Under Another Sky 11

Chapter 11
Dereck arrived back late the following evening. He looked tired and a little drawn, his cheeks unshaven and his eyes drooping with weariness.
“Un varón, a boy,” he informed them all triumphantly as he got out of the car and the servants, with cries of delight, returned to the kitchen chattering excitedly about the new addition to the family.
“How is Lena?” Juli asked.
“More of less,” Dereck replied. “They had to do a caesarean in the end, her labour was taking too long. Baby’s fine, three kilos, sturdy little fellow. Imagine what he would have weighed if he had been born when we expected him! Fine little chap, black hair this time, terrific lungs! Of course Lena is feeling pretty uncomfortable at the moment, but the doctor gave her something to make her sleep and she dropped off before I left. Her mother and father arrived too and will be looking after her while she’s in Sta. Rosa. God I’m tired! If there’s any food I’d like a bite of supper, could you tell Marta? In the little sitting room. How are the kids, Tishy?”
“Both well. I’ll go and tell Marta. Lena must have been thrilled to have had a boy.”
“Not nearly so thrilled as I am! We can call it a day now and shut up shop. Five children is more than enough at my age! Anyway, I got a letter from Gavin. He’s coming out for the Christmas holidays.”
“Christmas? OH, of course! With this heat I forgot it’s nearly December. Great! How old is Gavin?”
“Twenty, let me see now, twenty-six? My God! That’s quite a difference, isn’t it? Between twenty-six and twelve hours I mean.”
Marta appeared and asked if the Señor would like supper. Dereck nodded, ran a tired hand over his stubbly chin and bade Juli goodnight.
“I’m whacked,” he said. “So, if you don’t mind, I’ll turn in.”
Juli nodded, gave a little good night wave and returned to her book which she had left lying on the sofa in the living room. But she did not read any more that evening for her mind was fully occupied with the arrival of Christopher William and the projected arrival of Gavin David.
Lena returned from Sta. Rosa ten days later, her stitches removed and her body quickly regaining strength and energy. Christopher gave evidence of his presence from the moment he arrived for he developed colic and howled dismally for hours, sometimes during the day, sometimes until far into the night.
“He’s got colic,” the doctor comforted a distraught Lena. “You will just have to be patient. Let him cry.”
The baby’s howls were more than Dereck could cope with and he decided to move into the guest wing. Tishy was delighted to have her Daddy so much closer and sat on his bed with her glasses perched on the tip of her diminutive nose. Her world, once a softly coloured blur of sounds, surfaces and smells had become a universe of shapes and things, and, although she had not lost her sensitivity to emotional tensions and reactions, most of her energies were now absorbed by her new surroundings and the hundreds of fresh concepts these required.
Marina wanted to be near her mother and the baby and begged to be allowed to sleep with Lena since Dereck had moved out, but Lena was adamant. She wanted to dedicate all her time to her fretful son and saw no reason why, having Juli, she should have Marina underfoot all the time.
“No, Marina,” she said irritably. “You must stay with Juli and Tishy in the nursery. Baby Christopher has a tummy-ache and you are altogether too noisy to be near him at all.”
Thoroughly put out, Marina sat on the bench outside the nursery and sulked, her heart churning with ungovernable emotions. So much had suddenly changed in her world as well, that she was unable to encompass it. The beam of her mother’s love and attention had moved away from her, Tishy was now talking and everyone had eyes and ears only for her these days. Marina experienced the bleak grey landscape of an abandoned child as a searing pain and the desire to return the hurt rose in slow unconscious waves within her. Juli, finding her, sat down in silence beside her.
“I hate Christopher,” Marina growled, half fearing that Juli would slap her for uttering such a profanity and half hoping that she would.
“Do you?” Juli asked mildly, hoping that the course of action she had decided on was the correct one.
“Yes!” Marina spat the word out and burst into tears. Juli took her gently onto her lap and held her close.
“You don’t really hate him,” she assured the frightened, unhappy little girl. “Do you know something? The swimming pool has been cleaned and filled and we are going to go swimming right now. Shall we go and look for our bathing suits?”
“I don’t know how to swimming,” Marina said, sniffing, her mournful state of mind beginning to dissipate.
“But I am going to teach you. It’s so easy, and Mummy and Daddy will be so surprised when they see you! Tishy is still too small.”
Marina sat up straight and stared into Juli’s eyes, then she slipped off her lap and ran into the nursery. Juli followed her, unearthed her little red bathing-suit and helped her to change before putting on her own bikini.
“Ugh,” she laughed. “I’m all white! I must do some sun-bathing and get a tan. Let’s go to the pool. I wonder where Tishy is.”
At that moment Dereck knocked briefly and walked into the room with Tishy in his arms. His eyes flicked over Juli, noting her firm round breasts, slim graceful body and well shaped legs.
“So that’s what you’re going to do!” he exclaimed. “What an excellent idea, I’ll come and join you.”
He set Tishy on the floor and left the room purposefully. Shaken by the obvious caress of his glance, and her beating heart, Juli changed Tishy and wrapped a towel about herself. She handed Marina her water wings and the three of them made their way across the lawn to the swimming-pool beyond the guest house.
It was a large blue-tiled rectangular pool fenced off from the rest of the garden for safety’s sake and reached through a small gate normally kept padlocked. It was surrounded by a wide concrete walk, and a small thatched shelter provided protection for the garden chairs and table. Beyond the walk a strip of lawn formed a green carpet up to the fence along which trees and bushes grew, affording a certain privacy. A small paddle pool had been built for the children and Marina jumped into it excitedly splashing wildly as memories of the year before rose within her and the hot mid- morning sun beat down on her white cotton hat. Tishy needed a little more time and the comfort of Juli’s hand to find the courage to climb in and splash the water gently.
Dereck appeared followed by Hernán carrying a try loaded with bottles, glasses and an ice bucket. Juli, who was sitting by the edge of the pool dangling her legs in the water, acknowledged them with a smile and returned to contemplating the rhythmic movement of the water. Trying to still the thumping of her heart she imagined her father and Paula huddled in front of the fire listening to the November gales outside. How Susan and Bernard would love to be out here enjoying the heat and the sunshine, watching how the breeze made the water break into a shiver of ripples and listening to the cicadas chirring all about them.
“What’ll you have to drink?” Dereck called, setting out the deck chairs. The children ran over to him clamouring for cokes, the brims of their white hats flopping about their faces. He gave them half a glass each and looked enquiringly at Juli.
“Coke too I think,” she replied.
“Don’t bother to get up, I’ll bring it over.”
Dereck poured out a full glass of coke, picked up his whisky and soda and walked over to where Juli was sitting. He handed her her glass and sat down beside her. His muscular stomach protruded a little over his bathing shorts and the hairs on his broad brown chest had touches of grey. .Juli felt herself tremble as the vitality of his presence caused ripples of breathlessness to flood through her.
“It’s just occurred to me,” she said, surprised at the casualness of her voice. “I have to start thinking of Christmas cards. How long do they take to get to England?”
“Er… well between three weeks and three months by boat, seven to fifteen days by air.”
“Really? Gosh, I’ll have to hurry! What does one do for Christmas here? It’s so peculiar to think of it being hot and going swimming at Christmas time.”
Dereck, who had been contemplating how extremely attractive Juli was and considering her potentialities in bed, cleared his throat and ran his fingers through his hair.
“We er decorate the Christmas tree a few days before Christmas, give out the presents on Christmas Eve after an enormous supper, Lena and I go to church in Victorica on Christmas morning and that’s about it. However, since Gavin is going to be here I don’t know exactly how we shall be celebrating it this year.”
“It might be nice if the Carlies came too,” Juli said. “That is if Peter hasn’t got in touch by then. Spending Christmas at home may upset Marion otherwise.”
Dereck glanced at her obliquely and took a sip of his whisky. “A great big family party in fact!” he said.
“Well, why not? There’s plenty of room.”
“Don’t forget that I’m sleeping in one of the guest rooms.”
“But Christmas is more than a month away!”
“Who knows how long that infant’s colic is going to last?” Dereck said gloomily. “You’ve no idea the din he makes.”
“Well, Marion and Arthur can sleep in one room Tony can sleep with Gavin and Pam can sleep on a mattress with us,” Juli said, warming to the idea. “It would be great. A family Christmas, a chance to show off Christopher, Gavin and Tishy, and at the same time, help Arthur and Marion over a difficult few days. Christmas is always so full of memories.”
Dereck turned and looked at her curiously. “What were your Christmases like?” he asked.
“Wonderful when I was very small. Holly, mistletoe, a real Christmas tree, candles, snow sometimes; so cold outside and so warm inside. But during these last few years it was a sad time.” Juli stared into the softly lapping water and repeated, “Very sad.”
Dereck, his emotional heart much affected by the tone of her voice, laid his hand over hers. “We’ll make this a happy Christmas,” he murmured. “I’ll talk it over with Lena. You’re quite right, it would help Marion I think, to get away from home during those days.” He patted her hand with a warm smile and added, “I’m going to have a dip now it’s too damn hot sitting here in the sun.”
He got to his feet, finished off his whisky, and, as he walked over to the table to set it down Juli raised her hand which he had been holding and pressed it to her cheek and then to her lips.. He dived into the pool causing a great splash, spraying Juli with chilly drops, almost certainly on purpose.
“Daddy, Daddy,” Marina shouted excitedly. “I want to swim too!” She ran to the edge of the pool, slipped in a puddle and tumbled into the water with a terrified shriek. Her white hat remained bobbing on the surface as she sank to the bottom of the pool. With a shocked gasp Juli pushed herself into the water and dived down, swimming to where Marina lay, her mouth and eyes wide open, great bubbles of air rising over her towards the surface.
“Oh, God! How quick, how quick an accident can happen,” Juli thought, catching at Marina’s slippery little body and having to make several attempts before she could get a good grip and lift the child to the surface. Dereck appeared then and caught Marina from her, whisking her up onto the concrete border where she lay inert, her eyes glazed, her small sturdy body limp and still.
Dereck pushed himself out of the pool, caught her by the ankles and held her upside down; water gushed out of her mouth as Juli and Tishy watched, appalled. Suddenly Marina was caught by a paroxysm of coughing and choking. She gasped for air, coughing and crying at the same time. Juli and Dereck heaved sighs of relief as Dereck stood her on her feet, holding her arms above her head until she had stabilized her breathing and recovered a little from her fright.
“What happened?” Dereck asked anxiously.
“She ran to the edge of the pool, slipped in that puddle and fell in just as you dived,” Juli explained, trying, for the children’s sake, to sound calm and matter-of-fact. “But everything is O.K. now. We’ll go inside and have a little lie-down out of the sun. Could you stay with Tishy a bit Dereck, while I see to Marina? Come on Marina Quemar Jamón, you’re O.K. now.”
“Carry me,” Marina whimpered, so Juli picked her up and carried her back to the nursery where she laid her on her bed. After a while she vomited water into the potty which Juli held for her, and began to feel better.
“I went right down,” she said. “Right under the water. I saw you coming to me swimming, you looked so funny, all your hair like this.” She spread out her arms.
“And you?” Juli teased. “With your mouth wide open and air coming out of it in great big bubbles. You looked like a baby whale!”
Marina giggled. Her experience began to take on the trappings of an adventure and her fear and fright faded into a corner of her memories serving to make her always a little nervous when near the edge of any swimming-pool.
Dereck appeared after a while with Tishy, who had had a swim in his arms and was looking fresh and happy.
“How’s Marina?” he asked.
“Fine. She brought up more water which she had swallowed and feels much better now.”
Juli had slipped into a Tshirt and a full cotton skirt and looked absurdly young, bare footed, her wet hair combed back from her face. Dereck raised his hand and stroked her cheek.
“Thank God you’ve quick reactions,” he smiled.
He bent and kissed Marina tenderly and ruffled her hair while Juli stood motionless, watching him, her entire self set alight by his gentle off-hand gesture.
“You’ll have to learn to swim young lady,” he said to Marina. “We can’t have any more tumbles like that this summer and that’s a fact.”
“Juli’s going to teach me,” Marina said.
“Good, I think that’s an excellent idea,” Dereck replied heartily. He gave Tishy a little pat and glanced at Juli. Something in her stillness and downcast eyes quickened his virility, and he left the room with a beating heart, leaving behind him a strange vacuum as if his vitality had absorbed some of the life out of the room and left a blank space in its place.
Lena did not appear for lunch because the baby was crying so there was no need to fear that mention might be made of Marina’s accident and an afternoon busy with the making of Christmas cards helped Marina relegate it to the ranks of past history.
The nursery table was littered with coloured paper, scissors, cards and dried flowers when Marta came in with the supper things so Juli decided to eat outside. It was a beautiful evening. The sky blushed a glowing rose, merging into turquoise and deep blue in the East, the trees were gradually turning into black silhouettes and the fireflies like tiny stars, hovered over the lawn and about the bushes.
Lena appeared with the baby in her arms and found them sitting on the lawn eating their supper in the twilight. “Hello,” she exclaimed. “What are you all doing out here?”
“Supper picnic,” Tishy replied. “Can Kistoffy have some too?”
Dereck, who had followed Lena out, heard her and burst out laughing.
“Toffy, ” he cried. “There, you’ve been nicknamed your brother. Toffy Birnham. Not bad, not bad!”
“Oh Dereck, no!” Lena exclaimed. “Poor little Chris. Bring over a couple of chairs and we’ll join them. Isn’t it the most glorious evening?”
Dereck fetched two garden chairs and Lena sat down, carefully settling the baby more comfortably in her arms. Tishy stood up and gazed at him, then she stretched out her hand and stroked his cheek with great gentleness.
“Kistoffy,” she whispered.
“Gently gently, Tishy,” Lena said looking at her small bespectacled daughter with a strange expression. She still could not believe that Tishy was in fact quite normal, that the nightmare of her backwardness was over and that there was no more need to keep Dereck’s family and the neighbours at a distance. There was now no shameful idiot child to be hidden away when anyone came. Instead there was a cheerful three-year-old girl whose only flaw, if one could call it that, were her thick-lensed spectacles. Tishy looked up into her eyes and for a long moment mother and daughter came into living contact with one another. Lena acknowledged the child as a person in her heart for the first time and Tishy’s soul expanded like a flower in the warmth of that admission.
Marina, sensing the sudden thaw in her mother’s attitude towards Tishy, felt the morning’s hurt flare up within her. The feeling of rejection made her jump to her feet and rush towards the object which in some obscure way she felt was responsible for all her troubles.
She had a fork in her hand with a piece of chicken on it, and, with lightening dexterity, she jabbed at the baby’s face. The tines punctured his delicate skin and he reacted with a shriek of pain.
Lena swept out her arm, hitting Marina full in the face, and jumped to her feet.
Dereck grabbed Marina and smacked her so hard it left her breathless and for a couple of seconds she could do nothing but stare up at her parents’ furious faces glaring at her, and feel the terrible force of their anger directed towards her like a wall of flames. She found her breath and began to scream as Lena turned and rushed into the house with Dereck following close behind her.
Juli caught Marina to her and held her tightly, trying to calm her hysterical howls.
“It’s all right, Marina,” she murmured rocking the little girl gently. “Don’t cry. It was a mistake. You wanted to give Toffy some chicken. You wanted to share your supper. Don’t cry, don’t cry. There, don’t cry little one.”
Tishy, who had remained standing quite still through all the commotion, sat down gracefully on her pillow and helped herself to more chicken with her fingers. She was neither frightened nor disturbed for she was still re-living the bond which had sprung up between herself and her mother. Her whole being was suffused with warmth, and she felt herself surrounded by a soft rosy light despite the fact that the sky was darkening and the stars were beginning to shine with increasing brightness.
Marina sobbed for a long time cuddled in Juli’s arms while Juli sang softly, repeating over and over the child’s favourite songs from the tapes they so often listened to.
The sky grew quite dark and the stars hung in clusters of diamonds. Marta came and took away the supper things and at last Juli eased Marina off her lap, stood up and led both children into the nursery. Once washed and with her pyjamas on Marina said in a voice still choked with tears that she wanted to do more Christmas cards. Although it was late, Juli let Marina do two more cards while she settled Tishy into bed and tidied the table a little. Dereck came in to say good night and stood looking down at Marina with a mixture of love and disapproval.
“How’s Toffy?” Juli asked.
“Scarlet with methylated spirits and outrage,” Dereck replied, smiling ruefully. “Isn’t it very late for the children to be up still?”
“Marina took some time to calm down so I’m not being very strict this evening. She’s had quite a day, what with one thing and another.”
“True,” Dereck acknowledged. “Good night Marina.”
Marina, still deeply offended by his slap, did not look at him and continued to work on the card she was creating.
“Marina,” he said in a quiet firm voice. “I’ve come to say good night.”
She looked up then and said in an off-hand tone, “G-night.”
“No kiss for Daddy tonight?”
After a moment’s hesitation Marina slipped off her chair and held up her arms. He picked her up and gave her a close hug and a kiss. “Toffy can only drink milk just now,” he said. “He’s too small to eat chicken with a fork you know.”
Marina nodded, thinking of the baby sucking greedily at her mother’s breast. “Can I sleep with Mummy tonight?” she asked.
“No poppet. We’ve already told you. You are to sleep in your own bed.” Marina’s chin began to wobble and Dereck with a sigh, kissed her again and set her down. As he turned Tishy sat up in bed and asked, “Can I an’ Marina go an’ kiss Mummy an’ Kistoffy good night?”
“Yes, of course,” Dereck said heartily. “Come.” He held out his hand to Marina but she shook her head fiercely and ran to Juli, burying her face in her shoulder. Dereck shrugged and left the room with Tishy while Juli comforted Marina, aware of a small sting of jealousy in her own heart. She too felt a little betrayed by this new Tishy who, now that Lena had accepted her, seemed to prefer her mother to Juli. Juli understood Marina’s feelings very well for the tables had turned on the child completely, and she was now in disgrace and rejected for being her usual noisy, boisterous self. Christopher had become the king-pin and Tishy was his chosen lady-in-waiting.
That night, after the children had gone to bed Juli sat up until late listening to her tapes and creating charming Christmas cards with scissors, coloured papers and glue.
“What gets hurt?” she wondered, thinking of Lena and the two little girls. “It’s not the mind, that’s only where one becomes aware that one has been hurt. It’s more the heart for it has nothing to do with thoughts, it’s at a different level. The whole process seems to be to do with gestures, attitudes, the tone of voice, the silences. It’s not the music itself, like Dino said, it’s what is behind it, the intervals, the chords, the variations of rhythm, measure, pitch. To think that those can change a life, can warp and twist a person’s character completely. How complicated for a parent, or a nanny like me. I must take extra special notice of Marina now until she finds favour with Lena again. Poor little girls.”
A soft knock on the door made her catch her breath. She knew it was Dereck and she knew in a flash that she had been waiting for him. She rose, walked over to the door and opened it. He stepped in and looked over at the sleeping children. “All O.K.?” he asked. “I saw the light under the door so…”
She nodded. Looking deeply into her eyes he raised his hands and placed them on her shoulders. She drew in her breath with a soft gasp but made no effort to move or look away. Very gently her drew her against him and began to kiss her. Trembling she hid her face in his neck.
“We can’t stay here,” he whispered, “Let’s go to my room?”
“Lena”,” she managed to murmur.
“She has a new man in her life now, who absorbs her utterly. Come, we both want this.”
He turned out the light and drawing her into the passage, he walked to his bedroom with his arm close about her shoulders.
“Oh Dereck,” she said helplessly. “This is crazy … we can’t… ”
He drew her Tshirt off and she capitulated, over-whelmed by the wild flood of emotions drumming through her.
Three hours later she slid off the bed, looked back lingeringly at Dereck sleeping peacefully, gathered up her clothes from the floor, put out the bedside light and left the room noiselessly. She drifted back to the nursery, and got into bed, utterly at peace with herself and the world. She did not sleep and made no effort to think, the prison created by her mother’s frigidity had been broken, all the taboos had been swept away. She felt herself to be a woman in every fibre of her body and that she was totally fulfilled.
She listened to the first sleepy twitters of the birds and watched the day lighten outside the nursery windows. A little before six she rose, washed , pulled on a Tshirt and her bombachas and boots. To her surprise Josefina was already in the kitchen drinking maté tea. She looked up at Juli with a startled expression.
“Buen Día, Good morning Niña Juli, is anything the matter?” she asked.
“Buen día Josefina, no. I just woke up early and I’d like to go for a ride. Will the peons, farmhands, be around at this hour do you think?”
“Oh yes, Niña Juli, they will soon get Mariposa ready for you. Have some maté, it is not good to go out riding with nothing in the stomach.”
Juli accepted the gourd from Josefina’s outstretched hand and sucked the infusion through the metal straw. “Mmm?” she grinned. ” ‘ta bueno, gracias. it’s good, thanks.” She put a crusty piece of galleta biscuit into her pocket, blew Josefina a kiss and left by the back door. Poking her head round the door again she said. “Could you give the nenas their breakfast? I may not be back in time.
“Lose all care, I will see to them,” Josefina smiled.
Don Elizondo and the peons were already about their morning chores. Mariposa was soon saddled and Juli swung herself lightly onto her back and, with a quick wave, she cantered away towards the caldén woods. The sky was a great dome of trembling translucent turquoise, the cladén trees, touched by the faintest of breezes, quivered in the magic light and the birds filled the air with their morning hymns of joy.
Juli rode with her head held high, savouring every pearly moment, drawing the fresh air into her lungs and deeply aware of Mariposa’s easy movement beneath her. They came at last to the clearing where Phyllis´s grave and the little chapel stood. Tethering Mariposa, she walked over to the chapel, found the key, opened the door and walked into the cool, dim interior. For several minutes she stood quite still looking at the picture above the alter, which, even in the feathery dimness, glowed bewitchingly. At last, with a sigh, she sat down and allowed herself to think.
She asked herself whether she felt guilty or evil, depraved, even a bit mentally unbalanced. She knew very well what her mother’s opinion would have been and instinctively shied away from it, but she knew too that she had to face the new situation into which her relationship with Dereck had slipped. As she sat staring at the picture Joanie Trale’s words glided into her mind, and gradually she began to realise that, after all, it was more than probable that she was just one more feather in his hat for Dereck. Tears filled her eyes and slid down her cheeks. Painful as it was, she certainly did not want to become his mistress, for she knew without a doubt, that he would never leave Lena or the children.
“What now?” she asked herself sorrowfully. She couldn’t bear the thought of being his chattel while he waited to return to his big double bed and loving wife, of complying with his rules, “tonight yes, tomorrow no ” although she knew that Dereck expected her to do so. But wasn’t he as much her prey as she had been his? Did she really want to carry on the relationship under those terms? If she resisted, would he demand the prerogatives of being her boss?
At that moment she didn’t really want to continue the relationship. She felt freed. She remembered the insipid affair she had had with Bill in London simply to feel herself to be on an equal footing with the other girls in the flat. Dereck had helped her accept an aspect of herself without shame but with joy and abandon. She was free, there was no reason in the world which could make her carry on going to bed with Dereck unless she wanted to, whatever he might say or think.
Heaving a great sigh, and squaring her shoulders Juli dried her eyes with the back of her hand. The chapel had become full of light, its simplicity incredibly calming. She rose, collected the key to the garden from its hook and went outside. Unlocking the padlock on the garden gate she entered and stood looking down at Phyllis’s grave remembering the photos of her that she had found, and wondering at the depth of her feelings which had led her to take her life. Her marriage to Dereck, in some strange way, continued because of the grave, the chapel, the picture and the rose bushes blooming so beautifully, filling the air with their sweet subtle perfume as the sun grew warm.
She went and sat on the rustic bench by the grave. Brushing away some leaves which lay on the marble head-stone, she said aloud, “Now we can share him. Now he is ours. I hope you are not cross about it, but it seems it just had to be. I don’t feel wicked, I feel as if something kind of festering inside me has been released. Lena can have him now. I do find him terribly attractive but … well … I’m not sure what I feel now.” A little wren appeared and began to hop about on the grave-stone. Feeling it was in some way a friendly reply from Phyllis, she crumbled a little of the galleta biscuit in her pocket and leaning down, she placed the crumbs on a corner of it.
At last Juli stretched languidly and rose, it was going to be a very hot day, just right for starting swimming lessons. The thought of the pool woke her from her dreamy, half conscious sensation of floating. With sudden haste she locked up the garden gate and returned to the chapel. Once there however she felt an irresistible desire to consecrate her morning visit in some way and decided to kneel down before the altar and repeat the Lord’s Prayer.
She rode back along the winding track through the woods in a thoughtful mood. What were her real feelings? Why had she needed to pray like that? There were moments when she seemed to behave out of character. What other unexpected facets lurked in her subconscious, waiting for someone or something to unlock them and set them free? To say she was twenty three was, at that precise moment only half true. Part of her was twenty three, but part of her was as old as time. It was not something she could prove, but it was something which she “knew” and she wondered why. It seemed absurd.
…………………………………………………….
Dereck awoke at seven as usual and thought immediately of the night before. He felt relaxed and refreshed. Staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror as he shaved, he noted his sun-tanned face and torso, his broad muscular chest and arms, ignoring the wrinkles round his eyes, the loosening flesh about his jawbone and the slight paunch which was threatening to mar his athletic virile body.
“Not bad, old chap,” he told himself admiringly. “Not bad at all! God, I feel great!” He lathered his cheeks and began to shave, his thoughts running on as he did so. “But you’ll have to be careful, che. Don’t get her in the family way or you’ve had it! You’ve quite enough on your plate here with Hernán and Josefina and Lena and the tribe.”
It did not occur to him to include the half dozen or so young men and women, fruit of his loins, who lived in different parts of Argentina. Phyllis, Gavin and Rowena he placed apart, considering them his true family. Marina, Tishy and Christopher were Lena’s children. He loved them, but he did not feel the same for them as he had for Gavin and Rowena. He did not wonder at this, or that he should have taken Josefina into his household shortly after she had recovered from the infection which had nearly taken her life when Hernán was born. In those days Josefina had been young and her passive pillowy body a change from Phyllis’s feverish, hungry lovemaking. A little like Juli’s, now he came to think of it.
Freshly shaved, smelling of after-shave lotion, his tan beautifully set off by his crisp white shirt, he walked into the nursery after a quick knock and stopped short abruptly. Josefina was sitting at the nursery table with Marina and Tishy, her buttocks overlapped the seat of her chair, her fat brown arms were bare and the low neck of her cotton dress revealed plenty of cleft between her large heavy breasts.
“Daddy, Daddy,” the children chorused excitedly. “Juli’s riding.”
“Juli went riding on Mariposa. We’re having breakfast with Josefina,” Marina declared importantly.
Josefina looked at Dereck and knew immediately why Juli had gone out riding so early. She always knew when the Señor had made love the night before, something indefinable about him imparted the information, some sixth sense deep within her received it. She remembered his caresses and felt a sad patient sorrow. Lena was the same age as herself but Lena was slim and elegant and had no Indian blood in her. The thought of Hernán rose in her cloudy mind and filled her heart with satisfaction. Hernán was the living, handsome, undeniable proof of the hours spent in the Señor’s arms. Those were happy times. She could not complain. She had her son, they had a safe home, they earned good money and their future was assured. She was near the Señor, her love and loyalty asked for no more. In fact their relationship, although static, was alive for both of them at all moments.
Dereck kissed the children, patted Josefina on the shoulder and went to see how Lena and little Toffy were.
Lena was burping the baby. She was wearing her new pink short nightdress and her hair was loose about her shoulders. Dereck’s rested and exuberant mood irritated her at once and she said a little acidly, “Well, you seem to have slept well at any rate.”
“Marvellously,” he replied expansively. “How are you, Toffy keep you up much?”
“Don’t keep calling him Toffy, it’s an awful name.”
“I find it delightful. He’s going to be a real toff, our Toffy.”
He took the baby out of her arms and held him high.
“All the same, I don’t like …”
“I think he looks like me, don’t you?”
“He’s certainly inherited your toes.”
“How’s his cheek?”
“Still nasty, but I don’t think it’s infected. Really Marina! I don’t know what got into her!”
“She’s jealous.”
“Don’t be silly, Dereck, why should she be jealous, for goodness sake?”
“She wanted to sleep with you and you didn’t let her.”
“She only sleeps with me when you go right away, not just to the end of the house!”
Dereck laid the baby back in his crib and sat down beside Lena.
“Do you miss me?” he asked archly, running a hand over her bare knee.
“Oh, stop messing around.”
“You like it.”
“I´m attending to the baby just now.”
Dereck expression darkened. He pulled Lena against him and kissed her roughly. “Listen Lena, you’re my wife,” he snapped. “Don’t think that now, because you have a son, things are going to be different. Is that clear?”
Letting her go he stood up abruptly and left the room. Lena looked after him, rubbing her bruised mouth, tears in her eyes. But he was not thinking of her any more. His thoughts were full of Juli, her fire and her passion, her eager responses to his caresses.
He met her on the path next to the garage, walking back to the house. Overgrown bushes beside the path made it narrow at this point and secluded. He drew very close to her, looking down into her wide grey eyes with possessive intimacy and self satisfaction.
“Hello,” he murmured, modulating his voice so that all the pleasure of the night before was reflected in it. “And where did you go this morning?”
The thought “Don’t tell him,” flashed through Juli’s mind, but she replied cheerfully, “to the chapel. Why?”
Dereck expression changed, darkened, became congested with suppressed fury.
“What do you mean?” he hissed. “What the bloody hell do you mean by going there? How dare you?”
Shocked and a little frightened, Juli took a step backwards and felt the branches of the bushes pricking her shoulder-blades. “I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I didn’t think it would make you mad.”
He raised his hand and took a step closer to her. “You God-dammed little bitch,” he wanted to yell. “You’ve ruined it, you’ve ruined everything. How can I go back there now? It was the only place … the only place …”
Juli stared at him unable to move, her face set in an impassive mask, waiting for him to hit her. She was very frightened, but she did not cringe. The silence between them lengthened as Dereck struggled to control himself. At last he lowered his arm.
“I forbid you ever to go there again,” he said between clenched teeth. “Ever. Is that clear?”
Juli nodded, her heart was thudding and her legs suddenly felt weak beneath her. Dereck swung away and stalked on down the path towards the peons’ quarters. Realizing that she had been holding her breath, Juli let it out in a long sigh and took several deep breaths. She found that she was trembling and it took her several minutes before she could walk normally and get herself to the safe familiar haven of the nursery.
At lunch Dereck came in late, still in an extremely bad mood.
“The tractor has bust and I haven’t got the right spare part. I’ll have to go to B.A. to get it. If you want anything Lena, make a list.”
“When are you leaving?” she asked.
“Straight after lunch.”
Juli said nothing and busied herself with Tishy, realising that Dereck was ignoring her pointedly. However after a moment or two, he said to her coldly, “I suppose you will want to make a list as well.”
“If you could give it to Dino,” Juli replied hesitantly.
Lena, busy with her pencil and paper, glanced at them but was too occupied with the things she wanted to pay any attention. She was also wondering anxiously why a missing spare part should make Dereck so furious and if the little incident that morning between them was the real cause. It was quite possible, Dereck’s moods were always extreme and it was also possible that he was a bit jealous of Christopher himself.
Juli thought, “He’s mad because I went to Phyllis’s grave. He feels I violated it or his relationship with her, or something like that. Silly ass! If Phyllis is alive and conscious in the next world she must be perfectly aware of everything he does and all he feels, so what’s the difference?”
After lunch she made out her list and wrote a quick note to Dino, adding alternatives if the things she had asked for were difficult to find. She stuffed a couple of thousand peso notes into the envelope together with her letter, stuck it down and scrawled FOR DINO on it in large letters
She found Dereck in the hall preparing to leave. “Could you give this to Dino?” she asked and Dereck took the envelope from her distastefully and put it into his brief case. She wondered if it would still be there when he returned.
“Thank you,” she said. “Love to everybody.”
Lena, looking harassed and holding a shrieking Christopher in her arms appeared with several last minute instructions and reminders. Dereck could not hear her and roared, “I can’t hear a bloody word you’re saying Lena, with that child yelling like that.”
Juli took the baby in her arms and walked outside quickly, plucking a flower from a nearby bush and quieting his howls by stroking his face gently with it. Dereck and Lena emerged from the hall, he bent and kissed her, climbed into the car and drove away rather more quickly than he usually did. The dust caused by his departure hung in the still, hot air behind him. Lena retrieved her little son with a sigh and said,” Thank you Juli, such a hot day to travel, poor Dereck. it’s terrible when the machines break down and one has to go all the way to Buenos Aires to get the right spare part. Really this country is the limit some times, one can’t rely on anyone, even the agencies! I remember we were two months waiting for something last year. Two months!”
…………………………………………..
Dereck was away for several days. When he returned he appeared to have recovered his usual boisterous self, but there was a shadow in his eyes and he seemed to have aged. He was full of plans for Christmas as he had invited the whole Carlie family. Marion was better but still not herself and Christmas away from home would do her good. The news threw Lena into a flutter of nerves for they had never had so many house guests before and she wanted everything to be perfect.
Toffy was wheeled to the end of the garden with a mosquito net over the pram and left in the shade of the eucalyptus trees where he could cry or not as he wished without disturbing his mother. Lena immersed herself in lists and more lists planning meals, presents , decorations, the neighbours to be invited to a gathering to meet the Carlies and Gavin, clothes for herself and the girls …
She found in Juli a great ally, for Dereck declared he had a great deal of work and shut himself up in his office or went off to different cattle shows and markets so they didn’t see much of him. He came no more to share the nursery breakfasts and treated Juli as if she hardly existed. This made her sad, but also somewhat irritated and she hoped that he would gradually get over his pique.
She was glad however, that the incident of the chapel had put an end to any thoughts of an affair in Dereck’s mind. She realised that his reactions had disillusioned her a good deal, and wondered if what she had felt had really been love or just plain physical desire wrapped up in the trappings of love.
“It was almost like being possessed,” she mused. “I must have been mad!”
…………………………………………..

1 thought on “Under Another Sky 11

  1. The shrine to Phyllis intrigues me. Is there some dark secret Dereck is hiding? I won’t try ‘reading’ into what may not be there, and continue to look forward to the next chapter!

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