
“One can’t go about without documents in this country, especially with a military government,” he said one afternoon at tea. “The police stop the young people in BA constantly, checking their documents because of terrorism and he doesn’t even have his driving license on him!”
“He might be in the interior,” Juli suggested
“I doubt it … the interior is an extraordinarily empty place when one wants to disappear! In the little towns the police know practically each inhabitant personally. If a young Englishman, or at any rate a ‘gringo’ appears he would stand out like a sore thumb. You can be sure that he is somewhere in Buenos Aires.”
“But he says he plans to travel. The letter says ‘I have given up studying and plan to travel a lot this year’.”
“Well, he had to say something. He’s certainly given up studying and there are trips and trips.”
“Dereck, do you believe?” Lena exclaimed.
“No, no. It was just a silly thought!”
“Anyway, he’d never mention travelling and trips in that way if he were ” Juli interposed.
“No, you’re quite right. I wonder why he wants to tell you he’s learned to fly. Could it be that he’s living near one of the aerodromes? Ezeiza perhaps, or Don Torcuato even.”
“Perhaps it’s just to tell me that he’s free, that he’s freed himself or is learning to … from his family and all that, you know?”
Dereck looked at Juli oddly, shrugged and said,” I don’t think his letter holds any more secrets, no address, no date except for the postmark. I expect he’ll turn up sooner or later once he gets tired of having to fend for himself. I’m sure that’s what Marion and Arthur feel.”
One early afternoon Juli, although she had not intended to go for a long ride, found herself cantering along a faint track which she realized she did not recognize. Unconsciously she took into account her whereabouts, checking the angle of the sun and the position of the bigger caldén trees which raised their heads above the rest. The woods were crisscrossed by these tracks, made by the woodcutters and used by the cattle to get from one grazing area to another with greater ease. It was also very easy to get lost.
It was a hot dry day with very little wind and Juli had on a sleeveless T-shirt, glorying in the freedom of her arms and the burning rays of the sun on her throat and shoulders. She had not changed her jeans for her bombachas and riding boots, which she found hot and unnecessary when trotting about with Marina and Tishy although she knew that Dereck would not have approved. The sun had tanned her face and arms a golden honey colour and at the same time lightened her hair by several shades, for she never wore a hat when she went riding.
She began to sing aloud and was amused to see Mariposa twitch her ears at the sound. They cantered on, each in their own green world of sunshine and trees and yet each intimately aware of the other.
“I may want companionship,” Juli thought slowing Mariposa to a walk. “But where would I get this if I lived in a city? She realized that although life always seemed to be taking things away, yet it provided others. From having felt herself, in a certain sense, family-less since her mother had died she found herself extraordinarily attached to the Birnhams and the Carlies and their activities. She really felt herself almost as close to them all as any cousin, or perhaps even a daughter, might be.
“Some daughter!” she thought wryly.
She did not have much opportunity to have many friends, but she could save most of what she earned, she had a horse and miles of ‘camp’ to ride over every day. Rita had become a firm friend, she received plenty of letters and Tishy was better. Her smile was not any more an event for she often smiled now, stroking Dobbie, looking at her picture books or listening to music.
The track along which she was riding made a slight bend and she reined in Mariposa with surprise for there, ahead of her in a clearing, stood a small building with a deep shady porch at one end. Two very large caldén trees leaned over it in a protective attitude and to the left there seemed to be a fenced-in garden.
Trotting over the sandy ground Juli brought Mariposa closer to the little house before slipping out of the saddle. She tied the mare to the branch of a nearby tree, and, filled with curiosity she approached the cottage wondering if it belonged to one of the farm labourers, although it looked too small for that. Everything seemed very neat and well kept but no dogs rushed out barking to advise of her presence, and no chickens were wandering about pecking seeds from the dusty surroundings or commenting on her arrival with noisy clucks.
Only the parrots murmured and chuckled softly to each other in the caldén trees above and a small breeze wafted the perfume of roses towards her from what, in fact. was a beautiful little garden, carefully fenced in and with a sturdy gate bearing a large padlock. She walked over to the gate and realized at once that she was looking at Phyllis’s grave yard. In the middle of a green patch of neatly cut lawn stood a gravestone, and she could read, etched into its grey polished surface the words:
Phyllis Fitzgerald Birnham
1930 – 1973
In ever-loving memory
“So this is where she’s buried!” Juli murmured. She would have liked to have gone in and sat on the rustic wooden bench which stood on one side. There were several rose bushes all in bloom and flowering bushes had been planted round the lawn by the fence creating an oasis of colour and fragrance. In fact the whole clearing seemed to be steeped in the most extraordinary atmosphere of peace and serenity.
Turning her attention to the house she walked into the porch and tried the stout algarrobo wooden door, but it was locked. Stepping out of the porch she began to walk beside the building between the clumps of silky silver-bleached pampas grass which surrounded it. Coming to a window she peered in and saw a corresponding window in the wall opposite her. In between were four benches and to the right an altar on which stood a vase with three wilted roses in it. She could imagine their rich dying perfume, musk-like, filling the air in the small enclosed space inside the chapel. Behind the altar she could see the edge of the frame of a picture hanging on the wall.
The quiet afternoon filled with the sound of an approaching car. Juli recognized it to be Dereck’s and for a moment she considered mounting Mariposa and leaving before Dereck should see her. Then she shrugged, walked back to the space in front of the porch and lifted her face to the sun, her thumbs poked into the pockets of her jeans, her bare feet in their sandals slightly apart, bracing herself for Dereck’s expected irritation at finding her there.
The car stopped, the door slammed and a minute later Dereck swung round the corner of the porch and found her waiting for him.
“Juli!” he exclaimed sharply. “What are you doing here?”
“I‘ve just got here, I took the wrong turning and, well, I heard you coming so I thought I’d wait.,” Juli looked into his eyes a little defiantly. “I wanted to go inside the chapel.”
Dereck glared at her in silence, thoroughly disconcerted by her presence. At last, with a little shrug, he said, “Very well, come in if you like.”
He reached up and collected a key from a crevice in the wall behind a lamp and unlocked the door. Juli followed him into the cool interior of the chapel filled with the overwhelming perfume of the dying roses and looked about her with interest. The walls were whitewashed, the ceiling was panelled in wood and held up by wooden beams, the altar was made of algarrobo like the benches and the door, a dark, heavy reddish wood used to make simple rustic furniture. On the wall behind the altar hung the picture whose frame Juli had just been able to descry from the window. It was large and compelling, despite the fact that it did not portray anything in particular. Staring at it, Juli felt it was like a burst of sunlight filling the room with waves of shimmering yellows, gold, rose and lilacs.
“What a lovely picture!” she said, sinking down onto one of the benches.
“I bought it last year,” Dereck said. “For Phyllis’s birthday.”
Juli glanced at him sharply, taken back by the fact that he should still be buying Phyllis birthday gifts eight years after her death.
“It seems to have an inner light of its own,” she said at last for something to say. “It really glows doesn’t it?
Dereck nodded. “She’d have loved it, that’s why I bought it,” he said softly.
He picked up the vase and went outside to change the water and throw away the wilting roses. When he returned he dusted the altar carefully, handing Juli the embroidered altar-cloth while he did so.
“I got the nuns to make that,” he said. “She was catholic you know.”
He dusted the benches quickly folded away the yellow duster and laid the white cloth once more upon the altar, adjusting the three carved wooden candle-sticks with their fat yellowish wax candles as he did so.
“These were another present,” he said. “I always give her a present, every year. Sometimes a thing like the picture or the cloth here, but usually a donation to one of the charities she always supported. The B.C.C for one (that stands for the British Community Council), the Blind, Mongolic’s… several.”
He sat down as well and stared up at the golden glowing picture in the gentle penetrating silence which filled the room. A soft ray of sunshine fell across the brick floor from the window on the left and Juli, thinking about what Dereck had just said, watched the minute specks of dust which had been disturbed floating in its beam, and pondered on the subject of love. That he should still love Phyllis so much, that he bought her presents, that he had built the chapel and created a garden about her grave, seemed to her very moving. She was sure that Lena knew nothing of the chapel’s existence nor of Dereck’s frequent visits, and her heart thrilled at the thought of sharing this secret with him. It was all so simple and yet so beautiful and peaceful. Here, she felt, Phyllis must surely be happy, despite her tragic death.
After a while Dereck rose and Juli followed him out into the warm sunshine. They went into the little garden and she wandered round inhaling the perfume of the roses and enjoying the contrast between its green freshness, and the soft silvery ochres of the earth and grasses beyond the protective wire fence. Dereck clipped the lawn about the grave and dead-headed the plants and bushes while water from a tap ran along carefully prepared runnels filling the scooped out basins around the roots of each bush before spilling over and flowing on to the next and the next.
“Where does the water come from?” Juli asked, as she sank down onto the bench.
“I have a tank at the back of the chapel which collects all the rain water and I also have a little pump installed for the times when there is a drought.”
“But have you electricity here?”
“No, no. It works with kerosene. Phyllis loved roses so I planted several, this one is Peace and that is Elsa Poulsen. I also had the chapel built, I don’t know why, as company I suppose. She was quite a religious person and I felt she would have liked it. The grave seemed very lonely otherwise and I needed water for the garden of course.”
“Lena has no idea about this,” Dereck said. “I feel it might upset her if she knew. I have to come quite a lot because of the garden.”
“Do Gavin and Rowena know?”
“Yes, they know.”
He cut three roses and arranged them in the vase which he had brought with him. “Not really the hour to be cutting roses,” he sighed. “But just for once …”
Juli glanced at her watch and stood up guiltily.
“I must go,” she said. Dereck nodded and accompanied her out of the garden As they walked to where Mariposa was tethered Juli felt utterly weakened by her love for him and this new aspect of him that she had discovered. Here in this silent sun-filled clearing she felt as if every cell in her body were reaching out for him. That his first wife should lie buried a few metres away and that his second wife was great with his child mattered not at all. Only her overwhelming desire to be in his arms held any reality for her and she knew, with a deep womanly instinct, that it had suddenly touched him and awakened in him as he walked behind her, a corresponding wave of desire.
“Juli,” he said.
She stopped and her shoulder touched his arm as she did so. A wild flame flashed up between them and they stared into each other’s eyes, intensely aware of the passionate hunger of their bodies which would not be denied.
“Oh God,” Juli thought mechanically. “This is it and there is nothing I can do about it. Nothing… nothing at all.”
She could not drag her eyes away from Dereck’s. Unconsciously she swayed towards him and as she did so Dereck’s eye caught a glimpse of a coiled red-marked body and a raised venomous head less than a foot away from her bare ankle. With a hoarse cry he caught her in his arms and swung her into the air just as the snake struck with a terrifying hiss.
“You fool,” he yelled angrily. “Why aren’t you wearing boots? I’ve told you it’s dangerous to go into the ‘montes’ without boots on! That was a coral, they are deadly poisonous. You might have died.!”
As the snake slithered rapidly away he set Juli down carefully and steadied her trembling body.
She nodded, unable to speak.
“I suggest you go back that way,” he pointed the way he had come earlier. “It’s a bit longer but you won’t run the risk of getting lost. My God that was a close shave. For God’s sake don’t go riding again without boots on, you silly child.”
And everything was as it had been. Juli was a ‘child’ once more and she knew that Dereck would be very careful in future that she would remain so for him.
“And by the way,” he added. “Please don’t mention this place to Lena or the children. I would rather that it remained private. I have no wish to upset Lena and there is nothing I can do about the grave.”
Again Juli nodded and then, with shaking legs, she mounted Mariposa and headed the mare in the direction Dereck had indicated. In her heart the words ‘It’s all over’ hammered with cruel finality and at the same time she knew that she had been willing this meeting to happen, all-be-it unconsciously, and shame and a sense of betrayal battled within her. Part of her cried “Bloody snake!” and another part accused her of every kind of heinous sin.
Once clearly on the right path a new thought struck her. Perhaps she had been wrong about Dereck also desiring her and that she had made a complete fool of herself. It could have all been due to her inflamed imagination that had made her feel that Dereck had desired her as much as she had desired him. Waves of shame flooded her and became so unbearable that all she wanted to do was to destroy all traces of that humiliating moment.
A silly child, that was all she was to him. Torturing herself, she imagined Dereck laughing within himself at her silliness and felt a madness coming over her. With frantic abandon she urged Mariposa into a headlong gallop along the path, careless of potholes, stones and odd clumps of grass, whipping her in case she decided to slow down. Only the fear of not killing herself outright kept her from flinging herself off Mariposa’s back in full gallop.
When she arrived at the homestead the mare was trembling, foaming at the mouth and covered with lather. Juli slid off her back and leaned against the saddle pressing her forehead against it trying to pull herself together.
“I’m sorry Mariposa,” she whispered miserably. A farm worker ran up and asked anxiously if anything was the matter. Juli raised her head and stared at him, hardly able to take in what he was saying. At last she made a slight gesture and said, “ No, nothing.. Please — could you give Mariposa a rub down before you let her loose?”
She dropped the reins and walked quickly away feeling as if she carried a cadaver within her; cold, dark and heavy.
It was nearly tea time and Marta was obviously very relieved to see her when Juli appeared and collected Tishy and Marina, but on seeing Juli’s white face and drained expression she too asked with concern, “Is anything the matter, Señorita Juli?
“No,” Juli replied, and then added, “I was nearly bitten by a coral and I didn’t have my boots on.”
Marta drew in her breath sharply, Juli’s shocked, dazed aspect fully explained.
Tea was a quiet affair. Even Marina was silenced by the thought of the snake and the look in Juli’s eyes.. Afterwards they went for a little walk in the garden, accompanied by the ever faithful Dobbie, and then Juli spent an hour helping Tishy slide down the new blue plastic slide which Dereck had appeared with on his return from his last trip to Sta. Rosa. Juli would have preferred a good old fashioned wooden one, but at least there was no danger of splinters. Marina loved it and climbed and slid unceasingly. Tishy regarded it with great anxiety as Juli lifted her, placed her on it a little way up and let her slide down within the safety of her arm until the little girl began to lose her nervousness and ventured to slide alone, although still holding Juli’s hand to do so.
Juli felt like a robot, going through the motions of lifting and guiding Tishy mechanically. She heard Dereck arrive and the dogs’ welcoming barks with detachment. Later, when they went inside, the children played with their dolls’ house while Juli made them listen to their collection of tapes. Apart from that, quite unaware of Tishy’s worried glances, she just sat and stared at nothing, her heart cold and heavy,
She managed to be busy in her corner of the nursery, behind the screen when Dereck and Lena came to say good night to the two little girls. They did not linger and called out goodnight to her as they left. The children took quite a long time to fall asleep but once their sweet even breathing informed Juli that they had at last relinquished their struggle to stay awake, she slipped out into the fragrant garden shrouded in darkness.
For a long time she sat on the bench outside the nursery door, stroking Dobbie’s head and staring dully into the darkness. As her eyes grew used to the gloom the garden emerged wrapped in soft translucent greys, and she felt the urge to walk barefoot on the lawn. Dimly she hoped that a coral snake might be wandering about in the dark as she slipped off her sandals and stepped off the veranda onto the grass. The indigo sky was jewelled with stars and the trees near the swimming pool were surrounded by a soft halo of light from the moon beyond them. A cricket sang lustily his repetitive unmelodic song and early fireflies accompanied him with their own graceful ballet. In the distance the motor for the electric light chugged away, unmindful of the beauty of Nature, the rising moon and the far away stars.
Glancing back at the house Juli saw Dereck and Lena in their bedroom. They had forgotten to draw the curtains and she watched Dereck draw Lena to him, kissing her and stroking her stomach. Unable to stop looking, Juli remained, suffering and silent on the lawn, watching every movement. At last Lena drew back, moved across to the window and drew the curtains to. Juli remained staring at the faint outline of the curtained window, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“I’ll have to go away,” she thought. “I can’t stay here any more. Not after this afternoon. I can’t face Dereck ever again. A silly child, that’s all I am to him. A silly, stupid, idiotic, ridiculous child!”
Despair flooded her and she ran back to the nursery and flung herself onto her bed , sobbing brokenly into her pillow. Shame, love and pain tore at her heart until it felt it must fall apart in bleeding shreds. She could not stay and she could not leave. How could she explain why she wanted to go? How could she leave, with Lena in the last month of her pregnancy? How could she stay after the humiliating situation this afternoon? She was convinced that she had imagined Dereck’s sudden awareness of her as a woman. On the other hand she felt herself to be no better than a harlot of the lowest and most indescribable type.
Images of her mother describing Paula, accusing, disgusted, floated into her mind. She was not at all the sort of person who should be looking after Marina and Tishy. If only she had never come, had never left her boring job in London, had never turned her back on her flatmates, however drab and unpleasant life had been in the flat. She wanted to grab the last five months of her life and crumple them up and throw them into outer space. She wanted to die. Death was the only answer. Why hadn’t the coral bitten her? By now she would have been dead, lying cold and still like her mother and Phyllis. All the pain and suffering would have been over, all this mess avoided, all her problems solved. Only death could solve her problems, if she were dead she would not have to choose, to stay because of duty or go because of humiliation. To go meant death anyway. To go meant the end of everything lovely, of a home, Mariposa, the children, of mattering. It was unthinkable! But to stay was impossible.
The memory of the kitchen knives rose in her mind. Large, gleaming and kept razor sharp by Josefina, they lay side by side in the second drawer of the cabinet in the kitchen. If she cut her veins she would just slip away with her blood. It would be so easy. It would solve everything. And if Dereck had desired her it would punish him too. A fresh burst of sobs overwhelmed her, and she wept brokenly, a terrible sorrow at the uselessness of her life adding its weight to her pain. The decision to go to the kitchen and consummate the act coiled round her will and strengthened it. There was no other solution, the sooner she cut her veins the better …
It was at that moment that she became aware of something stroking her shoulder, something very small and light. And then she heard a soft little voice murmuring gently,
“Don’t cry Juli, Tishy’s here. Don’t cry any more little Juli. I love you Juli. Tishy loves you. Don’t cry any more. Please don’t cry.”
Twisting round Juli looked at the little girl standing beside her, her face luminous in the darkness, her glasses reflecting what little moonlight had crept into the room.
“Tishy,” she choked. “Oh! TISHY!”
She sat up trembling, unable to believe what she was hearing. Tishy held her hand and stroked it, looking up into her bloated tear-streaked face.
“Don’t cry Juli,” she whispered. “Don’t cry any more, please.”
“I’m not Tishy,” Juli replied between sobs. “I’ve stopped crying now.”
“Are you ‘fraid of the snake?” Tishy asked.
“Yes,” Juli nodded, picking her up and holding her close.
“But you won’t go away?”
“No, I won’t go away Tishy. I’ll stay right here with you.”
“I love you, Juli.”
Fresh tears flooded Juli’s eyes and spilled down her cheeks, but they were gentle, healing tears.
“I love you too, Tishy. Lots and lots and lots.”
Tishy raised her hand and wiped Juli’s cheek and then tasted the tear drops on her fingers.
“Salty,” she said, and smiled.
Juli cradled her tenderly and took a deep shuddering breath. It seemed impossible, unbelievable, that Tishy should be sitting on her lap chatting away as if she had been talking from the day she was born. Where was the head-hanging, silent, thumb-sucking little wraith they were all accustomed to? Would she continue to talk when the day arrived? How would she react to Lena? How would Lena react? How was it possible for any child to suddenly start talking perfectly formed sentences from one minute to the next? Tishy had never said a word, not one word! Now, as if someone had waved a magic wand, she had broken her silence.
“Why didn’t you ever talk before, Tishy?”
“Didn’t want to.”
“Will you talk tomorrow morning?”
“Yes, Tishy wants to talk now.”
“Tishy wants to talk now! Oh, my baby, that makes me SO happy!”
“Tishy Juli’s baby.”
“You’re my baby and my great big three-year-old girl too!” Juli assured her. “Come and do pee-pees and then I’ll put you back to bed. I want to go to sleep now so that tomorrow will come really quickly. I want to be sure that I am not dreaming.”
She switched on her bedside lamp and carried Tishy over to her bed.
“Drea – ming, drea – ming,” Tishy said quietly as she sat on her pink plastic potty and examined her toes seriously. “Finished,” she announced and stood up. Juli adjusted her nappies as she added, “No more nappies tomorrow.”
She took off her glasses and laid them on the chest of drawers at the end of her bed, and climbed into bed. Juli bent to kiss her and she wound her arms about Juli’s neck and whispered, “You was crying, Tishy hear you crying.. Poor Juli. Was the snake very big?”
“Yes, it was much too big!”
“Did it bite you?”
“No, it tried to but it missed. I jumped out of the way. Go to sleep now Tishy-toos. We’ve got a lot of talking to do tomorrow. You won’t forget will you, that you want to talk now?”
“I want to talk now,” Tishy repeated and yawned. In a few minutes she was fast asleep so Juli went and sat on the sofa. She felt limp and weak, but the excitement and thrill at having heard Tishy talking thrummed through her veins and made her thoughts spin as she imagined Dereck and Lena’s reactions.
“I’ll get her to record something tomorrow, that’ll be really something!” she thought delightedly. “And she talks so well too! God, it’s incredible, I can’t believe it! What will Lena say? Mongolic! What a fool! It was obvious that Tishy wasn’t Mongolic, or even really backward. What will Marina say? And Marta and Josefina and Hernán? All of them, they’ll be so happy! Oh, heavens, I’m STARVING!”
Jumping up, she went to the kitchen and cut herself several slabs of bread to which she added plenty of butter and large pieces of cheese As she put the bread and knife away, the latter slipped and its blade jabbed the tip of her finger just puncturing the skin. Big drops of blood dripped onto the sideboard and Juli stared at them in horror before jamming her finger into her mouth. How close she had been to cutting her wrists on purpose and taking her life!
Phyllis had committed suicide, Juli remembered once again Joanie Trale’s words –‘She had cancer, one can understand’ – that was why Dereck tended her grave so lovingly and kept the little chapel so clean and attractive. Phyllis Fitzgerald Birnham. In ever loving memory. Her family. She had died in 1973 and Dereck had married again in ’75.. It certainly had not taken him long to get over her death. Once again Joanie Trale’s words rose in her memory … ‘he must conquer every woman who catches his fancy’ … but perhaps Lena was simply someone to fill the gap. Someone young to have sex with and children if she wanted them, but who could never take the place of Phyllis.
Juli looked at her finger. It had stopped bleeding. She put out the light and left the kitchen soberly thinking of human loves and human passions. In 1973, here in this house presumably, a woman of forty three had taken her life. What had she suffered before she had come to that terrible final decision? Juli sighed. In part she felt she knew.
Marta brought the breakfast things in with the usual “Goo-moni” and a squeal of laughter and Juli awoke and jumped out of bed remembering that Tishy had started speaking the night before. Her head felt as if she had a balloon inside it and her eyes were still bloodshot from crying. Dragging on her dressing gown Juli bundled the children into the bathroom for their morning ablutions, wondering if Dereck would drop in as he usually did while they were having their breakfast.
Marina had so much to say, not even washing her teeth could stop her. “I dream of a big huge enormous snake…”
“Dreamt, and it said ‘Hello’ and then it started to laugh, ha ha ha, hee hee hee, ha ha ha, and then …”
“Finish washing your teeth.”
“…it turned into a looooong, long manguera …”
“Hose, and there was no water, no water anywhere and Mummy was there and she gave me a tea pot and said ‘water the roses with tea.” And then …”
“Come on Marina. Breakfast is getting cold.”
“… I got into the car with Don Elizondo and he couldn’t start it so we had to walk and Dobbie came too, but she was little little…”
“Yes, and then we walked… “
“Yes please, and walked and I was so tired and then Don Elizondo turned into Daddy…”
“ Honey Tishy?”
Marina paused in her monologue and stared at Tishy and then at Juli. At last she said, “Can Tishy talk now?”
“Yes,” Juli replied. “She started to talk last night after you were asleep.”
Fascinated she waited to see how Marina would react to the news.
“Say Marina, Tishy,” Marina ordered.
“Mummy – Daddy – Dobbie.”
“Dobbie, Daddy, Mummy.”
Marina, her dream forgotten, digested the situation in silence while she munched her third piece of bread and honey. At last she said, “I can slide from the top of the slide.”
Tishy smiled a sweet uncompetitive smile and replied, “Yes.”
Suddenly it all became too much for Marina to cope with and the need to explode into action became imperative.
“Can I go, Juli, can I go and slide?” she shouted, jumping down from her chair.
Juli, understanding, nodded with a grin and watched her rush outside noisily, climb the slide and push herself down with all the strength of her vigorous little arms, shouting as she did so, “Look Juli, can you see me? Look Tishy, look Juli!”
Juli and Tuishy went outside to watch her for a few minutes, then Juli dressed quickly before dressing the children. The enormousness of her news was such that she could not quite encompass it. When should she tell Lena and Dereck? Now? Or later, may be lunch time? At last she decided to wait, but in order that it should remain a secret for every one she said quickly, “Put on your boots Marina, we’re going for a walk.”
She pulled Tishy’s boots on for her and as soon as possible escaped with the children to a far corner of the vegetable garden where she helped them begin to prepare a patch where Tishy could start her own little plot of ‘veggies’. Dobbie accompanied them and lay down in the shade nearby in order to oversee the proceedings in a dignified manner.
When that activity became tedious they went to inspect the barns, climb about on a parked tractor, and visit the smithy a fascinating and mysterious chamber, with it’s huge open grate, the enormous bellows, the blackened sooty walls and all the hammers and different tools hanging from nails on one of the walls.
Well after eleven, when both the children were tired and fretful, Juli steered them back to the nursery, collecting milk and biscuits on the way to tide them over until lunchtime.
It arrived quite quickly after that and Juli tidied her charges, trembling a little with excitement. They trooped into the living room late and Lena and Dereck were already sitting waiting for them. Marina rushed over to her mother shouting excitedly.
“Mummy, Mummy, Tishy can talk now. Daddy, Tishy can talk now”
Overwhelmed with shyness Tishy pushed her thumb into her mouth and hung her head, looking exactly as she had when Juli first arrived.
“What on earth is Marina talking about?” Dereck asked in surprise as Juli lifted Tishy into her high chair.
“Tishy started to talk, quite normally, after Marina went to sleep last night,” Juli said. “And she’s been talking all morning. It’s just that she’s shy now with everyone looking at her. Let’s just have lunch and forget about it, shall we?”
She wanted to make a grimace or a gesture in order to compel Dereck to do as she suggested, but he was staring at Tishy unbelievingly.
Lena said, “Are you sure, Juli? What did she say?”
“Damn,” thought Juli. “I never got her to record anything!”
Aloud she replied, “I can’t remember all she said. She speaks proper sentences and quite normally.”
“And why have you waited until now to tell us?”
“I — wanted to be quite, quite sure.”
“Tishy, hey, Juli says you can talk now! This calls for a celebration! A champagne celebration!” Dereck leaned towards Tishy and said cajolingly, “Say something for Daddy, eh? Let’s see how well you can say Daddy.”
But Tishy remained silent, hanging her head and sucking her thumb. Juli sat in an agony of suspense. Had the child regressed? Was she really backward with only occasional moments of normality? Would she ever speak again? What was going on in her little mind and unhappy heart? “Say something,” she willed as Marina, struck by the silence as they waited for Tishy to speak, scrambled off her chair and rushed round the table to the high chair.
Stretching up close to her little sister she murmured in the sweetest and most persuasive tone JUuli had ever heard her use,” You can talk now Tishy, can’t you?”
Tishy nodded. Juli looked quickly at Lena who was staring at Tishy with a wide-eyed almost frightened expression. Dereck drew in his breath sharply, cleared his throat and said, forcing himself to sound calm and matter-of-fact, “Marina, go and sit down, the food is getting cold. Lena dear, would you mind serving? Sit up straight Tishy. Water, Juli or shall we open a bottle of wine?”
“Let’s have some wine!” Juli said, smiling, her heart beating.
While Lena served, her hands trembling, Dereck selected a bottle of wine from his wine cupboard and opened it with a flourish. Juli went to fetch the wine glasses and watched the fragrant ruby red liquid rise in each glass as he poured it.
“Me, and for me too,” Marina cried, bouncing up and down on her chair. Dereck poured a few drops into her glass of water and then, turning to Tishy he asked, “Would you like some wine too, Tishy?”
Tishy raised her head and looked at the bottle in his hand and then, taking her thumb out of her mouth she held up her glass with both her hands and said, “Tishy too.”
Lena burst into tears. Covering her face with her hands she began to sob hysterically. Dereck ignored her. His hand trembling slightly he carefully poured a few drops into Tishy’s upheld glass, then he too raised his glass high and said softly “To Tishy.”
Juli and Marina raised their glasses and Tishy, a lovely smile spreading across her face, repeated.
Juli discovered she had such a lump in her throat she found it hard to swallow and she noticed that Dereck’s eyes were suspiciously bright as he regarded his little daughter. Once they had drunk to Tishy’s health, Marina jumped off her chair again and ran to Lena’s side. Lena pushed her away and rose gropingly. Dereck was at her side at once.
“I must lie down,” she hiccoughed. “I’m not feeling well at all.”
“Eat children,” Juli said firmly, and seeing that Marina’s chin had begun to wobble, added quickly, “… and I’ll tell you a story. Once upon a time … come on Marina, sit down and start eating, there’s a good girl. Mummy is so happy that Tishy can talk at last that she has to have a little cry. Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived with her Mummy and Daddy in a palace. Now this princess was very beautiful but she was also very greedy.”
“How old was she?” asked Marina, inevitably, her imminent tears forgotten as she sat down once more and began to eat her stew.
“She was seven years old,” Juli said firmly. “and…”
“She was sooooo fat … “ Tishy interposed. Juli burst out laughing.
“Hello,” Dereck exclaimed as he returned to his seat. “What’s all the laughter about? Lena’s quite overcome about Tishy,” he said in an aside. “She’s very sensitive, and something like this …”
Juli nodded and then explained why she had been laughing, suggesting that each of them continue with the story in turn in which case he would be the next to speak. The meal turned into a merry affair as the story became desperately complicated. Marina shrieked with laughter and excitement adding bits as they occurred to her while Juli and Dereck out did themselves in turn with numerous adventures and comical situations laughing helplessly at their own wit. Tishy listened and smiled.
A small noise at the passage door made Jli look round and there she saw Marta and Josefina peering through to see what was going on. Dereck called them in and told them the happy news and the two simple hearted women wept with joy, fluttering around Tishy with many chirps and cluckings. Dereck beamed, behaving as if he alone had been responsible for Tishy’s sudden recovery. Juli, watching, thought.
“And perhaps he was. Perhaps he was after all.”
After lunch Juli decreed a siesta. She felt Tishy had had so much attention and they had gone for such a long walk in the morning that the child must be quite worn out. The two little girls fell asleep at once, Juli in the rocking chair, drowsed, thinking about Lena and wondering how she was going to cope with having to make a 180º change with regard to her opinion of Tishy. That Tishy could now talk did not in any way alter the fact that she was not a boy and that Lena had no time for her. Perhaps it would only drive her dislike for the child deeper within her and that might fester and become poisonous. It was a difficult problem, especially as Juli had no idea whether her theory was correct or not. At last she pushed it all aside and decided to try and sleep instead. A quiet knock on the door brought her to her feet and she hurried across the room to see who was there.
Dereck, looking extremely anxious, beckoned her into the passage and said quietly, “Lena’s started having contractions so I’m rushing her into Santa Rosa right away. We shall stay there until I’m quite sure she’s alright, which means you’ll be alone here with the children. The servants will be here of course. Is that all right by you or shall I send a car for you this afternoon so that we can all be together in Sta. Rosa? Lena is in a frightful state, I have just taken her blood pressure and it’s right up, so the sooner we go the better. What do you think?”
“Don’t worry about me,” Juli exclaimed softly. “We’ll be fine here. How many times did you leave Lena here alone for a few days when you went to B.A, or whatever?”
“Yes … well … but she’s fifteen years older than you are don’t forget.”
“Don’t worry one bit. We’ll be fine Dereck. That’s what I’m here for, isn’t it? To help out.”
“Right we’ll be off then. Are the babies sleeping?”
“I won’t wake them then. I can’t get over Tishy though. Fancy starting to talk like that, from one day to the next. Of course the doctors all said she was perfectly normal, but it takes getting used to. I always expected it to be a gradual process.”
“Do you think Lena’s contractions could be due to the shock?”
“God knows. It looks like it, doesn’t it?”
“I hope it’s a boy.”
“So do I! Then we can definitely put a full stop to all this. Well, I’ll be off then. I’ve spoken to Don Elizondo so anything you need just let him know.”
“O.K. Thanks. Can I help Lena?”
“No, no. We’ve packed her bag and all that, thank you.”
Juli accompanied Dereck to the hall and waited awkwardly while he hurried into his apartment and returned supporting a pale, wide-eyed Lena, the dark smudges under her eyes belieing her faint smile.
“I’ve started getting contractions. Will you be alright here alone?”
“Of course Lena, don’t you worry one bit. Just take care and look after yourself.” Juli took Lena’s free arm and helped Dereck guide her gently out to the waiting car.
“My blood pressure is very high.”
“I know. Dereck told me.”
They settled her in the front seat and Dereck went to get their cases.
“Will you tell Marta to clean all our apartment thoroughly and to change the sheets and everything. I left a note. They’re probably sleeping siesta just now.”
“Yes I’ll tell her,”
“Oh, and another thing. All the new nappies. There’s a big parcel of them in my little sewing room. Could you get them washed and hung in the sun to dry. I’ve been meaning to do that for ages, but as I still had weeks to go …”
“Sure Lena. I’ll see to that too.”
“Give Marina and Tishy a kiss from me. I don’t want to frighten them rushing off like this. Dereck told me they’re sleeping.”
“Yes. I’ll tell them when they wake up that you went to Sta Rosa and that’s all.”
“I think that’ll be the best …”
“All set?” Dereck asked, clambering into the car and turning the ignition key.
“’bye Lena. Good luck!”
“Thank you, dear.”
The car moved smoothly away from the front door and Juli watched as it gathered speed and disappeared beyond the tall trees and bushes of the park. She turned and went back into the house. Remembering the nappies she walked into Dereck and Lena’s apartment.
Standing staring at Lena and Dereck’s imposing double bed, Juli’s thoughts returned inevitably to all that had occurred the day before. It seemed now that it had been weeks ago. During the night something had broken. The overwhelming force which had been driving her relentlessly towards Dereck seemed to have lost its power. She found she could think quietly and objectively about the moments before the snake struck. She could even wonder at her despair and the terrible compulsion to commit suicide which had begun to grip her just before Tishy had come to comfort her. What had woken the child at that moment and made her get out of bed? What had caused her to talk? There were many quandaries with regard to the whole situation. She felt that she had been bewitched, crazy, out of her mind.
“Anyway,” she thought thankfully. “It’s all over, thank goodness!”
She picked up the bag of nappies and made her way back to the nursery wondering how Lena was and if she would have the son she so longed for. The little girls had woken up and Marina was lying beside Tishy and telling her a complicated story punctuated by many peculiar noises which caused them both to giggle helplessly for several minutes until Marina was able to continue her tale.
Much later in the afternoon when it was cooler Juli took them out riding. When they returned Don Elizondo and two peons or farm workers walked over to chat, having heard that Tishy was now talking.
“Y – Patricia – que tal,/ how goes it?” Don Elizondo said grinning, squattng down in front of her. Tishy smiled into his deeply tanned wrinkled face and replied, “Bien/well.”
“Y Mariposa, es buena, /is she good?”
Tishy nodded and said, “Es una Mariposa / she’s a butterfly.”
The men all laughed delightedly, staring at the small miracle in front of them and casting admiring glances at Juli, attributing her with every kind of white witchery and healing powers in their simple imaginative minds. Happily, Juli took Tishy’s hand, said good bye, and began to walk towards the house.
“Chau,” Marina shouted, running ahead, bouncing. “Chau Petizo, Chau Mariposa, Chau Don Elizondo, chau chau.”
As they passed the garage Marina looked in and seeing that the car was not there she asked, ”Where’s Daddy gone?”
“He took Mummy to Sta. Rosa.”
“Is she going to have the baby?”
“Oh, I doubt it, he just took her to see the doctor that’s all.”
“Can I go an’ slide?” Marina demanded when they reached the lawn.
“Sli-ide, sli-ide,” Marina chanted joyfully. “Come Tishy, let’s go an’ slide.”
She took Tishy’s hand and ran slowly towards the slide, careful to notice that her little sister did not stumble or trip. Juli felt suddenly enormously glad to be alone, as if she were the owner of this far-flung farm and rambling homestead.